Yes, that Shawn Bradley.
Since Bradley’s name is getting a little buzz lately thanks to Joakim Noah’s monster game, this may be a good time to remind the basketball universe just how good Bradley really was in his heyday.
One of the biggest travesties in NBA conventional wisdom is the notion that Shawn Bradley was a bust, some sort of pasty, gangly beanpole who got repeatedly dunked on.
The truth is that Shawn Bradley was a good NBA center. Not great, just good. While he never lived up to being the No. 2 overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, Bradley was much better than most people remember.
In fact, over the first five years of his career, Shawn Bradley was as good as All-Star Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers.
Shawn Bradley vs. Roy Hibbert—First Five Years
By Shawn Bradley’s fifth NBA season, he was already becoming the punchline of NBA jokes. By contrast, Roy Hibbert is currently in his fifth NBA season, but has an All-Star appearance under his belt and has signed a four-year, $58 million max contract last year.
Statistically speaking, Bradley and Hibbert put up nearly identical stats through their first five NBA seasons. Because Shawn Bradley averaged 29 minutes per game to Hibbert’s 25 minutes, the most accurate statistical comparison of their first five seasons is on a per-36 minute average.
Shawn Bradley vs. Roy Hibbert Per-36 Minute Averages— First Five NBA Seasons:
Through five NBA seasons, Roy Hibbert has been better offensively, Shawn Bradley was better defensively, and they are equal rebounders.
But for some strange reason, Hibbert's an All-Star on a max contract, and Bradley is primarily remembered for getting posterized on occasion.
Shawn Bradley vs. Roy Hibbert— Best Season
Both Bradley and Hibbert had their best season during their fourth year in the NBA. Last year was Hibbert's fourth, and he was given an All-Star nod for his efforts. While Hibbert still has time to improve on last year's performance, his numbers this year are noticeably down from last season.
Here is how Bradley and Hibbert matched up during their fourth-and best-NBA seasons:
|Shawn Bradley||1997|| 73 ||31.3||13.2||8.4||0.7||0.5||3.4||45%||65%||16.5|
|Roy Hibbert||2012|| 65 ||29.8||12.8||8.8||1.7||0.5||2.0||50%||71%||19.3|
Bradley's numbers in his fourth NBA season are comparable with Hibbert's, and this was Hibbert's All-Star season.
But what makes Shawn Bradley's performance at the beginning of his career even more impressive than Hibbert's is the vastly superior competition he was facing on a nightly basis.
Shawn Bradley's Superior Competition
The first five seasons of Shawn Bradley's career (1994-1998) was the golden age of the NBA center. Just take a look at the list of centers in their primes with whom Shawn Bradley dealt on a nightly basis: David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Arvydas Sabonis, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Rik Smith, Vlade Divac and Dikembe Mutombo.
In today's NBA, centers like Roy Hibbert have little competition.
Dwight Howard will be a Hall of Famer, but it drops off pretty quickly after that. Guys like Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Brook Lopez and Al Horford are solid, to be sure, but they are nowhere near the guys who dominated back in Bradley's day.
Concluding Bradley's Career
The first five years of Shawn Bradley's career were good. Solid, even. Between 1994 and 1998, he was second in the NBA in total blocks, trailing only Dikembe Mutombo. Bradley was also just one of 24 NBA players to score at least 3,900 points and grab 2,700 rebounds.
Shawn Bradley's career dropped off after his fifth season due to a combination of injuries and being a bad fit on an up-tempo Dallas Mavericks team. He ended up playing 12 seasons and left the game as one of the best shot-blockers of all time.
Shawn Bradley's 7.83-percent block percentage is the best in NBA history.
His career 2.5-blocks-per-game average is ninth all-time.
Bradley's career 2,119 blocks rank 14th in NBA history.
No NBA player had put up a 20-20-10 game before Joakim Noah since Shawn Bradley did it 15 years ago. As the Noah game and the Roy Hibbert comparison prove, Shawn Bradley was actually a pretty good center over the first five years of his career.
Yes, that Shawn Bradley.