The annual Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony takes place Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET in Springfield, Massachusetts. The memorable personalities of Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming, three guys who influenced the game of basketball in huge ways, headline the class.
Many current NBA players will watch the ceremony with aspirations to make the Hall one day. Unfortunately, very few of them actually will make it.
But with the event, let’s take some time to predict which current players have the best odds at being immortalized in Springfield one day. Players with fewer than five years of experience will not be included, as there isn’t quite big enough of a sample size to predict the course of their careers. Sorry, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ben Simmons.
Though I do hate defining players’ legacies before their careers are over, I’ll make a small exception here. Based on each player’s age and what we’ve seen from him so far, we can offer a decent guess on his Hall of Fame credentials.
All players with a shot at Springfield will be grouped into six tiers: locks, almost for sure, probably, maybe, probably not and almost no chance. So let’s get to it.
As always, feel free to give me a hard time about my Hall picks on Twitter @jaredtjohnson21 or offer your thoughts in the comment section below.
LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant
Everyone in this group could announce their retirement tomorrow and be a shoo-in for Springfield.
James, Garnett, Nowitzki and Wade should be obvious — all carried a franchise to great heights for long periods of time, each winning at least one championship ring and spending a significant amount of their careers as top-five players in the league. Each also has at least 12 All-Star appearances, and every player eligible for the Hall with that many appearances is in.
Including Paul and Durant may ruffle some feathers, since neither have won an NBA championship. But Paul already has a really serious argument as the second-best point guard of all time (he’s not a choker, do some research) who’s been anywhere from first to third in the floor general hierarchy for the past nine seasons.
At just 31 years old, he already has more win shares than Walt Bellamy, Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins and several other ringless Hall of Famers.
Durant has his league MVP and four scoring titles working for him. Not only that, he’s been one of the most insanely efficient and consistent scoring machines in league history who contributes admirably in a variety of other areas. There has never before been a seven-footer with the handles of a point guard and the quickness and shooting stroke of a really good shooting guard, and I think the Hall would honor that even if Durant retired tomorrow.
Almost For Sure (80-99 percent)
Paul Pierce, Stephen Curry, Pau Gasol, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook
Most of these guys are closer to 99 percent than 80 percent. Something would have to go terribly awry for any of them to miss out.
Pierce and Curry were the toughest omissions from the “locks” list, for different reasons. Pierce has one championship ring, a Finals MVP and about 17 seasons of very high-level play, including 10 trips to the All-Star Game. However, he was never close to being a (regular-season) MVP and never was quite at the “franchise player” level of all the guys in the above section.
Curry has a nearly opposite resume to Pierce. He has two MVPs under his belt (including the only unanimous one in history), but ankle problems prevented his career from really taking off until a few years ago. Therefore, his three All-Star appearances are weak for a Hall of Fame resume, but I have no problem predicting at least a four or five more before his prime is officially over.
Gasol and Parker have great NBA resumes littered with championships and All-Star appearances, along with significant achievements overseas in FIBA play. For the record, I consider these guys’ contributions to their countries a bigger deal than American guys like Carmelo Anthony having nice Olympic careers, since the international guys meant more to their squads and couldn’t have been replaced as easily.
Anthony’s and Howard’s legacies are currently held back by their lack of team success, as well as some other significant factors. Whether or not all of it is warranted, Melo will get hammered for his sometimes lazy defense and inability to lift his teammates’ play, and Howard will get flak for being moody and having a mediocre offensive skill set.
Both players’ accomplishments shouldn’t be pushed aside, though. Melo is currently 13th in NBA history in points per game, with six All-NBA and nine All-Star appearances. He hasn’t slowed down significantly yet and should have a nice spot on the all-time scoring list when his career is done.
Howard’s prime ended too soon, but it was a great one that included three Defensive Player of the Year awards, eight All-NBA and eight All-Star appearances. Hopefully, he’ll be able to recapture some of his former glory in Atlanta.
It’s awfully soon to say this, but I’m worried Westbrook will never get his championship ring and have to endure the resulting criticism that all superstars without titles get. But he’s an absolute beast in every way, putting in his claim as the most athletic point guard to ever play the game. He’ll have to improve his outside shooting and defensive discipline as he ages, though.
Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Manu Ginobili, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson
Bosh, Carter and Ginobili are in the first category here, as all three are probably close to done with their careers. The Heat have been so tight-lipped on Bosh’s health problems that I worry his days on an NBA court may be numbered, hence my hesitance to put him in the previous tier. Two rings help his cause, as do his 12 seasons being in the top 20 players (or so) in the league.
Carter’s apex was so short, and his teams were never very good when he was one of the best players in the league. His record in his eight All-Star seasons was 301-270 (winning percentage of 52.7) and he’s spent most of the rest of his career as an off-the-bench scoring specialist on teams of varying qualities. His longevity is nice and he may be the best dunker in league history, so he’ll probably get in.
If I were voting, Ginobili should be a shoo-in based on precedent for players of his quality with four rings, but people will probably gawk at his unspectacular career totals in raw statistics. If Dennis Johnson (may he rest in peace) can make the Hall of Fame as a third or fourth banana on three title teams, can’t Ginobili do the same as a second or third banana on four title teams? Then there’s his international career to consider.
You may be surprised that I included the next four guys, all of whom are 27 or younger. Remember, I’m projecting here, and all five of those guys have achieved plenty of success already and are in position for much more of it.
Harden and Leonard are the least surprising of the bunch, probably. The Beard does look somewhat destined for a Melo-like career. But is that such a bad thing? He’s one of the top three or four offensive players in the NBA and no one could have expected that much out of him coming out of Arizona State, even if he was the No. 3 pick. He flat-out dragged the Rockets to the No. 2 seed in 2014-15, and more seasons like that could be coming.
Leonard has a nice little resume going at the age of just 25. Two Defensive Player of the Year awards, one Finals MVP and a second-place MVP finish are already awesome, and with his work ethic, he’s only scratched the surface of his potential. He’s being treated like an all-time great by one of the all-time great coaches, so who’s to doubt what he can accomplish?
Thompson and Irving are set up for a bunch of success because of how good their teams will be for the next few years. However, both are already perennial All-Stars on their own (when healthy), young and improving, so I don’t think it’s too soon to predict that excellent careers are headed their way. Only injuries (knock on wood) or their super teams breaking up earlier than expected could derail otherwise decorated careers.
Elton Brand, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, John Wall
Brand is an interesting case. You may be scoffing at his inclusion in this section, because the most memorable team he played rotation minutes for was that 47-win 2006 Clippers squad that snuck into the Western Conference semis. The guy has just produced, though — his career win shares (109.6) are 56th in NBA history, ahead of guys like Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Allen Iverson and Isiah Thomas.
Griffin and Aldridge have established themselves as some of the most offensively skilled bigs of their generation, who have unfortunately come up short in the postseason. Either that needs to change with some memorable playoff performances, or the two need to extend their primes later into their careers than most do so we can praise them for their longevity. If neither of those happen, they could be destined for a Chris Webber-esque fate.
George and Butler are similar cases, as great young two-way wings who are the focal point of their mediocre-to-pretty good teams. Can the players get the help necessary to contend for a title? Or will one or both of them improve enough on their own to will their teams into the upper echelon of teams?
Gasol and Cousins have battled for the title of “best center in the league” for the past few seasons and will soon get passed by Karl-Anthony Towns, if that hasn’t happened already. With differing styles and personalities, both are very effective and need several more good years to put themselves in pole position for the Hall. Cousins, especially, will need at least a few playoff appearances. Gasol’s contributions to the Spanish national team give him a very slight bump here.
Wall is on the lower end of the maybe spectrum, and it’s not totally his fault. The Wizards’ ownership has done a poor job surrounding him with the right talent, which does have something to do with his poor offensive efficiency. If he merely sustains his current level of play for the rest of his prime (maybe five more years) and then slowly tails off without much team success, he could be on the outside looking in.
Probably Not (20-40%)
Joe Johnson, Andre Iguodala, DeAndre Jordan, Zach Randolph, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas
There are a lot of guys in this tier, so we’ll just hit the highlights. Every one of these guys would either need some assistance from the selection committee, some unexpected personal improvement (or more improvement than what is expected) or more team accolades to get in.
Johnson being a seven-time All-Star is one of the great mysteries of the modern NBA, but voters will see that on his resume and give him a long look for the Hall. He was a very strong scorer in his prime with average efficiency, but he never contributed that much in other areas.
Iguodala has a chance to be a Dennis Rodman- or Dennis Johnson-type inclusion. He’ll need to keep playing big roles on a few more great Warriors teams, probably winning at least two more ‘chips.
Lowry’s prime started too late, and Williams’ and Rondo’s ended too early. Will any of them have enough years as elite players to get them the respect needed for enshrinement?
Every single MVP in NBA history who is eligible for Springfield is there, but Rose is looking more and more like he’ll be the first exception. He had 13.1 win shares in 2010-11, but he’s combined for just 18.3 in the other six seasons in which he’s played. The end of his 2015-16 campaign offered some hope that he can be a positive contributor for the remainder of his career, but probably not positive enough to bring back his Hall hopes.
Almost No Chance (1-19%)
Derrick Favors, Andre Miller, Joakim Noah, Tristan Thompson, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Al Jefferson, David Lee, Richard Jefferson, David West, Kemba Walker, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, DeMar DeRozan
For the most part, these guys are borderline stars or players who used to be borderline stars. The guys who are currently borderline stars must cross into star territory and earn some individual and (preferably) team accolades. The guys who are in the twilight of their careers must simply hope voters have some compassion.
Of this whole list, I could probably make the strongest Hall argument for Miller. He was never an All-Star, but he just spent about 12 years as a clearly above-average starting point guard in the league, proving solid scoring, excellent passing and smart defense. He’s also ninth on the all-time assist list, behind seven Hall of Famers and one guy (Mark Jackson) who he was definitely a better all-around player than. If voted in, though, he would be one of the least memorable players to be enshrined.
I put Thompson on here because of his situation, which is the same reason Irving is in “probably” instead of “maybe.” Playing with LeBron James has helped his career tremendously, and he’s in great position to solidify his reputation as a Grade-A hustle player on a perennial title contender in Cleveland. If the Cavs don’t win more than two ‘chips, though, I don’t think he has much of a shot.
Crawford may also be a debatable inclusion because his game has always been more flash than substance and he offers very little besides scoring and mesmerizing ball-handling. However, those skills could sway a few voters. Considering he’s been on an ever-so-slight decline since about 2009, he could fulfill his plan of playing five more years and end up around 21,000 points for his career (he’s at 17,076 right now).