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On Sunday night, Tom Brady add another data point to his case as the greatest football player of all time, leading a thrashing of the Kansas City Chiefs to win the Super Bowl. It seems like much of the sports conversation today is going to revolve around legacy and historic measures of greatness so I thought it would be fun to take a look at the NBA and which active players have the best chance of making the Hall-of-Fame.
Basketball-Reference has a statistical model to calculate Hall-of-Fame probability, which includes championships, statistical leaderboard ranks, peak Win Shares and All-Star selections. It’s not a perfect predictor but it’s an excellent starting point.
According to their model, there are nine active players with a 90 percent or better chance of making the Hall-of-Fame — LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis. Of that group, only Davis and Howard seem relatively controversial — Howard because his accomplishments have been somewhat tainted by personality and Davis because of his relative youth (he’s 27, every other player on the list is over 30). But even that is picking nits.
The next group is where things get far more interesting. There are 14 active players with a probability somewhere between 25 and 90 percent and individually, many of their cases are fascinating. They are listed below, ranked by their current probability in the model. Keep in mind that the model only includes a player’s past production, so younger players are likely to sit far below where they will ultimately end their careers.
Kyle Lowry: 85.7 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Lowry’s resume was immensely helped by the championship he won next to Kawhi Leonard and although he’s never really been considered the best point guard in the league at any point in his career, consistency has served him well. For what it’s worth, the model gives him a higher probability than Chauncey Billups.
Damian Lillard: 74.8 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
If Lillard was able to win a ring before retiring, his probability likely surges into “lock” territory. But even without that, he has a solid statistical resume and plenty of iconic moments to help cement his case. A few more seasons of high-level productivity will only help, even if the Blazers are bowing out in the early round of the playoffs. The model gives him a higher probability of inclusion than Gail Goodrich, Mitch Richmond or Maurice Cheeks, all of him have been inducted.
Kevin Love: 73.5 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Love’s case is interesting because the latter half of his career has been marred by injuries and because his lone ring could be chalked up, primarily, to the extraordinary efforts of LeBron James. He’s a player whose actual probability may be overstated by the statistical model. Although, if he’s traded this year and has a chance to win another ring as a role player before retiring, that could change things.
Paul George: 65.4 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Some will probably be shocked to see George ranked ahead of Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson but people forget how productive he was with the Indiana Pacers. For example, he is way ahead of Kawhi in total career points, rebounds, assists and steals and his per-game averages are ahead as well. If the Clippers win a title behind him and Kawhi, he’s probably a lock.
Kyrie Irving: 64.8 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
I don’t know what you do with Kyrie’s case. Despite his iconic 3-pointer in Game 7, I imagine most of the credit for his one title will be retroactively handed to LeBron. His public persona could make it harder for him to get inducted, but Allen Iverson and Dennis Rodman are both in. If the Nets win a title he’s almost certainly in. If not, who knows?
Rajon Rondo: 60.6 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
His ring with the Lakers bumped his odds up but Rondo seems likely to fall below the cut-off line. Maybe he gets another title somewhere as a veteran mercenary but his centrality to that title will only decrease from what it’s been in the past. And in his current role he isn’t making any significant changes to his career statistical leaderboard totals. His resume is pretty much locked in and I’m guessing it’s not quite good enough.
Kawhi Leonard: 58.7 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
I think Kawhi is probably another player who is underrated by the model. Because of injuries and rest, his career totals for things like points and rebounds are lower than many other Hall-of-Famers. But he’s been the best player in the NBA Finals on two different champions and he’s won an All-Star Game MVP and two Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Those things don’t count in Basketball-Reference’s model but they certainly will to the selection committee.
Blake Griffin: 54.8 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Sadly, it seems like retirement is coming much sooner for Blake Griffin than anyone else would have hoped. Injuries have taken their toll and the drop-off from his peak has been dramatic. It’s hard to imagine much changing on his Hall-of-Fame resume at this point and if he does make it, the case would be recognition of the visceral power of his game when he was at his best.
Klay Thompson: 51.3 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Thompson’s case is also probably understated by the model here. He was a complementary piece on all three of the Warriors’ championship teams but he also has several iconic moments — scoring 60 points in under 30 minutes and hitting 10 consecutive 3-pointers to start a game against the Lakers. In addition, if he returns healthy next season he has a good chance of finishing behind just James Harden and Stephen Curry on the career 3-point list.
LaMarcus Aldridge: 50.9 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
The ship has probably sailed for Aldridge who is 35 years old and averaging the fewest minutes and points per game since his rookie season.
Jimmy Butler: 43.3 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Leading the Heat to a title might make him a fringe candidate. Otherwise, he’s probably out.
John Wall: 32.4 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
It’s hard to see how Wall meaningfully improves his resume over the next few years. He’s almost certainly going to come up short.
Draymond Green: 30.1 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Draymond’s case is interesting especially compared to Klay Thompson’s. His probability is much lower in the model in part because he scores fewer points, and has been selected for fewer All-Star teams. But he’s widely recognized as being key to the Warriors’ evolution and their three titles and he has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best defenders of his era (and a Defensive Player of the Year Award). It’s hard to imagine them being split. If Draymond is in, then Klay is too, and vice versa.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 25.6 percent Hall-of-Fame probability
Giannis’ probability is deflated by the fact that he’s still so young and so early in his career. As he continues racking up points, blocks and assists he’s going to rocket up the list. Even if he never wins a title, his two MVPs and Defensive Player of the Year Award should be more than enough, assuming an otherwise normal career arc.
The Eastern Conference appears to be wide open through the first third of the 2020-21 NBA season. How many teams have a legitimate shot to win it?
The Los Angeles Clippers have been incredibly hot and the importance of their offensive moves are finally coming into focus. Serge Ibaka has been a game-changer and it’s allowed the team to open their offense in ways they couldn’t last season.