Over this past weekend, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame welcomed 16 new inductees via a class headlined by Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace, and Chris Webber from its North American committee. Portland Trail Blazers fans were provided a reason to watch through the induction of former head coach Rick Adelman.
This year’s class is a group of talented, decorated superstars. And while a celebration deservedly follows these players, there’s also a trend that one can begin to entertain when considering the 2021 Hall of Fame class:
Championships are impactful. But they no longer appear to be a prerequisite.
Success as the “Batman” of your franchise is impactful. But this year’s class showed affinity for “Robin”-type players, too. Being the alpha dog, welcome as he always is, is no longer a requirement for Hall of Fame status.
There’s a case to be made that none of the aforementioned four won championships as the definite No. 1 player on their team. It makes one wonder if a player such as LaMarcus Aldridge — long considered a fringe, borderline Hall of Fame candidate — will be among the beneficiaries of this newly set precedent. If so, it could set him up to become just the seventh Trail Blazers player to be inducted.
In 2018, David Aldridge, then of NBA.com, penned a considerable case for Chris Webber’s candidacy, theorizing that two questions — was he among the very best at his position for a considerable time? Did his presence change the game? — determined his worthiness. Ultimately, it took the Kings superstar eight tries. While LaMarcus Aldridge’s legacy and peak won’t command supremacy alongside Webber’s, Aldridge’s longevity helps introduce a compelling case when side-by-side with this weekend’s inductees:
How Aldridge compares to this Hall of Famers, past and present:
For comparison’s sake, here’s how Aldridge looks side-by-side against Bosh and Webber.
This isn’t suggesting that Aldridge had a superior career than either Webber or Bosh, but without uncertainty, he more than holds his own. Webber outclasses the two peak-wise, and this doesn’t even account for his passing ability — seminal work that helped mold future generations of big men — nor does it chronicle his role as the No. 1 guy for a Sacramento Kings team that came a few whistles (or lack thereof) from halting a Lakers three-peat in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
Bosh nor Aldridge can attest to having taken their teams to a pinnacle that hefty. But in Aldridge’s case, to almost quote a Drake lyric, what he lacks in a “good time,” he makes up for with a “long time.” It’s an unspoken rule that to be a Hall of Famer, you need to have either been great for a shortened period — see Tracy McGrady — or great for a short while, and very good for a longer period, a la Mitch Richmond.
It’s increasingly plausible that Aldridge has a Richmond-type résumé when the dust settles. Consider the similarities: Richmond’s most redeemable trait is his unflappable consistency. He averaged 20+ points per game for an entire decade. Aldridge, in comparison, joined LeBron James as the only players to score at least 1,000 points in every season for 13 straight years, from 2007-08 to 2019-20. Over said stretch, here’s where he ranked in statistical categories: points (No. 5 in the NBA), rebounds (No. 4), blocks (No. 9), net rating (No. 22, with a minimum of 10,000 minutes).
Taking the similarities a notch further, Richmond entered the HoopHall with a whopping 23 NBA Playoff appearances, never advancing beyond the Western Conference Finals until he towel-waved for that very 2001-02 Lakers powerhouse, playing a total of 240 seconds. But as memories erode, his legacy forever reads: “one-time NBA champion.”
Aldridge triples him with 72 postseason games, and if health permits, will have a strikingly likely chance of becoming an NBA champion this year while playing a much larger role. The former Blazers big draws an interesting comparison to Bosh in that, no, he doesn’t own a pair of NBA championships. But Bosh, context be darned, was unable to lift the Raptors to one series win in a dwindling Eastern Conference as the alpha dog from 2003-04 to 2009-10.
Or consider Toni Kukoc, another inductee, who succeeded as arguably Bulls’ fifth-most impactful player throughout the Jordan run. Throw the two on the scale, and you have an interesting paradox: all-time great success as the No. 3 option? Or moderately-productive, good success as the No. 1 or No. 2 guy in a tougher conference. Do the two weigh the same?
Say what you will about Aldridge’s lack of a glossy trophy case; he remains one of just 19 players to average at least 20 points and eight rebounds over his postseason career (min. 50 games). Having to “shoulder” heavier loads because of Kawhi Leonard’s ankles or Brandon Roy’s knees shouldn’t be an indictment. Without perfect circumstances, it’s unlikely Aldridge could have been the No. 1 guy on a dynastic team, and he was always better suited to have a Lillard or a Roy to take the lion’s share of the big, franchise-changing shots. But here’s how Webber, a deserved Hall of Famer, was described in 2002 by Bill Simmons, then of ESPN Page 2:
“Webber, who officially grabbed the torch from Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Ralph Sampson and Elvin Hayes as “The High-Priced Superstar Who’s Great to Have on Your Team Unless There’s Three Minutes Left in a Big Game.” None of this was really a surprise, but watching C-Webb figure out ways to eradicate himself from crunch-time possessions was the most intriguing subplot of the playoffs.”
To some degree, that’s unfair. Adelman knew that his best option in that series was to ride the sweltering hand of cerebral late-game scorer Mike Bibby. Webber’s career was pockmarked by questionable late-game shortcomings, and those are overstated. But in the bigger picture, they highlight that longstanding narratives shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all, especially for players with patterned greatness.
And speaking of, let’s consider the criteria for David Aldridge’s case once more, because as it worked for Webber, it could reap similar benefits for LaMarcus Aldridge, as well. He theorized that if a player was among the top of his position for a sustainable time period, it should work in his favor.
Aldridge’s Hall of Fame case, in specific:
In Aldridge’s case, he produced an eight-year stretch from 2011-12 to 2018-19 in which he became a seven-time All-Star — the third-most across the NBA — as well as five appearances on the All-NBA Second or Third Team in a small market. Aldridge was routinely ranked in the first-to-fourth spot on the annual NBA GM Survey as the league’s “best power forward,” jousting for attention with more exciting players, such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and Anthony Davis. Blazers fans (and players) can attest to the difficulties of that; it wasn’t long ago that Damian Lillard was making history as the first player to do this, that, and this and that, and still be snubbed of consecutive All-Star Game appearances.
All-Star games at their root are popularity contests, but they’ve historically provided an excellent litmus test for a true HoopHall candidate. There’s only been one player with more than seven All-Star appearances that isn’t enshrined, Larry Foust, in 1961-62. This helps to dilute the running joke that the Naismith Hall of Fame is “easy” to get into, which is somewhat oxymoronic, considering it’s the only one of the four major American sports without at least 200 inductees.
Upon Aldridge’s retirement last spring, his case for HoopHall contention drew consideration, notably from Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Ben Rohrback, where he took note of a few cutoff lines that Aldridge felt tantalizingly-close to. Aldridge’s 19,951 points left him just 49 points away from the 20,000-point club, a number that only 46 players have ever reached. Of those eligible, a mere three haven’t reached Springfield. Those are playable, Lillard-from-the-free-throw-line type percentages. Or should we say Aldridge-from-the-left-block level percentages.
Pre-retirement, it seemed reasonable that Aldridge could have also joined the 20,000-point, 10,000-rebound club, an 18-player fraternity where every eligible player has been inducted. In a reduced, even if starting role in Brooklyn, it’s unlikely he snags the requisite 1,622 rebounds, but the give-and-take is enticing. A championship crystallizes his case, particularly if he has notable moments along the way.
He seldom reached for the role as an off-court product. But year after year, he churned out elite seasons, both as the No. 1 and No. 2. He proved to be the ultimate nonconformist, continuing to make All-Star Games as one of the last “true” back-to-basket, pick-and-pop bigs, and even as cores crumbled around him, he was the No. 1 guy on teams that won 48, 54, 51, 47, and 48 games with the likes of Gerald Wallace and Kyle Anderson as his second-best players. Here’s a look at his peak, present, and potential future standing.
Out of the blue, but ... I’m gonna miss seeing my favorite player in the All-Star Game year-after-year.— Marlow Ferguson Jr. (@meloferg) February 27, 2021
LaMarcus Aldridge is a HOFer in my eyes. Only one retired player in NBA history to not make it w/ 7+ All-Star appearances.
What do you guys think? pic.twitter.com/UL2qOe2Cua
It’s been said before: this year, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame showed its appreciation for the unheralded, the alphas capable of also producing as betas.
Here’s one more message they can send with an Aldridge induction when he retires:
SportsCenter highlights and commercial appeal is impactful, but it isn’t a prerequisite. Aldridge never led the league in anything other than 30-point games without a YouTube highlight mix or an ESPN clip to follow.
In returning one more time, he has a chance to rewrite the final chapter of his NBA saga. And after years of having his pick-and-pop, left-shoulder fadeaways ignored by the media for fancier ventures in Portland, San Antonio, and now Brooklyn, here’s to thinking at least one city — Springfield, Massachusetts — will provide him his just due.