The Top 10 Hall of Fame Locks Currently Playing in the NBA

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2012

The Top 10 Hall of Fame Locks Currently Playing in the NBA

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    Dennis Rodman's 2011 Hall of Fame induction was a reminder of what set the honor apart from so many other forms of recognition.

    It's a subjective measure of greatness, and it benefits from the few years of hindsight needed to put someone's contributions into some historical perspective. Rodman wasn't the most versatile player, but he rebounded and defended in a league of his own—so much so that he became one of just 313 Hall of Fame inductees.

    These are the sort of weighty accolades that consider more than box scores and championships alone.

    At their most basic level, they reward someone's contributions to the game, whatever those may be.

    Here's a look at 10 current players destined for the Hall of Fame. They're ranked on the basis of career accomplishment thus far. In other words, based on what they've done up to this point, who's most deserved of the Hall of Fame?

10. Dwight Howard

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    It pains me to leave Carmelo Anthony off this list, and it pains me even more to give his spot to Dwight Howard.

    Until Anthony gets to the NBA Finals and becomes a more complete player on the defensive end, Howard has simply had a more accomplished career thus far, albeit not by much. Carmelo is, without a doubt, one of the very best scorers in the game, perhaps in a conversation including only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant at this point.

    But, you can't ignore the fact that Howard's already been named Defensive Player of the Year three times and left his mark on the game as its most dominant rebounder and interior defender.

    Of course, Howard's Hall of Fame odds will improve exponentially over the course of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Whether he improves much individually, he'll win more and earn plenty of attention.

    Honorable Mention: Aside from Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose almost certainly belongs on this list. He hasn't had many years to prove what he can do, and his most recent injury has limited our sample size even further. But, the guy has already won an MVP award, and you could make an excellent argument that he belongs on this list in either the 9th or 10th spots.

9. Chris Paul

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    Is Chris Paul overrated?

    Perhaps just a bit. He may indeed be the best pure point guard in the game, but he's still got a lot left to prove.

    And, he's sort of running out of time to prove it. Paul is already 27, and it's hard to imagine his Los Angeles Clippers surpassing the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers anytime soon.

    Is Paul destined to have a Nash-like career, still chasing a ring when he's 38?

    Whatever his ultimate legacy, Paul has already established in his seven years that he's one of the very best floor generals we've seen in recent memory. He's averaged nearly 10 assists over the course of his career, and it hasn't come at the expense of scoring.

    He'll be in the Hall of Fame.

8. Kevin Durant

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    Has Kevin Durant really done enough in his first five years to prove he belongs in the Hall of Fame?


    After all, he's led the league in scoring for three of those five years. If his career ended tomorrow, Durant would still go down in the books as one of the very best scorers the game has ever seen.

    It's not just that he can put up a lot of points and single-handedly dictate games; it's that he's always been a remarkably efficient shooter—especially when accounting for how many of those shots come from the outside. So far, he's shooting 47 percent for his career and 36 percent from behind the arc.

    It's scary to think what the numbers will look like 10 years from now (when Durant will be almost 34), but KD has already done enough to prove he belongs with this group.

7. Dwyane Wade

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    Does anyone really care what Dwyane Wade accomplishes from here on out?

    He cemented his legacy with his first championship in 2006, back when he was still the best player on the Miami Heat. We may never see that version of Wade again, and it wouldn't matter one bit. In the five consecutive seasons before LeBron James came to town, Wade established himself as one of the leagues two or three best players.

    And probably one of its most underrated.

    It's almost a shame to see him overshadowed while he's still just 30 years old. There's little doubt he'd still be the alpha dog on most teams, and there's something a bit sad about the fact he's now playing the role of a moody sidekick.

    But, whatever titles he collects between now and the day he retires will surely make up for it in Wade's mind.

6. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Yes, Dirk Nowitzki's career has been pretty outstanding—you won't find many guys averaging nearly 23 points per game over the course of 14 years.

    But, his production isn't what sets him apart. Nor really does his 2011 championship.

    The thing that really distinguishes Nowitzki is his style of play and the fact that he's borderline unguardable at times. He is a bigger Larry Bird in some ways, and he is one of those rare power forwards who can play on the perimeter without becoming just another spread-4 specialist (e.g. Ryan Anderson).

    For all the talk about whether Kobe Bryant or LeBron James are "clutch," how many guys would you prefer to Dirk when it comes to taking the last shot?

    There's a reason the Mavs have remained so competitive over the years despite coaching changes and constant roster flux.

    And it's not Mark Cuban.

5. Steve Nash

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    It might be fair to say Steve Nash is the most outstanding defensive liability to play the game in the last 20 years, though former teammate Dirk Nowitzki would give him a run for his money.

    The two-time MVP quite simply made it cool to pass again. At a time when scoring guards like Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury were stealing so much of the attention, Nash restored a certain kind of dignity to the position with his pass-first instincts and unparalleled ability to run an offense.

    Though he's yet to win a ring, Nash has been part of more than a few great teams.

    Whatever they lacked on the defensive end of the floor, his best Phoenix Suns squads made up for with an up-tempo attack that made the rest of the league look boring in comparison.

    For the record, Nash himself has always been one of the league's very best shooters. That's easily forgotten on account of his legacy as a facilitator, but the 49 percent career shooting mark doesn't lie.

4. LeBron James

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    LeBron James is almost certainly the best player on the list at this very moment, but he still has a lot of career left to be played.

    Thus far, though, he's already established himself as one of the league's most Hall of Fame worthy players. His versatility may not be unprecedented, but it's certainly fair to say it's unmatched. It's rare enough to find a world-class scorer who can so adeptly distribute the ball, but rarer even still for that scorer to be a rock-solid 6'8" forward.

    We're not talking about the kind of forward who defends the wing alone, either. James has proven he can defend the post and, really, is there anything he hasn't proven able to do (and do exceptionally well)?

    Those with long memories won't afford LeBron the same kind of respect garnered by some in this league. The way in which he left the Cleveland Cavaliers was unfortunate at best, but making fun of a sick Dirk Nowitzki during the 2011 NBA Finals was probably his all-time low.

    James is wiser—or at least better managed—now, and the attention has returned to his play-making and consistently gaudy numbers. Last season's title probably has something to do with that.

3. Kevin Garnett

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    In many respects, Kevin Garnett has had two very different careers.

    With the Minnesota Timberwolves, he was one of the most dominant and productive power forwards the game has ever seen. In 2003-04, he averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, five assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals.

    Seasons like those are hard to come by, but KG put up similar numbers several times for the Timberwolves, establishing himself as the league's best 4-man not named Tim Duncan.

    When he came to the Boston Celtics in 2007, things changed.

    Garnett's minutes were decreased, and there was far less pressure on him to do it all. But, while his numbers steadily declined, he was absolutely instrumental to the Celtics' two trips to the NBA Finals that included a championship in 2008.

    His impact has always been felt on the defensive end and on countless screens. Even though his athleticism and scoring ability earned him most of his attention, Garnett has never shied away from doing the little things.

    That he's been selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times and named Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 should prove as much.

2. Kobe Bryant

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    Say what you will about the year LeBron James just had, but Kobe Bryant is the only guy in the league who really belongs in the same conversation as Michael Jordan—at least for now.

    He's established himself as one of the very best scorers to play the game, a fact that often has the unfortunate bi-product of overshadowing everything else he does. Kobe may have never become much of a triple-double threat, but he's been selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times.

    His locker room leadership and competitive edge won't show up in any concrete metric, but they too differentiate him from other franchise players.

    They've certainly had something to do with Bryant's five titles.

    It goes without saying the 34-year-old has yet another chapter ahead of him. His best years may be behind him, but he's still in store for some really good ones.

1. Tim Duncan

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    You can't overestimate what Kobe Bryant has meant to the game, but his contemporary Tim Duncan has meant even more.

    The fact that his legacy is so often overshadowed by Bryant's global celebrity says more about how that celebrity is produced than it does these two players. While Kobe got his rings with superstar help in the hoops mecca that is Los Angeles, Duncan did his damage with less supporting talent and in a small market.

    He also went against a grain that expected him to be more vocal, demonstrative and flashy.

    While Kobe was doing his best to replicate everything MJ, Duncan was just doing his best to play the game in a fundamentally sound manner. He managed to do so pretty well, earning a reputation in many mind as the best power forward of all time.

    Duncan never had Shaq's overpowering physique or Dwight Howard's extraordinary athleticism. He simply took his above-average physical tools and used them to perfection, developing a smooth mid-range game, careful footwork and a patient approach to the post.

    His interior defense remains arguably his most significant contribution to the San Antonio Spurs, and his ability to pass from the post or facilitate high-low action remains his most understated.

    And of course, Duncan's willingness to take a backseat as the Spurs became Tony Parker's team is a reminder of what makes this guy so one of a kind: He's always been above the fray, a precedent for professionals like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, superstars who understand that the NBA is more than just a business.

    They understand that a loyalty to team and community is every bit as important as a commitment to winning and getting paid.

    Duncan may be remembered as much for that seemingly radical gesture as anything he's done on the court.