Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sam-I-Am for the Hall of Fame

I did a piece on Gary Payton being in the top five point guards of all time.

For that 2 part piece visit here and for part 2

In terms of greatest point guards of all time, I had GP right behind Magic, Oscar and Stockton, so, my feelings on him being a surefire hall of famer are pretty obvious.

I know there are still a whole host of people who do not nor ever will agree with that assessment, I continue to believe I made a solid case. I know my case for Sam Cassell is a bit weaker considering as a scoring point he never averaged more than 20 a game (got close 4 different seasons at 19.7) and never had a season as a double digit assist man.

Still, numbers can speak volumes.

These are the career PERs of the top three point guards of all time. Most sane people would agree. In this order too:

Magic Johnson: 24.11 (11th all time)
Oscar Robertson: 23.18 (20th all time)
John Stockton: 21.83 (28th all time)

Now, let’s compare those with a few other point guards who made the top 100 players (and one hall of famer who didn’t). Two are in the hall already and the rest are in the discussion to follow.

Steve Nash: 20.03 (65th all time)
Sam Cassell: 19.48 (71st all time)
Walt Frazier: 19.12 (86th all time)
Gary Payton: 18.88 (96th all time)
Jason Kidd: 18.86 (99th all time)
Isiah Thomas: 18.10 (not in top 100)

What name jumps out at you? Yup, my boy Sam I Am. Look at the guards Sammy is ahead of. 9 spots higher than Walt, 21 slots higher than G.P., 24 slots higher than Kidd. And Isaiah isn’t even in the top 100 despite being in the hall of fame.

Some may trash the PERs relevance, but it is a means at taking statistics and quantifying them. It shows a players efficiency in the games that he’s played, and is at the forefront of the newschool stats that GM’s like Daryl Morey are utilizing.

PER is nowhere near perfect and it’s by no means the end-all be-all, but it’s very useful in gauging players overall contributions on the floor. Of course, defense is not taken into account, but a lack of defense didn’t stop Nash from winning back-to-back MVPs, and it won’t hinder Nash getting into the hall and it shouldn’t stop Sammy either. Besides, Sammy, in his youth, was a better athlete and defender than Nash will ever be or has ever been. Even in Sam’s old age, he used cheap tricks to create turnovers and over his career has averaged more steals than Nash. But I’m get a bit ahead of myself.

In my G.P. blog, I took Nash and Kidd and figured their prime 7 consecutive years then I compared Payton’s numbers to the holy triumvirate of Magic, Oscar and Stock, using 8 years. I’m not saying Cassell is on par with any of those 3. That would be foolish and misguided. If only Magic, Stock and Oscar were elected to the hall, then this whole argument is moot. But considering players with lesser careers have already been enshrined, it is only fair to make the case that Sammy is better than some in the Hall and others expected to be there in the near future.

Here are the respective 8-year prime career PERs of some of who I’m talking about.

GP: 22.12
Nash: 20.75
Sam: 20.71
Kidd: 20.0
Walt: 19.8
Zeke: 19.32

GP : 24.2__8.9__6.5__2.0__2.7__3.33__45__23.6
Sam: 18.6__9.0__3.7__1.3__3.3__2.72__46__22.8
Kidd: 18.0__8.6__6.1__2.2__3.6__2.38__41__22.2

G.P.: 16.3__6.7__3.9__1.8__2.3__2.95__46.6__18.9
Sam: 15.7__6.0__3.2__1.1__2.4__2.50__45.4__19.5
Kidd: 13.7__8.9__6.5__1.9__3.1__2.87__40.2__18.5

G.P. : 21.5__8.0__5.3__2.5__2.75__2.9__46.0__21.9
Sam: 18.2__7.0__3.6__1.15__3.13__2.2__46.3__20.7
Kidd: 15.5__9.5__6.7__2.06__3.27__2.9__40.8__19.6

Nash: 01-07
Kidd: 98-05
G.P.: 95-02
Sam: 97-06

Career Numbers compared to other HOF
Cous: 18.4__7.5__5.2_______________37.5__19.7
Sam: 15.7__6.0__3.2__1.1__2.4__2.50__45.4__19.5
Walt: 18.1__6.1__5.9__1.9___________49.0__19.1
Isiah: 19.2__9.3__3.6__1.9__3.8__2.44__45.2__18.1
Tiny: 18.8__7.4__2.3__1.1____________46.7__18.0

The numbers speak for themselves really. Sammy’s PER is consistently in the top half of all of the point guards mentioned. His prime numbers and career averages are right in line with Payton, Nash and Kidd. As for the HOFers, Sammy’s career averages are less, but his efficiency is better than Walt Frazier, Isiah Thomas and Nate Tiny Archibald. And he’s played longer than any of them. He’s nearly 40 years old and still in the league.

But for those who don’t like the PER, we can also compare career win shares. (For a more in depth look at what a win share is, check here.

Gary Payton: 145.93 (15th all time)
Jason Kidd: 109.57 (35th all time)
Steve Nash: 99.46 (45th all time)
Sam Cassell: 87.15 (69th all time)
Joe Dumars: 83.07 (79th all time)
Isiah Thomas: 80.33 (89th all time)

Here are the Prime win shares and best individual season (prime win shares takes the best 8 consecutive seasons average win shares)

GP: 11.92 (best 14)
Nash: 11.02 (best twice at 13.1)
Kidd: 9.03 (11.4)
Sam: 8.41 (11.9)
Zeke: 8.18 (11.5)

Of course, guys like Isiah and Walt made their names in the playoffs—a great place to do so. Zeke averaged 20.4, 8.9, 4.5, 44% for his career in the playoffs. Walt averaged 20.7, 6.4, 7.2, on 51%.

Sammy’s career playoff numbers aren’t as good as those two, but he does have 3 rings. Zeke and Walt have two each. And, Cassell has a chance for a fourth ring this season, pulling a Bill Russell as player/coach of sorts. Career, efficiency and results-wise, he’s right there with Frazier and Isiah, never (before last season) playing with nearly as much talent as either. Both Frazier and Isiah played with some greats in their primes. Sammy played with greats as a rookie/somphore and then in his twilight. When he did play with an all-time great (Kevin Garnett) he took that team as far as it had ever been before and potentially could have taken it further if not for injury.

After Houston, Sammy bounced from Phoenix to Dallas to finally New Jersey where he helped that team make the playoffs. His best teammates? Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Kendall Gill.

Then Sam was traded to Milwaukee. For two years the “Big Three” made the playoffs but lost in the first round. The next year, Cassell got Big Dog and Jesus out of the first round and into the Eastern Conference finals where they lost to AI’s Sixers in 7 games.

When he joined KG and Sprewell in the 03-04 season, it was because of his injury that the Malone/Payton/Shaq/Kobe Lakers were able to advance to the finals. Cassell had been on fire before getting hurt. His injury probably cost KG his best shot at winning a title up until last year. It must be noted that Sammy’s presence and play was one of the main reasons that KG had that shot in the first place.

When the brilliance that is McHale traded for Marko Jaric in exchange of Cassell AND a pick to the Clippers, Sammy did nothing but lead the previously woeful Clippers squad to within one game of the Western Conference finals.

Every team that Cassell has been traded to except for his brief stints with Phoenix and Dallas, has done better and made it farther in the playoffs then they ever had before. He’s done it in the East and the West. With good teams and bad teams.

To emphasize that very point, over the past decade, Cassell has been the driving force behind some of the NBA’s best offensive squads. In terms of offensive efficiency in the entire league:

1997-98 the Nets were 5th
1999-00 the Bucks were 2nd
2000-01 the Bucks were 1st
2001-02 the Bucks were 8th
2002-03 the Bucks were 2nd
2003-04 the Wolves were 5th
2004-05 the Wolves were 6th

That’s at least top 8 every single year with three different teams.

It was only when he came to the Clippers that his team dropped out of the top 10. In light of how the Clips have struggled under Mike Dunleavy, this could be an indictment on Dunleavy’s coaching style (highly possible considering that he now has Baron Davis and is still struggling) or, in light of how poorly the Sixers have been playing this year as opposed to last, could definitely be an indictment on Elton Brand.

Speaking of Elton Brand, Brand played like an MVP in 05-06, where the Clips had their best season (47-35) as a franchise since they were the Buffalo Braves in 1973-74 (49-33).

As for the bigs that have had excellent to MVP-caliber seasons while playing with Cassell:

Elton Brand
YEAR Ppg_Rpg_Apg_Bpg_Spg_FG%_PER_WS
05-06: 24.7_10.0_2.6_2.5_1.0__52.7_26.5__15
06-07: 20.5_9.3__2.9_2.2_1.0__53.3_23.1_11.4

Kevin Garnett
YEAR Ppg_Rpg_Apg_Bpg_Spg_FG%_PER_WS
03-04: 24.2_13.9_5.0_2.2_1.5__49.9_29.4_18.1
04-05: 22.2_13.5_5.7_1.4_1.5__50.2__28.2_15.8

Glenn Robinson
YEAR Ppg_Rpg_Apg_Bpg_Spg_FG%_PER_WS
99-00: 20.9_6.0_2.4_0.5_1.0__47.2__17.8_4.8
00-01: 22.0_6.9_3.3_0.8_1.1__ 46.8__20.1_6.8
01-02: 20.7_6.2_2.5_0.6_1.5__ 46.7__19.1_4.7

Playing with Sammy, Big Dog put up his three best years (outside of the lockout season) in terms of PER and win shares and made the all-star team twice. Plus he was part of the best offense in the league in 2000-01.

A full year with Cassell and KG won his one and only MVP, got as far as he had ever gotten in the playoffs (before moving in with Pierce and Allen), put up his best PER, one that he has not come close to before or since, and also posted career best in win shares. The second year, where he played 3/4ths of a season with Cassell, he put up his second best numbers of his career.

A full year with Cassell and Brand played like an MVP, finishing 7th (never before closer than 16th) in the MVP voting, got into the all-star game despite playing in a conference that had Duncan, Garnett, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki, and put up the best season of his career by a mile—a season he never came close to in any of his other 8 seasons, and based on early returns from his knee surgery, will likely never come close to again.

Sure, Kevin Garnett is a primo talent, but he never lived up to his full potential until he played with Cassell. His numbers were always elite, but they were never supreme until he met Cassell. Same can be said for a mediocre talent in Big Dog, and a good, but not great talent in Elton Brand. Each of them reached their full potential playing with Sam Cassell. If that’s not the mark of a great point guard, then I have no idea what is.

Sammy’s a winner plain and simple. He’s consistently hit big shots on the biggest of stages. He’s done the things that help teams win.

He talks to the refs. Maybe the best negotiator in the game. He fights for his teammates. He jaws at the opposition. He outsmarts, outthinks and outwits the opposing team. He’s a true floor coach. I mean, this season, without having played a single minute of actual game time, he’s amassed two technicals and one ejection.

Though known as a loud mouth, malcontent, and sometimes trigger-happy guard, Sam Cassell has never put anything above his love for the game. As he has gotten older, he has developed into a mentor for the younger kids (look at how well Rondo, Livingston, even Rafer Alston have played after playing with Sammy).

His career numbers, his championships rings, his intangibles…None of those things make for a HOF career by themselves, but added together, there is certainly a strong case.

His game wasn’t as flashy as Isiah’s. He wasn’t nearly the defender Walt was. Doesn’t have the gaudy stats of Gary Payton. Not as great a passer as Kidd or Nash. But he has elements of all of their games, and he’s got more rings than Walt and Isiah and more than Kidd, Nash and GP have combined.

Whatever your preconceived notions of who or what Sam Cassell is and represents, it is important, especially with the new school of thinking that emphasizes efficiency over raw numbers, to look at the man through a clear lens. Look at the player who has accomplished all that he has, and who has never gotten the proper recognition for his talents and the results he has produced.

For hoops fans who like bball and can look past the flash and the sizzle, it’s important for the integrity of the sport that players like Sam Cassell be recognized for their greatness.

Sam Cassell HOF 2014


  1. Very convincing post!

    My only real dissent has nothing to do with Cassell but rather with the dangers of being over-reliant on the use of stats and metrics.

    I look at a guy like Isiah, and see a true superstar who was capable of putting up 20-10 every year (he averaged better than 13 dimes once if memory serves), but who gave up control of the ball to let his excellent teammates take advantage of isolation skills. Dantley, Aguire, Edwards, Vinnie, and Dumars were all very capable 1 on 1 scorers, and because most teams but their best guard defenders on Isiah, Vin and Joe were often in mismatch situations.

    This sort of sacrifice doesn't show up in WS or PER, but it had something to do with the 2 rings in the heyday of Magic and Bird and the athletic peak of Jordan. So sure Isiah's production may not have been as impressive as some over the long haul, but he displayed his ability to take over the game when necessary and to manage when necessary. It's not quantifiable, but it ought to be considered when trying to establish his overall rank.

    Isiah's just the big example that comes to mind. I'm sure there are others who were effected by putting the team first and giving up touches to keep their teammates involved.

  2. Completely agree -- Sam Cassell for a HOF. I think that people under-estimate the importance of teammates. Sam's been a winner -- just never really had the right pieces to put it all together.

  3. I thought your arguments were decent, but it's funny...the more arguments you have to launch for someone to make it into the HOF, the less they will get in. It shouldn't take arguments to get someone in the HOF, just straight cash (and politics) homey. HOF in essence should celebrate the best players, but I think we all know that it's too politicized for that to occur. Plus, Cassell sucks! haha.

  4. The problem with Sam Cassell is he is good. He makes players around him better, he plays hard, is clutch. But ... (yes) he's never been the engine of the machine - at best he's been second banana (yes I know Scottie Pippen, but), AND (this is a bigger problem) there is nothing unique about his play. There is not one play that Sam Cassell makes today that there isn't another player in the league who does it better - Kidd is Triple Doubles.

    Also another black mark about Cassell is there has been no Zenith - no high point of his career where he was the undisputed best player in his position (let alone the league), GP, Nash, Kidd, Isaiah can all say that. I agree that the Hall of Fame should be a celebration of the Best, there is nothing about Cassell that makes him 'the best'.

    Don't get me wrong, I love Cassell and his intensity, I think he is a fantastic NBA player - but I won't be upset if it takes him 10 attempts to get into the HoF.

  5. Great arguments, especially the parts where you cite the big men who have career years with Sam. On the flip side, why hasn't a team grabbed him for good, like most HOF-type players? You'd think at least one of those teams would have realized that he was a championship-team pillar, right? HOF guys are dudes you build a team around, not guys you pull in to put your team over the top, right? I'm not saying that I disagree with your conclusion, it just seems to be a weakness in the case.

    But that weakness might well be totally canceled out by the twice-nationally-televised "I have huge balls" dance. Once on the T-Wolves and once on the Clippers. The cameraman had no idea what he was looking at until it was too late :D

    BTW, how does Chauncey Billups compare in all of this? Pretty sure he's been darn efficient (although his shooting percentages go waaaay down against good teams... )