Will Amar'e Stoudemire make it to Springfield?
Stoudemire chose to retire Tuesday as a member of the New York Knicks, temporarily signing a contract as a free agent before concluding his 14-year NBA career.
Though Stoudemire's best days came with his original team, the Phoenix Suns, these days many fans are likely to remember better the aging Stoudemire who battled injuries with the Knicks -- because of recency bias and the power of the New York market.
That same dichotomy could affect Stoudemire's historical legacy.
By the numbers, there's a strong case to be made for Stoudemire as a Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer. But will he eventually get inducted alongside the all-time greats in Springfield?
Once a Sun, always a Sun?
A side-by-side comparison of Stoudemire's stats in Phoenix and New York make it obvious how much bigger a part of his career the Suns played. Not only did Stoudemire play more than twice as many games in Phoenix and enjoy greater postseason success -- including two trips to the Western Conference finals when healthy, nearly as many times as the Knicks so much as made the playoffs with Stoudemire (three) -- he was far more effective individually in the Valley of the Sun.
If anything, per-game stats probably understate the magnitude of the difference between Stoudemire's two primary stops. (He also played 23 games with the Dallas Mavericks in 2014-15 before finishing his career with a final season for the Miami Heat.)
Looking at the wins above replacement player (WARP) metric hammers home that the vast majority of Stoudemire's value came in Phoenix. He posted 68 WARP with the Suns as compared to just 19 in New York.
Other value stats tell a similar story. For instance, win shares on Basketball-Reference.com split in a similar ratio: 68 in Phoenix, 21 in New York.
Surely, Stoudemire knows all this, and his preference to retire as a member of the Knicks probably has more to do with the lingering wound of the Suns' unwillingness to guarantee their entire offer to Stoudemire when he became a free agent after the 2010 Western Conference finals. While that pragmatism proved correct from the Suns' point of view, it drove Stoudemire away from Phoenix for good.
Still, Stoudemire's best days were clearly with the Suns. And it was in Phoenix that Stoudemire built the bulk of his Hall of Fame résumé.
Stoudemire's Hall case
Because Stoudemire broke down shortly after signing in New York -- after his first season with the Knicks, when he was still only 28, he never again posted more than 3.3 WARP or 4.1 win shares in a campaign -- his career is remembered more in terms of what might have been had he stayed healthy.
Nonetheless, Stoudemire did accomplish plenty before that point, including six All-Star appearances and five All-NBA team selections (one of them as a first-team choice).
As a result, Basketball-Reference.com's model gives Stoudemire a 73 percent chance of reaching the Hall of Fame. As an indication of how well the model matches up with reality, only three eligible players with higher estimated probabilities (Tim Hardaway, Jack Sikma and 50s-era star Larry Foust) have yet to be voted in.
My championships added ratings, which use win shares to estimate how much a player helped his team's chances of winning a championship with his performance in the regular season and playoffs, are even more bullish on Stoudemire's case. He ranks 70th overall with 0.6 championships added, and in the top 100 in all three categories (regular season, playoffs and awards).
Yet when ESPN.com counted down the top 100 players in NBA history during all-time #NBArank during the 2015-16 season, Stoudemire didn't appear on the list. He finished 119th in the voting, putting him in the company of players like Terry Cummings, Jeff Hornacek and Bill Laimbeer -- who have not been voted Hall of Famers.
The case against
There's reason to believe the #NBArank panel might have it right. One of the trickiest aspects of the Seven Seconds or Less-era Suns was trying to parse who deserved credit between head coach Mike D'Antoni, point guard Steve Nash, forward Shawn Marion ( himself a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate) and Stoudemire.
Stats based on the box score tended to favor Stoudemire because of his ability to score with high volume and high efficiency. However, much of that can be attributed to Nash's ability to set up Stoudemire and the spacing D'Antoni's offense provided for him.
Then there's the matter of Stoudemire's famously shaky defense. Box-score stats have a tough time picking up how much of a liability Stoudemire was at the defensive end.
That's where ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM) offers an interesting alternative. Stoudemire consistently rated as an elite offensive player by RPM, but rated as an above-average defender only three times in his 14-year career -- exceptionally poor given that big men tend to rate better defensively than perimeter players. As a result, RPM rated Stoudemire among the league's top 25 players on a per-possession basis only once.
Consider too that during the 2005-06 season, with Stoudemire limited to three games following microfracture knee surgery, Phoenix still won 54 games and reached the Western Conference finals. The Suns were far better with Stoudemire the seasons before (62 wins) and after (61), and their playoff run was aided by fortunate seeding, but it's hard to imagine Phoenix being nearly as successful without Nash or even Marion.
The broadly inclusive nature of the Hall of Fame might also work against Stoudemire, whose value is almost entirely limited to the NBA. Unlike other borderline cases, Stoudemire doesn't have any college career to draw on, and his international experience was unremarkable. A young Stoudemire was a little-used reserve on the 2004 U.S. Olympic squad that was the only American team yet with NBA players not to win gold. After helping the U.S. qualify for the 2008 Olympics by winning the previous summer's FIBA Americas Championship, he was never selected by USA Basketball again.
Given all that, Stoudemire appears to belong more in the "Hall of Very Good" than the "Hall of Fame."