Where Does 2020 NBA Hall of Fame Class Rank Among Top Classes?
On Saturday, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett will be inducted in August 2020. All three are first-ballot selections.
The chairman of the Hall, Jerry Colangelo, called it "arguably the most epic class ever," according to The Athletic and Stadium's Shams Charania.
And he may be right.
We'll get more into their accomplishments later, but Duncan, Bryant and Garnett combined for 11 championships and 48 All-Star appearances during their illustrious careers.
But is that enough to be the greatest class ever?
To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, only those inductees who went in as NBA players were included in the following process:
- Find the combined career win shares of every class;
- Find the combined career win shares per player of every class;
- Find the average win shares per 48 minutes of every class;
- Find the combined average of points, rebounds and assists for every class;
- Sort each class by the average of their ranks in those categories.
Following that exercise, the top 10 then had a few more variables factored in: championship points (if a player won a title in a year in which the league had 30 teams, he received 29 championship points), championship points per player, All-Star appearances and All-Star appearances per player.
This, of course, isn't an exact science. The resulting order makes sense, but there are arguments to move classes up or down a spot or two.
The aforementioned criteria and process produced the following top 10 Hall of Fame classes.
10. Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Joe Dumars (2006)
Barkley and Wilkins were the explosive athletes with plenty of highlight-reel finishes, but neither provided championship points. Those came from Dumars, a defensive staple an underrated playmaker for the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons.
9. Bob Pettit, Bob Cousy (1971)
A pair of Bobs went in as the first players to share the honor in a single year. Before 1971, George Mikan (1959), Ed Macauley (1960), Andy Phillip (1961) and Bob Davies (1970) were the only inductees as NBA players.
8. Julius Erving, Walt Bellamy, Dan Issel, Bill Walton, Calvin Murphy, Dick McGuire (1993)
For most of the Hall's history, classes were small, at least in terms of the number of NBA players inducted. Then, in 1993, it opened its doors to more players than it ever had.
Erving and Issel were ABA/NBA legends. Bellamy was one of the league's early giants. Walton inspired the Blazermaniacs on the way to a title and eventually won another with the Boston Celtics. Murphy was a heat-check scorer in the '70s and '80s. McGuire was second in league history in assists by the time he retired in 1960.
7. Hakeem Olajuwon, Adrian Dantley, Patrick Ewing (2008)
The '80s and '90s were packed with big-man talent, and Olajuwon and Ewing were among the game's best centers of the time. During their careers, the two were sixth and ninth, respectively, in win shares.
As for Dantley, he's one of the game's most underrated, efficient scorers. Among the 27 players in league history to average at least as many points per 75 possessions (23.9), Dantley's true shooting percentage ranks third. Shaquille O'Neal is the only player on the list who took fewer threes per 75 possessions.
6. Wilt Chamberlain (1979)
The fact that a one-player class produced enough to crack the top 10 is remarkable. But it's probably not surprising that Wilt is the one who pulled that off.
Over the life of the NBA, there has likely never been a player who was as far ahead of his time physically as the 7'1", 275-pound Chamberlain was. Career averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game, as well as a single season at 50.4 and 25.7, show that the NBA was woefully short on comparable athletes. And Wilt exploited that to the tune of absurd production.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Vern Mikkelsen (1995)
Not to take away from Vern Mikkelsen, but this class' placement is also largely about one dominant center.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still the all-time leader in All-Star appearances (19), win shares (273.4) and points (38,387). He's third in total rebounds (17,440). When he retired in 1989, he was nearly 7,000 points beyond second-place Wilt in the scoring column.
His patented skyhook is one of the most unstoppable shots ever.
"I used it to become the leading scorer in the history of the NBA," Abdul-Jabbar told ESPN's J.A. Adande. "There has to be something about it that works."
With Kareem's length, the high release and the soft touch he deployed, defenders could barely bother his hook shot.
With that as a foundational tool, Abdul-Jabbar was a member of six championship teams. He was his team's playoff leading scorer for four of them. He secured two Finals MVPs, six MVPs, two scoring titles, 15 All-NBA nods and 11 All-Defensive selections.
For many, the GOAT debate begins and ends with Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Kareem should at least be in the conversation.
Mikkelsen, meanwhile, was a key cog on four title-winning teams in the '50s. When he retired in 1959, he was sixth (out of 679) in the league's young history in win shares.
4. Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Zelmo Beaty (2016)
This class featured three cultural icons, all of whom were also decent basketball players.
We'll go in order of ascending win shares, which means Yao Ming is up first. Unfortunately, chronic foot problems cost him what could have been the prime of his career, but he did more than enough in his seven-plus seasons to get in.
He averaged 19.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 32.7 minutes per game from 2002-03 to 2008-09. During those seasons, the Houston Rockets were plus-4.5 points per 100 possessions with Yao on the floor and plus-1.1 with him off.
But all of that production only tells a fraction of Yao's story. His success inspired countless Asian basketball fans around the world.
"My grandparents, my parents, they all came from China," actor and producer of the Linsanity documentary Brian Yang told ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "I felt like I was vicariously living through Yao. I thought I could relate to what this guy is going through on the inside because this is what my parents and grandparents went through when they first came here. I definitely felt pride beyond the fact that he was Chinese."
"I've always said Allen Iverson had the biggest effect on the culture of the NBA out of any player," Chris Paul told Clippers.com's Rowan Kavner. "He started a culture. He started the arm sleeve, the tattoos, all that stuff. He's the biggest influence in the NBA out of anybody."
NBA players are as expressive as they have ever been. The advent of social media and general trends in culture helped bring that about, but Iverson was a catalyst who sped things up.
Shaq helped on that front, too, with multiple acting credits, a rap career and a larger-than-life personality that fit his 7'1", 325-pound physical build. He was also, by far, the most accomplished player of this class. Like Chamberlain, Shaq was a physical anomaly.
He used his overwhelming size and agility to finish 11th in NBA history in win shares and average 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game during a 19-year career.
3. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas (1980)
By the time they retired in 1974, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were second and fourth, respectively, in career win shares. They were the only two guards in the top 10.
"West and Robertson were the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird of their day," Bill Livingston wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In an era when the giants ruled, these two guards used ahead-of-their-time skill sets to produce at a level most men their size couldn't.
These were the premier guards of their era. And, given the same training and resources of today's players, they almost certainly would've been great in today's game.
Jerry Lucas, meanwhile, was in the top 20 in career win shares in 1974. He was also Robertson's No. 2 with the Cincinnati Royals for six-plus seasons, averaging 19.6 points, 19.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
2. Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett (2020)
Colangelo is right. This class is epic.
TD, Kobe and Garnett combined for a ridiculous list of career accomplishments:
- 11 championships;
- 48 All-Star appearances;
- 39 All-NBA selections;
- 39 All-Defensive selections;
- 5 Finals MVPs; and
- 4 MVPs.
For two decades, these three were among the faces of the NBA. They combined longevity and extended peaks in a way few players across league history ever did.
Duncan was the unquestioned leader of one of the best runs any team ever had. During his career (1998-2016), the San Antonio Spurs were first in simple rating system, which combines point differential and strength of schedule.
But that doesn't begin to illustrate the dominance. The difference between San Antonio's 6.53 and the 2.91 of the second-place Dallas Mavericks is more than the difference between Dallas and 15th place.
Duncan's steady offense and all-time great defense were the backbone of a team that managed roughly 20 years of title contention.
As for Kobe, he ably transitioned from perhaps the game's best No. 2 option alongside a prime Shaq to one of the NBA's most prolific scorers and an MVP.
He had a 15-year run in which he averaged 27.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. Let me repeat that. Twenty-seven point four points over fifteen years. In 2005-06 alone, he averaged 35.4.
From the iconic fadeaways to the insatiable hunger to win at all costs, Kobe was, and always will be, one of the game's fiercest, most dedicated competitors.
Lastly, there's Garnett, who may be, in some ways, sort of a Kobe-Duncan hybrid. KG had the fire and competitiveness of Kobe, but he was a big who could anchor a defense like Duncan.
Few players across the history of the game were as clearly locks for the Hall as these three. That all three are going in at the same time makes it hard to believe any class might be better.
1. Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton (2009)
Denying all-time greats a spot at the top of the league or a list is a familiar feeling for Michael Jordan.
From 1987 to 1998, MJ led the NBA in scoring 10 times. He played 17 games in one of the two seasons in which didn't win a scoring title. He played baseball for the other season.
Over that stretch, Jordan averaged 32.0 points. And he did that against a significantly deeper, more sophisticatedly trained NBA than the stars of earlier eras.
He had 14 All-Star appearances in 15 seasons, 11 All-NBA selections, nine All-Defensive selections, five MVPs, a Defensive Player of the Year and six Finals MVPs. He was also a perfect 6-0 in the Finals.
LeBron and Kareem are worthy candidates for the throne, but there's a reason so many default to Jordan.
Now, any class including Jordan is an all-timer. The fact that he went in with David Robinson and John Stockton makes this group unassailable.
Among players with at least 5,000 career minutes, Jordan, Robinson and Stockton are first, fifth and 10th in career box plus/minus.
Over the first seven seasons of Robinson's career, he averaged 25.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 3.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game. In the latter half of his career, he transitioned seamlessly to a lesser role as he won two titles alongside Duncan.
To this day, Robinson remains one of the most physically impressive players in league history. And the 7'1", 235-pounder leveraged his combination of size and athleticism to unparalleled levels of defensive production.
And finally, there's Stockton, the all-time leader (by miles) in both assists and steals. From 1987-88 to 1996-97 (10 seasons), Stockton averaged 15.6 points, 12.8 assists and 2.6 steals, with an eye-popping 56.0 effective field-goal percentage.
During his 19-year career, the Utah Jazz trailed only the Lakers in SRS.
These are three of the most effective, productive players in league history. And the fact that all of them are going into the Hall together gives them arguably the best class ever.