Win Sharing is Caring – FromSandToGlass (Flickr)
HOW TO BUILD an NBA Hall of Fame? first, define what it is — and isn’t. From the 156 players now enshrined in Springfield, we cut 57 on demographics alone: female players, international-only stars and those who played before the 1946 birth of the BAA (all of whom, yes, are deserving of their own Hall). From there, we cut the 55 who didn’t clear our threshold of a 100 Hall of Fame Rating (see below) and added 36 more (19 active, 17 retired) who did. The total tally of inductees into The Mag’s NBA Hall? A nice round 80 — that is, until we enshrine Kevin Durant in two years.
– Via Mr. Stern, tear down this Hall
As with any endeavor, this proposal for a new Hall of Fame has its merits and its detractions. On the positive side its formula, which you can find in the article, based on win shares does wind up including a few great players that will be (or already have been) overlooked for the Hall of Fame: Buck Williams, Detlef Schrempf, and Larry Nance for example.
However, the drawback is that this formula does privilege a single stat (win shares), which does disproportionately favors players with lengthy careers. Anyone paying attention to the NBA over the last couple of decades may notice that players’ careers are getting lengthier and lengthier. This allows for the greater accruing of win shares. Admittedly, the inclusion of “dominance factor” does ameliorate this somewhat, but overall the scheme favors modern players. I love Otis Thorpe, but he gets included in this Hall of Fame and Bob Cousy does not. Something is not quite right here.
“[Win shares] boasts the benefit of equalizing for the historically fluctuating pace of NBA play.”
The “not quite right” here is not merely that players today generally have a longer career to build the win shares. It is also that each season involves more games and, more importantly, win shares is a biased statistic. It may equalize fluctuating pace, but it does not give George Mikan or Dolph Schayes an extra 10 games every season to rack up win shares like Kobe Bryant or Hakeem Olajuwon enjoyed.
To highlight this particular issue, let’s look at Hal Greer.
The Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers legend misses the new win shares-based HOF by 0.05 points. For inclusion a player had to achieve a score of 100 in the win shares formula. Greer had 99.95.
However, let’s consider that Greer’s career began in the 1958-59 season when the NBA only played 72 games a year. For the 1960-61 season, the NBA moved to 79 games, and the season after to 80. The move to 82 games didn’t finally happen until 1967-68. This means that over his career, Greer had 34 potential games removed. I think he would have made up the 0.05 win share difference in an extra 34 games and thus be considered an all-time great.
But Greer’s career merely highlights the arbitrary cutoff of 100, which is a side issue of loving neat round numbers. The real issue is the win share formula’s modern bias.
“A second benefit? Unlike traditional stats, win shares do not help stat compilers who hang on past their primes.”
The problem though is that win shares only operates optimally after the 1977-78 season. Why is that? That’s because it was the first season where the “traditional” stat of turnovers was logged. Without turnovers, the win shares statistic becomes imperfect.
Try calculating how long it will take a rock to fall without knowing wind resistance. You’ll get a number that may be close, but it’s not going to be absolutely correct. And so it is for win shares without turnovers.
Furthermore, things get shakier the further back you look. Steals and blocks weren’t kept until 1973-74. Defensive and offensive rebounds weren’t tracked separately until that same season. Rebounds weren’t kept at all prior to 1950-51. Minutes played were logged for the first time in 1949-50.
As basketball-reference notes in its calculations, the task of getting win shares during these eras becomes difficult:
“Prior to the 1950-51 season, the NBA did not track total rebounds, so allocating defensive credit is an almost impossible task.”
Estimations are made, of course, but now we’re tracking the falling rock without wind resistance, gravitational pull, how high it was dropped from, etc. I’m sure we could still rig up some close estimate, but we’re just estimating, not arriving at whatever the real number should be.
So, yes, this proposed Hall of Fame generally gets it right with the chosen inductees. But it gets it so wrong with those left on the outside. Players like Bob Cousy, Nate Thurmond, David Thompson, Isiah Thomas, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, and Mel Daniels are just some of the men left by the wayside in this new Hall of Fame. The story of basketball could not be told without these fantastic players.
There is no formula that relates exactly how monumental or anemic a player’s contribution was to the game of basketball. A man like Jim Pollard began play in the NBL, BAA and NBA before any of those leagues kept track of rebounds, minutes and blocks. We consider all of those stats “traditional” and a no-brainer to track, but once upon a time they were advanced. But even without those stats we know Pollard was a fantastic forward. He played on several title teams, made several All-Star teams, and made several All-NBA/NBL/BAA teams in his 8-year career. That’s a short career by today’s standards, but was typical of the time.
By trying to create a Hall of Fame and use a metric that smooths over differences in how basketball was played in different eras is misguided. How they played in the 1950s was how they played. And what stats they kept were the stats they kept. Attempts to apply advanced statistics back upon that era just won’t work perfectly. Those stats are our conception of what basketball should be, not the basketball Jim Pollard experienced. Judge him on the impact he made at the time and how that played a role in shaping basketball’s future. Those nuances aren’t captured in numbers.
The Basketball Hall of Fame should be a discussion on how we all view the history and the direction of the game. As in any discussion, most sides have merit. The total stats need to be taken into account, but they aren’t everything. Pointing out how the stats were racked up is paramount. Discussing how a player clamped down on defense is important. The cultural influence certain players had on the game and society at-large matter.
No one measurement, statistic, talking point, or viewpoint trumps the others.
But that’s simply my opinion.