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On Thursday, Brooklyn Nets big man LaMarcus Aldridge dropped some sad and unexpected news: Due to health concerns with an irregular heartbeat, the 35-year-old would immediately retire from the NBA.
Just like that, one of the most promising pursuits of an elusive first championship during Aldridge’s entire 15-year career vanished.
It’s good that Aldridge is prioritizing his health over everything else, and that he’s able to walk away from the game healthy with a memorable career in tow, but whenever a player is forced to retire sooner than expected, that nagging question always comes to mind: Now that his career is over, is he a Hall-of-Famer?
Over his nine seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers and six more with the San Antonio Spurs, Aldridge averaged 19.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. He shot 49.1 percent from the field, and though he was never much of a 3-point threat (32.1 percent for his career), he was downright deadly from the post, the free-throw line (81.1 percent) and the midrange.
Just a few seasons ago, he was deadlocked in a three-way debate with Blake Griffin and Kevin Love whenever the conversation of “best power forward in the game” came up. That position — and the skill-set that comes with it — has changed drastically since the advent of Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors, but Aldridge’s sweet midrange stroke and ability to get his shot off from the block, the elbow or the baseline was something of a precursor to this evolution of sweet-shooting, small-ball 4s and 5s that now populate the league.
The question, though, is what Aldridge tangibly accomplished that makes him worthy of entering the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame one day. Let’s take a look at the odds.
The Hall of Fame case for LaMarcus Aldridge is stronger than you’d think
While Aldridge doesn’t have a prestigious college career or international basketball success to speak of that would help boost his case (the Basketball Hall of Fame takes into account more than just the NBA), he does have precedent on his side.
For starters, Aldridge is a seven-time All-Star, as well as a five-time All-NBA selection (two Second Team selections and three Third Team selections). According to Basketball-Reference, Aldridge is one of 88 players in NBA history with at least seven All-Star selections … and after checking each and every one of the remaining 87 players, 72 are already enshrined.
Of the remaining 15, 10 are active players who are virtual locks to get in once they’re eligible: Kyrie Irving (83.7 percent), Paul George (84.1 percent), Carmelo Anthony (98.4 percent), Anthony Davis (98.5 percent), Dwight Howard (99.7 percent), Russell Westbrook (99.9 percent), Chris Paul (100 percent), James Harden (100 percent), Kevin Durant (100 percent) and Stephen Curry (100 percent).
Of the remaining five, Chris Bosh (99.5 percent) and Paul Pierce (99.7 percent) have already been named finalists for the 2021 HOF class, while Vince Carter (94.6 percent) still has two more years to wait before he’s eligible and probably gets in.
That leaves us with two “outcasts”: Joe Johnson, a seven-time All-Star with 50.6 percent Hall of Fame odds who isn’t eligible yet, and Larry Foust, an eight-time All-Star who played in the 1950s and never got in.
In other words, only two of the 87 other players with at least seven All-Star appearances will not be Hall-of-Famers. Aldridge belongs with those deserving 85, but to be thorough, let’s look beyond just All-Star nominations.
According to Stat Muse, Aldridge is one of only 25 players in NBA history with more than 19,000 career points and 8,000 career rebounds. The other 24? Eighteen of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Three more — Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James — will be first-ballot selections as soon as they’re eligible. Another, Pau Gasol, has a 93.4 percent probability of being selected, per Basketball Reference, and he has fewer All-Star selections (six) and All-NBA designations (four) than Aldridge. The only two players among that prestigious 25-man group who have no Hall of Fame shot — Terry Cummings and Antawn Jamison — also have far fewer All-Star selections (two apiece) and All-NBA honors (two for Cummings, zero for Jamison) than Aldridge.
How about a look at the NBA’s all-time scoring list? Aldridge climbed to No. 47 this season, passing the likes of John Stockton and Bernard King. There are 12 names ahead of him on that list who aren’t in the Hall of Fame yet four are active players who will eventually be locks (Westbrook, Harden, KD, Melo), five are recently retired players who are also inevitable additions (Pau Gasol, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki) and the last three are Antawn Jamison, Tom Chambers and Joe Johnson.
Jamison and Chambers may have missed the cut despite reaching 20,000-plus career points, but much like Jamison, Chambers’ four All-Star selections and two All-NBA selections don’t measure up to Aldridge in the accolades department.
LA’s importance to the Blazers can’t be overlooked either, as he’s their leading rebounder in franchise history (5,434) and third-leading scorer (12,562), trailing only Damian Lillard (16,379) and Clyde Drexler (18,040). Slowly but surely, his entire career snapshot starts to look more and more convincing.
Basketball-Reference only puts Aldridge’s Hall of Fame probability at 50.9 percent, which isn’t great, but still gives him better than half a chance. His lack of NBA titles certainly holds him back, and it’s a pity he won’t get to see how this year finishes out on a Nets super-team during a season where the title race feels wide open.
But his midrange prowess was unlike almost any other big man we’d seen to that point; only LeBron and Melo have more 2-point field goals among active players. He became the best and most durable Rip City star among Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, but also helped usher in the new era as Rip City rebuilt through Lillard and CJ McCollum.
He never got past the conference semifinals in Portland, but his Blazers teams won 54.2 percent of the time and reached the playoffs in five of his nine seasons there. The Spurs fell disappointingly short of a title with the Aldridge-Kawhi Leonard duo after back-to-back stellar seasons, but San Antonio still boasted an absurd 255-144 record during Aldridge’s five full seasons with the team, reaching the conference finals and the conference semis without missing the playoffs once until last year.
Much like his playoff resume, there are holes in in LaMarcus Aldridge’s Hall-of-Fame candidacy. But his postseason shortcomings may come down to a Blazers injury here, a shortsighted move there and a Kawhi Leonard tweaked ankle over there. Based on the overwhelming evidence and precedent in his favor, if you’re having to poke that hard to make holes in his case, what’s the point of even having a Hall of Fame to celebrate basketball’s best players anyway?
For more on Aldridge’s retirement and legacy, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton (subscription required) has you covered.
Also, so does Dan Devine over at The Ringer.
Over more than two decades, the design of sweat has become central to the evolution and reputation of NBA 2K.