Steve Nash and Jason Kidd will lead the 2018 class into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, but don’t worry: you’re not as old as you might feel reading this sentence. The two legendary point guards will go into the Hall together thanks to a rule change, announced last December, which allows a former player to become Hall eligible after he or she has been retired for three full seasons. In previous versions of the eligibility rule, a player had to wait for at least five seasons (until 2015) or four seasons (from 2015 to 2017).
This newfound immediacy naturally makes one wonder about the game’s current greats. Springfield feels a lot more tangible for players in their late-20s and 30s, even if they still have plenty of gas left in the tank. After all, Nash and Kidd both “played forever,” and yet they are going to be inducted at age 44 and 45, respectively.
To get a better sense of which players will be following Nash and Kidd into the Hall in the not-too-distant future, let’s conduct a thought experiment. Imagine that every current NBA player announced his retirement today. Which guys are Hall of Fame locks? Which guys are on the bubble? Which guys are on the outside looking in?
The following is a rundown of how 25 current players would fare if they were to face Hall scrutiny today. Note: recently-retired players who have not yet been inducted into the Hall—like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Manu Ginobili—were not included in this exercise.
In for sure: First Ballot Hall of Famers
This first grouping is for players who already appear to be locks to make the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
LeBron James: Let’s ease into this exploration with the most obvious selection. James isn’t just a First Ballot selection, he’s the type of player who will get a wing of the Hall or an official NBA award named after him. If he retired today, James would have one of the most impressive resumes ever: four MVPs, three Finals MVPs, 14 All-NBA selections, 14 All-Star selections, the No. 7 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, and all sorts of record-setting postseason accomplishments.
Here’s a fun question to ponder: Could James be a Hall of Famer three times over if his career was split into different sections? In other words, was he already Hall-worthy before he went to Miami? Was his four-year Heat tenure, which included four Finals trips, two titles, two MVPs and two Finals MVPs, worthy of a Hall selection by itself? And then, was his post-Miami career, which has included four Finals trips, a title and a Finals MVP award, worth a third selection? Remember, he was regarded by many as the league’s best all-around player before, during and after both The Decision I and The Decision II.
While ruminating on James’s inevitable Hall moment, here are two other stray thoughts. Who will serve as his presenter: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, his Banana Boat brothers or some other wild card? Finally, will Bronny be an NBA All-Star by the time his father heads to Springfield?
Dirk Nowitzki: With Nash and Kidd heading into the Hall this week, Nowitzki couldn’t help but unleash a Twitter zinger: “It’s an honor to say I played with two Hall of Famers! Unfortunately, neither was in their prime....” Nestled within that joke is a reference to Nowitzki’s own incredible longevity: At 40, he’s set to enter his 21st season and will soon move past Wilt Chamberlain to take the No. 5 spot on the all-time scoring list (at least until James passes him). Thirteen All-Stars, 12 All-NBAs, an MVP, a Finals MVP, and one of the greatest international players of all-time. No matter how one slices it, Nowitzki has been a Hall of Famer since he led the Mavericks to the 2011 title, if not before.
Dwyane Wade: Despite knee problems that have cut into his late-career effectiveness and kept him out of the NBA’s top-25 scorers, Wade is rightfully viewed alongside Jordan, Bryant and Jerry West as one of the greatest shooting guards of all time. Three titles, 12 All-Stars, eight All-NBAs, a Finals MVP, a scoring title and memorable moments playing with Shaquille O’Neal and James make this an open-and-shut decision. Wade will be remembered as a beloved franchise icon, and a central figure in the greater empowerment of players in free agency thanks to his role in forming the Heatles in 2010.
Kevin Durant: The NBA’s villain du jour hasn’t even turned 30, he could conceivably play for another 12+ years, and he could eventually retire with more career points than Jordan and Bryant. At the same time, Durant could walk away from the game today leaving no question about his Hall credentials: two titles, two Finals MVPs, an MVP, four scoring titles, nine All-Stars, and eight All-NBAs. If the Warriors dynasty keeps rolling, Durant will likely move past Larry Bird by 2020 as the most-decorated small forward besides James. With any luck, Durant’s many outspoken critics will eventually swallow their anger over July 4, 2016, and appreciate one of the steadiest and most remarkable careers in NBA history.
Stephen Curry: As recently as 2013, the Hall of Fame seemed like a pipe dream for Curry, who didn’t make his first All-Star team until his age-25 season. The term “late-bloomer” doesn’t really do justice to what happened next. Maybe “late-exploder” or “late-nuclear bomber”? In any event, Curry now has five prime years to his name, which is enough to get him in easily given his insanely high peak. Three titles, two MVPs, the first unanimous MVP, a scoring title, a 50/40/90 season, a 73-win season, and five straight years leading the NBA in threes. Don’t forget that he completely rewrote the shooting record books, took plus-minus and offensive efficiency ratings to new heights, helped reorient the sport strategically, and emerged as the consensus choice as the greatest shooter of all time.
As with Durant’s pursuit of Bird mentioned above, “Magic or Steph?” will become a regularly-discussed and hotly-debated topic by 2020.
Chris Paul: Unlike the first five names on this list, Paul is not a champion. Indeed, he’s famous for not being a champion in a Barkley or Ewing-esque manner, having finally reached his first conference finals back in May. While a ring would go a long way to burnishing his case in the “greatest point guard of all-time” discussion, he doesn’t need one to get into the Hall on the first ballot. Paul enjoyed an extended run as the league’s top floor general, his two-way game helped him rack up eight All-NBA and nine All-Defensive nods, and he led the league in assists four times and steals six times. In addition to that sterling list of superlatives, he won two Olympic gold medals and has had a long tenure as the president of the National Basketball Players Association.
Carmelo Anthony: As Anthony has ambled indignantly through his twilight, bashing him has become the ultimate low-hanging fruit. The well-worn knocks—that he’s had limited playoff success, that he’s a minus defender, that he’s a limited playmaker for others, that he didn’t see eye-to-eye with coaches and key teammates, that he probably didn’t achieve as much as seemed possible when he was drafted—have become fully ingrained.
Even so, Anthony made 10 All-Star teams and six All-NBA teams, he won a scoring title and is already a top-20 all-time scorer, he won an NCAA title at Syracuse, and he represented USA Basketball at four Olympics, winning three golds and establishing himself as USAB’s all-time leading scorer. Off the court, Anthony deserves his share of the credit for ushering in the NBA’s high-fashion era, thanks to his quirky obsessions with luxury watches and hats. He should be in the Hall on the first try with little-to-no debate thanks, in no small part, to his USAB achievements.
In: Hall of Famers
This second grouping is for players who already appear to be certain Hall of Famers, even if they might not get in during their first year of eligibility.
Tony Parker: Given that he spent most of his prime in Tim Duncan’s shadow and on Gregg Popovich’s minute limits, Parker’s individual achievements and statistical accumulation don’t quite stack up with the players listed above. Nevertheless, he’s destined for Springfield because he is France’s iconic basketball figure, a four-time NBA champion as a key member of the Spurs’ extended golden era, and a Finals MVP. Parker has the unimpeachable sheen of a longtime “winner”; whether he gets into the Hall on his first try will likely hinge on which other players are eligible.
Pau Gasol: Let’s just play “Mad Libs” with Parker’s write-up.
Given that he spent most of his prime in Kobe Bryant’s shadow, Gasol’s individual achievements and statistical accumulation don’t quite stack up with the players listed above. Nevertheless, he’s destined for Springfield because he is Spain’s iconic basketball figure, a two-time NBA champion as a key member of the Lakers’ late-2010s golden era, and a four-time All-NBA selection. Gasol has the unimpeachable sheen of a longtime “winner”; whether he gets into the Hall on his first try will likely hinge on which other players are eligible.
Dwight Howard: There’s a big difference between actively rooting for a player to be snubbed by the Hall because he’s so unlikeable and making a legitimate case that he doesn’t belong. Howard seems to regularly find himself in “Is he a Hall of Famer?” debates, even though his detractors tend to immediately steer the discussion towards his grating personality. His eventual inclusion should be viewed as settled law.
He’s the only player to win Defensive Player of the Year three times in a row. He’s eight-time All-NBA, five-time All-Defensive, eight-time All-Star, five-time rebounding champ, two-time leader in blocks, an Olympic gold medalist and a Dunk Contest champion. If he retired today, he would rank 14th all-time in rebounds (ahead of O’Neal and Barkley) and 17th all-time in blocks (ahead of Kevin Garnett, Elvin Hayes and Artis Gilmore, among others). Howard might be incredibly annoying, frustrating, disappointing, immature and all the rest, but there’s no way to keep him out of the Hall now that Dikembe Mutombo is in.
Vince Carter: Although their college teams are bitter rivals, it’s easy to envision Carter following Grant Hill’s footsteps into the Hall. Both players were immensely famous and well-respected, both were plagued by “What If’s” during their career, both were clear All-Star players in their primes, and both stuck around to enjoy long careers by remaking their games as role players. Carter’s eight All-Stars, two All-NBA nods, Olympic gold, timeless posterization of Frederic Weis, and legendary 2000 Dunk Contest performance combine to make him a strong sentimental choice.
Russell Westbrook: Like Durant, his former Thunder teammate, Westbrook hasn’t turned 30 and yet already has done enough to get into Springfield. Before his 2017 MVP season, it would have been easier to hold his lack of a ring, his erratic style and his outside shooting struggles against him. But Westbrook became the first player to average a triple-double in decades, and then he did it again last season. He’s a two-time scoring champ, an assist leader, a seven-time All-NBA selection, a seven-time All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist. Plus, he’s the last player left who still tries hard during the All-Star Game. Even if Westbrook retired today and never made it back to the Finals without Durant, his historic individual accomplishments and his five-year run as a top-10 player would merit Hall inclusion.
James Harden: Given Harden’s youth and his early-career internship as a Sixth Man for the Thunder, this is a pretty tricky call. Before this past season—which saw him win MVP, earn an All-NBA First Team selection unaninoumously, and lead a 65-win team to his fourth career Western Conference finals—Harden was on the bubble. Now, though, he’s got enough to get in: five All-NBAs, six All-Stars, a scoring title, an assist title, the MVP, a Sixth Man of the Year, an Olympic gold medal, plus a five-year span as an elite offensive player and a top-10 talent.
Not convinced? Remember that Harden already has more All-Star selections, All-NBA selections and playoff wins as the lead option than Bernard King, who was inducted in 2013. His sustained peak should compensate for his current nine-year career, which is obviously shorter than most Hall of Famers.
Teetering: On the Bubble
This third grouping is for players whose Hall of Fame credentials would be debatable if they chose to retire today.
Anthony Davis: How crazy is it that Davis is a borderline Hall of Famer at age 25? Nuts. He’s already made five All-Star teams, three All-NBA teams, three All-Defensive teams, led the league in blocks three times and posted five 20/10 seasons. He’s won an Olympic gold, an NCAA title and multiple NCAA player of the year awards, all of which count towards his Hall eligibility. Holding him back? He’s won just one playoff series and is so young he potentially has 15 years of good basketball left in him. By this time next season, he’s probably secured a Hall spot, especially if he claims his first career MVP.
Draymond Green: By the time Green actually retires, the scope of Golden State’s dynasty will be known and his central role in it will be accepted. Right now, though, he’s a player whose incredible run of success—four Finals trips, three titles, three All-Star teams, four All-Defensive teams, a Defensive Player of the Year award—has happened over just four years as a starter. When it comes to peak play as a defensive specialist, very few Hall of Famers can match Green’s run. But his longevity, at present, pales in comparison to the likes of Dennis Rodman (five rings, seven rebounding titles, eight All-Defensive selections), Mutombo (four-time DPOY) or even Ben Wallace (a champion and a four-time DPOY who hasn’t made the Hall yet).
Klay Thompson: Much like Green, Thompson hasn’t solidified himself as a surefire Hall of Famer, even if he’ll almost certainly get there. His case: one of the greatest shooters ever, a four-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA selection, three titles, an Olympic gold, and four 20+ PPG seasons. At this point, though, Thompson would be viewed by history—fairly or unfairly—as a complementary player on an excellent team because he’s never been a top-10 player or served as a No. 1 option. Give him, conservatively, three more years of championship contention, and Golden State’s sustained success will lift him into the Hall.
Kevin Love: There’s a little bit of everything in Love’s case. He’s won a title, advanced to the Finals four times as a key piece, won two rebounding titles, made five All-Star teams, and earned two All-NBA nods. He’s got an Olympic gold, three 20/10 seasons, and a compelling story of sacrificing his individual numbers as a lead option in Minnesota to accept a smaller role on a title contender in Cleveland. Like Green and Thompson, he probably finds a way into the Hall if he can continue to play at an All-Star level for another two or three seasons before age-related decline sets in.
Kawhi Leonard: There are too many holes in Leonard’s body of work to grant him a Hall spot just yet. While he’s a champ, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time All-Defensive selection, and a top-five talent for multiple years, he’s also made just two All-Star teams and two All-NBA teams. What’s more, he’s missed roughly one-quarter of his team’s games during his career, he wasn’t the best player on the 2014 Spurs title team, and his post-Duncan postseason play has been mixed. If Leonard gets his career back on track in Toronto after a lost season, it will be worth revisiting his Hall status in two years or so.
Out: Missing the Cut
This final group is for players who simply haven’t done enough to merit Hall of Fame induction at this point of their careers.
Derrick Rose: Although an MVP award is usually a golden ticket to the Hall, Rose should be the exception. Multiple knee injuries completely wrecked his career, limiting him to three All-Star appearances, a single All-NBA team and no trips to the Finals. While he’s tried valiantly to keep his career going when others might have retired, his recent play has been a shell of his past work from an effectiveness standpoint. Without an Olympic gold or an NCAA title, he’ll need a healthy dose of sympathy votes to be seriously considered for the Hall.
Kyrie Irving: There are some real parallels between Irving and Leonard: a title in a supporting role early in their careers, persistent injury issues, and the need to solidify their reputation with a few more prime seasons. Irving is a five-time All-Star and an Olympic gold medalist, but he’s made just one All-NBA team and is still just 26. Give it time before anointing him.
Joe Johnson: At first blush, the reserved, easy-to-overlook Johnson doesn’t give off the Hall of Fame vibe. He’s just never been very famous. Even so, he’s a seven-time All-Star (yes, all in the weaker East), he averaged 20+ points for five straight years, he made an All-NBA team, and he’s been respected everywhere he’s gone during a career that’s seen him play for seven different organizations. Throw in 120 playoff games and numerous buzzer-beaters, and one can argue that there are less-accomplished wings than Johnson in Springfield. It won’t be surprising if he winds up being forgotten given that much of his career happened concurrently with star forwards like James, Durant and Anthony.
Rajon Rondo: Now here’s a player who should be in more Hall of Fame debates than he is currently! Although he’s never been a traditional star, Rondo won a title with the vaunted 2008 Celtics, advanced deep in the playoffs on numerous occasions, and made four All-Star teams, four All-Defensive teams and an All-NBA team. Individually, he led the league in assists three times and steals once. If he retired today, he would rank 23rd all-time in assists.
Not convinced? That’s understandable, but won’t it be weird if Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are all Hall locks and Rondo is the only one of Boston’s Big 4 on the outside looking in? To be clear, injury issues and personality concerns have damaged Rondo’s reputation and shortened his timeline as an elite point guard. If he’s kept out, it won’t exactly be a travesty of justice.
Blake Griffin: For years, Griffin seemed like he was on the Hall of Fame track: he won Rookie of the Year, made the All-Star team in his first five seasons, emerged as an MVP candidate before he turned 25, made four All-NBA teams, and formed a new-age, high-flying Stockton/Malone type pairing with Paul. But injuries have spoiled his prime years, he’s yet to have meaningful success in the playoffs, and the dissolution of his partnership with Paul hasn’t reflected kindly on his individual value. It will take a dramatic turnaround to prevent him from becoming a “What could have been…” story.
Andre Iguodala: This feels like the appropriate cutoff point for current Warriors. At present, Iguodala has three titles, a Finals MVP, an Olympic gold medal, one All-Star selection and two All-Defensive nods. That doesn’t feel like enough given how close he is to the end of his career, even though he will be remembered as a cherished and valuable piece of Golden State’s run. Even though he’s clearly in decline, don’t rule out Iguodala for good. If he retires with five rings, that extended success coupled with his important role defending James during the Finals showdowns could eventually sneak him in. More likely: he retires with a Robert Horry-like reputation as a winning player who benefited greatly from playing on superb teams and with superb stars.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Underrated throughout his career, Aldridge seems destined to be ignored by the Hall. The six-time All-Star has played in only one conference finals and he’s never really captured the popular imagination. While he’s averaged 20+ PPG six times, he’s never been viewed as an electric or especially lethal player. If the post-Duncan succession plan had gone more smoothly, perhaps Leonard and Aldridge would both be viewed as Hall of Famers already. Instead, the transition fizzled and then imploded to the historical detriment of both players.