but he still isn't in the Basketball Hall of Fame. This year's snub was particularly cruel: the Associated Press initially announced Cheeks was in, then printed a retraction. So I'm back for my now annual rant.
Yes, between our twin seemingly hopeless searches for a quarterback and anyone capable of hitting college pitching, the Naismith Hall of Fame inducted another class, this time headlined by Dennis Rodman (seriously) and Chris Mullin. Two fine players who are not close to being in the same league as last year's headliners, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen. Try to stay awake.
The voters also added Tex Winter in the aging genius category, two women, a giant Lithuanian (to be politically correct), one coach you haven't heard of, a Harlem Globetrotter (because what is a basketball hall of fame without Goose Tatum? I guess Sweet Lou Dunbar will get in next year...) and Tom "Satch" Sanders.
Who is Tom "Satch" Sanders? Glad you asked. He just displaced Tom Gola as the least talented player in the hall. Sanders was a perfectly average, 9 point/6 rebound man who had the benefit of winning eight titles with the Boston Celtics. Never made an all-star team or sniffed an All-NBA squad. But hey, eight rings, right? Robert Horry says hello.
Dozens of Near Greats have already been admitted, perhaps the Above Average deserve a place, as well.
The nominating committee did manage to unscrew Artis Gilmore, finally admitting him after years of inflicting emotional abuse.
But not Cheeks, who retired as the all-time steals leader and defined unselfish floor leadership during a golden era for NBA point guards. You've heard all of this from me before....blah blah blah...
But this year provides a particularly interesting comparison: Rodman, Mullin and Cheeks are all basically the same player. No, the uber-athletic rebounding machine, the pure-as-the-driven-snow shooter and the point guard with near perfect fundamentals are not similar at all on the court. But their value as players is uncannily similar.
If Mullin and Rodman are not deserving of the hall--and if the hall is for only the truly elite, then they are not (Rodman especially not, according to the venerable Jack McCallum)--then Cheeks is not deserving, either.
But if they are deserving, then so is Cheeks. The point is barely arguable.
The web site databaseBasketball publishes a very helpful proxy statistic called Hall of Fame Monitor. It tracks the players most likely to be inducted--not most deserving, most likely. Their algorithm results in a cut-off score of 135 for probable induction. Indeed, now that Artis Gilmore is in, only three eligible players above 135 have failed to make it: Paul Westphal (perhaps he should remind the voters he was a Celtic once), Spencer Haywood (did he really threaten to kill Paul Westhead?) and Bernard King (knees).
The scores of today's trio:
Oops...all three fall short of "likely." Mullin has a pretty solid case, however, since the basketball hall is agnostic pro v. college. The metric above doesn't take into account Mullin being one of the greatest big-time college players of his era. Setting that aside, you get pretty similar resumes among the three.
If you retroactively apply some advanced metrics--baseball style--you get player efficiency ratings for these three from the high teens to the 20s. For comparison sake, true superstar players usually approach 30 (Lebron James is 27 for his career, e.g.). Mullin hung around 25 in his best four years, but he fell fast; Rodman was great for exactly one season, when he posted a 26+ in 1991-92. Cheeks was the most boringly consistent for the longest (surprise, surprise). All three were borderline all-star players, which is reflected in their appearances: five for Mullin, four for Cheeks, two for Rodman.
Their lifetime approximate values (PER adjusted for total games played):
What does this tell us? Three great basketball players, none of them superstars, two of them now in the Hall of Fame. Other than the McCallum piece, there seems to be a general consensus that Rodman and Mullin belong.
Cheeks was a better defensive player than Mullin, having notched four first-team all defensive selections during a time when Sidney Moncrief, Michael Cooper and Dennis Johnson were also competing for spots. He was a far better offensive player than Rodman because he, well, played offense and stuff.
Cheeks had the best field goal percentage of any of his point guard contemporaries. His winning percentage is only exceeded by Johnson and Johnson (Magic and Dennis). Yes, he had great teammates. But he also made those teammates better by doing all of those "Maurice Cheeks things," as Bill Simmons puts it. You know, those immeasurable things that result in your team winning basketball games.
Any hall of fame is a crap shoot. Once you get past the no-brainers, you might as well draw them out of a hat. Basketball wears the biggest hat: pro, college, men, women, Russians... Any contributor here could write this article about a handful of others (none of whom, of course, ended their career as the all-time leader in a statistical category).
But if Cheeks is not the best player outside of Springfield, then he is on a very short list. No player is less appreciated.
Satch Sanders owes him a beer.