This past season alone, there were over a dozen players who performed at what we would have considered MVP-level in the past. You're likely to run out of fingers and toes if you try to count up the number of guys who have a case for the Hall of Fame.
Plenty are no-brainers.
LeBron James is a fixture in GOAT debates. Stephen Curry is the greatest three-point shooter of all time. Kevin Durant and James Harden are two of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen. Russell Westbrook is coming off three straight seasons averaging a triple-double.
The list could go on, but an attempt to find an objective answer to the question in the headline, impossible as it may seem, is in order.
How many current NBA players will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame?
There are a few ways to tackle this, the most obvious being Basketball Reference's "Hall of Fame Probability" model:
"Players receive points for appearing on leaderboards, receiving 10 points for leading the league in a category and 1 point for finishing 10th. This seems like a fair way to award credit for both black and gray ink. The eligible statistical categories include PTS, TRB, AST, MP, STL, BLK. The list of predictor variables is:
NBA Leaderboard Points
NBA Peak Win Shares
All-Star Game Selections...
Although it can be risky to make predictions for active players, you can think of these probabilities as answering the question, 'If this player retired today, what is the probability he would be elected to the Hall of Fame?'"
With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 25 for active Hall of Fame probability:
|Hall of Fame Probability (If Retiring Today)|
LeBron and Durant are both at 100 percent, which should surprise no one.
LeBron is first all time in career box plus/minus, has averaged 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.2 assists over 16 seasons and has three titles. Durant has two titles and the sixth-best career scoring average in league history.
Most of the others over 90 percent are obvious as well. Perhaps the last few years might motivate some to question the candidacies of Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony, but both built strong resumes prior to their recent downturns.
For most of the players around or under 50 percent, there's still time to climb the leaderboard. Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard all have at least a few prime years left.
That leads to another point, though. Basketball Reference acknowledges that the model only answers the following: "If this player retired today, what is the probability he would be elected to the Hall of Fame?"
That leaves out a big chunk of players who've only played a few seasons. For example, 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is 30th among active players with an 8.2 percent chance to get in. He'd have to fall off a statistical cliff or suffer some severe injury setbacks to get off a trajectory to the Hall.
Another way to look at this question utilizes players' averages for career win shares per 48 minutes. If you take the 145 players who are already in the Hall and divide their combined win shares by their combined minutes and then multiply by 48, you get 0.156.
Here's the complete list of active players who are averaging at least 0.156 win shares per 48 minutes for their careers (minimum 5,000 minutes):
|Active Players with .156 WS/48|
You may be scratching your head upon seeing the likes of Hassan Whiteside, Dwight Powell, Brandan Wright and a handful of other bigs. Win shares is a number that tends to favor that kind of player.
Perhaps that's where some combination of the two numbers may come in handy. If we eliminate every player from the win shares table who has a sub-1 percent chance based on Hall of Fame probability, the list is whittled down to 22. Let's consider those, as well as Melo and Vince Carter, our good bets.
But even that doesn't feel like a satisfactory answer.
It leaves out players such as Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. And it's way too early to talk Hall of Fame, but players such as Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are off to hot starts.
Perhaps the best we can do is a ballpark estimate. If you factor in the younger players and a few other outliers who weren't caught by either statistical exercise, you can easily imagine the number exceeding 30.
If it stretches to 40, that's nearly 10 percent of the NBA on the way to the Hall of Fame.
"You see these old, broken-down NBA players talking about their era and how great they were back then and the players today are not as good as they were back then," Larry Bird said in an acceptance speech for the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award. "That's crazy, man. ... I mean, it's just amazing how these guys are playing the game today."
Bird is right. This is a glorious era of NBA basketball. But as was predicted up top, providing an objective answer for which active players will get in the Hall of Fame is probably impossible. At least we can now give an educated guess, though.
Below, you'll find that educated guess, sorted roughly by how much of a lock each player is to get in. As you'll see, the bottom of the list is mostly youngsters. They just need much more time to build their resumes before climbing any higher:
|Who's Getting In?|
Yes, that's 41 players. And those are just the guys we can forecast getting in with some confidence. The list could swell even more if it included everyone who has a realistic chance.
You can stack up the talent in this era against any other. That includes Bird and Magic Johnson's 1980s, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan's 1990s and Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant's 2000s.
Many years from now, the players of today's game will be all over the halls of the Hall of Fame.