Is Shawn Marion a True Candidate for the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2015

Matt Slocum/AP Images

When Shawn Marion laces up his sneakers for the final time and pulls the plug on what's been a fantastic NBA career, he's going to do so with one of the more non-traditional resumes we've seen in quite some time.

And that sequence is going to take place fairly soon. 

"I wanted to go out on my terms," the man fondly known as "The Matrix" told AZCentral.com's Paul Coro, referring to his decision to retire at the end of the 2014-15 campaign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "The biggest thing is having a son. I got attached to him. Seeing him periodically is hard. Watching him grow up on pictures and videos is hard."

Marion chose to join the Cavs this offseason, putting retirement off for one more year so that he could have a chance to win the second ring of his career. But even if Cleveland fails to get back on its expected pace and flops during the postseason, the versatile forward will still have put together an incredible resume, one worthy of some career honors. 

LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 31:  Shawn Marion #31 of the Phoenix Suns drives the ball upcourt against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on October 31, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Noah Graham/Getty Images

"Marion is a Suns Ring of Honor candidate," Coro writes. "He said he has looked up at the ring on Phoenix visits, like last week's final one, and thought the same. 'It'd be hard not to have me up there when you look at what I did,' Marion said."

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Making the Ring of Honor for any franchise is a special achievement. The Suns are no exception, as they've only placed the names of nine different players up in that stratosphere: Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers, Walter Davis, Connie Hawkins, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Dick Van Arsdale, Paul Westphal. 

But that's not enough for Marion. He should be a lock for one of the double-digit spots, but he should also receive some very serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. 

Only One Ring? No Worries

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12:  Shawn Marion of the Dallas Mavericks celebrates with the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy after the Mavericks won 105-95 against the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2011 in Miami,
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

One of the most bizarre arguments against the careers of some players is that they never achieved the ultimate feat in the NBA—winning a ring. Of course, only one team can win a title during any given season, so the vast majority of great players each year come up short of that goal. 

Doing so time after time doesn't necessarily mean that a player is overrated or can't come up big in the game's biggest moments. Sometimes, bad luck, unfortunate matchups and ill-timed injuries keep striking down the hopes one season after another. 

Marion did win one championship with the Dallas Mavericks, one that came while he was serving as more of a role player than a central star. But even during his time with the Suns, he put together quite the impressive playoff resume. And it's not as though his level of performance declined all that significantly when he was in the more strenuous part of the season. 

Marion in the Regular Season and Playoffs While with Suns
PPGRPGAPGSPGBPGPERWS/48
Regular Season18.410.02.01.91.420.90.179
Playoffs17.110.91.41.51.518.20.136
Basketball-Reference.com

It's also worth noting that Marion spent a lot of time playing postseason games. 

If you take every player in NBA history who has suited up in the playoffs, find his game score (a rudimentary box-score metric designed to summarize performance in just one number) and then multiply by the number of times he played a playoff game, you're essentially accounting for both volume and performance level. Just in terms of that simple calculation, Marion comes in at No. 81 of all time. 

That puts him ahead of legends like Joe Dumars, Shawn Kemp, Dennis Rodman, Nate Thurmond, Gail Goodrich and so many more. And it's not as though he failed to advance deep into the playoffs on multiple occasions, as he made it to the conference finals during three separate seasons. 

The playoffs are a big part of the conversation about Hall of Fame bids. And that's only natural, as that's the most important part of the season and the easiest way to leave an indelible legacy. 

But even though Marion had to team up with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler to win his lone ring, that shouldn't be held against him. The forward's postseason resume won't help him much as he seeks out a plaque, but it shouldn't work in a negative way either. 

Understated Value During Peak Phoenix Suns Days

LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 15:  Shawn Marion #31 of the Phoenix Suns cracks a smile during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on January 15, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers won 97-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The crux of Marion's case comes from his time in the desert. 

As part of those "seven seconds or less" Suns, he teamed up with Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire to form some of the greatest offensive squads of all time. Every member of that trio became an All-Star mainstay, and the Canadian point guard was able to earn two MVPs. But Marion may as well have been the heart and soul of those Phoenix teams, and his significance to those squads has been understated rather heavily over the years. 

How many people remember that the Suns were a league-average defensive team during those run-and-gun days? The less glamorous end of the floor is typically pointed to as the reason for the team's ill-fated runs in the playoffs, but that unit is actually pretty underrated now, and it's Marion who was the impetus behind its tempered success.

PHOENIX - NOVEMBER 2:  Shawn Marion #31 of the Phoenix Suns and the Suns looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 2, 2007 at the at U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The Lakers won 119-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ack
Barry Gossage/Getty Images

For example, when Marion was traded to the Miami Heat after suiting up 47 times in that final go-round, Phoenix was allowing 106.9 points per 100 possessions. During the rest of the season, it posted a 111.5 defensive rating. 

His versatility allowed him to shut down power forwards in the post, stick with more speedy small forwards, switch over onto guards and, in general, pick up the trash left behind by his porous teammates. And it's not as though he was too shabby on the offensive end, as he could fill most any role.

Just look at how the team fared with him on and off the floor during those four peak years: 

Nash is the one who got the MVPs, and deservedly so.

But Marion needs a lot more credit for his impact on those teams, as it was he who kept everything together on both ends of the court. Without him, the Suns of the mid-2000s wouldn't be remembered in a light that's nearly as favorable. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, he was undervalued back in the day. 

Writers like 82games.com's David Nelson and Damien Walker were in the minority when they argued that Marion deserved Defensive Player of the Year in 2006-07: 

Long, strong and athletic, Marion can keep up with the fastest point guards, and is disciplined enough to defend the best low-post scorers. His ability to play the passing lanes and pick up steals or deflections is even more valuable because of his ability to run the floor or make the outlet pass. Combine this with the fact that he holds his own against any big man in the league when it comes to blocks and defensive rebounds, and you can understand why Shawn Marion gets our nod for Defensive Player of the Year. Traditionally, Marion has been viewed as a player without a position, but smart coaches and GMs can tell you that this is not a bad thing, and with the NBA game opening up more each season, players with Marion’s defensive skill set will be more coveted than ever.

But moving past just defense, what about looking at win shares? 

It's not an accident that Marion, not Nash, led the Suns in that category during one of the four seasons we've been discussing. In fact, he paced Phoenix in win shares five times during his tenure in the desert. 

All that said, Marion's career has never just been defined by what he did in Phoenix. That's easily the best portion of his NBA tenure, but he also spent time with the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors (very briefly), Mavericks and Cavaliers. 

We can't forget about the total package. 

Long-standing Excellence

JASON WISE/Associated Press

Even if you push this ugly season with Cleveland out of your mind and don't allow the declining play of an aging veteran to devalue the career of a Hall of Fame candidate, it's still not easy to see Marion as a traditional threat for a Springsfield initiation. 

When we think of the Hall, we tend to imagine players who dominated their era and clearly asserted themselves as one of the very best players in the NBA for a prolonged amount of time. They're the ones who scored points in bunches, racked up the assists and produced glamorous statistics...or at least won a bunch of rings. 

Recent inductees like Mitch Richmond, Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Bernard King, Chet Walker, Reggie Miller and Jamaal Wilkes, among others, all tend to fit into that mold. But does Marion's name really belong in the same category as those standouts? Did he really enjoy the same type of career? 

It does belong but not necessarily for the same reasons. It's one of the exceptions to the rule, which in this case forces us to think about nearly all Hall candidates in the exact same way. 

Players like Marion, guys who thrived for a long time because of their versatility and two-way impact, typically get pushed to the backburners. This particular forward did have some great seasons, but he never competed for a scoring title. Instead, he just submitted one campaign after another that was historically unique. 

Any guesses how many players averaged at least 19 points, nine rebounds, 1.5 assists, two steals and a block per game over the course of a qualified season? 

HOUSTON - JUNE 1:  David Robinson #50 of the San Antonio Spurs makes a move against Hakeem Olajuwon #34 of the Houston Rockets in Game Six of the 1995 NBA Western Conference Finals on June 1, 1995 at the Summitt in Houston, Texas.  Houston defeated San An
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

David Robinson did so in 1991-92. He's in the Hall of Fame. Hakeem Olajuwon managed to join the club an NBA-record five times. He's in the Hall of Fame. Charles Barkley met all the qualifications during the 1985-86 season. He's in the Hall of Fame. 

No one else has done so. Well, no one except a single extra player who's playing out his final season. Marion reached those numbers four times during a four-year stretch from 2002 to 2006. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about what this stat should mean.

Even though his peak was impressive, it's the longevity of his career that matters even more.

Marion is now playing out his 16th season in the Association, and it's really the first poor one he's had. Even when he entered the league out of UNLV, he averaged an efficient 10.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game while playing high-quality defense. He broke out the next season, posting 17.3 points and 10.7 boards per contest throughout that 2000-01 campaign. 

Since then, he's thrived in the desert and become one of the league's most valuable players with the Mavericks. One year after another, he's gone to work and produced, and that has to count for something. 

He's by no means a lock for inclusion or for being left out.

In fact, Basketball-Reference.com's Hall of Fame Probability gives him a 75.6 percent chance—the No. 16 mark among active players. But, just as has been the case so often throughout his remarkable career, he's being undervalued. 

Marion will retire as one of the more effective stoppers the sport has ever seen, but he never made an All-Defensive Team. He was consistently one of the most impactful forwards, thanks to his versatility and two-way prowess, but he only made All-NBA Third Team on two separate occasions and never received a higher honor. 

In fact, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle called his former pupil "the most underrated player in NBA history," per Cleveland.com's Chris Haynes.

Now, he has one of the most non-traditional Hall of Fame resumes the sport has seen in quite some time. When he's up for selection, it will be the perfect chance to rectify the wrongs that Marion has seen levied upon him throughout his decade-and-a-half in the Association. 

"I'm not in control of that [a Hall of Fame selection] but I think my numbers speak for themselves," he told Haynes. "What I've done on this court in the last 16 years at my position, I don't think nobody has ever done it the way I've done it."

Whether he's talking about his unorthodox shooting form or the overall nature of his career, he's not wrong. 

Stats per Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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