Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lakers Win Championship #16: Fisher to the Rafters? Gasol to the Hall?

Another NBA season is in the books after a dramatic and intense Game 7 which saw the Los Angeles Lakers prevail over the Boston Celtics 83-79. Congratulations to the Lakers for pulling within one title of the Celtics for all-time NBA supremacy. The Lakers now have 16 championships as a franchise, 11 since moving to Los Angeles in 1960, and 10 in the distinguished reign of owner Jerry Buss, who bought the team in 1979.

Certainly, in terms of individual legacies, the big story is Kobe Bryant winning his fifth championship. Kobe is now one of 26 NBA players with five rings or more, and one of 5 NBA MVP award winners to win at least five titles (joining Russell, Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar and Cousy, with an asterisk for Mikan, who played before the MVP was awarded).

Considering that Kobe's legacy seems to be getting just a little bit of coverage, we'd like to focus on the legacies of a couple other key Lakers in the wake of their championship.

After being written off following a bad regular season, Derek Fisher stepped up his play in the postseason yet again, delivering clutch shots in key games of every series, right down to the game-tying three-pointer he hit after shaking off a leg injury in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Doc Rivers called it "the biggest single shot in the game" and Phil Jackson called it "the real play... that kind of changed and gave us that renewed energy."

So, after winning five championships in 11 seasons with the Lakers, serving as the classy team leader and hitting some of the most memorable shots in franchise history, it's a no-brainer that Fish's #2 will be retired, right? Well, for 28... maybe even 29 NBA franchises, there wouldn't even be a question, but the Los Angeles Lakers have the most daunting, exclusive collection of retired jerseys in the league.

For discussion purposes, let's not even include the five Minneapolis Lakers players who are honored at Staples Center (George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen, Slater Martin, Clyde Lovellette), all of whom are enshrined in Springfield.

Let's just focus on the L.A. Lakers players with retired numbers. There are seven, and all are Hall of Famers as well:
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    • Elgin Baylor
    • Wilt Chamberlain
    • Gail Goodrich
    • Magic Johnson
    • Jerry West
    • James Worthy
Let's also assume that Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal will eventually see their jerseys raised to the rafters. That's two more Hall of Famers, a standard that Fisher certainly falls far short of.

Let's take a look at the Lakers-only statistics for these nine players, sorted by points scored in a Lakers uniform (CH = Championships, AS = All-Star Games):
Kobe 14 5 12 1021 25790 5410 4766
West 14 1 14 932 25192 5366 6238
Kareem 14 5 13 1093 24176 10279 3652
Baylor 14 0 11 846 23149 11463 3650
Magic 13 5 12 906 17707 6559 10141
Worthy 12 3 7 926 16320 4708 2791
Shaq 8 3 7 514 13895 6090 1593
Goodrich 9 1 4 687 13044 2081 2863
Wilt 5 1 4 339 5985 6524 1461
Kobe 25.1 5.3 4.7
West 27.0 5.8 6.7
Kareem 22.1 9.4 3.3
Baylor 27.4 13.5 4.3
Magic 19.5 7.2 11.2
Worthy 17.6 5.1 3.0
Shaq 27.0 11.8 3.1
Goodrich 19.0 3.0 4.2
Wilt 17.7 19.2 4.3
Indeed, those are the top 8 all-time L.A. Lakers scorers, plus Wilt, who ranks 16th.

Now here's a snapshot of the players I would rank in the next tier of retired jersey candidates:
PLAYER         YR CH AS    G   PTS   REB   AST
Byron Scott 11 3 0 846 12780 2534 2365
Jamaal Wilkes 8 3 2 575 10601 3119 1474
Norm Nixon 6 2 1 485 7938 1312 3846
A.C. Green 9 3 1 735 7789 5632 808
M. Cooper 12 5 0 873 7729 2769 3666
Derek Fisher 11 5 0 790 6413 1648 2319
Byron Scott 15.1 3.0 2.8
Jamaal Wilkes 18.4 5.4 2.6
Norm Nixon 16.4 2.7 7.9
A.C. Green 10.6 7.7 1.1
M. Cooper 8.9 3.2 4.2
Derek Fisher 8.1 2.1 2.9
I'm trying to tread lightly in terms of who should have their jersey retired. I'm not a Lakers fan, so I don't think that's my place.

That said, by the statistical standards, Fisher seems to fall well short. Even though he's played 11 seasons as a Laker point guard, Fisher ranks only 12th in total assists. Even Cooper, whose numbers are most comparable on the lower end, has the additional cachet as an excellent defender - he was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in 1986-87.

Of course, with all the intangibles and clutch shots, the key statistic for Derek Fisher is his five championships. Only five L.A. Lakers own that many rings; no one has won more of them, as a Laker.

It's certainly remarkable, sitting here on championship night, to think that Derek Fisher's number 2 might not be retired. I'd argue that 28 other teams would do so in a heartbeat. The Blazers, with one franchise championship, have retired 10 player numbers in 40 years. The Suns, with no titles, have retired 9 in 42 years. The Celtics, even with their hallowed rafters filled with 20 players, are the only other team that would be a question mark.

Yet it's also hard to believe that, if Derek Fisher is worthy of being immortalized by Laker Nation, that at least Michael Cooper, Byron Scott and Jamaal Wilkes, and possibly A.C. Green, aren't equally deserving of the honor. I guess that's why it's probably good to wait a few years for a different historical perspective, and to get away from the emotion of the championship moment.

What do Lakers fans think? Should the standards be changed? Should no one else wear Fish's #2? What about Coop, Silk and B-Scott?

The use of the word "soft" in any vicinity near Pau Gasol's name should now be officially forbidden, following his Game 7 performance of 19 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks, including several tough key plays down the stretch. Gasol averaged 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 blocks for the NBA Finals, to officially erase any lingering demons from the 2008 defeat to the Celtics.

Last September, after Spain won the 2009 EuroBasket, we ran a story in this space which included this sentence: "Now, it's not crazy to say that Pau Gasol may be headed on a path to the Basketball Hall of Fame."

The essential site Basketball Reference has a feature called Hall of Fame Probability, which measures the likelihood of whether a player will be voted into the Hall of Fame, based on a few key variables, compared with those already enshrined. (Note that this is a measure of who is likely to be hall-worthy, not necessarily who should be.)

Gasol is currently displayed with a Hall of Fame probability of 23.61%. My calculations show that the second championship will give Pau a boost all the way up to 43.86%.

While that still may seem like a fairly low number, consider two other variables. First, take a look at where 43.86% will place Pau on the all-time list. Ironically, Gasol now has almost the same probability as Joe Dumars (43.84%), who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006. The top line of their resumes is pretty much the same: they were both considered the second-best players on two-time championship teams. The Hall has been especially kind to supporting players who've won multiple titles, with those rings outweighing lesser statistical achievements or awards.

Second, the Hall of Fame has carved out special recognition for international players in recent years. As we noted in September:
    Considering international players has been another area in which the Hall of Fame has shown absolutely zero foresight in terms of the precedents they were setting. From 2002-2004, they inducted one male international player per year – Drazen Petrovic, Dino Meneghin, and Drazen Dalipagic, respectively. All are clear legends of international basketball, and we respect them.

    However, by these standards, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Sarunas Marciulionis and Sarunas Jasikevicius, among others, are all Hall of Famers. It's as if absolutely no thought was put into what it would mean to start enshrining international players in an era when they were entering the NBA en masse.
So it's not necessarily a precedent we agree with, but it's a precedent nonetheless. And as the leader of a Spanish team which has won a World title (2006), a European title (2009) and an Olympic silver (2008), Pau Gasol unquestionably has been one of the premier FIBA players of this era.

Folks, Pau Gasol has not only officially shed the "soft" label, but also based on past precedent, he is now a Hall of Famer, especially considering that he is 29 years old, and will have more chances to add rings, numbers and All-Star Games.


At 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Laker fan. I really like Derek Fisher....but there is NOOOOO WAY he should have his number retired. Its such a silly idea that should never even be taken seriously.

At 1:07 AM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1:09 AM, Blogger The Dude Abides said...

Pau has already done enough as an NBA champion + leader of an international champion to get in the Hall.

The fact that Jamaal Wilkes isn't in the hall is an utter travesty. Remember that the basketball HOF isn't the NBA HOF. It includes college and international play as well, and Jamaal Wilkes was one of the best college players ever, being the second star on the great Walton-UCLA teams. He played in most of the games during that 88-game win streak, won two NCAA titles, and made a third Final Four, losing one of the greatest games in NCAA playoff history (to NC State in 1974).

Combine that with four NBA titles, including scoring 37 points in the famous title-clinching 1980 Finals Game 6 against Philly, plus being named to three NBA All-Star teams and two NBA all-defense teams, and one must ask how he isn't in the HOF already.

The Lakers only hang HOF player jerseys in the rafters, so Fish, Horry, A.C., and Byron aren't going to be up there. I'm hoping that Jamaal is up there soon. Dennis Johnson got named, and deservedly so. If DJ got in, then Jamaal surely should be there.

At 7:12 PM, Anonymous LakerDodgerFan420 said...

D-Fish will always have the stigma of, "he never won anything without Kobe." I ask, however, could Kobe have done it all without Fish? When you look at how many game-winning or at least game-breaking shots Fish has nailed, I say Kobe wouldn't have five rings. The two years Derek spent in Oakland and Utah, Kobe put up MONSTER numbers but failed to make the play-offs, then next year couldn't finish off a Suns team down by three points with the clock expiring while holding a 3-1 edge in the first round.

If Fish did the Horry thing and float from champ-to-champ without creating an impact and legacy with one team, then the only rafters Fish's #2 is getting hung on are in his basement. But Derek hasn't just rode the pine en route to 5, soon to be 6, rings, he's worked his butt off to become Co-Captain, the emotional leader and rock of the locker room (not to mention President of the Player's Association). I'm not trying to make the case that he should be in the Hall, but if rings count for anything, and as far as I see it they count for everything, Derek Fisher is Laker royalty.

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