This piece will be the start of a series that will focus on players that have had careers that make them fringe candidates for the Hall of Fame. I’ll be comparing their careers with those of Hall of Famers and deciding whether they’re being overlooked or they’re correctly not in the Hall.
My first case is that of a 4-time All-Star, 3-time All NBA, and Olympic Gold-Medalist. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was drafted 3rd overall in 1993 by the Golden State Warriors. He was involved in the draft day trade that sent him, along with three first round picks, to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Chris Webber. He finished second place in the Rookie of the Year voting to Webber.
Penny averaged 15.2 points, 5.0 assists, and 4.5 rebounds over the course of his career. His numbers saw a steep drop-off after a knee injury in 1997-98 that he never fully recovered from. Here’s a look at his averages pre and post injury:
93-94 to 97-98: 19.5 points/6.5 assists/4.6 rebounds
98-99 to 07-08: 11.6 points/3.8 assists/4.4 rebounds
If he could have sustained anywhere near his pre-injury numbers, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation.
Chris Mullin averaged 18.2 points, 3.5 assists, and 4.1 rebounds over the course of his Hall of Fame career. He has one more Olympic Gold Medal than Penny but is that really what made the difference? He made one more All-Star game, and was selected to one more All-NBA team. Could the margin between preparing your speech and sitting in the crowd be that thin? Mullin and Hardaway both made the NBA Finals once in their careers, both losing. Mullin was able to sustain his high-level production for the majority of his career because he never experienced an injury like Penny.
Plenty of Hall of Famers had their careers cut short due to injury or other circumstances. Take Bill Walton for instance. He had impressive numbers and results for three or four seasons but was unable to stay on the court. Walton averaged 46.8 games out of a possible 82 per season. Walton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Penny’s best statistical season came in the 1995-96 campaign, where he averaged 21.7 points, 7.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and only 2.8 turnovers per game. Only five players have ever averaged more than 21/7/4 with 3 or less turnovers per game. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Gary Payton, and Penny Hardaway. (Thanks Basketball-Reference.com’s Player Season Finder Tool) That’s pretty damn good company.
Players are eligible three years after their retirement. Hardaway’s career ended in 2008, which means he has been eligible for the better part of this decade and has yet to take his candidacy seriously. It’s looking pretty bleak for Penny, but I want to know what you think? Did the committee get this one right? Or does his career warrant a Hall of Fame induction?