Is Sidney Moncrief a Hall of Famer?

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 I will assess the Hall of Fame chances of Sidney Moncrief, an All-Star shooting guard for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s.

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 and no.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes. Moncrief led the Bucks in win shares for five straight seasons (1981-82 to 1985-86).

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

Moncrief was the best shooting guard in the NBA from 1981-82 to 1985-86. Over that stretch, Moncrief and Magic Johnson were clearly the two best guards in the game. In fact, some of their statistics are eerily similar:

Player ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
Moncrief 120 104 42.6 19.6 62.2 .212
Johnson 120 104 42.1 18.4 60.5 .210

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

No, he did not. Moncrief never played in the NBA Finals, but the Bucks did advance to the Eastern Conference finals three times from 1983 to 1986. Although they only managed to win two games in those series, that’s understandable when you consider that Milwaukee ran into two of the greatest teams of all time in the conference finals — the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers and the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

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

He probably would have been good enough, but Moncrief’s body betrayed him. Moncrief’s last great season came in 1985-86, when he was 28. Over the next three seasons Moncrief missed 89 games due to various injuries, and his playing time was cut by about 12 minutes per game.

Moncrief retired following the 1988-89 season, came back after one year to play for the Atlanta Hawks, then retired for good in 1991.

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

I believe he is. It’s a close call between Moncrief and Kevin Johnson, but I would go with Moncrief.

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

Moncrief is one of 13 retired guards to average at least 15 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game (minimum 400 games played). Ten of those guards are in the Hall of Fame and the other two — Anfernee Hardaway and Steve Francis — are eligible for the first time this year.

However, there are two things I should note:

  1. Moncrief just passes the threshold in each per game category (15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists).
  2. Traditional statistics do a poor job of capturing Moncrief’s full value (see #9 below).

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

Moncrief’s Hall of Fame probability is very low (0.123). There are three main reasons for this:

  1. Moncrief played in five All-Star Games, a small total for a Hall of Fame candidate (see #12 below).
  2. Moncrief never played for an NBA champion (see #4 above).
  3. Moncrief’s traditional per game statistics — points, rebounds, and assists — due a poor job of capturing his true value.

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

Absolutely. As mentioned above, Moncrief’s traditional per game statistics do not accurately capture his true value.

Moncrief was a fabulous defender: He was named to five All-Defensive teams — including four straight First Team selections — and won the Defensive Player of the Year award in consecutive seasons (1982-83 and 1983-84).

Moncrief was also an extremely efficient scorer. For his career he produced an estimated 119.4 points per 100 possessions, the sixth-best figure in NBA history (since 1977-78; minimum 10,000 points produced).

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

Yes, I think he is the best shooting guard eligible for the Hall of Fame, by a wide margin.

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

Moncrief received MVP votes in five different seasons. His best showing was a fourth-place finish in 1983.

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?

Moncrief played like an All-Star from 1980-81 through 1985-86, and in the last five seasons of that stretch he was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Moncrief is one of 23 retired players with exactly five All-Star selections. Of those 23, 12 are in the Hall of Fame, and two others — Chris Webber and Tim Hardaway — are solid candidates in the upcoming election.

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

Only with a lot of help. Moncrief was a terrific player, but he was not the type of player who could put a team on his back and carry them.

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?

Moncrief was a two-time All-America selection at Arkansas, but other than that there’s nothing especially noteworthy.

The Verdict

Moncrief should be in the Hall of Fame. From 1981-82 to 1985-86 he was the best shooting guard in the NBA, and a case can be made that, other than Larry Bird, there was no player who was clearly better during that time frame. That peak, to me, outweighs his relatively short career.

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15 thoughts on “Is Sidney Moncrief a Hall of Famer?

  1. “Moncrief is one of 11 players with exactly five All-Star selections, and currently none of them are in the Hall of Fame.”

    13 players are in the Hall of Fame with exactly five All-Star selections. Moncrief is one of 11 eligible that is not inducted (I assume that’s what you meant). Webber will soon become the 12th eligible. Also, two active players – Billups and Parker- have exactly five All-Star nods.

  2. This is the list of players that have made it to the finalist stage since 1980 (reports are missing for ’83, ’84 and ’85), but failed to get voted into the Hall of Fame:

    North American committee

    Maurice Cheeks 7 (’99, ’02, ’03, ’05, ’11, ’12, ’13)
    Bobby Jones 6 (’97, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04)
    Sidney Moncrief 4 (’97, ’98, ’99, ’00)
    Jo Jo White 3 (’97, ’98, ’99)
    Larry Costello 2 (’96, ’98)
    Red Kerr 2 (’91, ’94)
    Larry Foust 2 (’89, ’90)
    Tim Hardaway 1 (’13)
    Spencer Haywood 1 (’13)
    Mitch Richmond 1 (’13)
    Walter Davis 1 (’03)
    Dick Barnett 1 (’96)
    Satch Sanders 1 (’95)
    John Moir 1 (’88)
    Arnie Ferrin 1 (’86)
    Joe Fortenberry 1 (’86)
    Frank Selvy 1 (’82)
    Hazel Walker 1 (’82) – Women’s committee didn’t exist at the time
    Dick Boushka 1 (’81)
    Max Zaslofsky 1 (’80)

    Veterans committee

    John Isaacs 2 (’05, ’06)
    Paul Seymour 1 (’92)

    Women’s committee

    Alline Banks Sprouse 1 (’93)

  3. A few comments:

    A) Win Shares, Offensive or Defensive, Per 48 Minutes or not, do not constitute a reliable metric. For instance, according to Win Shares, Amar’e Stoudemire usually proved more valuable to the Suns than Steve Nash, an absurd conclusion disproved by the ’05-’06 season, when Stoudemire only played 4 games yet Phoenix still advanced to Game Six of the 2006 Western Conference Finals, an even deeper playoff run than the year before.

    B) Likewise, Defensive Rating is not a reliable metric for individual performance, mainly because it makes too much of defensive ‘counting stats’ (namely defensive rebounds, steals, and blocks, especially defensive rebounds) and because it fails to effectively disentangle an individual’s defensive performance from that of his team. Thus a poor or lackluster defender on a great defensive team can look good, especially if he is a good defensive rebounder or comes up with a bunch of steals that fail to properly reflect his defensive value. Conversely, a good defender on a poor defensive team can look poor, especially if his defensive rebounds or steals are more pedestrian.

    C) I’d take Kevin Johnson over Moncrief. First, Johnson’s prime extended for about twice as long, as he averaged 19.8 points, 10.0 assists, and a .497 field goal percentage in the nine seasons where he started the majority of his games (1989-1997). K.J. received the NBA Player of the Month Award over eight years apart, first in February 1989 and again in April 1997. At the start of that period, he was probably the best guard in the NBA aside from a peak phase Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. At the end of that period, he was probably the best guard in the NBA aside from Jordan.

    Second, in addition to combining excellent scoring volume with excellent scoring efficiency, like Moncrief, K.J. constituted a historic playmaker, whereas Moncrief clearly did not. Thus K.J.’s offensive value was almost necessarily much higher, regardless of Offensive Rating, which seems to get into some problems of misapplying team pace factors to individual performance. Moncrief probably amounted to the better defensive player, but K.J. was a good defensive guard in his own right (at times elite, especially in the 1993 playoffs when the Suns reached the NBA Finals). Awards and accolades also represent an unreliable means of judging defensive ability, much like Gold Gloves in baseball.

    D) All that said, you offer a good case. Moncrief averaged at least 19.8 points for five straight seasons and constituted the leading or second-leading scorer on a number of championship contenders that won over 50 regular season games and that sometimes advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Shooting very good percentages from the field and the free throw line while attempting a ton of free throws (much like Kevin Johnson, by the way), Moncrief proved to be a highly efficient scorer with a career .591 True Shooting Percentage. He was a good all-around player, too, and while defensive honors can be dubious, Moncrief is the only guard to receive the Defensive Player of the Year Award multiple times. Indeed, from 1981-1986, Moncrief’s Bucks never ranked lower than third in Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions).

    The only negative is that his prime lasted only five seasons, and he wasn’t posting historic sets of numbers, either, like Kevin Johnson. Indeed, K.J.’s prime ran for almost twice as long and his statistical sets in the core categories at his position rival those of any point guard in history. K.J.’s peak burned brighter than Moncrief’s, and his prime proved much longer. Therefore, I’d vote for him over Moncrief, but Moncrief deserves far more attention than he has received. Had he played for the Celtics of that era, as Dennis Johnson did, then Moncrief almost assuredly would be in the Hall of Fame, like D. Johnson.

  4. “From 1981-82 to 1985-86 he was the best shooting guard in the NBA, and a case can be made that, other than Larry Bird, there was no player who was clearly better during that time frame.”

    How about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone?

  5. First of all, I congratulate Satch on his recent induction into the “Hall”.
    But, He was primarily a defensive player. I know given the team he was on, he wasn’t called on to score as much.
    But having watched him play and others like Spencer Haywood and Sidney Moncrief, theres no way or reason why these players have been left out.
    It is almost a travesty. Charles Barkley in and Sidney not. Satch in and Spencer not.
    Stop!

  6. Don’t discount the influence his college success had on society at a statewide/regional level. As I wrote below –

    “Moncrief was born in September, 1957, the same month as the Little Rock Central High Crisis, which highlighted the racial tensions boiling underneath the surface of Arkansas society. More than any other Arkansas athlete, he helped alleviate those same tensions.

    Since Arkansas has no major pro team, the Razorbacks essentially serve as both the state’s major pro and college team. As the most high profile star of the Hogs’ late 1970s teams, which won multiple SWC championships and made a Final Four, Moncrief became the first African-American “face” of an Arkansas sports team.

    For the first time, white and black Arkansans embraced and looked up to a black student-athlete. The long-term social significance of such a watershed moment cannot be underestimated, especially considering it happened in a sports-crazed Southern state that had started integrating its high school only a decade before.

    Moncrief’s influence would remain high in Arkansas throughout the 1980s as he became a superstar in the NBA and strengthened his friendships with prominent Arkansans such as then-governor Bill Clinton.”

    From http://www.sportinglifearkansas.com/sidney-moncrief-deserves-hall-of-fame-induction-every-bit-as-much-as-bernard-king/

    Moncrief was a better all-around player than Mitch Richmond and deserves HOF inclusion

  7. some idiot commented “defensive rating is not sufficient since it does not separate an individual player from team defense” well honestly right now there isnt any metric that completely analyze individual defense so unless we see one then the data on defense will be incomplete, besides i truly believe that defense is more of a team activity which means no matter how tight you are in defending your guy if you bump to screens, double screens of the opposing team then chances are your reaction to challenge your opponent’s shot will be delayed.

    “kj’s numbers rival ay point guard in history” lmao i dont know if i should laugh t this statement ok ill compare kj to stockton by per 48 mins:

    rebounds-edge kj 4.6-4.1
    assist-edge stockton 15.9-12.9
    turnovers-wash same 4.3
    blocks-wash .3
    steals-edge stockton 3.3-2.1
    fouls-edge kj 3.0-4.0
    2pts-edge stockton 54.1-50.4
    3pts-edge stockton 38.4-30.5
    free throws-edge kj 84.1-82.6

    now i’ll compare him to fat lever

    rebounds-edge fat 9.1-4.6
    assist-edge kj 12.9-9.5
    turnovers-edge fat-3-4.3
    blocks- edge fat .4-.3
    steals-edge fat 3.4-2.1
    fouls-edge kj 3.0-3.6
    2pts-edge kj 50.4-45.5
    3pts-edge fat 31-30.5
    free throws edge kj 77.1-84.1

    hmn this is funny historically great point guards? how can he rival the likes of magic if even a guy like fat lever have an advantage on him on numerous categories?

  8. the comparison between kj and sidney is close but i’ll give the edge to sidney since he was a terrific defensive player and he was one of the few players who can impact the game from both ends of the court unlike kj who is only extremely good on the offensive end.

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