Longtime Sun Shawn Marion announced his retirement yesterday. Marion, drafted by the Suns in 1999, played for the team for eight and a half seasons before being traded to the Miami Heat in 2008.
Marion was an integral part of the 7 Seconds or Less Suns team helmed by Mike D'Antoni.
The question many Suns fans are now asking about Marion is whether he has a shot at the Hall of Fame.
To answer that question, let's make use of a modified version of Bill James' Keltner List, which has a long history of use in baseball analysis.
The Keltner List is a series of 14 questions designed to get at whether a player has a strong chance at making it into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Basketball Hall of Fame, unlike that of other sports, is a combined endeavor that recognizes individuals who have contributed in a number of fashions at many different levels, including high school, college and international play. As such, tools like the Keltner list may be slightly less predictive than they are for baseball or football.
Here we go!
1.) Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball?
This is a pretty definitive 'no'. Marion, while recognized as a highly skilled player, was never considered one of the best of his generation. In the early part of his career that debate was probably centered around AI, Shaq and Kobe. Towards the end, it was LeBron.
2.) Was he the best player on his team?
Marion was unquestionably the best player in a Suns jersey for just two seasons, from 2002-2004. Prior to that, you could make an argument for Jason Kidd and, later, Stephon Marbury. Those two seasons were far from glory days in Phoenix, but the team did make the playoffs in 02-03. After that brief run, Marion was an integral piece on a well-oiled team, but not necessarily the best piece. After he left the Suns, Marion was never more than a third or fourth fiddle.
3.) Was he ever regarded as the best player at his position?
Its hard to make the case that Marion was ever considered the best player at his position, primarily because he didn't have a fixed position. His versatility, which made him such a valuable commodity for the Suns, also made it difficult to ever consider him the most valuable player at his position. Because of Marion's unique role as one of the first true modern tweener-forwards, this might not hurt him as much.
4.) Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or conference finals?
Marion was a shell of himself in his first Finals performance in 2005, but performed notably better in 2006. In 2011, when he was in the NBA Finals with the Dallas Mavericks, Marion was integral, averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds per game.
5.) Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?
The answer to this is a definite yes. Marion's peak (measured by VORP) was from 2002-07. From 2008 until 2014, Marion saw little to no substantive difference in his performance level or his VORP. He remained a starter on a perennial-contender Mavericks team until last year. Even this season, arguably the worst of his career, he played more than 50 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaged nearly 20 minutes per game and was a just slightly above replacement value player.
6.) Will he at some point be the very best basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
This seems really unlikely. In fact, I would argue he might not be the best former Suns power forward to not be in the Hall of Fame. To me, that would be Larry Nance, who is very unlikely to get in anytime soon.
7.) Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?
No. Marion's statistical profile is fairly similar to Nance (who doesn't seem to be getting in), Jack Sikma (who doesn't seem to be getting in), and Shawn Kemp (who doesn't seem to be getting in).
8.) Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
In terms of raw stats, not really. Marion wasn't exactly elite in any one per-game-stat during his career. However, he does look fairly good in the advanced stats column - he would be about average for Hall of Famers in measures such as career WAR and VORP. It remains a question whether or not Hall of Fame voters care about that, however.
9.) Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his basic statistics?
Marion's defensive excellence and versatility are both missed by standard statistics. The problem here is that the one indicator that voters usually rely on to account for defensive acumen is All-Defense selections, and Marion was never selected for this particular honor. As for his versatility, it is easy to point out how integral Marion was to the Suns' success. But it is also hard to decide who to reward for the Suns' success. Were Marion's numbers simply elevated because of the nature of the 7SOL system? A close look at the numbers shows that his performance likely wasn't just a result of the 7SOL era in Phoenix - his best year statistically was actually 2002-03, before Mike D'Antoni and crew arrived in the Valley. But the question will likely linger.
10.) Will he at some point be the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?
The 'Which position did he play?' question returns here, but I have my doubts regardless of how you consider him. Of small forwards, I would think both Grant Hill and Bernard King would have to get in, as would probably Marques Johnson. Paul Pierce, who will retire in the near future, will come after him. If we consider Marion a PF, the case is ever harder, with Nance, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic meriting consideration, and players like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol coming afterwards.
11.) How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Marion was never all that close to winning an MVP award. His best finish, in 2005-06, he came in 10th. However, Marion was a top-10 player in VORP on 5 different occasions, including two top-5 finishes in 2004-05 and 2006-07. By that metric, he compares rather favorably to others.
12.) How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star Games did he appear in? Did most of the players who appeared in this many All-Star Games go into the Hall of Fame?
Marion played in 4 All-Star games. He arguably had 5 All-Star caliber seasons, missing the All-Star game in 2003-04 despite a top-10 finish in VORP and averaging nearly 20 points per game. Not very many guys with just 4 All-Star appearances are currently in the Hall of Fame, and many of those that are played during the pre-merger era.
13.) If this player were the best on his team, would it be likely the team could win an NBA title?
Likely? Probably not. The pre-Nash Suns which Marion steered were first round losers, but those teams had problems beyond the fact that Marion was their best player. However, I'm not convinced a Marion led team couldn't at least compete for an NBA title.
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?
Without Marion, its hard to imagine the 7SOL system working out nearly as well as it did. I don't know if most casual fans realize it, but the 7SOL offense and the changes it inspired in NBA basketball have been immeasurably important. He was also the modern pioneer of the tweener forward, a position that is increasingly important offensively in the NBA. Marion's international career was relatively uneventful - he has 22 caps, and was part of the 2004 team that disappointingly took home the Bronze Medal at the Olympics. His college career was solid, as he was the NJCAA Student Athlete of the Year in 1998 and a First Team All-WAC selection in 1999.
Verdict: Doubtful in the short-term.
I just don't think Marion ends up getting in anytime in the near future. Marion doesn't have gaudy career statistics in many of the measurables the Hall of Fame voters seem to account for in their voting. He grades out well in the advanced stats, but we know that Hall of Fame voters seem to discount this type of information. A good test case of Shawn Marion's chances will be Ben Wallace in a few years. Wallace is another player who has less than stellar traditional statistics (in his case much worse than Marion's), but was seen as a defensive force and grades out very well in advanced stats. If Ben Wallace can get in on the first try (which should be possible, considering he is a 4 time DPOY), it may mean that there is a shift in the way voters are considering advanced stats in evaluating Hall of Fame cases.