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Is Buck Williams a Hall of Famer?
Breaking down the Hall-of-Fame case for Buck Williams.
Although the system was designed to evaluate baseball players, with a few minor tweaks it can also be used to assess the Hall-worthiness of basketball players. In this post, I will examine Buck Williams’ case for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?
The answer is “no” on both counts.
Was he the best player on his team?
In his first eight seasons with the New Jersey Nets, Williams had several seasons where he was clearly the best player on his team, but there were other seasons where he just as clearly was not.
Williams was traded to Portland after the 1988-89 season, where he was a solid starter for the Trail Blazers of the early ‘90s, averaging 30-plus minutes per game and earning three All-Defensive selections. However, Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter were the alpha dogs on those teams.
Was he the best player in basketball at his position?
No, Williams was not, as power forward was a deep position at the time. I would rate Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, and Larry Nance ahead of Williams, and possibly Terry Cummings as well.
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Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or conference finals?
Williams played in three consecutive Western Conference Finals with the Trail Blazers (1990-1992), reaching the NBA Finals twice (1990 and 1992). His performance in those series was solid but not particularly noteworthy.
Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Yes, he was. Williams was a valuable starter for the first 14 seasons of his career (he started all but two of his 1,122 regular season games over that span), then spent his last three seasons as a solid contributor coming off the bench.
Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No, as I’ve stated before I believe Chauncey Billups holds that somewhat-dubious honor.
Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
For most of his career, Williams was a double-double threat on a nightly basis, finishing with averages of 12.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG. Williams was efficient from the field, too, as his career field goal percentage of 54.9% is good for 29th all time among qualified players.
But how impressive is that? There are 15 Hall-of-Fame-eligible players who averaged a double-double (points and rebounds) and shot 50% or better from the field in a career of at least 400 games:
Thirteen of these players are in the Hall of Fame, while just two (including Williams) are not. But if you take a look at their statistics, you’ll see that Williams is much more similar to the non-Hall of Famer — Nater — than he is to the rest, albeit in a much longer career:
Williams — 1,307 GP, 12.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 54.9 FG%
Nater — 489 GP, 12.2 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 53.7 FG%
By the way, that doesn’t include Nater’s ABA statistics. If you add those in, Nater’s figures are:
722 GP, 12.4 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 53.5 FG%
Point being, Williams is much more similar to Nater than the other players in this group, and no one is suggesting Nater should be in the Hall of Fame.
If you calculate Williams’ career value as described in this post, you’ll find he ranks 108th among all players and 88th among Hall-of-Fame eligible players. If you look at the five eligible players directly above and below Williams, it’s something of a mixed bag:
Seven of these players have been elected to the Hall of Fame; Marbury, Thorpe, and Divac have not.
Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Williams’ Hall of Fame Probability is 8.0%, which is quite low. If you look at the five eligible players directly above and below him, you’ll find only one who’s been elected to the Hall of Fame:
Alvin Robertson (9.5%)
Guy Rodgers (9.3%)
Steve Francis (8.9%)
Rasheed Wallace (8.7%)
Mark Aguirre (8.2%)
Glen Rice (7.5%)
Isaiah Thomas (7.5%)
Ron Harper (7.0%)
Stephon Marbury (7.0%)
Rudy LaRusso (6.6%)
Rodgers is the lone Hall of Famer in that group.
Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Yes, there is some evidence. Traditional statistics are inadequate, at best, for evaluating defense, and Williams was a four-time All-Defensive selection (two First Team, two Second Team).
Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
No, I don’t believe Williams is. Among power forwards, I would definitely put Larry Nance ahead of him, and possibly some other as well.
How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Williams received MVP votes in five different seasons, but he never received a first-place vote, and his best finish was seventh following the 1982-83 season (the only season he was named to an All-NBA team, I should note).
How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Williams was selected to play in just three All-Star Games, an unimpressive total for a Hall-of-Fame candidate. There are 31 eligible players with exactly three All-Star selections; four of them are in the Hall of Fame, 27 are not.
I sometimes define an “All-Star-type” season as one in which a player records a PER of 20.0 or higher while playing at least 50% of all possible minutes (about 2,000 minutes in an 82-game season). Williams never recorded such a season.
If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?
It’s doubtful. Williams was often the best player on the Nets, but in his five postseason appearances with the team they only managed to win one playoff series. And although Williams was on several title contenders in Portland, he clearly wasn’t the best player on those teams.
What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?
Williams was selected to play for the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team, but never got to participate due to the United States’ boycott of the Moscow Games. Other than that, there’s really nothing that would advance his case.
As noted earlier, Williams’ career statistical value places him in a group with some Hall of Famers and some non-Hall of Famers. A player who is “stuck” in the middle like that needs something extra — big seasons, postseason heroics, awards, etc. — to push him over the line, and based on the answers to the questions above I just don’t find that with Williams. Williams was a very good player for a very long time, and that’s extremely valuable, but in my opinion it’s not quite enough to make him a Hall of Famer.