Beginning with its initial class in 1959, becoming enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has become the ultimate honor for retired players at all levels of the game. 178 people across the NBA, WNBA, NCAA, and across the international basketball scene have been honored with an induction into the Hall as players.
Hall of Fame discussions always arouse a great level of discourse, as to whether or not a player truly deserves their Hall of Fame status. Oftentimes, career-long storylines and the media itself can play a large role into whether or not someone is a Hall of Famer. This trend doesn’t just extend to retired players awaiting their first year of eligibility; active players receive perhaps the greatest level of scrutiny in Hall of Fame discussions. If someone hung up their jersey for the last time today, would they be receiving a call from the voting board five or ten years down the line? I’ve tiered off each of the active players, with a couple of recent retirees, to determine their Hall of Fame case, countdown style, meaning that we’ll be ending with the locks to make it.
Tier 5: Derrick Rose
The sad case of the 2011 MVP, who is one of the greatest “what if?” cases in the history of the NBA.
1x MVP, 3x All Star, 1x All-NBA
There is a chance that when all is said and done that Derrick Rose may become the first former league MVP to not have his name enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Following an extremely impressive and explosive start to his career, including being crowned the youngest MVP in league history, Rose began suffering constant knee issues, including an ACL tear that sidelined him for the 2013 season. He’s since rebounded to have a solid career, although as a role player with occasional glimpses of brilliance. Based on the precedent of Bill Walton, he’ll still probably get in, but there is always the chance that he could end up missing because of how short, no matter how great, his prime was.
Tier 4: The Warriors
Perhaps this is a strange tier, but here lies the three members of the Golden State Warriors title teams not named Stephen Curry who were present for all four championship runs since 2015. That alone will likely solidify their case of getting in, but let’s look at things a bit more abstractly and determine if they get in had the Warriors fallen short every year.
4x NBA Champion, 5x All Star, 2x All-NBA, 1x All-Defensive
It is of my firm opinion that if he was not constantly in tandem with the greatest shooter of all time, giving him virtually unlimited options off the ball, that Klay Thompson would be remembered in a similar light to guys like Kyle Korver: great shooters who were never an elite talent otherwise. While Thompson is certainly a higher end defender than a lot of those players, including his own coach Steve Kerr, I can’t say that much of anything beyond his shooting efficiency and having arguably the smoothest-looking jumpshot ever makes Klay a Hall of Famer. He was the third option at best on every championship team apart from 2015, but he does have four rings so…
1x Finals MVP, 4x NBA Champion, 1x All Star, 2x All-Defensive
Let’s get one thing straight. Iguodala did not deserve that Finals MVP. It should have gone to Curry. Iguodala was really only given the award due to the fact that he was the player tasked with guarding LeBron throughout the majority of the Finals and his Warriors ended up winning. If you take that award away, his resume reads rather similarly to Horace Grant’s. Yes, he was a very good player in his prime, played for approximately a century, and won a few rings due to being at the right place at the right time. But was he Hall of Fame good? Not by a long shot.
4x NBA Champion, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 4x All Star, 2x All-NBA, 8x All-Defensive, 1x Steals Champion
Unlike the previous two, Green absolutely makes the Hall of Fame with or without the Warriors winning championships. It almost feels insulting to have him lumped in this tier, but he’s here for the mere sake of organization. Similarly to guys like Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace, Green is a relative non-factor when it comes to scoring. However, also similarly to those two aforementioned names, he’s a defensive mastermind, especially on the perimeter, once posting a triple-double while only scoring four points (he was a free throw away from a five-by-five, one of the rarest statlines in the game of basketball). When you add in his playmaking ability, usually being the primary facilitator of the Warriors offense at the power forward position, allowing Curry to do his thing off-ball, it becomes apparent that he’s one of the better all-around non-scorers in the league’s history. You can call him dirty or annoying all you want, but there are few players who knew their role and played it as precisely as Draymond Green throughout the history of the league.
Tier 3: It Won’t Be Unanimous, But…
These are your perennial All Stars and All-NBA team selections who have proved their consistency over their times in the league. However, they never achieved the true superstar status that the next two tiers had. Their resumes are still amazing, but they missed out on NBA 75, which leads me to believe that they could potentially miss on the first round of voting once eligible.
1x Most Improved Player, 8x All Star, 6x All-NBA, 4x All-Defensive, 1x Steals Champion
On August 1, 2014, during a Team USA scrimmage, Paul George snapped his leg in half in one of the most gruesome post-Kevin Ware sports injuries we’d ever seen. At this point, he had won the Most Improved Player award and was a two-time All Star and it looked like his career could have ended here. However, he miraculously recovered from the injury and was even able to join his Pacers for six games at the end of that season. Since then, he has emerged as one of the league’s premier two-way forces, being a respectable twenty point-per-game scorer on one end and one of the more hard-nosed defenders on the other. He hasn’t seen much success in the playoffs, often referred to mockingly as “Playoff P” and despite his defensive reputation, he’s seemingly given up more game-winning shots than everyone else in history combined, which could hurt his Hall chances. However, his story of recovery and post-injury success is too much to ignore narratively.
1x Conference Finals MVP, 1x Most Improved Player, 6x All Star, 5x All-NBA, 5x All-Defensive, 1x Steals Champion
There are only three inevitabilities in life: death, taxes, and Jimmy Butler turning into the best player in the world for at least one series once the playoffs roll around. Butler, often accused of being a hidden son of Michael Jordan, both for their resemblance in appearance and game and a strange conspiracy that features some odd timeline coincidences, has often been the definition of clutch. While he is yet to win a ring and that window on the Heat seems to be shrinking, he’s a notorious playoff riser, increasing his scoring by a full three points per game while maintaining the same relative shooting efficiency. He’s a great on-ball defender as well, and while he tries to advertise that he doesn’t care about the Hall of Fame, I’m sure he’ll attend once his selection is made official.
1x NBA Champion, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, 8x All Star, 8x All-NBA, 5x All-Defensive, 5x Rebounding Champion, 2x Blocks Champion
This was by far the most glaring omission from the NBA 75th Anniversary team. Look at the resume. Just read it. Now tell how Reggie Miller made it with a quarter of the accolades. Dwight was a sheer dominant force during his prime on both ends of the floor, comparable (but not equal, don’t come at me) to Shaquille O’Neal. He’s tied for second all-time for Defensive Player of the Year awards and was nearly unstoppable in the paint for a solid decade. The only things keeping him back from jumping into higher tiers are due to him being an absolute diva, the likely reason for his NBA 75 snub, and his off-court controversies, which frankly could keep him out altogether. However, just based off of production and his trophy case, he should absolutely have a spot in Springfield.
1x NBA Champion, 8x All Star, 3x All-NBA
It just so happens that the best ball-handler and layup finisher in league history is also everybody’s favorite flat-Earther (seriously, World B. Flat is the funniest nickname listed on the entirety of Basketball Reference and it isn’t close). Similarly to Dwight Howard, his off the court antics, whether it be the conspiracy theories or the antisemitic rants or the anti-vax stances that caused him to miss significant chunks of the first post-COVID season, could leave a bad taste in the mouths of some voters. However, he’s responsible for one of the top two most famous shots of the past decade, being the championship-sealing three pointer made with a minute to go in 2016, and is arguably the most skilled iso player we’ve seen since Kobe Bryant. He’s been great ever since he debuted and it doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down anytime soon.
6x All Star, 3x All-NBA
I love how hard he rolled his eyes when introduced as the “master of the midrange” during the 2023 All Star game. The thing is, the announcer wasn’t wrong. DeRozan is one of the most lethal midrange shooters in the game’s history, clawing his way up to the top fifty of scoring all-time off of only taking fifteen-foot pull-up shots. There isn’t a whole lot more to his game than that. He falls into an Adrian Dantley/Alex English tier for me: great, efficient shooters from inside the arc that never really translated into superstar status and weren’t quite good enough to ever be real ceiling-raisers in the playoffs. I think he’s absolutely deserving of his spot in the Hall due to sheer longevity and volume, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t make it in the first try.
6x All Star, 5x All-NBA
If you’re young and only associate Blake Griffin with being the old guy from the Nets and Celtics who played filler minutes and drew a lot of charges or being Kendall Jenner's ex, please go watch a compilation of his dunks. There was a solid half of a decade where Blake Griffin was one of the five most electrifying players in the league, teaming up with point guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan to form the Lob City Clippers, who ran one of the most entertaining offenses in a post-showtime Lakers world. He was one of the greatest dunkers of all time and even after being traded to the Pistons, he proved to be an effective team leader, giving the Pistons their most recent playoff berth in 2019. Unfortunately, the knee issues have caught up with him and he’s in his true twilight years as an NBA player, which could cause some voters to forget about the Hall of Fame career he posted before his legs finally gave up.
3x Defensive Player of the Year, 3x All Star, 4x All-NBA, 6x All-Defensive, 1x Rebounding Champion, 1x Blocks Champion
Again, we have a guy whose off-court antics could cause him to be overlooked at first by the committee. Gobert was the genesis of COVID in the NBA, the primary reason that the league was shut down in March 2020, and for a while he was the most hated man in the NBA. When you pair that with Danny Ainge finessing the Timberwolves for a Sam Presti-level of draft compensation, it’s easy to harbor resentment toward the Frenchman. However, he is still one the greatest rebounders and rim protectors in league history, with three Defensive Player of the Year awards, good for second all-time. If you’re making All Star teams solely based off of shot-blocking ability, you’re doing something right. There isn’t much to report on his offensive game, but the stacked trophy case makes his Hall of Fame case pretty intriguing.
Tier 2: It’s Pretty Much Guaranteed
Don’t get me wrong, the four guys in this tier are without a doubt Hall of Famers as well, with three of them having made the NBA 75th Anniversary team. However, none of them have ever had an argument for being the best player in the world during their careers (there is controversy in that statement, considering that there is an MVP winner here). They’re the 1B tier of superstars, near-universally respected, but without doing enough to put themselves into tier one.
10x All Star, 6x All-NBA, 1x Scoring Champion
I am a hater at heart, and I firmly believe that Carmelo Anthony was a constant net negative for the teams that he played on throughout his career. However, numbers are numbers and narratives are narratives. There is no chance that one of the top ten scorers in league history misses the Hall of Fame. There was a near-decade stretch where the only players that had to be guarded more closely than Anthony were LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant, especially due to his quick first step out of the triple threat and dominance in iso-ball situations. While he was a notorious playoff dropper, the numbers and longevity alone are enough to earn Carmelo a spot in Springfield once he’s eligible.
1x NBA Champion, 8x All Star, 4x All-NBA, 4x All-Defensive, 3x Blocks Champion
Anthony Davis falls into the same category as Kawhi Leonard, being the constantly-injured star who is often unbelievably good when healthy, though he remains a tier below, simply due to his team-leading ability. As a member of the Pelicans, he lacked the same floor-raising ability that had been seen from other guys like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook when playing with subpar supporting casts, meaning that much of his success has been contingent on his trade to the Lakers and subsequent team-up with LeBron James. He’s one of the best rim protectors of all time and a threat to drop thirty anytime he plays a full game of basketball, but with his best years coming as a second option, he falls a tier short of the absolute best of the best.
7x All Star, 7x All-NBA
Lillard made a name for himself as one of the premier perimeter clutch shot-makers of the past decade. He’s one of the last people you’d want to be guarding in a close game with the final shot clock running down, second to perhaps only Stephen Curry (though Curry’s go-ahead basket stats in the playoffs would say otherwise). Lillard is responsible for some legendary moments in the playoffs as a result of that, but beyond that, there’s not a ton else he brings from a skill perspective, which is what keeps him out of the top tier. He’s almost like a Steve Nash: an elite offensive talent who couldn’t guard a parked car if you asked him to, which is why it feels like he constantly fell short of the promised land during his tenure in Portland. Perhaps his new partnership in Milwaukee with Giannis can be fruitful, but for now he remains as a second-tier Hall of Fame talent.
1x MVP, 6x All Star, 5x All-NBA, 3x All-Defensive, 2x Scoring Champion
Yes, I understand that Joel Embiid has been named the league’s MVP. Did he deserve the award? By literally every metric apart from his second consecutive scoring title, not a chance. Embiid is a notoriously physically dominant player in the paint, quickly becoming one of the league’s best bigs after missing his first two seasons with foot injuries. He’s a great defensive presence as well, with his shot-blocking ability being behind only a couple of names throughout this generation. The regular season stats are inarguably great. However, his current ceiling is that of Patrick Ewing, which isn’t a bad ceiling to have, but it becomes synonymous with early playoff exits and the inability to ever win anything of significance beyond an entirely undeserved MVP award.
Tier 1: The Locks
These are the no-doubters. These guys should get inducted in their first year of eligibility with little to no backlash from the fans of the sport and the media alike. The resumes are incredible, and if they retired today, they would be near-unanimous first ballot Hall of Famers.
4x MVP, 4x Finals MVP, 4x NBA Champion, 19x All Star, 19x All-NBA, 6x All-Defensive, 1x Scoring Champion, 1x Assist Champion
When talking to the vast majority of basketball fans, if you ask who the greatest player of all time is, you are likely to get one of two answers: Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Out of all active players, James inarguably has the best resume. He’s a four-time league MVP (tied for third all-time with Wilt Chamberlain, only behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Bill Russell) and has been an All Star and All-NBA team selection every season since his second season in the league (he holds the record for most selections in both categories). He’s also the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Abdul-Jabbar’s total of 38,387 points during the 2022-23 season. He also is the all-time leader in playoff points, and boasts being the only player in league history to record at least 10,000 each in points, rebounds, and assists. He’s a four time champion, having made the Finals in eight consecutive years between 2011 and 2018, the only player since Bill Russell and his 1960s Celtics to have made it to the Finals that many times in a row. He was crowned Finals MVP for each of his victories. This is about as “no doubt” as it gets.
2x MVP, 1x Finals MVP, 1x Conference Finals MVP, 4x NBA Champion, 9x All Star, 9x All-NBA, 2x Scoring Champion, 1x Steals Champion
Being the greatest shooter to ever pick up a basketball definitely helps an already impressive resume, with every made three-pointer from Stephen Curry adding to what will inevitably become a near unbreakable record, considering that he passed Ray Allen’s previous mark in nearly five hundred fewer games played. When you add on back-to-back MVP awards, including the only unanimous first-place finish in league history, and four championships as the poster boy for the most dominant dynasty of the past fifteen years, it becomes absolutely no question that Curry will be enshrined in Springfield the second that he’s able to be. As an engine and innovator, he borders on being unparalleled, having completely shifted the game as a whole to an outside-in offensive scheme. His off-ball movement is second-to-none and he’s responsible for one of the most famous sports calls of all time.
1x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 2x NBA Champion, 13x All Star, 10x All-NBA, 4x Scoring Champion
Durant was made a household name during his heartfelt “You the real MVP” speech, dedicated to his mother upon being voted the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2014. He’s a generationally gifted scorer, arguably the best three-level threat of all time, having won four scoring titles and being the only player in league history to have posted a 55/40/90 shooting split season at the age of 34. His legacy becomes complicated by the fact that his two championship rings and Finals MVPs were won as a result of him, arguably the best player in the world at the time, joining a 73 win Warriors team the year after losing to them in the playoffs, thereby constructing arguably the greatest roster of all time and winning two of the easiest rings in league history. The resume is good enough for a unanimous selection regardless of that, but I could see him leaving a bad taste in the mouths of a couple of voters.
12x All Star, 11x All-NBA, 9x All-Defensive, 5x Assist Champion, 6x Steals Champion
As a pure point guard, Chris Paul historically is about as good as you can get. Nicknamed “Point God” for how high his basketball IQ and ability to scan the floor and make reads is, Paul is a perfect playmaker on both offense and defense, in addition to being one of the all-time great floor-raisers. He finished second in MVP voting in just his third season, and despite his playoff record not appearing amazing on paper, he remains remarkably efficient during those contests, with injury playing a major role in why his teams were often unable to advance. If Paul is able to win a ring with Golden State in his twilight years, he will finally be given the respect that so many wrongly deprive him of as one of the all-time greats.
1x MVP, 10x All Star, 7x All-NBA, 1x Sixth Man of the Year, 3x Scoring Champion, 2x Assist Champion
James Harden in his prime was one of the most lethal volume scorers that the game has ever seen. He won three consecutive scoring titles in the back half of the 2010s that catapulted him into the conversations of the Mount Rushmore of shooting guards, and he likely would have been able to compete for a title in Houston had he not ran into those pesky Warriors during the Western Conference Finals. His legacy is complicated, much like Durant’s, due to the rise in player movement over the past half-decade-or-so, having just landed on the Clippers via his third trade request in four seasons. His off-court strip club antics, which have had Reddit statisticians performing studies to correlate his performances with the average club rating in each city, are another red flag, but the resume and numbers still speak for themselves.
1x MVP, 9x All Star, 9x All-NBA, 2x Scoring Champion, 3x Assist Champion
Recency bias would maybe tell you that Westbrook might be washed, but to discount a decade of brilliance for eighteen months of mediocrity is a fool’s error. Westbrook, especially after the departure of Kevin Durant, was one of the greatest franchise leaders of the latter half of the 2010s. During his 2017 campaign, he became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season to win MVP, bringing an otherwise depleted Thunder roster to a playoff berth. While he may be a bit past his prime at this point, there are very few players with a better resume than Russ.
2x Finals MVP, 2x NBA Champion, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 5x All Star, 5x All-NBA, 7x All-Defensive, 1x Steals Champion
Time and time again, Kawhi has proven himself to be one of the most clutch players in the league. Whether in his star emergence on the Spurs during their legendary 2014 team season or the historic playoff run that he led the Raptors on to their lone title in 2019, the Klaw has always been paramount to the success of the teams that he has led; note the Clippers flaming out after his ACL tear during the bubble. While critics will blame him for introducing the concept of load management to the league, almost never appearing fully healthy for an entire season, when he has played, he’s been undisputable as one of the best two-way stars in the league.
2x MVP, 1x Finals MVP, 1x NBA Champion, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 1x Most Improved Player, 7x All Star, 7x All-NBA, 5x All-Defensive
On the night Giannis was drafted at fifteenth overall, John Taylor infamously tweeted that “the Bucks need to just start sitting the draft out,” mocking their selection of the raw, skinny and relatively unknown Greek prospect. One decade and fifty pounds of muscle later, Antetokounmpo has established himself as one of the most physically dominant and punishing players the league has ever seen. Does he have anything resembling a consistent jump shot? No. Does that matter? In his case, not really. He’s one of the scariest downhill forces of all time and an elite two-way player, capable of defending all five positions at seven feet. The scariest part of this all is that he’s still not even thirty, meaning that we could see another half-decade of dominance from the Greek Freak at a minimum.
2x MVP, 1x Finals MVP, 1x Conference Finals MVP, 1x NBA Champion, 5x All Star, 5x All-NBA
Yes, Jokic is a lock for being a first-ballot Hall of Famer at only twenty-eight. He’s coming off a championship year, which featured one of the greatest individual postseason runs ever, and what should have been his third consecutive MVP (I’m not salty at all). The level of dominance he’s exhibited over the league, averaging a twenty-five-plus point near-triple-double at the center position for almost a half of a decade, is unlike anything we’ve seen since LeBron James circa 2013. The gap between him and whoever the second best player in the league is currently is comically large. He’s nearly impossible to guard, being a three-level scorer on legitimately unparalleled efficiency, has the playmaking ability of some of the greatest point guards of all time, and the rebounding ability of some of the most dominant board men ever. At this point, the only argument against him is his longevity, given that he’s only played around 600 games. Given that none of his game relies on athleticism, there’s no reason that he won’t be able to play at a similar level until his late thirties. His ceiling? Being the greatest player to ever touch a basketball.