The Hall of Fame of any sport is defined as much by who is left out as who is in. In basketball, unlike baseball, there are no definitive statistical benchmarks that divide very good from great. Instead, NBA players are judged on a more subjective set of criteria, an interesting window into what skills we value in a player.
According to Basketball Reference, there are nine active players -- Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd and Ray Allen -- with Hall of Fame probability scores above 90. JoJo White, at 84, has the highest score of any retired player not in Springfield. Most borderline Hall of Famers wind up in the 50-80 range.
There are ten active players in that range:
Chris Paul (84): In his first seven seasons in the NBA, Paul has done nothing to suggest he won’t eventually be in the Hall. His career PER is an eye-popping 25.4 and he’s made five All-Star teams, three All-NBA first teams and won two Olympic Gold medals. However, without blazing speed at only 6’0 175, his longevity is a question and he’s yet to play in even a Conference Finals.
Chris Bosh (84): Bosh has been one of the NBA’s most underappreciated players throughout his career, although that may be changing, especially after Miami’s struggles without him in the 2012 playoffs. At the age of 28, Bosh has already made seven All-Star teams, and his combination of size and skill at 6’11 235 will make him an elite player well into his 30’s.
Vince Carter (81): Carter burned a lot of bridges in his time in the NBA and he never became the player his talent suggested he could be. However, he still made eight All-Star teams and scored over 21,000 career points. Just as important, from the perspective of the Hall, is that he may have been the best dunker of all-time.
Dwight Howard (72): Don’t let the media nonsense surrounding his departure from Orlando fool you; a healthy Howard is the second best player in the NBA. How many three-time Defensive Player of the Year winners also have career averages of 18 points and 13 rebounds on 57% shooting? He never had a lot of talent around him in Orlando; that won’t be a problem with the Lakers.
Tony Parker (71): San Antonio is one of the league’s oldest teams, but Parker is still only 29 years old. He’s jammed an entire career -- four All-Star appearances, three titles and an NBA Finals MVP -- into his first decade in the NBA. He’s quietly become the Spurs most valuable player over the last few seasons, which is one of the reasons they haven’t won another title, but it’s impressive nevertheless.
Carmelo Anthony (68): If the Olympics taught us anything, it’s that Anthony is a pure scorer. Most Hall of Famers have more well-rounded games, but most pure scorers aren’t 6’8 230 either. At the age of 27, he’s already made five All-Star games and scores over 15,000 points. He’ll never be the defender or playmaker that LeBron is; as a result, he might be the Drexler to LeBron’s Jordan or the Wilkins to his Bird.
Pau Gasol (64): Like Bosh, Pau has carried the tag of “finesse big man” for most of his career. However, the Lakers would not have won either of their last two titles without the four-time All-Star. Gasol is the rare 7’0 with the ability to impact a game as a scorer, shooter, passer, rebounder and defensive player. Howard’s presence in the middle will only make Pau a better player.
Amar'e Stoudemire (60): The biggest difference between Amar'e, Bosh and Gasol, and the one that may keep him out of the Hall, is his inability to impact a game defensively. Now that he’s lost a step at the age of 29, the six-time All-Star is going to need to develop range out to the three-point line to justify his max contract with the Knicks.
Tracy McGrady (58): After a string of knee and back injuries, the 32-year old McGrady is a shell of the player he once was. What’s been forgotten, amidst the jokes about his team’s playoff struggles, is how good a player he once was. His 30.27 PER in 2003 (32 points, six rebounds, five assists on 46% shooting) is the 15th best single season mark of all-time. At one point, McGrady was everything we hope Kevin Durant could one day be.
Steve Nash (57): At first glance, his score is surprisingly low, but he had an exceedingly slow start to his career. His four lowest PER seasons came in his first four seasons in the NBA. As a point guard who can’t defend his way out of a paper bag, it’s no surprise that he’s never led a team to a title. The real surprise is that he racked up two MVP awards; a team built around Duncan is beating a team built around Nash 99 out of 100 times (well ... 5 out of 6).
Some other interesting names: Grant Hill (41), Shawn Marion (34), Deron Williams (24), Joe Johnson (19) and Manu Ginobili (11).
Johnson and Williams, both super-sized guards with excellent outside shots, should have many more chances to boost their candidacies with long playoff runs on the new-look Brooklyn Nets. A front-line of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez, however, will make that difficult.
Ginobili is a victim of his late entrance into the NBA as well as coming off the bench for a good portion of his career in San Antonio. However, his dominant play on the international stage will probably be enough to put him over the top.
One player nowhere to be found on Basketball Reference’s list is Ben Wallace, a four-time All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year. Playing defense may win championships, but it apparently won’t get you into the Hall of Fame.