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Hall of Fame Bubble Players

The 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class will be inducted this Friday night, headlined by Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming as well as 2 other former NBA players, 2 coaches, 1 owner, 1 referee and 1 WNBA player. This offseason also saw the retirement of 2 of the greatest players of all time in Tim Duncan and KOBE, who will no doubt be facing their induction ceremonies in 7 years time. All of this, combined with a lot of off-season speculation, got me thinking about which current players could be heading for the Hall of Fame, but maybe aren’t quite there yet. What does any one of these players need to do to make the Hall? That depends on the individual player and how their resume is already shaping up. For some of the players on this list, they’re already 99% likely to be heading to Springfield, but just need to fill one more spot on the resume to get in. For others, they may have more time left and/or more tasks needing completion, and for some, there might be little left to do but let the cards fall as they may.

Practically Locks

Chris Paul

9x All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 3x All-NBA Second Team, All-NBA Third Team, 6x All-Defensive First Team, 2x All-Defensive Second Team, Rookie of the Year, All-Star MVP, 4x Assist Leader, 6x Steals Leader, 2x Gold Medalist, 11th Career Assists, 17th Career Steals.

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You can make the case that Chris Paul is already a lock to make the Hall of Fame, and it’s a case with which I would agree. He has been primarily responsible for the turnaround of a once rudderless Clippers organisation, and is in the discussion as one of the greatest Point Guards of all time. In addition to his on-court achievements, Paul has served as president of the NBPA since 2013, and was pivotal in the banning of Donald Sterling from the NBA. However, Paul continues to have one chink in his armour which has been his main source of criticism for quite some time; he’s yet to advance past the second round of the NBA playoffs.

It’s a chink that isn’t talked about in Point Forward discussion threads, or in Chris Paul fan circles, and it’s often overlooked when discussing CP3 more than it should be, but it’s an astounding factoid that continues to plague his legacy and lead to labels of being a choker. For some, like Dirk, they can overcome it and earn that once elusive title, but for others, like Malone or Barkley, the chase for a championship as the window closes can become ugly, and really hurt the legacy of a player. Chris Paul has the chance to silence the few skeptics still out there by making a title run and possibly raising the first banner in the Staples Center that isn’t in purple and gold.

Carmelo Anthony

9x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 4x All-NBA Third Team, NBA Scoring Champion, NCAA Champion, 3x Gold Medalist, USAMNT All-Time leading Scorer.

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Carmelo has been the focal point in a lot of basketball discussion over the off-season, as he went to Rio as the veteran leader of the US Men’s basketball team and continued to demonstrate his dominance on the Olympic level, cementing his status as the best ever US Olympic basketball player. He’s the first ever male basketballer to win 3 gold medals, and was additionally part of the 2004 bronze-medal team in Athens.

In the NBA, Carmelo managed to take the Nuggets to the playoffs for 7 straight years (2004-2010), also getting to the Western Conference Finals in the 2008-09 season. Since leaving the Nuggets for the Knicks in a poorly executed trade, Melo has struggled in New York, missing the playoffs every year since 2013, and only advancing past the first round in 2012-13. Many may blame this on poor rosters and mismanagement in New York, however at least part of the responsibility has to lie with Carmelo’s eagerness to be traded to New York instead of waiting and signing with them in Free Agency. Since leaving New York, it would be unfair to categorise Carmelo and the Knicks as anything but disappointing.

This may all be perceived differently if the 2016-17 Knicks can live up to Derrick Rose’s expectations and become a contender (for at least a year) in the Eastern Conference. A Conference Finals appearance in two different jerseys would no doubt solidify Carmelo’s resume, a feat some great players have attempted and failed. A much more likely scenario would be a great personal season that results in a second scoring title and/or a maiden All-NBA first team appearance. Either of these scenarios would remove the doubt in anybody’s mind that Anthony is deserving of the term ‘Future Hall of Famer’.

Dwight Howard

8x All-Star, 5x All-NBA First Team, All-NBA Second Team, 2x All-NBA Third Team, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, 4x All-Defensive First Team, All-Defensive Second Team, 5x Rebound Leader, 2x Block leader, Gold Medalist.

Continuing the theme of players on teams with chances to improve their legacy, Dwight Howard comes to Atlanta as a player who has somewhat bounced around the league since 2012. For me, Dwight Howard already deserves a Hall of Fame spot, due mostly to his 8 total All-NBA team representations, 5 time All-Defense, and a 2011 season worthy of MVP accolades stolen from under his nose by the soon to be discussed Derrick Rose. However, since leaving Orlando on 2012, Howard’s only silverware has been an All-NBA 3rd team spot in 2013 and a second team spot in 2014.

While it is worth mentioning that D12 has never missed the playoffs in his career, at stints with the Lakers and Rockets, Howard has only once advanced past the first round, reaching the Western Conference Finals with the Rockets in 2015 following a comeback victory against Conference-Finals-less Chris Paul and the Clippers. All of this, along with a poor fit and bad chemistry playing in Los Angeles and beside James Harden, raises serious questions over whether Howard will ever find his fearsome form from Florida.

With the Hawks, Howard has the chance to prove his dominance under a coach in Mike Budenholzer who is more than capable of getting the most out of the skills of his players. If Howard is capable of getting Atlanta back to the conference finals for his 3rd appearance after the departure of Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Demarre Carroll, or possibly his second Finals appearance, this would no doubt seal the deal on a Hall of Fame resume that is full of individual accolades. Alternatively, returning to the All-Defensive team on a second roster would colour him favourably in the minds of the voters.

Time to Spare

LaMarcus Aldridge

5x All-Star, All-NBA Second Team, 3x All-NBA Third Team.

Oct 30, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) reacts to a call against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

LaMarcus is one year out of Portland, and it appears that the Spurs are over the growing pains of adding their first marquee Free Agency signing in a long time. It’s tough to get a gauge on Aldridge as he spent the first 9 years of his career in Portland for only 3 All-NBA representations, none of them on the first team. It’s fair to say that his work may have gone unrecognised in Portland to some extent, but those are not the sort of arguments commonly bandied about amongst Hall of Fame voters. He also managed a third team rep in San Antonio this year, but with the resume he has so far put up, it’s hard to say with any confidence that Aldridge gets in. There are two avenues that could really boost Aldridge’s chances, but the likelihood of either occurring now Aldridge is 31 is diminishing by the year.

In my opinion, the more likely of the two is a couple of Conference championships, resulting in at least one NBA championship. While the Spurs are playing a clear second fiddle to the Warriors for the immediate future, it’s not unrealistic to see them squeaking by GSW in the Conference Finals. Aldridge is lucky enough to be playing with a top 5 player in Kawhi Leonard under the best coach of all time, which is why this route is more likely. The alternative to this route is a string of first and second team (absolute minimum 1 first team) appearances as Aldridge approaches the tail-end of his prime, however in order to do so he is battling against younger, stronger forwards like Durant, LeBron, Green, George, Davis, Towns and teammate Leonard; he also struggles with enough vagueness over his position (Forward/Center) to confuse voters out of voting him to a Center spot.

Al Horford

4x All-Star, All-NBA Third Team, 2x NCAA Champion.

Al Horford enters the 2016-17 season in much the same situation as LaMarcus Aldridge, but delayed by a year. At 30 years old, he left the team he was drafted to after the conclusion of his 2nd contract, and entered Free Agency, signing with a team with championship intentions. He also has a similar but slightly less impressive resume, having garnered only one Third Team rep and 4 All-Star Appearances. Horford’s resume is bolstered with a pair of NCAA Championships for the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007. However, these championships don’t carry the weight of Carmelo’s title with syracuse, as Horford was by no means the standout star of the team, playing alongside other future NBA talents in Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green.

For Al Horford, the path to a Hall of Fame ballot is much the same as LaMarcus Aldridge, requiring some first and second team reps or the building of a serious championship contender with the Boston Celtics. Given the smart moves Danny Ainge has been making to build this roster, I wouldn’t put it past Horford to end up with a title, and he would need a Finals MVP performance for that title alone to get him into the hall.

Marc Gasol

2x All-Star, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA First Team, All-NBA Second Team, All-Defensive Second Team, 2x Silver Medalist, FIBA Champion, Spanish League MVP, Liga ACB Champion.

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Unlike Aldridge and Horford, Gasol has a very unique Hall of Fame resume after only entering the NBA at the age of 23. Because of that, he has a list of fairly impressive european awards, and it will be interesting to see how much weight is put into those awards. He also has a much higher peak than Aldridge and Horford, having won a DPOY, two defensive team reps and an All-NBA first team rep.

It’s hard to find a good historical comparison for the resume of Marc Gasol, given that he’s never been on a team that has seriously contended for a championship. This makes it difficult to evaluate his current chances. Basketball-Reference’s Hall of Fame probability model only gives him a 0.53% chance right now because of the absence of championships and only 2 All-Star appearances. However, B-R’s model doesn’t account for other season awards or Gasol’s success in Spain.

Short of a few more All-NBA appearances or another couple of dominant defensive seasons, making it to the NBA Finals is the only way that Gasol can solidify what is right now a very irresolute resume. Sadly, the situation in memphis is just as middling as it has been in previous seasons. While they are regaining the health that deserted them in 2016, they still have a roster that looks nowhere near as threatening as the teams at the top of the West, and this doesn’t promise much for the Grizzlies or Gasol.

Kevin Love

NBA Champion, 3x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Second Team, Season rebounding leader, Gold Medalist.

Up until now I’ve written about 7 players, and there’s one thing that they all have in common – none of them have won a championship. It turns out that winning a championship covers over a multitude of sins, and not winning a championship shines a critical light on all of your other sins. This relationship holds so true, that Basketball-Reference’s Hall of Fame probability formula holds only All-Star selections as more predictive than Championships. Kevin Love is the first player on the list who does have a championship.

How much weight should be put into Love’s specific championship? Well he was 6th on his team in minutes played during the Finals which is very indicative of the significance of his contributions to his team’s success. However for the voters, looking back after a decade has passed, nobody will remember that, obversely he will be remembered as the 3rd man on a big three that won at least one championship. It’s also worth noting his stellar All-Star seasons in Minnesota, where he averaged 36.2% from deep, with a peak of 26.0 PPG, 13.3 RPG and 4.1 ORPG in the 2011-12 season. For this reason Love is that much more likely to reach the Hall, but in order to guarantee that fact, he needs to play like a member of the big 3.

The parallels are pretty obvious, but Love is in a similar situation to Chris Bosh after the Heat’s first championship in 2012. Bosh was 4th on his team in the finals in minutes played, and he was no doubt the least impactful of the big 3, standing as the biggest question mark going forward. Well it turns out that Bosh eventually perfected his role in the unique Heat offense and is now by most measures a future Hall of Famer. I would be surprised if Love didn’t figure out his spot on the roster soon, and another Cavaliers championship would solidify Love’s position in Springfield as well.

Long Shots

Derrick Rose

NBA MVP, 3x All-Star, All-NBA First Team, Rookie of the Year.

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The first former MVP mentioned, yet the least likely to make the Hall if they all retired today, Derrick Rose could become a serious Hall of Fame candidate if he manages to turn his career around in New York. While his historic MVP season at 22 years old is now viewed by many as an award stolen from Dwight Howard, when it comes to a player’s awards heading to Springfield, an MVP is an MVP. Since achieving 3 straight All-Star appearances from 2010 to 2012, Rose has struggled with numerous knee injuries and only played 51 and 66 games in the last two seasons respectively for the Bulls. All of this means that despite an MVP season, Derrick Rose probably doesn’t make the Hall if he retires today.

Luckily, Rose is now on one of the NBA’s ‘superteams’, and has a chance for rejuvenation with the Knicks. He has 1 year left on his contract, and if he manages to put up a respectable season he can hit free agency and land in a situation that might suit him better, or resign with the Knicks, furthering the chances that he earns some more credentials and improves the likelihood that he becomes a Hall of Famer.

You’d be well within reason to say that after 3 years away from basketball, and multiple knee injuries, Rose simply doesn’t have the freakish athleticism required to be successful anymore, and his career 30.2% 3-point rate implies that he won’t be able to flourish in a much more 3-heavy league. In addition, his much raved about finishing ability has resulted in a career FG% of .448, also known as inefficient, especially when those shots aren’t coming from deep like other guards. Point taken, however if Rose does manage to regain respectability in the league and doesn’t fade into obscurity after a flash-in-the-pan start to his career, his chances of being inducted jump significantly.

Rajon Rondo

NBA Champion, 4x All-Star, All-NBA Third Team, 2x All-Defensive First Team, 2x All-Defensive Second Team, 3x Season assist leader, season steals leader, 12th Career Triple Doubles.

The second and last player in the article with a championship, Rajon Rondo had a great start to his career in Boston. He did so by winning a championship as the starting point guard in his sophomore season with the Boston Celtics. However since the departure of Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, Rondo struggled as the first option on a depleted Celtics roster, suffered an ACL tear and was eventually traded away to the Mavericks in 2014. The Dallas experience soon faded away, with the Mavericks growing tired of Rondo. A one year deal with the Kings saw him return to the top of the assist boards, however it’s debatable whether his play was actually a positive in Sacramento. Playing on the same team as a questionably mature DeMarcus Cousins, Rondo wasn’t short of controversy both on and off the court.

Overall, it’s fair to say that the NBA cognoscenti has become suitably disillusioned to Rajon Rondo, and stock is low on his prospects as an NBA talent at 30 years old with an injury history. For this reason, despite the accolades he already has, most would be surprised if Rondo went to Springfield with his current resume. If Rondo can turn his career around on a 2 year contract in Chicago and make an All-NBA team, suddenly a player who looked like he’d lost it becomes a player who’s been one of world’s 15 best on two different teams in two different eras of the NBA. Alternatively, if Rondo plays a significant role on a Bulls squad that returns to the top of the Eastern Conference and makes a Finals appearance or two, he becomes a player who found a niche as one of the most creative facilitators ever on two successful teams.

Do I think any of that is going to happen? No. A starting perimeter of Wade, Butler and Rondo and a combined career 3 point percentage of 29.7% does not bode well in 2016. Combined with a less than stellar front-court, I don’t see the Bulls turning anything around soon and I don’t see Rondo succeeding with so little shooting to spread the floor, a feature so critical to his success in Boston. I see Rondo having a season as unworthy of discussion as last season, and looking for another job come the 2018 Free Agency period. But you never know.

Hall of Fame Purgatory

Vince Carter

8x All-Star, All-NBA Second Team, All-NBA Third Team, Rookie of the Year, Slam Dunk Contest Champion, Gold Medalist, 6th Career 3-Pointers, 24th Career Points.

TORONTO, CANADA - 2001: Vince Carter #15 of the Toronto Raptors dunks the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada circa 2001. 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 1991 NBAE (Photo by Nat Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

There is very little that Vinsanity can really do now he’s limited to a role-player position to further his Hall of Fame Resume, other than climbing up the career totals ladder for both 3 pointers and points. In fact, Carter pretty much defines Hall of Fame purgatory, his destiny is no longer in his hands. From the viewpoint of pure basketball skill, it’s fair to make the argument that Carter’s resume is rather limited. Only 2 All-NBA teams, and only one Conference Finals appearance playing behind a dominant Dwight Howard in 2010 is not a list of awards that lends itself to a Hall of Fame selection.

However, there are other arguments for Carter’s Hall of Fame campaign, the more analytical of which is his longevity. Carter is currently 24th in career points and sits 399 points behind Allen Iverson, and 536 behind Ray Allen. Those are season point totals he could reach, and combined with 6th all-time in 3s, that all-time ranking puts him well amongst current and future Hall of Famers. The highest player in all-time scoring who probably won’t make the Hall is Tom Chambers, 16 spots and almost 4000 points behind.

There’s also a more poetic reason why Carter deserves a spot in Springfield, and it’s as one of the most electrifying players to ever grace the game. Vince Carter’s Dunk of Death over Frenchman Frédéric Weis at the 2000 Olympics is considered by most to be the best in-game dunk of all time. Carter also contributed one the of the best dunk contests of all time in 2000, and stands slightly above Dr. J (and maybe Zach LaVine soon too) as the greatest dunker of all time. Given his long career, acceptance of a role-playing position after his prime, and the contributions to the game in terms of viewership and establishing the NBA brand through his highlight plays, he’ll probably make the Hall. But there’s not much he can do to improve those chances at this point besides stacking up the points. Who knows, maybe, when the knees are feeling fresh he can pull out one more dunk for the ages to seal the deal.

 Joe Johnson

7x All-Star, All-NBA Third Team.

Joe Johnson is heading into his 16th season in the NBA as a role-player for the Jazz, and like Vince Carter, is not in the position to improve his resume beyond climbing a little higher than 47th on the NBA scoring leaderboard. Johnson’s resume is also slightly less impressive than Carter’s, having one less All-Star appearance and only a single third team rep. One of the incredible statistics about Joe Johnson is his prevalence for making the post-season. In 15 seasons, Johnson has been to the playoffs 11 times despite playing for many different teams, and did so as a starter in all but his first season in Phoenix.

Hall of Fame voters also favourably view All-Star appearances, and 6 nominations as a key player for the Hawks as well as another appearance in Brooklyn in 2013-14 will colour him well on a ballot. Throw that in with peak season statistics in Atlanta of 25 PPG, 5 Assists, and 5 Rebounds, that makes his resume look quite appealing. The problem is that for most of his career outside Atlanta, he wasn’t the focal point of his team. Never reaching a dominant peak as one of the best 15 players in the league (outside of his one All-NBA third rep) also makes it very hard to get into the Hall.

Another big difference between Johnson and Carter is that Johnson never had seasons where he found himself in the top 10s of any statistical categories, an area at which Carter excelled and in which Basketball-Reference puts a lot of significance. Overall, it looks like Johnson is going to be very much on the fringe when it comes to Hall of Fame chances, but sadly there is almost nothing he can do at this point to fix that.

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