I just finished reading the sensational and hilarious The Book of Basketball by "The Sports Guy", Bill Simmons (my full review of the book can be found here).
Naturally, The Book of Basketball discusses the legacies of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and of course, Larry Bird (Simmons' idol), but what does it say about the greatest Indiana Pacer of all-time, Reggie Miller?
Find out after the jump!
A significant chunk of The Book of Basketball is dedicated to Simmons' "The Hall of Fame Pyramid", where he ranks the top 96 players in NBA history. It's not just one after another, either. Simmons categorizes players into different tiers of the Pyramid, all the way from Level 1 to "The Pantheon" (effectively the fifth level).
So where do YOU think Reggie Miller deserves to be in the Pyramid?
Yes, according to Bill Simmons, Reggie Miller is the 62nd best player of all-time. Miller also happens to be the cut-off guy for Level 1 of the Pyramid.
To give you an idea of what the number 62 means, consider this. Number 63 in the Pyramid is Ray Allen, and Number 61 is Bob McAdoo (who is in Level 2). Other notable modern guys in Level 1 include: Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Shawn Kemp, Robert Horry, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Chris Webber and Dennis Rodman.
Even though Reggie ranks above him, Ray Allen was picked over Reggie in Simmons' Wine Cellar team (ie greatest team of all-time, with emphasis being the TEAM as opposed to individual abilities). Ray Allen got 0 minutes as the 12th man, so I guess it didn't really make a difference.
I think so. I don't think 62 is a bad number considering that Reggie never won a championship and was never considered a big-time scorer or defender outside of crunch time.
However, in the write-up, Simmons absolutely rips into Reggie's credentials. According to Simmons:
Reggie Miller was the most overrated "superstar" of the past thirty years.
Ouch. And there's more. I've summarized the salient jabs that Simmons takes at Reggie below:
- Reggie's prime coincided with the weakest stretch of talent since the ABA/NBA merger (1994-1998)
- Reggie has the lowest number of All-Star Game appearances of any modern superstar (five, while no one else on Simmon's list had less than seven)
- At no point was Reggie considered one of the NBA's top ten players for a single season
- Reggie's reputation as a great playoff player has been exaggerated (eg, he struggled in game 7 against the Knicks in the 94 playoffs, game 7 against the Magic in the 95 playoffs, game 6 against the Knicks in the 99 East Finals)
- Indiana was 9-15 in elimination games and 3-5 in deciding Game 5's or 7's during Reggie's career
- Reggie received the most ridiculous calls of anyone over the last 12 years
In addition to these factual insults, Simmons also made fun of Reggie's defensive deficiencies, rebounding numbers and ability to create shots for team mates.
That said, Simmons does give Reggie credit where it was due. He said "Reggie's flair for The Moment stood out over everyone else from his era except Jordan." He also gave credit to Reggie's three-point and free-throw shooting abilities, especially during crunch time. Reggie's name was brought up a couple of times later in the book when Simmons discussed the best clutch players.
To sum things up, Simmons said this:
In fairness to Reggie, Indiana always asked him to do too much – at the end of close games, you always knew the ball was going to him, something he embraced and enjoyed, but still. Unlike Stockton, McHale, Worthy, Drexler, DJ and Pippen, Reggie never played with anyone better than him (the biggest reason Indiana never won a title). He wins points for excelling over an exceptionally long period of time, and since he was a unique player, it felt like his historical impact was bigger than it was. Nobody had bigger stories in big moments, a crucial quality that unquestionanly lifted his teammates. He made enough game-winners that NBA TV ran a Reggie mini-marathon during the 2005 season. And he pretty much saved professional basketball in Indiana, which is why everyone loves him so much there.
Simmons rounded off his analysis by concluding that Reggie was NOT a superstar.
Personally, I think Simmons missed the point with Reggie. He may not have been a physically imposing player, a great playmaker or defender, or a dominant scorer (though Reggie's career high is 57 points and his highest season average was 24.6), but Reggie had that superstar "aura" that you only see in the greats. Ask any NBA coach or player from the last 15 years who they would fear most on a last second three-point shot, and I bet the majority would say Reggie Miller. At the very least, he'd be in the top three.
Simmons' friend Eric Marshall had this to say in defense of Reggie:
I think it depends on your definition of the word "superstar". He's been the marquee player for a good team for seventeen years. That qualifies in my book. He has been a devastating player, one whom the entire other team always has to be conscious of. Someone should do a study on the shooting percentage of the guy guarding Reggie in playoff games. I'll bet it's like 37 percent. That kind of work away from the ball is as valuable as being a great passer or great rebounder because it creates shots for everyone (think Rip Hamilton). Also, the Indiana offense benefited greatly by his movement without the ball. Many mediocre players were successful playing with Reggie. Name one significant player on the team who got better after leaving the Pacers (Best, Davis, Rose, etc). You can't.
Well said, Eric.
At the end of the day, I am content with Reggie's placement in Simmons' Hall of Fame Pyramid, though a part of me wishes Reggie could have cracked Level 2. To say a stiff like Bob Pettit (17th, Level 4) is a whole three levels above Reggie Miller just doesn't feel right.
So, what do you reckon? Was Reggie shafted? Was Simmons too generous? Or was the number just right?
[PS: Obviously, no other Pacers player made the Pyramid. George McGinnis got a few mentons but it was always to bag out his turnover-prone tendencies. Rik Smits also got mentioned in passing by a couple of times as a solid modern center.]