The finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame will be selected on Friday as a part of All-Star Weekend in Houston. Players who survive this round of voting are one step away from enshrinement, with the inductees getting announced at the Final Four.
As always, the debate surrounding which players should end up in the Hall of Fame is one of the most enduring in sports. Every player who reaches this stage in the process had a terrific career, so it normally comes down to splitting hairs between a few nominees.
This year should be no different. It should be a close race between multiple players to become a part of the final group that will get debated leading up to the announcement in April. Let's examine three of the most worthy candidates. For a complete list, visit the NBA's official site.
1. Gary Payton
Payton was one of the league's most complete guards during his prime. He could score by driving into the paint or knocking down outside shots, outwork forwards to grab rebounds and, as highlighted by the nickname "The Glove," defend at an extremely high level.
Best known for his days with the Seattle SuperSonics, the nine-time All-Star joined the Miami Heat late in his career and captured the long elusive NBA Championship. That triumph really helped put a perfect cap on his tremendous career.
His best season came in 1999-2000 he averaged 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. And those numbers don't even take into account his impact on the defensive end. It's that all-around ability that should make him a finalist.
2. Bernard King
There will always be "what if?" questions when it comes to King. He was one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA when a serious knee injury sapped his quickness, a trait that allowed him to get past defenders with ease in his prime.
Kings was averaging 33 points per game when he got hurt in 1985. Although he did eventually work his way back into solid form during the latter portion of his career, he was never able to return to an unstoppable level.
Still, he was an extremely productive scorer over an extended period of time. He was selected to the All-Star Game four times and named to the All-NBA First Team twice. That should be enough to get him to the final round of voting.
3. Tim Hardaway
Hardaway will always be remembered for his lightning-quick crossover dribble, which is still amazing to watch a decade since he stepped away from the game. He, like Payton, was a point guard capable of helping his team succeed win in a myriad of ways.
The UTEP product had five seasons where he averaged at least 20 points and eight assists. He made three All-Star appearances with the Golden State Warriors and two more with the Miami Heat. He's also the owner of an Olympic gold medal.
He was as reliable as they came running an offense and also made an impact on defense, averaging nearly two steals per game for his career. Payton's presence might have a negative impact on him during the final vote, but he deserves to at least get that far.