***Update, March 29, 2011: I see a lot of people have been linked to this article recently. Please check out my new article taking a look at Reggie Miller's super-clutch status.***
So Reggie Miller just got left off the list of 12 Hall of Fame finalists for 2011, and damn near everyone can't believe it. Fans are having a really hard time believing one of the game’s best 3-point shooters and clutch playoff performers ever isn’t even on the list of finalists. I’m here to tell you: thank you anonymous voters.
Let’s start with the obvious. You don’t care about the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. I’m guessing that if you have never lived within 50 miles of it, you never went. I’m also guessing if you had the choice of a weekend trip in Springfield, MA, or in Cooperstown, NY, you’re headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame – and I’m talking to an audience of basketball fans. It’s not the NBA Hall of Fame, but a generic basketball hall with 59 enshrined contributors, 8 teams, 13 refs, 82 coaches, and less than 90 players who ever played in an NBA, BAA, or ABA game. Think about that: all the other people you don’t care about far outnumber the players who actually got you interested in the game – and oh yeah, 25 of those players primarily played in the 40’s and 50’s, so many are in there for their “pioneer” status.
OK, we got that out of the way. Now on to the supposed atrocity of Reggie Miller’s rejection in his first year of eligibility for the Hall. I’m going to keep this real simple; I’m not going to do a full-blown investigation of every moment and statistic and all of that. Either he showed HOF dominance during his career or he didn’t. Not a few moments – there are 50 to 75 guys playing right now who can give us great moments that win some games. Actual HOF dominance.
His career stats are not dominant. 18 ppg, 3 apg, 3 rpg. No question his 3FG% and FT% are very good (career .395 shooter from deep – not as great as you thought it was, is it?), but he was almost always his team’s top scorer, and he averaged only 18 ppg for his career. He finished in the top-10 in ppg only once in his career: 8th in 1989-90 with 24.6 ppg. As far as his biggest skill--hitting three-pointers--goes, he wasn't exactly dominant. More like consistently above-average. Miller once lead the league in makes by a slim margin, once tied for the league lead in makes, and never lead the league in 3-point percentage (was 3rd in 1993-94, his only top-5 finish in that category). That’s how un-dominant his stats were. Playoffs, you say? 21 ppg, 2.5 apg, and 3 rpg. Still not dominant. Outside of his stats we have a bad passer (for a guard), a mediocre-at-best defender, and a guy you couldn’t design your offense around. I say that last part because he had to run off screens to get open for catch-and-shoots, which ties up your big men on the perimeter and forces the PG to stall with the ball until he’s open. You don’t win championships that way, and he didn’t.
But wasn’t he considered great when he was playing? 15 seasons, 5 All-Star Games. Huh, that isn’t that impressive. Joe Johnson has 5 in 10 years. Chauncey Billups has 5 in 14 years. Steve Nash has 7 in 15 years. And those are just guards from last year’s game.
Maybe he was considered dominant by another measure? Not MVP voting. Miller received MVP votes in only two seasons. He finished 13th in 2000 (with 1 vote, tied with Darrell Armstrong, Michael Finley, and teammate Jalen Rose) and 16th in 1998 (with 2 votes, tied with teammate Rik Smits). Just so you didn't miss that, Miller never received more MVP votes than one of his teammates. No, nothing even remotely resembling dominance there.
How about making All-NBA teams? Miller finished on the 3rd-team three times. That’s it. Over 15 seasons, he was considered one of the league’s 15 best players only three times, and never one of its 10 best. In 1995, he got the sixth and final guard spot, behind Anfernee Hardaway, John Stockton, Gary Payton, Mitch Richmond, and Clyde Drexler (Jordan would have knocked Miller off the list) – 4 of those are of the “no crap” variety, and the other is Richmond. In 1996, Miller finished behind AH, MJ, GP, JS, and was on the third-team with Richmond. No dice in 1997 due to Tim Hardaway, MJ, GP, Richmond, AH, and JS. Then he made the 3rd-team for the final time in 1998, behind MJ, GP, Tim Hardaway, Rod Strickland, and joined Richmond on the final squad. I point out Hardaway, Richmond, and Strickland specifically because no one thinks of them as HOF’ers, yet that’s who Miller was finishing beside or behind regularly. In fact, those three all made the NBA’s 2nd-team or better at least once – but that was never the case for Miller. See those “no crap” guys? Those are your real HOF’ers (minus Anfernee Hardaway’s unfortunate injury issues that derailed his career).
I really don’t need to go further (but I will add that Basketball-Reference's HOF calculator gives Miller a 5.5% chance, good for 190th all-time, right in between Larry Siegfried and Dan Roundfield - oh yeah). He wasn’t dominant. Some dominant moments? Sure. Some shots and playoff series you remember? Yes. Hall of Fame career? Not even close.
Just for fun, let’s see how well he matches up with the other guards in the HOF (32 total). I’m only going to look at those whose careers weren’t primarily played in the 40’s and 50’s (down to 24). And let’s be honest, we already know he’s not Jordan, or Magic, or West, or Oscar, so I’ll only compare him to the fringe HOF guards who some people might say Miller is better than. Keep in mind that the 3rd-team was added to the All-NBA squads in 1989, so most of these players were fighting for a top-10 selection, which Miller never accomplished. Also, MVP ballots went from voting for top-3 to top-5 in 1981, so it was much harder to get votes before then (Miller never finished top-3 on a ballot).
K.C. Jones, 1958-67
Jones only played 9 seasons, but he was the starting PG on 7 straight Champions (and played on another), was a great defender, and he finished in the top-10 in apg four times, placing as high as 3rd two times. It’s tough to call this a HOF career because really he had the good fortune of playing beside Bill Russell – it’s truly difficult to rate any of Russ’ teammates. It’s not a stretch to say part of the reason he got voted in in 1989 was due to recently coaching the 1984 and 1986 Championship Celtics; everyone had those warm fuzzy “he’s a winner” vibes going at the time. Still, I got Jones over Miller.
Tom Gola, 1955-66
His nickname was “Mr. All-Around,” so I’m willing to bet he was more than a one-trick pony like Miller. He played in 5 All-Star Games in 10 years, made the NBA’s 2nd-team once, played for a Championship team, finished in the top-10 in rebounds once, and finished in the top-10 in assists four times. Gola certainly doesn’t overwhelm you as a Hall of Famer, but the voters love their old-timers, and he’s also partially there because of his stand-out college career (first in history to reach 2,000 points and 2,000 rebounds, is still the top collegiate rebounder ever with 2,201). That alone makes this a bad comparison, but Gola still reached more milestones of dominance. Gola over Miller.
Dave Bing, 1966-78
Bing played in 7 All-Star Games, earned All-NBA 1st-Team selection twice, 2nd-team once, received MVP votes in 5 different seasons (including finishing between 3rd and 6th three times), was a top-10 scorer four times (as high as 2nd), and a top-10 assist man 8 times. Not even close: Bing over Miller.
Gail Goodrich, 1965-79
Goodrich played in 5 All-Star Games, made the NBA’s 1st-team in 1974, and was the leading scorer on the 1972 Championship Lakers that featured Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor. Also, he was a top-10 ppg finisher 5 times, and a top-10 apg finisher 4 times. Goodrich over Miller.
Calvin Murphy, 1970-83
Murphy’s HOF credentials as a pro are flimsy. A big part of his inclusion was his absolutely stellar prep career (33 ppg over three college seasons, and 49 ppg on the freshmen team before he was allowed to play varsity – plus he was a 2-time high school All-American) and everyone liked that he was an accomplished player despite only standing 5-feet-9, so a comparison to Miller’s credentials is a really bad one to make. Murphy played in one All-Star Game, finished in the top-10 in scoring twice, top-3 in apg twice, top-10 in steals per game once and was also well known for his great shooting. It’s really tough to argue that he had a HOF career just based on his NBA dominance (he didn’t), but he certainly was more well-rounded than Miller. Miller may have a better argument than Murphy simply based on their pro careers, but Murphy would have certainly gotten some MVP votes in 1974, ‘76, ‘78, and maybe even ‘79 and ‘80 if the ballots were top-5 then instead of top-3, so it's not hard to say the opposite is true. This one might be even, but understand that part of Murphy’s inclusion is because of his pre-NBA exploits.
That’s about it as far as fringe Hall of Famer guards, and old-timers will gladly tell you that Bing was the real deal and is not fringe at all (I only put him in there because many younger fans don’t know him and might assume Miller is better than someone they don't know). Most of these guys got some consideration for other things--college careers, coaching, being short--yet their pro dominance usually outshined Miller’s anyway.
I hope the anonymous committee continues to keep Miller out because he just didn’t show that he was a HOF-caliber player. We love his highlights of clutch performances, but let’s not kid ourselves: he had some Hall of Fame moments, but nothing even close to a Hall of Fame career.