Is Sidney Moncrief a Hall of Famer?

October 15, 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 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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