In Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11, I introduced a framework for identifying potential Hall of Famers based strictly on a player's work in the NBA. Of course, there are plenty of inductees in the Basketball Hall of Fame for other reasons, such as an outstanding college career (Ralph Sampson, Bill Walton), international prowess (Arvydas Sabonis) or success in the women's game (Ann Meyers). There are coaches, officials, owners, general managers and other contributors, including James Naismith himself. So there are lots of paths to the basketball hall and for some, it's a combination of factors that lead to enshrinement.
More and more, however, the focus is on the NBA part of the equation. The early pioneers have been inducted, as have most of the best players who straddled leagues around the time the ABA and NBA merged. The WNBA ensures that women will continue to get their due recognition, as will those who shine overseas. So it will never be an NBA Hall of Fame per se, but with elite players spending less time than ever at the college level, it's that league that is going to generate the most candidates.
The NBA is also the one league for which we can do a thorough analytical vetting of candidates because of the completeness of data we have to work with, especially for the post-merger NBA when we have enough information to calculate possession statistics. That's led to the development of terrific bottom-line metrics like Kevin Pelton's WARP system, which is what I use for my research into questions regarding Hall worthiness. WARP is calculated back to the 1979-80 season, when the 3-point rule was instituted, thus giving us all the elements needed for the metric's formula.
In the aforementioned essay, my research indicated that at about 100 career WARP, a player enters the Hall of Fame conversation. Of retired players at that level or better, just under half (47.6 percent) have been enshrined in Springfield. And it is a conversation -- there are a lot of non-statistical factors to consider. Joe Dumars played his entire career in the WARP era and finished with just 59 career WARP. But we know that he was considered one the league's top individual defenders during most of his 14 NBA seasons and was a key player to two championship teams. If he had not already been voted into the Hall, we'd now have his body of work as an NBA executive to consider as well.
These extraneous things matter in the process, which is why the statistical portion of the debate is only a jumping off point. But let's go ahead and make that leap, looking at a couple of tiers of potential Hall of Famers among active players. To spice up the debate, I've incorporated the five-year WARP projections I did before the season. So we won't be looking at the players by the numbers they've accumulated to date, but how they may look five years from now.
According to the retired players portion of my database, it's clear that 150 WARP marks a nice, clean delineation, where there really is no debate regarding the player's performance record. There 15 retired players that have hit that mark and only two of them aren't in the Hall. Those two are Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton. O'Neal is of course an upper, upper crust Hall of Famer, who belongs in the rare circle of legends including the likes of Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, West, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, Bird, etc. Payton will be eligible next year and I'd peg him as a sure-fire first ballot candidate with his 184 career WARP, except that Reggie Miller rolled up 172 and had to wait a year. Either way, The Glove will get in there sooner rather than later.
Right now, there are 14 players on target to hit 150 WARP within the next five seasons. If that seems like a lot, I'll repeat something I've written many times: Due to the explosion of the international game, the popularity of basketball in the U.S. and the gradual increase in the number of NBA franchises over the last 40 years, there are more good, and great, professional players than at any point in the game's history. There is no doubt in my mind that every one of these 14 will end up in Springfield.
Player W/S pkW/S prW/S pTOT
LeBron James 21.2 23.9 22.5 315.0
Kevin Garnett 14.8 19.4 11.7 257.2
Tim Duncan 16.4 18.1 12.8 256.4
Jason Kidd 13.9 14.8 10.9 250.4
Chris Paul 17.6 19.0 18.2 217.9
Kobe Bryant 12.7 15.4 10.2 214.7
Dwight Howard 15.4 18.2 15.6 202.2
Dirk Nowitzki 13.1 15.7 10.2 194.2
Paul Pierce 12.4 13.1 10.0 190.9
Dwyane Wade 14.7 15.9 13.2 185.2
Kevin Durant 12.1 16.5 17.4 173.5
Steve Nash 10.4 9.1 8.0 167.8
Ray Allen 10.2 12.2 7.6 159.4
Pau Gasol 11.2 11.4 9.5 151.2
KEY: W/S: WARP per season to date;
pkW/S: WARP during peak seasons;
prW/S: projected WARP per season in
five years; pTOT: projected career WARP in
LeBron will have reached the end of his long, glorious peak (which we liberally define as the 10 seasons between the ages of 23 and 32) in five years. If he called a press conference today and announced his retirement, he'd already be a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 191 WARP. If he meets his five-year projections, he'll surpass John Stockton's mark of 302 career WARP. His projected 22.5 WARP per season will dwarf the best number in that category, which is headed up by David Robison (17.7) and Michael Jordan (17.6). His 23.9 WARP per peak season will easily beat Robinson's 20.7. From here on out, LeBron is in a race not for the Hall of Fame, but to be considered the game's best player ever. Don't scoff based on what you think of LeBron today. Check back with me five years from now.
Garnett, Duncan, Kidd, Bryant, Nowitzki, Pierce, Nash and Allen have already hit the magical 150 barrier, so despite the fact that their performance will taper off in their golden years, they are already Springfield-bound. Paul certainly seems to be on a trajectory that will land him first-ballot status, barring injury. He, along with Wade, Howard and Gasol still have some work to do but are projected to get there. Gasol, if he were to fall off a cliff performance-wise, has the most tenuous status on this list.
Durant is fascinating because he's just five years into his career and has only completed two of his peak seasons. He stands at 60 WARP through last season, a number which if he were never to add it, wouldn't get him to Springfield. But only James has more projected WARP than Durant's 113 over the next half-decade, which would put K.D. squarely in the no-brainer class. And, best of all, he'll still have three peak seasons left to add to the total beyond that, plus whatever the downside of his career yields. It will be fascinating to see just how high Durant rises in these rankings. He has no ceiling.
UP FOR DEBATE
There are lots of names that have already popped in your head that are missing from the above inventory of no-brainers. I'm going to list the 24 players who project to hit 100 career WARP where, as I mentioned, is where the debate begins. Some of these players will get in, others won't. We'll have to leave these debates for the years ahead, but these are the players to watch. I've listed them in order of projected career WARP for five years down the line, along with the percentage chance that the number gets the player to the Hall, depending some of the other factors we've already mentioned.
Player prTOT %CHANCE
Kevin Love 146.6 82%
Josh Smith 145.7 82%
Tracy McGrady 144.1 82%
Elton Brand 138.9 75%
Chauncey Billups 130.7 63%
Manu Ginobili 126.9 59%
Vince Carter 124.4 59%
Shawn Marion 122.9 57%
Russell Westbrook 122.8 57%
Andre Iguodala 121.9 57%
Marcus Camby 115.7 53%
Baron Davis 115.5 53%
Deron Williams 114.5 53%
Ryan Anderson 113.3 53%
Blake Griffin 111.5 52%
Andrew Bynum 110.9 52%
Andrei Kirilenko 110.5 52%
Chris Bosh 109.0 49%
Al Jefferson 107.5 47%
Ben Wallace 105.3 43%
Greg Monroe 105.2 42%
Grant Hill 104.5 42%
Carmelo Anthony 104.3 42%
Tony Parker 100.8 39%
The presence of some of these players on a Hall of Fame list will seem silly five years from now. Others may be firmly established as no-brainers. Again, and I can't emphasize this enough, the numbers are just the jumping-off point. Derrick Rose (85 projected WARP in five years) and Carmelo Anthony (104) fans especially should remember that.
A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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