How Many Current NBA Players Are Really Future Hall of Famers?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2019

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 11:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the 2015 NBA Finals at The Quicken Loans Arena on June 11, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The NBA is flush with talent—perhaps more so than it has ever been before.

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:

Height (in.)
NBA Championships
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)
RankPlayerHoF Prob
1.LeBron James100%
2.Dwyane Wade*100%
3.Dirk Nowitzki*100%
4.Kevin Durant100%
5.Chris Paul99.99%
6.Stephen Curry99.87%
7.Russell Westbrook99.74%
8.James Harden99.54%
9.Dwight Howard99.3%
10.Carmelo Anthony98.18%
11.Vince Carter94.55%
12.Pau Gasol93.35%
13.Anthony Davis76.78%
14.Kevin Love67.58%
15.Kyle Lowry65.19%
16.Paul George62.16%
17.Kyrie Irving61.46%
18.Blake Griffin51.27%
19.LaMarcus Aldridge50.89%
20.Joe Johnson50.56%
21.Klay Thompson47.74%
22.Rajon Rondo40.68%
23.Damian Lillard36.37%
24.Kawhi Leonard29.63%
25.John Wall29.36%
Basketball Reference

Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki aren't technically active anymore, but taking them out still leaves us at 18 players with at least a 50 percent shot at getting into the Hall, according to this model.

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.

Melo is 19th in career points scored. Howard is 14th in rebounds and 17th in blocks. Another decent season or two from either would just be gravy at this point.

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
1.Chris Paul.247
2.LeBron James.235
3.James Harden.224
4.Kawhi Leonard.219
5.Rudy Gobert.218
6.Kevin Durant.217
7.Anthony Davis.214
8.Nikola Jokic.214
9.Stephen Curry.207
10.Clint Capela.204
11.Hassan Whiteside.198
12.Karl-Anthony Towns.196
13.Dirk Nowitzki.193
14.Jimmy Butler.184
15.Dwight Powell.182
16.Brandan Wright.181
17.Kevin Love.179
18.Jonas Valanciunas.177
19.DeAndre Jordan.173
20.Dwight Howard.172
21.Blake Griffin.171
22.Pau Gasol.169
23.Damian Lillard.169
24.Giannis Antetokounmpo.168
25.Russell Westbrook.164
26.Kyrie Irving.163
27.Andre Drummond.162
28.Dwyane Wade.162
29.Al Horford.160
30.Joakim Noah.160
31.Kenneth Faried.159
32.LaMarcus Aldridge.157
Basketball Reference

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?
PlayerCareer BPM
LeBron James9.1
Dirk Nowitzki3.1
Dwyane Wade4.5
Kevin Durant5.1
Stephen Curry6.5
Chris Paul7.3
James Harden7.1
Russell Westbrook6.6
Vince Carter2.8
Carmelo Anthony0.9
Dwight Howard2.4
Kawhi Leonard6.1
Klay Thompson0.2
Anthony Davis4.8
Giannis Antetokounmpo4.5
Pau Gasol3.5
Blake Griffin4.1
Joe Johnson0.4
Kyrie Irving3.8
Kyle Lowry3.8
Al Horford3.2
Nikola Jokic7.6
Draymond Green3.7
Jimmy Butler4
Paul George3.8
Damian Lillard4
Marc Gasol3.4
Kevin Love2.7
LaMarcus Aldridge1.4
Rudy Gobert5.1
Karl-Anthony Towns5
Ben Simmons4.3
Joel Embiid3.3
Luka Doncic4.1
Paul Millsap3.2
Andre Iguodala2.9
Kemba Walker2.5
Donovan Mitchell0.8
Deandre Ayton0.2
Devin Booker-1.1
Trae Young-1.1
Andy Bailey

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.