Is Jack Sikma 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 Jack Sikma.

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?

Nyet, nyet.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Sikma was arguably the best player on the Seattle SuperSonics from his fourth year in the league (1980-81) until he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks following the 1985-86 season.

He was very good for Milwaukee, especially his first three years, but he was not the team’s best player.

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

Center was an extremely deep position in the 1980s, with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, and Robert Parish manning the position. For the decade, Sikma was probably the fourth-best center in the NBA.

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

Sikma played in three Western Conference finals and two NBA Finals — all in the first three years of his career — and he was solid if unspectacular in most of those series. His best performance came in the 1979 NBA Finals, where he averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game.

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

Yes, he was. Sikma was very effective through his age-33 season. At age 34, though, there was a noticeable dropoff in his performance, and he retired following his age-35 season.

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

No, he is not. In my opinion the top two candidates are Sidney Moncrief and Kevin Johnson.

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

Here is a list of players who are eligible for the Hall of Fame and averaged at least 15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game (minimum 400 games played):

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (HOF) 1560 24.6 11.2 3.6
Charles Barkley (HOF) 1073 22.1 11.7 3.9
Elgin Baylor (HOF) 846 27.4 13.5 4.3
Larry Bird (HOF) 897 24.3 10.0 6.3
Wilt Chamberlain (HOF) 1045 30.1 22.9 4.4
Dave Cowens (HOF) 766 17.6 13.6 3.8
Billy Cunningham (HOF) 654 20.8 10.1 4.0
Brad Daugherty 548 19.0 9.5 3.7
Bob Lanier (HOF) 959 20.1 10.1 3.1
Jerry Lucas (HOF) 829 17.0 15.6 3.3
Karl Malone (HOF) 1476 25.0 10.1 3.6
George McGinnis 528 17.2 9.8 3.8
Bob Pettit (HOF) 792 26.4 16.2 3.0
Bill Russell (HOF) 963 15.1 22.5 4.3
Dolph Schayes (HOF) 996 18.5 12.1 3.1
Jack Sikma 1107 15.6 9.8 3.2
Chris Webber 831 20.7 9.8 4.2

Thirteen of these 17 players are in the Hall of Fame, the exceptions being Brad Daugherty, George McGinnis, Chris Webber, and Sikma.

Of course, you can probably see what’s going on here: I’m deliberately setting the minimums so that Sikma just squeaks by in each category.

Let’s look at a comprehensive statistic like wins above replacement (WAR). Sikma had 104.3 career WAR, which currently places him 53rd on the all-time list.

Here are all of the HOF-eligible players with between 100 and 110 career WAR:

Kevin McHale (HOF) 30118 109.9 57.9
Elvin Hayes (HOF) 50000 107.1 22.3
Alex English (HOF) 38063 105.0 35.4
Jack Sikma 36943 104.3 41.6
Walt Frazier (HOF) 30965 103.3 49.6
Larry Nance 30697 103.0 51.1
Jerry Lucas (HOF) 32131 101.8 50.4
Bailey Howell (HOF) 30627 101.6 49.1
Artis Gilmore (HOF) 29685 101.4 52.9
Detlef Schrempf 33597 100.7 45.1

* +WAA stands for positive Wins Above Average (i.e., negative seasons are zeroed out). This is an attempt to measure each player’s impact in his “big” seasons without penalizing him for seasons where he was below average.

The only players above who are not in the Hall of Fame are Larry Nance (who I’ve argued should be), Detlef Schrempf, and Sikma.

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

Sikma’s Hall of Fame Standards score* is 52, a score that puts him above the median Hall of Famer. In fact, Sikma is the only eligible player with a score of 50 or higher who is not in the Hall of Fame.

* Please remember that this method is designed to model the behavior of the voters and does 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?

No, not really.

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

Yes, I believe Sikma is the best center who has not yet been elected to the Hall of Fame.

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

Sikma received MVP votes in five different seasons, although he never finished higher than seventh. He earned four first-place votes in 1978-79 — when a voter could only select one player on the ballot — but those turned out to be the only first-place votes of his career.

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?

I define an “All-Star-type” season to be one in which a player has at least 8.0 WAR. Sikma had five such seasons, plus four more where he was close (7.9 in 1978-79 and 1980-81; 7.6 in 1979-80; and 7.5 in 1985-86).

Here is a list of HOF-eligible players who had exactly five “All-Star-type” seasons:

This is a mixed bag, as nine of these players are Hall of Famers and nine are not.

But if the cutoff is dropped from 8.0 WAR to 7.5 WAR — giving Sikma nine such seasons — here’s what you get:

As you can see, Sikma is surrounded by Hall of Famers.

Looking at All-Star Games, Sikma played in seven of them, a very respectable total. Here is a list of HOF-eligible players who had exactly seven All-Star selections:

Sikma and Jo Jo White are the only players on this list who have not been elected to 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?

Probably not. Sikma did play for three conference finalists, two of which advanced to the NBA Finals, but Gus Williams was the best player on those teams.

In fact, when Williams sat out the 1980-81 season in a contract dispute, the Sonics dropped to 34-48 and didn’t even make the playoffs. When Williams returned for the 1981-82 season, the Sonics improved to 52-30 and advanced to the Western Conference semifinals. (It’s only fair to note, though, that the 1981-82 season was easily the best of Sikma’a career.)

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?

There’s nothing in particular that stands out.

The Verdict

Based on what the voters have done in the past, Sikma’s resume looks like that of a Hall of Famer, and the advanced stats agree with that conclusion. He’s a very strong candidate, and I believe he should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

15 thoughts on “Is Jack Sikma a Hall of Famer?

  1. Great write-up. I religiously read all of your hall of fame candidate breakdowns.

    I’m wondering though, regarding his comparison to other peers at his position, would you say Jack Sikma is better than Artis Gilmore?

    1. First, thanks for the kind words.

      That’s a good question. If you’re just looking at the decade of the 1980s, then I would go with Sikma. But Gilmore’s first three years in the NBA (’77, ’78, ’79) were really good, not to mention his great years before that in the ABA. If I was ranking the two based on their entire careers, I would put Gilmore ahead of Sikma.

    2. Only one thing I disagree with. Sikma had a few other centers ahead of him during the mid-1980’s: Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon (who was elite from day-1), Patrick Ewing (also elite from day-1), and Ralph Sampson. The Center position was exceptionally deep at that time – much deeper than the author admits – which is why Sikma is so underrated. Even Bill Walton, James Donaldson, Darryl Dawkins, and Jow Barry Carroll were in the league back then. All were solid at the position.

  2. Sikma was sort of a poor man’s Dave Cowens. He should have been drafted 1st overall in a stocked 1977 draft, but coming in as an unknown from Illinois Wesleyan its a shock that he was even drafted in the top 10. He was a stretch 5 in his later career when his legs were done. He was an elite rebounder for a number of years, which is funny because he was never a great post player and did most of his damage with a deadly mid range jump shot in his prime.

    He will eventually go into the Hall of Fame, especially if you look at the inclusion of such players as Ralph Sampson.

    Great article.

  3. I should have mentioned this in the post, but Sikma’s hair alone makes him a strong Hall of Fame candidate.

  4. Based on the last 5 years of votes I’d have to say Sikma should be in. Some very, very weak candidates getting in and weak ones being nominated. Look at Mark Aguirre, easily the best forward of the 80’s not in the Hall. Or Spencer Haywood in the 70’s. Aguirre has a lot to recommend him over other SF who are already in the Hall (winning %, win share, championships, Plus/Minus, player efficiency) all while playing with a team that was never on TV and rarely got national press.

  5. Justin — found your article by accident, read it w/out knowing who wrote it, and enjoyed it very much — then found out you wrote it! Glad to see you’re still writing about hoops. For me the best comparison/contrasts to Sikma are Robert Parish and Bill Laimbeer. Parish of course had the more illlustrious associations in the ballyhooed (and deserving) Greatest Frontline Ever, and Laimbeer caught the buzz of playing against those Celts plus the transition from Lakers to Bulls dynasties. But Sikma stacks up very well in every respect against the other two. His most “innovative” aspect: Sikma and The Human Eraser were the first arguable Twin Towers to make the NBA Finals since Dipper and Nate Thurmond did it in ’64.

  6. I believe Jack Sikma is also the tallest man to win a foul shooting title at 92.2% if memory serves me correctly. In addition, he was an excellent passer, extremely clutch, smart and a very good defender. In one of the best playoff series I have ever seen, he went 35-35 or 39-39 in the 1987 eastern semifinals, a seven-game thriller vs. Boston. Jack’s stats are very good, but his intangibles make him even better. If he were playing today, he would be the best center in the NBA. During his career, the league was full of great centers, yet Jack was usually among the best.
    I also think Paul Westphal, Sidney Moncrief, JoJo White and Mark Price should be in the Hall of Fame. Marques Johnson, perhaps. Certainly if you include his college career.

  7. I agree with you. In my all-time NBA rankings, the only players who retired before 2000 who aren’t in the HOF are #76 McGinnis (the only 20/10 player not in the HOF), #80 Sikma, #84 Nance, #87 Buck Williams, #91 KJ, #95 Marques Johnson and #99 Zelmo Beaty. All should be in the HOF.

    In terms of “All Star seasons”, rather than simply setting an unflexible cutoff, I went back and looked at each season and ranked the best 12 players (using 4 F, 4 G, 2 C, 2 flex rules) in each conference for every season in NBA history. By that standard, Sikma had 7 All Star seasons. The only eligible players with 7 All Star seasons not in the HOF are Chris Webber with 8 and McGinnis, Sikma, Nance and KJ all with 7. (The only eligible players with 6 not in the HOF are Tim Hardaway, Beaty, Larry Foust, Shawn Kemp and Red Kerr, so even 6 seems like the voters usual threshold.)

  8. In 1976 at the end of Jack’s jr year at Illinois Wesleyan he was invited to the Olympic trials held on the University of North Carolina campus. All reports were that he played great — and had earned a spot on the team. In the end there were 4 players from UNC selected — including back-up center Tom LaGarde. (Phil Ford, Mitch Kupchak and Walter Davis) Tex Winter said that he was the most aggressive defender and shot blocker and Dave Nightingale of the Cicago Daily News said that the “most odious of the selections was Tom LaGarde over Jack Sikma) In the final scrimmage they went head-to-head and Jack clearly out scored, out rebounded and out defended LaGarde (10 pts to 3pts) Future NBA careers clearly supported Jack’s slight.
    Coach Smith pointed out that it was a committee selection –that he had no influence on the selection — the unintended consequence kept Jack from an Olympic Gold medal — international accomplishment and probably position in draft. This keeps on “taking” as this added resume material could be added to Hall-of Fame credentials.
    In the spirit of full disclosure — I was Jack’s college coach —

    An added credential — I think Jack is the only NBA player to have a move named after him — the inside pivot — the “Sikma Move” which allowed him to score against a great an era of NBA centers.

    Jack has earned a place in the Hall -of – Fame.

  9. Ask all the Hall of Fame contemporaries who played against him what they thought. That should settle the debate.

  10. Jack Sikma had the perfect routine for shooting free throws, and he it did it exactly the same every time. He would step “toe the line” in the same way and take four dribbles, pause long enough to take one deep cleansing breath, and shot the ball. You see guys who never line up the same way twice or stand a foot behind the line,pound out a different number of dribbles every time, pause briefly one time and then the next time hold the ball forever before shooting-and then wonder why they shoot inconsistently! Not Jack–toe the line, four dribbles, deep breath, shoot,swish, toe the line, four dribbles, deep breath, shoot,swish–the EXACT same way 5,053 times & it worked 4,292 times!

  11. Another player who should be considered for the Hall of Fame is basketball player
    Harold “Happy” Hairston.

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