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 Chauncey Billups.
Here are the questions as adapted by me:
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. The Detroit Pistons were a deep and talented team from 2002-03 through 2007-08 — they reached the conference finals all six seasons — but I believe that Billups was their best player.
3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?
Although he only made three All-NBA teams (second team in 2005-06, third team in 2006-07 and 2008-09), in my opinion Billups was the best point guard of the 2000s.
I think Billups and Nash have a leg up on Kidd here, but it’s tough to pick one over the other. But Nash won two MVP awards and made six All-NBA teams in the decade, so let’s be conservative and give him the edge.
Now here are their postseason statistics:
This is a big edge for Billups. While Nash and Kidd were noticeably less effective on a per minute basis, Billups was about the same. This is even more impressive when you consider the quality of the competition, as Billups was a member of seven conference finalists and appeared in two NBA Finals.
I know there are people out there who are going to think I’m crazy, but I would absolutely choose Billups as my point guard for the All-Decade team of the 2000s.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?
Yes, he did. As I mentioned above, Billups appeared in six consecutive conference finals with the Detroit Pistons, then extended that streak to seven with the Denver Nuggets in 2008-09.
Two of those teams — the 2003-04 and 2004-05 Pistons — reached the NBA Finals. The Pistons won the NBA championship in 2004, with Billups claiming the Finals MVP award. In 2005, the Pistons lost a tough seven-game series to the San Antonio Spurs, but Billups played extremely well and probably would have been named Finals MVP once again had they won.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
Yes, he was. Billups was one of the best point guards in the NBA through his age 34 season. In his final three seasons (age 35 to 37), Billups was still a highly effective player when he played. Unfortunately, Billups took the floor in just 61 out of a possible 230 regular season games over that span.
6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
Billups is not eligible yet, but I think he has a better Hall of Fame case than every other eligible player who has not been elected.
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Billups is one of eight players to average at least 15 points and five assists per game while playing at least 1,000 games:
The only one of those players who is not in the Hall of Fame — other than Billups — is Theus, and Billups was a much better player than Theus.
Let’s look at win shares, a more comprehensive statistic. Billups finished his career with 120.8 win shares, a very good figure. Here is a list of all retired players who finished their careers with between 110 and 130 win shares:
Billups is joined by 15 other players on this list. Ten of these 15 are in the Hall of Fame. Four of these players — Buck Williams, Horace Grant, Jack Sikma, and Terry Porter — are eligible but have not been elected to the Hall. The remaining player — Dikembe Mutombo — is eligible for the first time next year and stands a strong chance of being selected.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Billups’ Hall of Fame probability is .205, which is not overly impressive.
His Hall of Fame Standards score is 38, a score that puts him very close to the “viable” candidate line.
Please remember that the two methods above are designed to model the behavior of the voters. They do not reflect my personal opinion.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
Billups took a lot of three-pointers, so his field goal percentages look bad without taking into account the extra point provided by a made three-point shot.
Another skill that Billups had that is often overlooked is free throw efficiency, not just shooting a high percentage from the line but getting there as well.
Billups averaged almost five free throw attempts per game, and his career free throw percentage of .894 is the fifth highest in NBA history (minimum 1,200 free throws made).
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
Although Billups is not yet eligible for the Hall, I do believe he was better than any other eligible point guard.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Billups received MVP votes in four different seasons. His best showing came in 2005-06, when he finished fifth in the balloting and earned 15 first-place votes.
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?
As a rule of thumb, I consider a season with 10 or more win shares to be an “All-Star-type” season. Billups had six such seasons, tying him with Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing, George Gervin, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen, and Dominique Wilkins, among others.
Billups was selected to five All-Star Games, a good but not great total. There are 24 other retired players with exactly five All-Star selections, and a little over half — 13 to be exact — are in 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?
Yes, with a talented supporting cast. Billups was not the type of player who could put a team on his back and carry them to the Finals, but there are very few players in NBA history you can say that about.
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?
Nothing in particular is noteworthy.
This is the easiest Keltner List I have done so far. In my view, Billups was undoubtedly a Hall of Fame caliber player, and he should be elected in his first year of eligibility.