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What Makes for a Hall of Fame Career?
Classifying a player's Hall of Fame chances based on their statistical resume.
From a statistical standpoint, what does a player need to do to make themselves a viable Basketball Hall of Fame candidate? There are many ways one could go about answering this question, but here’s how I decided to approach it.
I started by assigning a career value to every player. As I wrote about in a previous post, I like to approximate a player’s value in a given season as follows:
Take the player’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and divide by 15 (which is always the league average).
Multiply the figure above by minutes to factor in playing time (i.e., both efficiency and production matter).
Do the above for the regular season and postseason (if applicable) and add the two values together.
For example, here’s the calculation for Nikola Jokic last season:
Regular Season: (31.51 / 15) * 2,323 = 4,880
Postseason: (31.18 / 15) * 789 = 1,640
Approximate Value: 4,880 + 1,640 = 6,520
In order to obtain a player’s career value, I used a weighting scheme similar to what Doug Drinen, creator of Pro-Football-Reference.com, uses for his Approximate Value metric (or AV, for short). Here’s Drinen’s description of the method:
My opinion is that most people mentally rank players by counting all the player’s seasons, but weighting their best seasons more. In order to mimic that, I’ve defined each player’s career “value” to be:
100% of his best season, plus 95% of his 2nd-best season, plus 90% of his 3rd-best season, …
So, for two players with the same career AV, the one with the higher peak will be rated a little higher. And junk seasons at the end of a player’s career count for almost nothing.
In other words, I can get a career score for Jokic by adding 100% of his highest season value to 95% of his second-highest season value to 90% of his third-highest season value, etc.
I used this process to compute the career value for every player who debuted since 1951-52 (when the NBA began tracking minutes). I should also note that I decided to remove any player who played in the ABA, as they muddy the waters a bit.
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Let me summarize what I found:
A total of 36 eligible players have a career value of at least 40,000. All of them (100%) are in the Hall of Fame.
A total of 13 eligible players have a career value between 35,000 and 40,000. Ten of them (76.9%) are in the Hall of Fame. The three players in this group who have not yet been elected are Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, and Chauncey Billups.
A total of 49 eligible players have a career value between 30,000 and 35,000. Twenty-four of them (49.0%) are in the Hall of Fame.
A total of 73 eligible players have a career value between 25,000 and 30,000. Eighteen of them (24.7%) are in the Hall of Fame.
A total of 119 eligible players have a career value between 20,000 and 25,000. Eight of them (6.7%) are in the Hall of Fame.
That’s probably a good stopping point. Most of the twelve players who were elected with a career value less than 20,000 have other things on their resume that made them stand out. For example, Bill Bradley had a brilliant college career, while Arvydas Sabonis was a legendary international player.
I’ll classify these groups as follows:
Very Strong Candidate (35,000—40,000)
Strong Candidate (30,000—35,000)
Weak Candidate (20,000—25,000)
First, let’s look at the players who are not yet eligible but will be in the next few years. I’m only going to examine players classified as a “candidate” or above:
Dwight Howard (42,575)
Vince Carter (40,005)
I think both of these players are locks. I’m still surprised Dwight Howard didn’t make the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. Howard was an eight-time All-NBA selection — more than any other player left off the team — and won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Howard earned as many All-NBA selections as team members Dave DeBusschere, Kevin McHale, Earl Monroe, Dennis Rodman, Nate Thurmond, Wes Unseld, Lenny Wilkens, and James Worthy combined.
Carmelo Anthony (39,353)
LaMarcus Aldridge (37,589)
Carmelo Anthony is a lock. LaMarcus Aldridge will be an interesting case. He was a seven-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection, but never received any major awards and did not win an NBA title. Aldridge is one of 23 players in NBA history to reach 20,000 points and 8,000 rebounds, although he has the second-fewest points and third-fewest rebounds in that group.
Joe Johnson (33,645)
Andre Iguodala (31,161)
Joe Johnson is one of only 16 players in NBA history to reach 20,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists. The other 15 players to achieve this feat are either in the Hall of Fame or virtual locks. Done deal, right? Not so fast, my friend. This doesn’t make Johnson a Hall of Famer, as this is clearly not a collection of his peers. In fact, Johnson has the fewest career points, rebounds, and assists in this group.
Players in the 30,000—35,000 range typically have about a 50/50 shot at the Hall of Fame. You need something else to tilt the odds in your favor, like major awards or postseason success. Johnson simply doesn’t have these things. A really good player, but not a Hall of Famer in my book.
Speaking of postseason success, I think Andre Iguodala will get in, but I’m conflicted about his candidacy. On the one hand, Iguodala is a four-time NBA champion and 2015 Finals MVP. On the other hand, he’s a one-time All-Star who was never named to an All-NBA team (although he did earn two All-Defensive selections). That said, Iguodala would be a much better selection than Robert Horry, a somewhat similar candidate.
Paul Millsap (29,916)
Marc Gasol (29,225)
Jamal Crawford (26,676)
Rajon Rondo (26,636)
I could see Marc Gasol getting in if he receives some extra credit for his international play, and Rajon Rondo’s playoff exploits may push him over the line. Paul Millsap and Jamal Crawford are highly unlikely to be elected.
Now let’s shift our focus to active players:
LeBron James (71,563)
Kevin Durant (51,631)
Chris Paul (48,780)
James Harden (47,715)
Russell Westbrook (44,069)
Stephen Curry (42,767)
I won’t bore you. All of these guys are getting in, and deservedly so.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (35,732)
Anthony Davis (35,540)
Damian Lillard (35,350)
Again, they’re all getting in.
DeMar DeRozan (34,738)
Jimmy Butler (33,292)
Nikola Jokic (33,113)
Al Horford (32,669)
Kyle Lowry (31,425)
Kawhi Leonard (31,410)
Paul George (31,088)
This is where it starts to get interesting. Jokic and Kawhi Leonard are locks, no discussion needed.
Paul George is an eight-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA selection, and four-time All-Defensive choice. He’ll get the call.
Jimmy Butler — a five-time All-NBA and five-time All-Defensive selection — is probably a lock. If Butler can lead the Miami Heat to an NBA title, he’s a shoe-in.
Kyle Lowry will likely get the nod, but I wouldn’t guarantee it, at least not in his first few years of eligibility. Lowry’s former running mate in Toronto, DeMar DeRozan, seems lacking, at least to me.
Horford is a very good player who has managed to remain effective well past his prime, but I don’t see him getting in.
Here’s the last batch of active players:
Blake Griffin (29,951)
Kyrie Irving (29,740)
Kevin Love (29,677)
Brook Lopez (29,263)
Mike Conley (29,191)
Jrue Holiday (27,564)
Nikola Vucevic (27,263)
DeAndre Jordan (26,929)
Rudy Gay (26,716)
Rudy Gobert (26,443)
Kemba Walker (26,358)
Andre Drummond (26,230)
Thaddeus Young (25,594)
Bradley Beal (25,318)
Serge Ibaka (25,279)
John Wall (25,201)
Klay Thompson (25,134)
Karl-Anthony Towns (25,097)
I think the only stone-cold lock on the list above is Klay Thompson, although I believe Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will eventually be elected.
Blake Griffin is a tough case. In his first five seasons, Griffin won the Rookie of the Year Award, earned five All-Star selections, and was named All-NBA four times. However, once Griffin turned 30 years old the dropoff was steep, and he was never a contributor for a team that advanced beyond the conference semifinals in the postseason.
At this point in time, the rest of these players just don’t have the non-statistical accomplishments needed to enhance their somewhat-shaky quantitative resumes.