Nylon Calculus: When can we start calling somebody a ‘future Hall-of-Famer’?

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- JANUARY 25: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder is introduced prior to the game against the Washington Wizards on January 25, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Sr./NBAE via Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- JANUARY 25: Carmelo Anthony #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder is introduced prior to the game against the Washington Wizards on January 25, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Sr./NBAE via Getty Images) /

These are TOUGH times. It’s September — and we’ll never be further from watching NBA action than we are, right now. It’s been MONTHS since Ante Zizic made the final basket of the 2018 postseason and, for me, the withdrawal symptoms are definitely starting to set in; cold sweats, headaches, hallucinations. I’m subsisting on grainy iPhone clips of NBA players in local pick-up games, half-speed tribute videos of post-surgery recovery workouts, and rehashed Instagram comments from Kyle Kuzma to make it through the offseason doldrums. It’s real grim.

But, at least we still have the Hall-of-Fame debates!

Is Manu a Hall of Famer? Is Kareem overrated? Wow — good questions.

Of course, Hall-of-Fame debates are spiciest when the arguments have no basis. But, personally, I like numbers and I like models; so, I’ve always had fun digging through the list of the HOF probabilities posted by Basketball-Reference. Until recently, their model was a black box; but, now, you can see all the inputs they used and the coefficients they’ve calculated, too.

According to Basketball-Reference, if you want to decide whether a player is heading for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame you just need to know his height, the number of All-Star Games in which he’s appeared, the number of championships he’s won, his single-season Win Share peak, and how many so-called leaderboard points he’s accrued. Leaderboard points are awarded to any player who finished Top-10 in the league for a single season in total points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, or minutes (1 point for 10th, 10 points for 1st, etc.).

For each player who achieved a HOF probability of at least 20 percent, I used those inputs to chart incremental changes in his likelihood of enshrinement, year-by-year. The chart was made in Tableau Public — so you can hover over or click on any player’s line for more info or filter players by career achievements or by HOF status (or hold CTRL to make multiple selections).

This Year’s Class

The 2018 Hall-of-Fame class will be enshrined on Thursday, Sep. 6. The group is comprised of the usual mix of coaches, contributors, internationals, and lady players. But, keep in mind, the Basketball-Reference model tallies stats exclusively from the NBA. As such, there are only five players from the Class of 2018 who eclipsed 20 percent HOF probability per the Basketball-Reference model: Jason Kidd (>99 percent), Ray Allen (>99 percent), Steve Nash (98 percent), Grant Hill (89 percent), and Mo Cheeks (55 percent).

There’s not much to debate, here. Those are five pretty surefire inductees. Cheeks has the lowest estimate of the bunch, but he was also on five All-Defensive Teams (1st 4x, 2nd 1x) and those accomplishments are not taken into account in this model, so he’s being a bit undersold.

One thing that’s interesting about this group relative to the rest of the HOFers (shown in gray, behind) is that they were mostly late bloomers. Steve Nash, in particular, was slow to develop his HOF credentials — requiring 14 years to surpass 90 percent (thus, his line appears far to the right).

Below is a histogram which shows how many years it took each Hall of Famer to reach that milestone of 90 percent HOF probability. Once again, you can hover and click for more details. Try using the legend to compare the orange and the blue blocks and you can see that the older cohorts tended to peak after fewer years in the league compared to more-recent players (i.e., there is more orange on the left, more blue on the right). The most common amount of time spent to reach 90 percent was seven years in the league and the median was eight years (side note: the horizontal axis is most accurately described as “years since player’s first year in the NBA” because I didn’t attempt to hide years missed to injury, departure to another league, temporary retirements, etc.).

I’m trying Jennifer

If summertime Basketball Twitter is a desert for content, then CJ McCollum’s tweets are like the shimmering oasis. He’s doing his damndest to keep us entertained and “I’m trying Jennifer” will be a lock for any ‘Top-10 social moments of the NBA offseason’ slider you’re likely to see. Overlooked in the hilarious banter between CJ and Jennifer was some solid HOF debate fodder.

While walking back his criticism of Golden State and their DISGUSTING approach to team building, McCollum implied the Warriors have four Hall of Famers with another one on the way.

Presumably, McCollum was including Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson in his estimation with newly acquired DeMarcus Cousins being the fifth one on the way. That’s certainly how  Andre Iguodala seemed to interpret the comment. I’ve added a filter for “active GSW” players so we can easily check McCollum’s claim.

You can see that the CURRENT Hall-of-Fame probabilities for Durant and Curry are already in excess of 99 percent, so they’re basically in. It’s tempting to tack on a caveat like “barring a career-ending injury”; but it’s really not even necessary. Either Warrior would be a Hall of Famer without playing another game. Of the group of HOF-eligible players — which encompasses any player who has cleared the requisite four-year post-retirement cooling-off period — everybody who has achieved similar success has been enshrined. In fact, there’s only one player who has surpassed the mark of 90 percent HOF odds without being inducted into the Hall — poor Larry Foust.

Green (27 percent) and Thompson (25 percent) have accumulated enough early-career accolades to set their trajectories towards Springfield too; however, their enshrinement cases still require further strengthening. We can use the Basketball-Reference model to deduce what else they’ll need to accomplish before they retire. If we assume, to be conservative, that neither player will finish in the Top-10 on any leaderboard in the future and that neither will improve on his current career-high for Win Shares in a season, each player would need to notch just three more All-Star appearances and one additional championship — a pretty realistic possibility — to finish with HOF probabilities of 95 percent and 94 percent, respectively. Given that Green (REB, AST, STL) and Thompson (PTS, MP) have both earned leaderboard points in the past, they could easily end up with even better odds.

Still, not every promising young career path has led to the Hall. Among star players who achieved a Win Share peak of 11.0 or higher, four players climbed to at least 25 percent HOF odds (where Dray and Klay are now), only to stall and finish their careers with no more than 40 percent. There’s a slew of reasons — whether it’s knee injuries, trades, overeating, or just getting punched really hard, in the face — for a bright career to fade. If Green or Thompson experience a career plateau like Penny Hardaway, they might never don an orange jacket, either.

Well, but, what about the rest of the Warriors?

Iguodala does not have a conventional Hall of Fame resume. One could attempt to draw some parallels between his career and that of 2018 inductee Mo Cheeks, but the numbers don’t really stack up. Perhaps unjustly, Iguodala has made only one All Star Game appearance and earned just two All-Defensive team selections. In contrast, Cheeks was more decorated — with five All-Star selections and five All-Defensive team honors. You might think Dennis Johnson is proof that collecting an NBA Finals MVP and three championships is enough to propel an elite role player into the Hall; but DJ also had five All Stars and NINE All-Defensive team nods.

Of course, it’s NOT really all about numbers when it comes to the Basketball Hall of Fame. There are many Hall of Famers who have a HOF probability below 20 percent who are not shown on the charts, here. The Basketball-Reference model is designed to measure on-court NBA accomplishments (they built the model using data exclusively from players with at least 400 career NBA games and 50 Win Shares); but, in real life, candidates are also given consideration for off-the-court contributions as coaches, league employees, or basketball innovators. Andre is certainly talented and versatile enough to achieve something special after he hangs up his sneakers — something that might bolster his HOF credentials, even if the model never likes his chances.

Indeed, the President and Chief Operating Officer for the Warriors, Rick Welts, will be inducted with the Class of 2018 for his contributions in helping to turn the NBA’s All-Star Game weekend into a world-wide celebration of the sport. Likewise, with five championships won as a Player on the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs, and three more titles in four seasons with the Warriors so far; Coach Steve Kerr (3.3 percent) has a pretty good shot of being invited to the Hall someday, too.

And we can’t forget about Steve Nash — currently, a player development consultant for the Warriors — who will also be honored at the enshrinement this week.

On the other hand, the model does not support the gracious compliment McCollum paid to Warriors new addition Boogie Cousins. At an estimated 1.3 percent HOF odds, he hasn’t done enough to earn a “future Hall of Famer” tag just yet.

So, whereas McCollum credited the Warriors for having four Hall of Famers with another one on the way; I think they actually have four Hall of Famers (Durant, Curry, Welts, and Nash) with THREE more on the way (Green, Thompson, and Kerr), plus another two who still have an outside chance of joining the party later on (Iguodala and Cousins).

Is he a Hall of Famer?

Another fun version of the Hall of Fame debate game is to pick a player you really like or, better yet, one you don’t like much at all, and ask: “Is he a Hall of Famer”? Then, if the answer provided doesn’t match your personal feelings, you break out some incredulous scoffing, eye rolling, quote-tweeting…whatever you like.

Some popular participants for this HOF game include Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony.

Dwight and Melo are among a small group of veteran players — along with Vince Carter, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol — who have an estimated HOF probability somewhere between 90 and 99.5 percent. They aren’t quite LeBron- or Dirk-level locks, but their credentials are pretty unimpeachable. Personalities aside, there’s not really much debate, here.

Recently-retired Manu Ginobili is another popular HOF debate topic, of late. I mean, of course he’s destined for the Hall of Fame too — he’s the only man to topple Team USA at the Olympics since 1988, he won four NBA championships with the Spurs, and he invented the eurostep. He’s perfect. But Ginobili also perfectly illustrates the blind spots of the model. He was only named an All-Star twice and his limited playing time consistently precluded him from making a Top-10 leaderboard for any of the major counting stats. These facts fool the model into spitting out a low HOF projection for Ginobili.

But, check out some of the other players with HOF probabilities between 20 percent and 85 percent — these guys are the real Hall-of-Fame conundrums: Chauncey Billups (84%), Shawn Marion (76%), Amar’e Stoudemire (73%), and Jermaine O’Neal (32%). None of these names really have that Hall-of-Fame ring to them, but the model suggests that at least one of them will make it in.

Kareem is NOT overrated

Kobe Bryant famously has both his original No. 8 Lakers jersey and his born-again No. 24 version hanging from the rafters in the Staples Center. The fun thing is that if you split up his career achievements by jersey number, you’ll find that his HOF probability after his first ten seasons — from 1997 to 2006 — already exceeded 99 percent, and then his track record during the second decade of his career — from 2007 to 2016 — ended up being equally impressive (also >99 percent HOF). In other words, he could have been a Hall-of-Famer two times over.

And if you think Kobe had a great career, you’ll love what LeBron James is doing. During his first six seasons — coinciding with his initial time in Cleveland — James was quick to surpass the 99 percent mark. Then, after just four seasons in Miami, LeBron had nearly doubled down — accumulating stats and rings worthy of another 96 percent over that stretch. Now, in the last four seasons, LeBron is already halfway to a third Hall-of-Fame career.

Michael Jordan was better though. During his Raging Bull period — that is, his first six seasons from 1985 to 1990 — he stampeded past the milestone of 99 percent HOF odds. Then, in just three seasons, from 1991 to 1993, powered by the Bulls first three-peat, he amassed another 97 percent HOF probability. After a brief detour in minor-league baseball, Jordan returned for another three-peat and another three All-Stars. Then there was another retirement and then two more All Stars with the Wiz. All of that (from 1995 to 2003) was worth another 99% for Mike.

But, nobody has amassed as much NBA hardware as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You can break his career into three segments — he won two MVPs and a ring as a young Buck (1970 to 1973), won another four MVPs and a title during his prime (1974 to 1980), and he finished his career out with nine straight All-Star appearances and four more championships with the Showtime Lakers (1981 to 1989). In each individual career segment, he did enough to exceed 99% HOF probability.

The guy had three Hall-of-Fame careers in one. Kareem is NOT overrated.

Well, I hope these charts provided some distraction for you. You know, something to carry you through until preseason starts in a few weeks. And if any of these numbers disagree with you, remember it’s just a model. Not even my model, really.