In the early stages of the 2016-17 NBA season, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve officially entered a new basketball era, with a number of notable departures occurring over the offseason. For the first time in two decades, all-time greats Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett haven't graced the hardwood with their dominating presence, not to mention the less-celebrated former stars like Amar’e Stoudemire and Elton Brand who have recently walked away from the NBA. The first three are clearly first-ballot Hall of Famers, players who defined an entire generation and were long the standard of excellence to which everyone else aspired. But Brand and Stoudemire? They might not be so lucky, and you could make compelling cases for and against both.
So what does it really mean to be a Hall of Famer? What separates the very good from the great? In borderline cases, it can simply be a general feeling about a player that decides their fate. Was player X ever the alpha dog on his team, or was he merely a very good sidekick for many years? Was he a great team player on a championship contender, or putting up empty stats for a bottom-feeder? With such a subjective honor, sometimes it’s best to throw stats out the window and go with your gut.
Ultimately, some players get lost in the numbers game and miss the cut. Some have been underrated their entire careers while others are so far removed from their former glory that voters may forget just how special they used to be. With the older generation stepping aside, and only a handful of players left from the ‘90s, it seems like a good time to give some recognition to the greatest players drafted this millennium who sadly won’t be making a post-retirement trip to Springfield, Massachusetts.
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15 Michael Redd
After Ray Allen departed for the Seattle SuperSonics, another sharpshooter was left to become the face of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise for most of the last decade: Michael Redd. The lefty was absolutely deadly from deep, which helped him earn an All-NBA nod and a spot on Team USA during their gold medal run in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, his brilliance on the court was matched only by the brittleness of his body, with injuries forcing him to miss over 300 games over the course of his 12-year career. His defense was also always a question mark, which might be why he only made one All-Star team and failed to ever lead his team out of the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Redd, these deficiencies will likely prove too glaring for Hall of Fame voters to overlook.
14 Andrei Kirilenko
One of the most uniquely versatile players in the game, Kirilenko was the basketball equivalent of a Swiss Army knife during his NBA career. His ability to contribute in every major statistical category made him a favorite of fantasy owners, but his contributions translated to the real games as well. A three-time All-Defensive Team member, “AK-47” had opponents constantly looking over their shoulder with his uncanny ability to come out of nowhere for blocks and steals, and he was a terrific play maker for his position on offense.
When he made his first All-Star appearance at just 22 years of age, Kirilenko seemed destined for great things. Unfortunately, some untimely injuries and an influx of talent led to a reduced role with Utah in subsequent seasons, and he failed to grow into the transcendent force he was capable of being in Jerry Sloan’s conservative system.
13 Zach Randolph
With so many great power forwards in the game over the last 15 years or so, there are inevitably a few who put up big time numbers but still get forgotten. Z-Bo is one of those guys. He’s been a 20 and 10 threat for most of his career and among the best offensive rebounders, despite his portly physique and inability to get more than about four inches off the ground. He’s a big part of why the Grizzlies have gone from perennial laughing stock to serious threat in the dog-eat-dog Western Conference. But for all his skill and guile scoring the ball, Randolph’s always been somewhat of a defensive liability, being both smaller and slower than many opposing big men. Ultimately, he’ll be remembered as a good, but not great player.
12 Carlos Boozer
An unlikely success story, Boozer grew up in Alaska, not exactly a basketball hotbed. He nevertheless quickly became a double-double machine in the NBA, despite his underwhelming physical profile, using his strength and instincts to position himself to secure rebounds, and a high release, reliable mid-range jumper to rack up points. His best years came with the Utah Jazz, where he was a two-time All-Star in consecutive 20-point-10-rebound seasons. However, as solid as Boozer was for his NBA career, he was never really a superstar.
He was a great complimentary piece on some very good teams, similar to Horace Grant who coincidentally is also not in the Hall of Fame. If Grant couldn’t make it in despite winning four championships to Boozer’s zero, it doesn’t bode well for Boozer’s chances.
11 Joe Johnson
Getting his start as a role player for the Celtics and Suns, Johnson blossomed into a star once he moved on to Atlanta and became the focal point of their offense. A versatile scoring threat, Johnson is known for being a threat from deep, but he also has the size to post up smaller guards and the vision and ball skills to run an offense. He’s never been afraid of the big moments either, and his teams have always been able to count on him to step up and hit big shots in crunch time. These skills have helped him become a seven-time All-Star, but like several other players on this list, a poor defensive reputation and underwhelming playoff success may be too much for his great all-around numbers to overcome.
10 Gilbert Arenas
In terms of star power, few on this list can match the brilliance of Arenas during his “Hibachi” heyday. Arenas was a gifted scorer who experienced a shockingly rapid fall from grace thanks to bad luck and his own stupidity. After putting together three All-Star campaigns, each time challenging for the scoring title, Arenas seemed to be in the midst of his prime. Then, injuries struck, forcing him to miss almost two full seasons.
Believe it or not, things got even worse from there when Arenas got involved in a locker room confrontation with teammate Javaris Crittenton in which both players brandished guns at one another. Arenas ended up being convicted of felony weapons possession and was suspended for the remainder of the 2009-10 season. He would spend two more seasons looking like a shell of his former self before finding himself out of the league for good at just 30. It’s a shame that Arenas, one of the most feared scorers of his generation, had to squander all his talent and any Hall of Fame dreams.
9 John Wall
One of the most exciting players in the game, John Wall possesses some of the best physical tools of any point guard in league history, a 6’4” whirling dervish with a sprinter’s speed and firecracker explosiveness. He’s never been a great shooter, but it doesn’t matter when he has the ability to get to the rim at will and the size and vision to finish or find open teammates once he gets there. Still, despite his best efforts, the Wizards have struggled during his tenure, making the playoffs only twice. Wall has also struggled mightily with controlling his turnovers, and still lacks a consistent outside shot, which allows opposing defenses to sag off.
Wall is still young, with many years left to reshape his legacy, but if he stays on his current path, a couple more All-Star appearances may be the only accolades that await him in the future.
8 Paul Millsap
Though he might not be a household name, Millsap deserves some recognition as one of the best two-way players in the NBA today. That kind of status hasn’t come easily, as he’s had to work hard to overcome the physical deficiencies that had the power forward flying under the radar for so many years. You may not be able to teach size, but you also can’t fake dedication and perseverance, which Millsap has in spades. He’s finally started to get the acclaim he deserves, but because he’s always been more of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, he lacks a single elite skill for which fans will remember him after his playing days are over. Regrettably, this lack of visibility could kill his chances of getting to the Hall of Fame.
7 DeAndre Jordan
Another member of the unofficial “All-Underrated Team,” Jordan has quietly been the steadiest force on one of the most consistently good teams in the Western Conference over the past few years. Mostly known as a rebounder and shot blocker, the hyper-athletic center has never had the scoring output to earn a place on an All-Star team, but his two All-NBA and two All-Defensive team selections speak to his status as arguably the best true center in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Clippers have yet to find success in the playoffs, and the window is quickly closing on their core. Unless they can win a championship in the next couple of years, Jordan’s contributions are likely to continue going underappreciated.
It’s too bad that legacies are based so heavily on All-Star appearances and rings because Jordan is a better player than a lot of future (and some past) Hall-of-Famers based solely on ability.
6 Deron Williams
He’s past his prime now, so it’s easy to forget that Deron Williams was once Chris Paul’s arch-rival, often getting the better of his draft classmate in their individual match-ups. Williams imposing size and strength have allowed him to bully opposing point guards at will, and he can punish bigger, slower defenders with quick crossovers and a deadly outside shot. He’s also one of the best passers of his era, third among active players in career assists behind the aforementioned Paul, and LeBron James. On the other hand, Williams bulk makes him a little slow-footed, which has only been compounded with age and injuries. This leaves him vulnerable on defense, a major problem when you play arguably the deepest, quickest position in the NBA. Maybe Williams stays injury-free and turns his career around in the next few years, but I wouldn’t count on it.
5 DeMarcus Cousins
No matter what you think of his personality, there’s no denying that DeMarcus Cousins has become one of the most dominant big men in the game. He’s incredibly unique with his huge 270 pound frame and nimble footwork, equally able to muscle opponents under the basket or dance around them. He’s as close to a complete package as you’ll find in a center, an elite scorer, rebounder, and passer who contributes blocks, steals, and even three-pointers. That’s why it’s such a shame that he’s stuck in the NBA’s most toxic organization, the Sacramento Kings.
Combined with Cousins’ already volatile personality, the inept management in Sacramento has all but assured their failure year after year. Incredibly, last season was the first of Cousins’ career that his team won more than 30 games, a pretty embarrassing blemish on the legacy of their supposed leader. Although it’s obviously too early to write Cousins off this early in his career, if he has any hope of going down as an all-time great he needs to get out of Sacramento ASAP.
4 Rajon Rondo
When you think of the term “pure point guard,” chances are you’re picturing a floor general who’s committed to getting his teammates involved, is a wizard with the ball on offense, and a thief on defense. That’s a pretty good description of Rajon Rondo, who’s never been known for his shot (besides how ugly it is). As a 21-year-old NBA sophomore, he was thrust into the role of starting point guard on a championship contender led by the Celtics’ newly formed “Big Three.” Not only did he hold the starting job for the entire year, he succeeded in helping deliver an NBA Championship to Boston for the first time in over 20 years.
However, although Rondo improved individually, he hasn’t found that kind of team success since. He also has a number of critics who feel that the strong team culture in Boston helped mask and excuse his stubborn, irritable demeanor. Now on the wrong side of 30, it’s probably too late for Rondo to finally learn how to shoot and turn himself into a truly elite player. To be fair though, I’m sure a lot of Hall of Famers would trade that kind of notoriety for his ring in a heartbeat.
3 Andre Iguodala
As crazy as it might seem, we might some day see a former Finals MVP get passed over by the Hall of Fame. Andre Iguodala may just find himself in that strange position once he retires because it’s tough for career role players to get that kind of recognition. Operating as a point forward on offense, Iguodala is at his best being a glue guy, moving the ball, making smart cuts, and directing traffic. Defensively, he’s strong, quick, and long, with great anticipation and hands that help make him one of the league’s premier thieves. Role player or not, Iguodala’s been among the best wing defenders and all-around players of the past decade.
He was miscast as a number one option for years in Philadelphia, but has really had the chance to show his worth as a second or third option on a great team in the Golden State Warriors.
2 LaMarcus Aldridge
Aside from Dirk Nowitzki, you’d be hard pressed to find a big man with a more unstoppable mid-range jumper than LaMarcus Aldridge. His high release and long arms make it almost impossible to contest, and it’s made him one of the most productive post players today. However, despite five All-Star selections and four All-NBA nods, some still question his abilities as a leader, calling him “soft” for taking so many jumpers and failing to carry a team past the second round of the playoffs. He’s got a great chance to cross that off his to-do list with perennial contender San Antonio, but as we all saw last year, it’s still going to be a tall task in the ruthless Western Conference, and he’ll be playing second fiddle to emerging superstar Kawhi Leonard. Some big playoff performances could change his fortunes significantly, but as it stands, he won’t likely be joining his one-time teammate and Hall of Fame shoo-in Tim Duncan.
1 Amar’e Stoudemire
Stoudemire is a classic “what if?” player, who showed a tremendous amount of talent but for various reasons, including plain old bad luck, was unable to fully capitalize on it. Coming to the NBA straight out of high school as a 6’10” “man-child,” the power forward nicknamed “STAT” quickly rose to prominence with Steve Nash as the greatest pick-and-roll duo since Stockton and Malone. Given free reign in Mike D’Antoni’s high octane offense, the Suns became an overnight success and instant contenders. It was not to be though, as the Suns suffered gutting playoff loss after gutting playoff loss over the years. Three times during Stoudemire’s tenure, they lost to the eventual champions in hard-fought series before their window shut for good and the team was blown up.
Stoudemire only managed to summon one more All-Star season after leaving Phoenix, as injuries ravaged his body, and he never again came so close to basketball immortality as he did in his glory days with the run ‘n gun Suns.
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