Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hipster Basketball Hall of Fame: An Introduction

A few months ago, Neil Paine wrote an interesting article speculating on whether Shawn Marion, he of the two-handed push shot favored by many rec league players, was worthy of induction in the basketball hall of fame. The article shed light on a player who the general population will not remember 10 years from now, but who every serious basketball fan once knew about, respected, and loved or feared depending on whether he played for your team. In the end, Paine concludes that Marion falls short of the criteria for induction by using the Keltner List to aid his analysis. Whether or not you agree with his conclusion in this particular case, it is certainly true that Marion is just one of a large collection of players to fall into the category of "not a household name, but a solid, and at times dominant, player in his prime."

As a big NBA fan, I feel as though these players deserve some sort of recognition beyond the occasional epithet from an NBA color commentator. In many cases, these players had unique attributes to their games (like Marion's jump shot) which appeared unusual but which true fans could grow to appreciate. Generally living under the radar, whenever a player like this ends up making it big (James Harden), a portion of his fans were inevitably disappointed that they could no longer keep him a secret to themselves. Who do these players sound like??? Indie bands beloved by hipsters across the country! This is such a good concept I am amazed I didn't think of it earlier.

From here on out, Volume Shooters will run sporadic pieces on "inductees" into this hall of fame chosen by our staff writers, with Shawn Marion as the inaugural member since he inspired the hall's creation. To give it some sense of legitimacy, we will need our own version of the Keltner list (which, for those of you who didn't click on the above link, is a set of 15 questions designed to determine whether a player is a worthy inclusion into the Hall of Fame in his or her respective sport). Here's our initial stab at a list:

1. Did this player have something unique or unusual about his game that distinguished him from many, if not all, of his peers? A must for inclusion, although this is a very broad category. Marion's jump shot, as covered above, was such a thing.

2. For at least most of his career, did fans of the player's team harbor an increased appreciation for this player's skills by virtue of seeing him on a regular basis? In other words, was he a "crowd favorite?" Lots of players have been unique, but in a bad way, such as Andris Biedrins. Players in the Hipster HOF should be appreciated, rather than reviled, by their home crowd. No problem here for Marion - although his Phoenix exit did leave some fans disgruntled, they appreciated his efforts while he played for them.

3. Has this player ever won an MVP award or been the best player on a title-winning team? Unlike the actual HOF, if this is true, the player is not eligible - he is far too "mainstream" for us. For Marion, he never finished better than third-team All-NBA and only made deep playoff runs when he played alongside Steve Nash.

4. Was this player elected to 8 or more All-Star games or 4 or more All-NBA teams, with at most 1 being a first team selection? Similar criteria to above. Marion made 4 All-Star teams and 2 All-NBA third teams, fairly close to the ceiling for player performance in the Hipster HOF.

5. On the other hand, was this player at least reasonably successful for an extended period (>3 years)? If the player was injured, can it be assumed he would have been successful for this period? Otherwise known as the "Brian Scalabrine" rule: no matter how much of a crazy hometown favorite somebody is, if he wasn't at least reasonably good, he should not be included in the HOF. Sorry Brian. As mentioned earlier, Marion made 4 All-Star teams, so he aces this test.

6. Did the player's unusual style in some way contribute to his success? A bit tougher for Marion to check this box, as he was never a great shooter, especially from deep. But he still shot 81% career from the free throw line, so he wasn't an afwul shooter, and his all-around quirky game led to some crazy seasons: in 2005-2006, Marion averaged 21.8 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.7 BPG and 2 SPG on 52.5% shooting. The only other players to match all of these lines? David Robinson and Hakeem twice.

7. Did the player's unusual style work for several different teams, or at least several different types of teams? It is a big bonus, although not a requirement, if the player maintained a high level of play in several different situations, as it shows their success was a result of their game rather than the system they played in. Marion played for the "Seven Second Suns" (not coached by Rick Pitino) and the 2011 title-winning Mavericks (not coached by John McCain).

8. Was the player ever in the top 3-5 in the league at any one facet of the game? It helps if the player really does have one incredible skill, such that color commentators often bring their name up when listing the "best at [doing X thing] players in the game today." Despite being an elite scorer and rebounder for his size, Marion's "thing" was defense, as he was the best small forward defender in the league until Lebron claimed that title in the last 4 seasons (although Marion did successfully defend LeBron in the 2011 finals).

9. Do color commentators frequently use the terms "crafty," "sneaky," or "old-man game" when describing this player? Another huge bonus, as hipsters are traditionally not athletic, and have to rely on guile to survive in the oppressive real world. Marion was extremely athletic, but his game was undeniably crafty and sneaky.

10. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he change the game in any way? This one is taken directly from the Keltner List and is certainly a high standard. For the Hipster HOF, if a player so much as moderately altered the era in which he played, it is certainly a plus. Marion did not have too much impact here - he certainly played on some unique teams, but he wasn't the guy that made them unique.

11. Do the player's career statistics jump out at you? If not, do they at least mildly surprise you in a positive way? Another factor in determining how successful the player really was over the long run. By the end of this season, Marion should have 16500 points, 9200 Rebounds, 2000 Assists, 1600 Steals and 1100 Blocks. Most people see that and think "Shawn Marion? Really?" He passes the test.

12. Did the player ever have games, or stretches of games, where they truly were dominant? Admittedly a pretty broad question but a somewhat important criteria for inclusion. Marion was dominant the entire 2005-2006 season, and had some monster performances, like a 31-24 game and 3 consecutive 30-15 games. His career high of 44 points also compares favorably with other potential candidates here.

13. Would an objective observer conclude that this person should be a Hall of Famer as a player? If they may make the real hall of fame, they are clearly too mainstream for the hipster hall of fame. Basketball Reference gives Marion a 32% shot of making the hall of fame, which honestly seems high - the advanced stats hold up well (comparing him favorably with Scottie Pippen), but he was never a top-5 player in the league, generally a necessary condition for hall induction.

14. At the same time, could you make a "5%" case for hall of fame induction for this player? In baseball, if a candidate for the hall gets less than 5% of the vote, they drop off the ballot and are not eligible in subsequent years. Obviously, this takes care of most eligible players in the first year, but some guys who really aren't serious candidates get to hang around for a while because a small subset of voters really value their contributions to the game. In basketball, it would be easy to apply a similar principle and determine which players really would hang around (like Marion would) and which would disappear in their first year.

15. Do a large subset of "real NBA fans" hold a great deal of appreciation for this person's game that never shows up in mainstream highlights? Perhaps the most important category for inclusion, the individual must get only a small amount of praise by the mainstream media, but be very well-respected in the basketball blogging/stathead/other NBA geek circles. Marion once again passes with flying colors.

So there you have it. There is not a rough number of these criteria that somebody has to pass to be admitted, but there are some absolute musts for inclusion or exclusion, and you should be able to make a case for a player in the majority of categories. Marion legitimately hits on 14 out of 15 of these, only falling short on game impact, but that is probably the toughest criteria to fulfill for any non-international player. He thus has the honor of being the first entrant into the hall. Stay tuned for our next inductee: Andre Miller.

P.S. Have somebody you think should be in the hall, or at least put up for debate? E-mail at pabritton42@gmail.com and we will discuss strong candidates in future editions of the Hipster Hall of Fame.

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