Is Chris Webber a Hall of Famer?

August 20, 2013

The Keltner List is a series of subjective questions formulated by famed sabermetrician Bill James used to help assess whether or not a player deserves to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although the system was designed to evaluate baseball players, with a few minor tweaks it can also be used to assess the Hall-worthiness of basketball players. Today — in what I hope will become a regular feature on Statitudes — I will assess the Hall of Fame chances of Chris Webber, who will appear on the ballot for the first time in 2014.

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?

Webber never finished higher than fourth in the MVP voting, and he only had one All-NBA First Team selection, so the answers are clearly no and no.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes, Webber was the best player on the Washington Bullets/Wizards in 1996-97 and 1997-98, and he was also the best player on the Sacramento Kings from 1998-99 to 2000-02.

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?

No, he wasn’t. Webber’s best seasons coincided with some of Tim Duncan best seasons, and Duncan was pretty clearly regarded as the best power forward in the NBA, not to mention the fact that Karl Malone was still a 20/10 threat on a nightly basis in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?

Not really. None of Webber’s teams advanced to the NBA Finals, although he did play on two conference finalists, the 2001-02 Kings and the 2006-07 Pistons. Webber had a starring role with the Kings, averaging 24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game against the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals, but he was more of a supporting player with the Pistons.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes. Webber’s last All-Star selection came in 2002-03, when he was 29 years old, but he managed to stick around for five more seasons. He played on four different teams in that span, but he started all but two games that he appeared in and averaged 34 minutes per game.

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No, there are several players I would put ahead of him, among them Kevin Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, and Alonzo Mourning.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

It depends how you look at it.

Webber is one of just five players in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for his career (minimum 400 games played):

Chris Webber 20.7 9.8 4.2
Wilt Chamberlain 30.1 22.9 4.4
Larry Bird 24.3 10.0 6.3
Elgin Baylor 27.4 13.5 4.3
Billy Cunningham 20.8 10.1 4.0

The other four players, as you may already know, are in the Hall of Fame. But there are two things that should be noted:

  1. Webber is close to the arbitrary cutoffs in all three categories.
  2. Webber clearly doesn’t belong in a group with Chamberlain, Bird, and Baylor.

For example, Brad Daugherty finished his career with averages of 19.0/9.5/3.7. Although he misses the cut in both points and assists, Daugherty is a much closer match to Webber than Chamberlain and Bird are.

Looking at the quality and shape of Webber’s career as measured by win shares, he is comparable to several very good players — Lou Hudson, Ben Wallace, and Lamar Odom, to name three — but just one Hall of Famer (James Worthy).

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Webber’s Hall of Fame probability on is 0.746, which currently puts him 83rd all time among players with at least 400 games played. There are certainly players in the Hall of Fame with lesser resumes.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Yes, there is. Webber was plagued by injuries throughout his career. In his 15 years in the NBA, Webber played in just 831 out of a possible 1,198 regular season games. Or to put it another way, Webber sat out almost four and a half seasons worth of games over the course of his career. Because of this, Webber missed out on reaching career milestones such as 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

I think there is a case to be made that Webber is the best eligible power forward who is not in the Hall of Fame, but my choice would be Larry Nance. Nance’s career per game averages of 17.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists fall short of Webber’s, but Nance was:

  • more durable (Webber’s career high in games played was 76, a mark that Nance surpassed six times),
  • a much more efficient scorer (Nance’s career true shooting percentage was .586 compared to .513 for Webber), and
  • a better defensive player (Nance was named to the All-Defensive team three times, an honor that Webber never received).

Webber at his peak was probably a better player than Nance, but Webber missed so many games due to injury that I would prefer a player like Nance.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Webber finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting for five straight seasons (1998-99 to 2002-03) but never won the award. His only top five finish came in 2000-01, when he finished fourth.

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?

Webber was selected to five All-Star games, playing in four of them (he sat out the 2003 game due to injury). There are quite a few players with five or more All-Star selections who have not made the Hall of Fame.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?

Likely? No. Possible? Yes. Webber was the best player on the 2001-02 Kings team that lost to the Lakers in seven games in the Western Conference finals. Had the Kings advanced to the NBA Finals, they would have been heavy favorites over the New Jersey Nets.

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?

Webber was the leader of the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five”, believed by many to be the best recruiting class of all time. The “Fab Five” had a big impact on the court — Michigan advanced to consecutive NCAA finals in Webber’s two seasons there — but thanks to their their baggy shorts, blacks socks, and black shoes they had an even greater impact on the game’s culture. Unfortunately for Webber, the Wolverines lost both of those finals, with Webber infamously calling a timeout that his team did not have in the waning moments of the 1993 championship game with his team in possession of the ball and down by two.

The Verdict

I think the answer to the question “Is Chris Webber a Hall of Famer?” depends on whether you are an advocate of a “big Hall” (i.e., less restrictive criteria) or a “small Hall” (i.e., more restrictive criteria). I tend to lean toward the latter, and given that I don’t have a strong feeling that Webber is a Hall of Famer — nor do I have a strong feeling that he isn’t — I would have to pass on him at this time. That said, I leave open the possibility that someone, somewhere can convince me that he is.

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