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Defending Reggie Miller’s Hall of Fame credentials

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I can’t believe I am doing this, and the fact I feel I need to infuriates the hell out of me. But here I am, defending Reggie Miller’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Last year, Miller didn’t just miss out on being a first-ballot Hall of Famer — he missed out on being on the finalists’ ballot completely. At the time, some said it was fair. Others called it a travesty. He may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he certainly deserves to be on the damn ballot. At the end of the day, however, no one really thought it was that big of a deal, as long as Miller’s name eventually ends up in Springfield.

This year, Miller is headlining the class of inductees, which also includes, amongst others, coach Don Nelson, former NBA champ Jamaal Wilkes and ABA star Mel Daniels. And all of a sudden there are now people who are suggesting he doesn’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame at all? Seriously?

If you want to criticize anything, criticize the HOFs selection guidelines, or lack thereof, not the people that get selected because of it. It’s not Miller’s fault that they are letting in so many people most fans have never even heard of.

Inductees are voted in by a small committee based on subjective considerations of merit, meaning whatever they think is relevant. It’s not based on how many championship rings they’ve won, how many All-NBA First Team selections they’ve earned or their career Player Efficiency Rating. And while we’re at it, please remember that it’s the Basketball Hall of Fame, not a list of the greatest or most dominant players to have ever played the game.

Miller may not have any championships (neither does Barkley, Ewing, Malone or Stockton), an All-NBA First Team honor (he has three Third Team selections) or a higher career PER (18.4, according to Basketball-Reference.com — good for 116th in NBA history) to his name, but is he any less deserving than the people that have been selected before him (say Bailey Howell, Maurice Stokes, Adrian Dantley or Chris Mullin)? Is he any less deserving than the people selected for the class of 2012 (a class he is freaking headlining)? The Basketball Hall of Fame needs to be accepted for what it is, not what people think it should be or want it to be.

In any case, let’s take a look at Miller’s basketball career as a whole.

Miller’s raw numbers speak for themselves.

  • 11th overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft
  • 18 seasons for the Indiana Pacers (retiring in 2005)
  • 5 All-Star appearances (90, 95, 96, 98, 00)
  • 3 All-NBA Third Team selections (95, 96, 98)
  • 1 NBA Finals appearance (2000)
  • 6 Eastern Conference Finals appearances (94, 95, 98, 99, 00, 04)
  • regular season career averages: 18.2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.7 turnovers
  • regular season career shooting averages: 47.1% FG, 39.5% 3P, 88.8% FT
  • playoff career averages: 20.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1 steal and 1.8 turnovers
  • playoff career shooting averages: 44.9% FG, 39% 3P, 89.3% FT

Very good, but not flashy, right? And before I forget, let’s throw in numbers from his college and international careers as well, since it’s the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the NBA Hall of Fame (which doesn’t exist).

  • 4 seasons for UCLA (graduating in 1987)
  • NIT championship (85), Pac-10 championship (87)
  • college averages: 17.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2 assists, 54.7% FG, 43.9% 3P, 83.6% FT
  • FIBA World Championship (1994) gold medal; All-Tournament Team selection; 17.1 ppg
  • Olympic Games (1996) gold medal; 11.4 ppg

These raw numbers and achievements probably won’t blow anyone away, but his career looks a lot more impressive when you start to put them in perspective.

NBA regular season

  • 14th all-time scorer (25,279)
  • 2nd all-time in three-pointers made (2,560; surpassed only by Ray Allen in 2011)
  • 9th all-time in free throw percentage (88.8%); 12th all-time in free throws made (6,237)
  • 3rd all-time in Offensive Rating (121.48)
  • 6th all-time in True Shooting Percentage (61.39%)
  • 7th all-time in games played (1,389)
  • 3rd all-time in games played with one team (1,389); 2nd all time in seasons with one team (18; behind John Stockton’s 19)
  • 11th all-time in Win Shares (174.40); 7th all-time in Offensive Win Shares
  • Led the league in free throw percentage 5 times (90-91, 98-99, 00-01, 01-02, 04-05)
  • Led the league in three-pointers made 2 times (92-93, 96-97)
  • Led the league in True Shooting Percentage 2 times (90-91, 93-94)
  • Led the league in Offensive Rating 4 times (90-91, 92-93, 93-94, 98-99)
  • Career-high 57 points (@Charlotte in 1992)
  • 1 of 5 players in NBA history to have had a 50-40-90 season (ie, to have shot 50% FG, 40% 3P and 90% FT — others being Larry Bird, Mark Price, Steven Nash and Dirk Nowitzki)

NBA Playoffs

  • 20th all-time scorer (2,972)
  • 1st all-time in three-pointers made (320)
  • 9th all-time in free throw percentage (89.3%); 15th all-time in free throws made (770)
  • 11th all-time in True Shooting Percentage (60.1%)
  • 11th all-time in Offensive Rating (119.21)
  • 19th all-time in Win Shares (19.9); 8th all-time in Offensive Win Shares (16.18)
  • Career-high 41 points (vs Milwaukee in 2000)

Indiana Pacers

  • Franchise leader in games, points, minutes, field goals, three-pointers, free throws, assists and steals
  • One of 5 Pacers to have jersey retired (others being Roger Brown, Mel Daniels, Bobby Leonard and George McGinnis)
  • First franchise player to start in an All-Star game

UCLA

  • 3rd all-time scorer, 3rd all-time in field goals made, 3rd all-time in 3P%, 4th all-time in FT%, 2nd all-time in free throws made, 8th all-time in steals
  • 2nd all-time in single season points (behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
  • Holds single season records for league points (1986; 500), league scoring average (1986; 27.8), free throws made (1986; 202)
  • Holds single game record for free throws in a game (17) and in a half (13), and points in a half (33)

Team USA

  • 2nd leading scorer at 1994 FIBA World Championship (behind Shaquille O’Neal)


Miller’s numbers start to speak a lot louder when you consider the company he is in. While you ordinarily wouldn’t put Miller in the same category as some of the all-time greats because he wasn’t the type of player that regularly dominated the game, some of his numbers and records suggest otherwise. In particular, Miller’s Similarity Score at Basketball-Reference.com, which finds players throughout NBA history with the same career quality and shape, puts him in the same league as guys like Kobe Bryant, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Jerry West, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson — all current or future Hall of Famers.

One of the most common arguments critics use to discredit Miller’s career is that he was “one-dimensional” or that he was a poor defender. I even read a recent article which claimed that all Miller did for 18 seasons was curl off screens. Sorry, but you don’t become the NBA’s 14th all-time leading scorer by just curling off screens. The Knicks’ Steve Novak is one dimensional. Former Pacer James Posey, in his last season, was one dimensional.

But anyone that has watched Miller play, especially during his prime, will know he had a surprisingly wide offensive repertoire. Defensively, his weight and lateral movement gave him problems against bigger, quicker guards, but his height (6’7”) and length troubled them too. And what do you think chasing Miller around all game did to their stamina?

In any event, being an all-round player or a wonderful defender are not prerequisites for the Hall of Fame. That’s like saying Dennis Rodman doesn’t deserve to be in it because he is not a great scorer or because Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t a good free throw shooter. If Rodman can get in for being one of the greatest rebounders of all-time, then why can’t Miller get in for being one of the greatest, if not the greatest three-point shooter of all-time?

But to debate whether Miller deserves to get in on his three-point shooting or any other of his records is missing the point entirely. The Hall of Fame should, and does, go far beyond numbers and statistics. Miller’s fame (this is the Hall of Fame, mind you) and the impact he has had on the game of basketball, especially in Indiana, the Hoosier state, puts him right up there with the all-time greats.

Miller was the face of a franchise for almost his entire career. He was Indiana’s best player for more than a decade. How many players in NBA history can say the same thing?

If you ask anyone to name a single player to have played for the Indiana Pacers, even now, chances are they would say Reggie Miller. If you ask any New York Knicks fan which player has tormented their team more than any other, apart from Michael Jordan (and possible Carmelo Anthony — kidding), chances are they would say Reggie Miller. If you ask who they would want to take a last second three-pointer with their team down by two, Reggie Miller would likely be in the top five, if not number one.

 

If you ask someone to name the most memorable moments in NBA playoff history off the top of their head, chances are they will include Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter against the Knicks in the 1994 playoffs, and if not, certainly his 8 points in 8.9 seconds against the Knicks a year later. And what about his game-winning three-pointer over Michael Jordan in the 98 East finals, or my personal favorite, the 39-foot buzzer-beating bank shot to force the first overtime, and then the two-handed dunk to force the second one against the top-seeded Nets in 2002? How many players outside of Michael Jordan has had so many defining moments in their careers?

I get it if people want to diminish Miller’s achievements because he’s not the type of player traditional fans like. He plays for the small market Pacers. He looks like an alien and is so thin he might slip through the cracks in the floorboards; he flops a lot, likes to talk trash and enjoys playing the villain. And yes, he pushed off Jordan and then danced around in circles like a little girl (and that was because he was playing with a badly sprained ankle, for those who don’t remember). But he also struck fear into the hearts of his opponents like only the greats could.

He was a truly unique player, the kind the NBA might never see again. For that, and the impact his remarkable career had on UCLA, the Indiana Pacers, the NBA, Team USA and the sport of basketball in general — for more than two decades — no one should question Reggie Miller’s rightful inclusion in the Hall of Fame ever again.

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