Monday, November 30, 2009

Mac Court (Eugene, Oregon) Road Trip

McArthur Court (aka "Mac Court", aka "The Pit") in Eugene, Oregon, has been the home of the Oregon Ducks basketball program since it opened in 1926, and is one of the most distinctive basketball venues in the country.

This is likely to be the last full season of Oregon basketball at Mac Court, as the new Matthew Knight Arena (named for the late son of Nike founder/Oregon alum Phil Knight) is scheduled to open in December, 2010.

We took our first trip to Mac Court in February for last season's Oregon-Arizona game, and it was a hoophead's delight - a true old-school field house/barn of a venue which was called the "Best Gym in America" by Sporting News back in 2001 with reason.

With the final full season at Mac Court getting under way, we thought it was a good time to run a photo post detailing our road trip. In short, if you love the game and can get to Eugene before Mac Court closes, we highly recommend that you do so - it's an increasingly rare breed of a basketball experience.

OK, here we go. We didn't get a good external shot, so this scene-setter is from Wikipedia; all other photos are ours (please click for larger images). Surprisingly, the University of Oregon is home to three of the more distinctive sports venues in America, all in close proximity: Mac Court; Hayward Field, the most hallowed ground of American track & field, which is nearly adjacent; and Autzen Stadium, generally considered to be one of the better, and louder, places to watch college football, which is about a mile and a half away.

Mac Court consists of three decks of seats stacked right on top of one another, which provides the feel that fans are directly on top of the court. We started in the lower deck, which offered a view that was great for the game, but somewhat claustrophobic, what with the second deck hovering directly above us and cutting off much of the building from our sight:

Honestly, when we got up and walked around at halftime, and saw everything in the next photo, it was like a revelation - had no idea that anything above what's visible in the picture above was there for the whole first half:

Oregon was horrendous last season, just 2-16 in the Pac-10, so Mac Court was only half-full by February, which led to a good news/bad news situation: we didn't get the full feel of "The Pit", with the place rocking, but we did have free access to move around and check out different areas of the building.

At the beginning of the second half, we went up to the third deck, which featured this rather odd section of wooden seats, perched at a very steep angle. Two views for you:

We're betting that this sign, up near the wooden seats, was posted when the building opened in 1926:

In general, we think the coolest part of the whole experience was being up in the upper deck, looking straight down at the court. Did we mention that it was steep?:

And an end zone view from up top, up amidst the banners:

Midway through the second half, we moved down to try out the second deck, and we have to say that we preferred when Arizona ran its offense to the left...:

This next one might be our favorite photo, as we managed to capture both an example of the desk lamps used for lighting in the second deck, and also then-freshman Oregon center Michael Dunigan in mid-dunk. Dunigan, a former McDonald's All-American, displayed impressive physical gifts in producing 9 pts, 6 reb, 2 stl, 1 blk in 25 minutes (Draft Express profile). For what it's worth, Arizona won the game 87-77, as its two current NBA players, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, combined for 49 points.

Here's a view from court level, postgame. We're idiots for not properly framing the 1939 national championship banner, which is in the upper-left of the photo:

Here's our dilemma: as much as we absolutely loved the Mac Court experience, and highly recommend it, and want to retain the experience somehow... we can understand how it's really hard to argue that this is a venue suited for the modern era, and unfortunately, it's hard to envision how it'd be possible to renovate it into one.

Here's a view of a main corridor, outside (under, that is) the lower deck. While talking at halftime in this corridor with others who were attending the game with us, some soda dripped through the lower deck directly onto the cheek of one of my cohort. Moderately disturbing.

We're sure that Oregon basketball games will lose a great deal of charm in the new arena, but we're not really sure what another remedy could be, other than trying to build a retro-feeling building a la Conseco Field House. It does appear that the new arena has a steep slope to its seats, at least, and that's always a good thing.

That said, at Mac Court, we loved that equipment like this was just sitting around and apparently being stored in the main corridor. Wanted to take it out on the court postgame and do some shooting drills:

And there you have it. Hopefully we've conveyed at least a little bit of what is one of the truly unique and charming experiences for watching big-time basketball. If you're a hoop fan, don't think twice about making the pilgrimage to Eugene before Mac Court closes - just do it. Or something like that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yes, Brandon Jennings Is (Already!) Laughing Last

Well, then. Prior to the draft back in June, we wrote a post entitled "Will Brandon Jennings Laugh Last?", in which we strongly argued in favor of Jennings as a prospect - we ranked him as the no. 3 prospect in the 2009 draft class (trailing only two guys who have yet to play an NBA game, Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio) at a time when his stock was plummeting. Jay Bilas ended up ranking Jennings as the 17th best prospect on draft night, and many believe Jennings would not have been selected until the 17-19 range if the Bucks had passed on him at 10.

As much as we believed in Jennings' long-term potential, we figured we'd be writing a post like this in March or April or a couple years down the road, not two freaking weeks into the young Buck's first NBA season.

Not even we thought that it would all come together so quickly, as Jennings is averaging 25.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists (24.4 PER) in the wake of his mind-blowing 55-point performance in just the seventh game of his career, against the defenseless Warriors on Saturday night.

Because we consider point guard the toughest position to master in the NBA, we were expecting Jennings to start slow and come on later in the season. And while we thought Jennings had good shooting mechanics to build upon, we certainly weren't expecting him to hit 21-39 (.539) three-pointers out of the gate after his outside-shooting struggles in Europe - that's probably been the most surprising factor in his stunning debut. (His floaters in the lane appear to be vastly improved, as well.)


We can't lie - part of us relishes being able to write an "I told you so" post, after feeling like we were out on a relatively lonely limb back in June. (Note: folks should remember that Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was right on the mark on Jennings.) But that's not why we're writing this followup.

The point is not that we were right in our assessment of Brandon Jennings, and most NBA executives were wrong. We get some right, we get some wrong, so do the best of NBA scouts and executives, so does everyone. The point is why NBA executives were wrong on Jennings - there are some assumptions underlying the faulty evaluations on Jennings which need to change. We wrote in June that we "feel like Jennings is being questioned and moved down draft boards for a bunch of reasons completely unrelated to this question: Can he play?" It really did feel like evaluations of Jennings became more like a political topic than a basketball scouting report.

Here are a few of our thoughts on L'Affaire Jennings:

1. The Euroleague is a significantly better level of competition than U.S. college basketball. Period.

Anyone who has a rough sense of Euroleague basketball must be wondering why we even have to state something so obvious. Yet a misguided sense of college basketball exceptionalism was an undercurrent of all the incorrect Jennings evaluations.

Here's a quote from Billy Packer in a story on Yahoo! that's fairly representative of analysts who make their living off of the college game:
    “The guy didn’t go over there to become a better basketball player, I wouldn’t think. If you have an opportunity to go and play for Roy Williams at the University of North Carolina, or Tom Izzo [at Michigan State], you mean to tell me that going over to some European team is going to make you a better basketball player when you have an opportunity to be taught by guys that have coached multiple NBA players?”
Yes, Billy, I do mean to tell you that Jennings went over to Europe to become a better player, and that surviving a tough adjustment developed his career better than dominating the college game would have.

A couple things that are striking about Jennings' NBA game to date are 1) his poise and 2) his ability to run the pick-and-roll. Then one needs to step back and remember that he is a not a rookie in the pro game. Jennings learned how to play a pro-style game in Italy, a pick-and-roll game, and did so against experienced, grown men in the prime of their careers, with an increasingly high talent level underlying things, as any Olympic or World Championship competition of the past decade has made crystal clear.

We wrote this in June, and believe it now more than ever:
    "I believe that in time it will be shown that playing in the Euroleague developed Jennings' game better than the NCAA game would have, and that it will be yet more proof that it is not necessary to play college basketball in order to develop into an elite player."
But we understand why numerous college guys made comments tacitly denigrating Jennings' decision to thumb his nose at NCAA ball - they're ultimately just trying to protect their self-interest, which is tied in with the glory of the college game.

It's this statement, from an unnamed NBA GM in a story by Chad Ford, which still leaves our mouth agape every time we read it:
    "I'm not sure how you take a kid without a real body of work that high. I know this is a weak draft, but are we really taking kids who have struggled to produce in college or Europe in the lottery? I'm all for upside, but it's ridiculous. If Jennings can't get on the floor in Italy, how does he help my team in the next couple of years? How do you take him over some really talented college kids who have proven they can play? Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, Steph Curry. Those guys are talented too and they have track records."
We completely understand how fans who don't follow European basketball could look at Jennings' stats in Italy and think he was a bust. But an NBA GM should understand - has to understand - the context better.

Here's the point we're trying to illustrate: it's not that the GM above is making a poor evaluation of Jennings, that happens. It's that the GM, in this quote, is betraying that he has no understanding of the larger picture of how international basketball works, which is inexcusable. And given the way that Jennings' stock dropped prior to the draft, it seems like this sentiment was the mainstream, rather than an aberration.

An NBA GM needed to be able to look at Jennings' European stats and understand that it was a much higher level of competition than NCAA ball. Check out Josh Childress' numbers for an example - he went from 12 ppg and 5 rpg on .571 FG% (.367 3PT%) in 30 mpg for Atlanta to 9 ppg and 5 rpg on .470 FG% (.158 3PT% with a shorter line) in 24 mpg in Euroleague play in his prime for Olympiakos. It's just a different style of play.

They also needed to understand that the style of play was not as conducive to Jennings' strengths as the current NBA game. One of the key reasons we rated Jennings so high was the difference in rules: the NBA interpretation of no contact allowed on the perimeter plus the defensive 3-second rule are both significant differences vs. how the game is called in Europe. In Euroleague games that we watched, we often saw Jennings get past his man, only to run into a mass of bigs clogging the painted area. Indeed, playing on a floor with more open space has really helped Jennings in the league.

Don't know too much more to say than to highly recommend the Euroleague games which are aired weekly on NBA TV or ESPN 360. We've been hooked ever since we got our first glimpse of Manu Ginobili, back in the 2002 Final Four. It's enjoyable not just to catch internationals before they hit the shores of the NBA, but also to see Americans establish their pro bonafides, as a guy like Will Bynum did at Maccabi Tel Aviv a couple years ago. Ricky Rubio is a hell of a fun watch with Barcelona, of course, and you can also catch guys who could be playing key NBA roles in the next few years, like Tiago Splitter or Nikola Pekovic.

2. Needing to see a player play in person in order to evaluate him is wildly overrated in 2009.

Is it better to see a player in person to scout him? Sure. There are things one can glean in regard to how a player carries himself, interacts with teammates and coaches, etc. in person which can't be seen on television or tape. One can gather further information about a player - as reporters Chad Ford and Jonathan Givony did regarding Jennings in Italy - by seeing practices and talking to coaches who work with him and to scouts on the ground there.

But, ultimately, is it necessary, in 2009, to see a player in person to evaluate him? Absolutely not.

The biggest crock regarding the botched evaluations of Jennings is the whole sense, voiced repeatedly, that decision-makers were not able to see Jennings in enough 5-on-5 competition. Here are some of the quotes over the last year:

Jay Bilas:
    “But with [Jrue] Holiday, you can make the argument that because he played in full view of NBA decision makers, that there’s some value to that. That he’s more of a known commodity to the NBA than Jennings is. And while they may have questions about both prospects, they’ve seen him. Holiday was playing in full view, and Brandon Jennings was basically playing in blackout conditions.”
Neil Olshey, asst. GM for the Clippers:
    “The decision makers, they don’t have the luxury of going to seven or eight games [in Europe] every year. The question is how much stock teams will put into workouts instead of a player’s body of work.”
Jonathan Givony, Draft Express:
    "Numerous teams in the lottery have pointed out to us that they do not feel comfortable with the amount of competitive five on five action they’ve seen Jennings partake in, and that they would have a difficult time selecting him based on the body of work he’s put together up until this point."
A "veteran GM" to Chad Ford on, after Jennings opted not to play at the Reebok Eurocamp prior to the draft in June:
    "We all came to see whether this kid can really play. I'd heard the hype, watched the video and heard various opinions from my scouts. I wanted to see how he stacked up against other top kids his age. Then he doesn't show. He sure isn't making this easy on us. You want to like the kid, but he ain't giving you a lot to go on."
This kind of rhetoric holds up if it were 1987, but it's 2009. As we wrote in June, it wasn't like Jennings was playing in the third division in Estonia, he was in the freaking Euroleague. The idea that he was "playing in blackout conditions" is patently ridiculous.

There were multiple Roma games available on NBA TV, more available on ESPN 360, and all Euroleague games were available via the Euroleague.TV online package. Furthermore, Synergy Sports offers breakdowns of European games, so we'd imagine that any GM could easily call up a substantial percentage of Jennings' minutes in Rome, itemized by possession, to his office computer right now.

Go back and watch Lottomatica Roma's game vs. Tau Ceramica - one of the top teams in Europe, closer to an NBA team than an NCAA team, featuring top internationals like Tiago Splitter, Pablo Prigioni and Igor Rakocevic - from January, and the promise in Jennings' game that we're seeing today is all right there.

Sorry, but if you can't make a judgment about whether a guy can play based on video, enhanced by the tools from Synergy Sports, in 2009, then you don't deserve to be working in a team personnel department.

Seeing a player in person is better, but it is not necessary. The idea that it is necessary is frankly condescending, to suggest that there's some sort of magic which insiders with access have that the common fan simply can't grasp.

The point is not that we were right, and they were wrong. It's that some guy in Seattle who records a few games on his DVR *can* be right. There's no way, just a few years ago, that anyone in the U.S. would have been able to see a glimpse of Jennings in Rome. Then, seeing him in person mattered, because that was the only real access available. Not now.

3. Amazingly, the Knicks probably would have been better off with Isiah making the selection on draft night.

As much as Jennings never should have slipped to no. 10, it at least appears that several of the guys taken above him can play.

The first exception is that it sure looks like the pick of Hasheem Thabeet at no. 2 was the worst pick of the 2009 draft, but that's what happens when the owner makes the pick, and Michael Heisley and his disastrous franchise are basically irredeemable at this point.

What's become increasingly apparent is that the colossally bad pick of the night was the Knicks' selection of Jordan Hill ahead of Jennings.

The Brandon Jennings we've seen in Milwaukee would have been the perfect guy to run Mike D'Antoni's show in New York. He would have been the perfect guy to bring some excitement and energy back into Madison Square Garden. Did you see the crowd in Milwaukee on Monday night? That place has been a mausoleum the last few years, but it was rocking like a college crowd in the first game following Young Money's double-nickel.

And dare we say it: Brandon Jennings would have been the perfect player to create an atmosphere in 2009-10 - on the court, in the arena, in the city - which would make the Knicks more enticing to LeBron James.

Why didn't Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh select Jennings?:
    "I didn't have a good feel for his game. I went to Europe, Treviso, to see him at a draft camp and he didn't show. We brought him in here and the situation is not running up and down, 5 on 5. So going into the draft, I didn't get a good feeling."
Ah, of course, that makes sense, Donnie. You weren't able to see him play 5-on-5 in person, and geez, you've only been in basketball for 50 years, so we can't expect that you'd be able to evaluate him just by watching every minute he played on video, can we?

Walsh has also passed the buck (no pun intended!) by saying that his scouts should have argued for Jennings harder.

Alan Hahn of Newsday is a very good reporter, but we'd have to disagree with this statement in a recent story:
    "Walsh explained last week that he "didn't have a good feel" for Jennings' game, which is somewhat understandable because of how little that could be judged from Jennings' limited minutes in Italy last season."
It's just not true, go back to our story from June - that was based entirely off of observations of Jennings from last season, the elements of his game were evident right there - Walsh just can't be let off the hook for this.

That's where we get back to our statement in bold above. For everything Isiah did to devastate the franchise, he has always drafted well. His nose for potential has generally been ahead of the curve, such as when he stole Tracy McGrady with the 9th pick in 1997, when guys were still wary of high-schoolers. Our gut feeling is that Isiah would have understood Jennings and his game, and would have taken him at 8. Isn't it crazy: the Knicks really probably would have been better off turning their draft over to Isiah! (As long as he wasn't allowed to make any trades, of course!)

We're working our way through Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, which is a rollicking good read. One of the fun sections asks "What if?" questions from throughout NBA history, such as "What if the Hawks had taken Chris Paul in the 2005 draft?", and then speculates on how things might have played out had a different course been taken.

If it turns out that LeBron James passes on the Knicks next summer, and part of his reasoning is that there's not enough promise and hope on the team's roster, don't be surprised if the biggest new "What if?" question added to a future edition of the book is "What if the New York Knicks had picked Brandon Jennings in the 2009 draft?"

Friday, November 13, 2009

What Will The NBA's Next Wave of International Players Look Like?

One of the defining characteristics of the NBA in the 2000s was the unprecedented impact of international players on the league. There were first-ever MVPs from Europe (Dirk Nowitzki) and Canada (Steve Nash), a first-ever European Finals MVP (Tony Parker), plus players who played big roles in both NBA championships and in winning gold medals in major international events in which the U.S. was toppled (Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol), as well as other All-Stars, such as Yao Ming.

Looking ahead, the interesting question is whether international players will have as much impact on the 2010s as they did in the 2000s. Certainly, there are plenty of promising young international players already in the league – under-25 guys include Spaniards Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, the Italian triumvirate of Andrea Bargnani, Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari, Australian Andrew Bogut, Latvian Andris Biedrins, Frenchmen Nic Batum and Rodrigue Beaubois, and Israeli rookie Omri Casspi among others. Other top prospects who have been drafted and are poised to come over in the next couple years include Spaniard Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves), Brazilian Tiago Splitter (Spurs), Montenegran Nikola Pekovic (Timberwolves) and Turkish center Omer Asik (Bulls).

There are enough quality ballers listed above that it’s certain internationals will continue to play key roles on NBA contenders, it’s just hard to tell if any of these young players will emerge as true stars, on the level of the players listed in the first paragraph, and exactly who they will be.

Also, we may be in line for a slight changing of the guard in terms of countries which produce NBA players. Argentina seems to have been blessed with a remarkable confluence of several NBA-worthy players who meshed together beautifully in the 2000s, but there does not appear to be another wave of top talent behind them. With the emergence of Nene and the impending entrance of Splitter, Brazil should take over the mantle as South America’s top NBA talent producer.

Given that Yi Jianlian increasingly looks like a colossal bust, one must question how much talent is on the way behind Yao Ming from China in the 2010s, considering that the talent level on the Chinese national team is pretty thin, with no major draft prospects in the immediate future.

But considering that the Chinese government is building a basketball court in every village, and that NBA basketball is widely exposed in the country, it seems like a matter of time before more Chinese prospects emerge. It’s just unclear who will follow Yao, which must be of concern to the NBA from a business perspective in the short-term.

In Europe, France and Spain and Italy should continue to be top talent producers, but Dirk appears to have been a one-hit wonder out of Germany, and traditional powers Lithuania and Serbia should re-emerge after a few years of relative drought in terms of prospects.

The only two internationals projected as top-10 picks in Draft Express’ mock drafts for 2010 and 2011 are both Lithuanian. Donatas Montiejunas, in particular, has some Dirk-like attributes and is projected as a top-5 pick in 2010, while 6-10 Jonas Valanciunas is tabbed as a top-5 prospect for 2011.

After the crash from Yugoslavia’s 2002 world championship to Serbia’s failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, the Serbs rebounded nicely with a young roster which won a surprising silver medal at Eurobasket 2009. Milos Teodosic and Novica Velickovic are players who could come over at some point.

Unsung country to watch: Czech Republic, as prospects Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky are projected as first-round picks in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

The NBA is still working on developing the talent out of Africa. David Stern has said, "We're very intently focused on Africa ... I wouldn't be surprised if we had three offices on the continent by the (2012) Olympics…. In Africa, we’re beginning to see new countries challenging the traditional powers like Angola — the Ivory Coast, Tunisia. I’ve said this before: Africa could be a continent as important to the development of players as Eastern and Western Europe combined.”

That said, Tanzanian Hasheem Thabeet nor anyone else seems poised to inhabit the giant footsteps of retired lions Olajuwon and Mutombo.

One last note is that we do expect that we’ll see the first European NBA coach sometime in the 2010s. Ettore Messina is still the favorite, especially since he has spent the last four years going to the Euroleague Final Four with CSKA Moscow, funded by prospective Nets owner Prokhorov, and previously coached for Benetton Treviso, working for current Raptors VP Mauricio Gherardini, who could become the first European NBA GM this decade, as well.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Vince Carter: Hall of Fame Legacy on the Line?

We are among many observers who have noted that Vince Carter is one of the pivotal players of the 2009-10 NBA season. We are on the side of believing that the move from Hedo Turkoglu to Carter is an upgrade for the Magic, and is a key reason that we predicted Orlando to be NBA champions in '09-10. As we noted in our season preview post, we still have concerns about Vince's leadership ability, but the beauty of his current arrangement is that he's just one of several stars, and certainly not the face of the franchise: he doesn't need to lead, he just needs to produce.

Taking a step back, Vince is one of the most interesting players to watch this season, not only because of his potential effect on the 2009-10 season, but also because he may have more on the line in terms of his career legacy than any other player in the league. Vince may well be playing for the Hall of Fame.

As much as we strongly believe in Orlando's move from Turkoglu to Carter, we have to say that we were taken aback when we noticed how high Vince ranked on Basketball Reference's Hall of Fame probability page.

The Hall of Fame probability is explained here. It's important to note that this is not a judgment on whether a player deserves to be a Hall of Famer, but rather a look at how closely a given player's accomplishments and attributes are similar to players who have made it to Springfield.

As the explanation page notes:
    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?".
Currently, Vince ranks 68th all-time, with a Hall of Fame probability of .8955, ahead of several players who have already been enshrined in Springfield. More notably, there is not a single player ahead of Carter on the list who is eligible for the Hall and has not made it. (Note that among the variables considered are points/rebounds/assists per game, so the probabilities often decrease over time.)

I guess we're surprised just because we haven't considered Vince to be Hall of Fame material. We've certainly held it against him that he flat gave up on the Raptors, and we've never considered Vince to be particularly strong in the categories of leadership or mental toughness. As we wrote in the season preview, we can't disagree with the scout who once told reporter Frank Hughes that, "I bet no player in the history of the league has gone to the locker room and come out again more than Vince Carter. In the history of the league."

On top of that, Carter's career is something of a disappointment in that his best season probably occurred at the age of 24, in 2000-01, when he posted career-highs in points (27.6) and PER (25.0) for the 47-35 Raptors - also one of the few seasons in which Carter's team reached the second round of the playoffs.

All told, we've considered Vince to be part of the Hall of the Very Good, as Peter King would say about an NFL player, but short of the Hall of Fame. Our guess is that most fans would tend to generally agree with this assessment (we're curious to know - let us know what you think in the comments).

In his recent book, Bill Simmons includes Vince Carter in his revamped Hall of Fame, as the 83rd-ranked player (out of 96), but accompanies that honor quite amusingly with a rather scathing critique that is a roundup of all the subjective reasons that Vince should not a Hall of Famer, in line with what we noted above, culminating in this:
    That's one of the reasons I wanted to write this book: fifty years from now, we wouldn't want an NBA fan to flip through some NBA guide and decide that Vince Carter was a worthy basketball star. He wasn't.
We'd imagine that many fans have such conflicted feelings about Vince. We certainly do.


Note the variables which are considered by Basketball Reference:
    1. Height (in inches)
    2. Last season indicator (1 if 1959-60 or before, 0 otherwise)
    3. NBA points per game
    4. NBA rebounds per game
    5. NBA assists per game
    6. NBA All-Star game selections
    7. NBA MVP award shares
    8. NBA championships won
Vince gets a significant boost in the probability from his All-Star selections, which may be artificial because he was voted in by the fans so often in his heyday of popularity.

- In 2002-03, Carter was voted in even though he was sidelined from Dec. 8 to Jan. 26, and likely would not have made the team as a reserve.

- In 2003-04, the Raptors ended 33-49, and Carter may not have made it without the fan votes.

- 2004-05 was the season that Carter quit on the Raptors, so there's no way in hell he would have or should have made the team without the fan votes.

Take away two of Carter's All-Star nods (and also round down his career averages to 23-5-4 to take future decline into account, which is probably generous to him), and his probability drops down to .667, in the range of some guys who are in, like Wes Unseld and Frank Ramsey, and some guys who are out, like Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway.

But go the other way, and add a championship to the Vince Carter resume with 8 All-Star Games and a 23-5-4 career, and his probability leaps to .937, which would jump him up to 58th all-time, in between solid Hall of Famers Tiny Archibald and Robert Parish, and ironically, very close to Paul Pierce (56th, .942), a guy who may have cemented a Springfield legacy by resurrecting his career with a championship run in 2007-08.

Would a Magic championship in 2010 do the same for Vince Carter? Championships are pretty powerful things in the minds of fans and the anonymous Hall of Fame voters. Most of the arguments against Vince are subjective ones, and we think that the sentiments of a championship would likely wash them away. With a championship, we think fans and media alike would consider Carter to be redeemed. Is there anyone else with that much at stake in terms of career legacy this season? We don't think so.


Now for a separate question: if he plays a key role on a championship team, does Vince deserve to be a Hall of Famer? Well, let's go to another tried-and-true Basketball Reference measure: The Keltner List. They describe it as
    "that tried-and-true staple of sabermetric-type analysis ever since Bill James introduced it way back in the 1985 Baseball Abstract. The format is simple: it's an inventory of yes-or-no questions designed to assess whether or not a player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. It's not numerical, nor is it strictly objective, but after going through the list you typically get a pretty good feel for the player's HoF-worthiness."
Basketball Reference has run a Keltner List for several different players on the cusp of the Hall of Fame, and they're quite fun to read.

Here's what we've got for Vince:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?
No, sir. His best seasons were '99-00 and '00-01, when Shaquille O'Neal was clearly the best player in the game, and several others ranked above Vince, as well.

2. Was he the best player on his team?
Yes, Carter was the best player on multiple mediocre-to-good teams in Toronto, and was no worse than 1A to Jason Kidd's 1 on some mediocre-to-good teams in New Jersey.

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?
My initial reaction was that Carter was never close to this, but actually, in 2000-01, he was likely the best small forward in basketball. Again, it was his peak statistical year of 25.0 PER, and he was voted second-team All-NBA as a forward, with the two first team spots occupied by power forwards Duncan and Webber. Still, it was an early high-water mark, as Carter never really approached that level again.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?
For the sake of argument, let's say Carter has a strong performance in a Magic championship run, but assume that Dwight Howard would be Finals MVP. Carter has not appeared in a Conference Finals to date.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Jury is still out, I suppose, but the answer appears to be yes, as Vince was still a productive player last year at 32.

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No, most would say that that is Artis Gilmore.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Vince ranks 22nd in career points per game (23.5) and 36th in career PER (21.4), in a range where all surrounding players have made the Hall. Taking into account career decline, his averages should move into an area where about half the guys make it, half don't.

That said, Carter is currently 59th in total points (18,300) - one can expect him to move over 20,000. Every eligible player at 20,790 or higher has made it.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
The Basketball Reference Keltner Lists have used the Hall of Fame Probability to answer this question. The various variables for Carter regarding that metric were discussed above.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Again, as discussed above, all of the subjective measures for Carter are decidedly negative: quit on the Raptors, considered to lack in toughness, and leadership abilities were often questioned not only by fans/media but also teammates.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
Hard to get apples-to-apples here with Vince as a hybrid 2-3. As of now, as far as shooting guards, I'd probably rate Carter above Mitch Richmond and below Sidney Moncrief (Simmons ranks Sid 73rd). At small forward, Bernard King clearly gets the nod above Carter, and Mark Aguirre is in the mix, too. Chris Mullin - whom Simmons ranks one notch above Carter at 82 - is maybe the closest comparison. This is perhaps the question where an impressive 2010 championship run would really help Vince stand out.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
I would consider Carter's 2000-01 season (27.6 / 5.5 / 3.9) to be very good but short of MVP-caliber. He finished 10th in MVP voting in 2000 and 11th in 2001. That's as close as he got.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?
Again, the complexity of the All-Star issue as it relates to Vince was addressed above. Vince has 8 All-Star Games, and interestingly, the threshold for a definitive Hall of Famer seems to be 9. Give him the 6 that he probably deserves, and Carter falls a little short.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?
I think that this has been proven to clearly be a "no".

14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?
Quite clearly, a main impact that Vince Carter has had is that he has unquestionably been one of the most spectacular dunkers in basketball history, with several memorable in-game dunks which were truly breathtaking - including maybe the greatest dunk in basketball history over Freddy Weis at the 2000 Olympics - and also one of the most electrifying dunk contest performances ever in 2000.

The Verdict:
This is why we do the Keltner. After going through this exercise, I really do believe that Vince Carter is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, and I probably lean against his candidacy as of now. He really may well need a championship to get over the top.