Pro Hoops History HOF: Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell enjoyed a lengthy career as an NBA point guard, but only after an arduous college basketball journey. At age 20, he began playing junior college ball with San Jacinto College outside Houston. Then, at age 22, he transferred to Florida State. After two successful seasons there, Cassell was finally drafted into the NBA at age 24.

And nearly everywhere he went in the NBA, Cassell catalyzed improvement for his teams.

Selected by the Houston Rockets, the geriatric rookie immediately made a huge impact for the Rockets. No one doubts Hakeem Olajuwon was the primary fuel for the Rockets that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, but Cassell’s role as backup point guard and big game performer helped pull Houston out of some tough fixes. In the 1994 Finals, Cassell hit a huge three-pointer in the final moments to win Game 3. He finished that game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. Not bad for a rookie who averaged 7 points in the regular season. In the 1995 Finals, Cassell exploded for 31 points on 12 shots leading Houston to a 2-0 series lead over the Magic.

These huge playoff performances paid dividends for Cassell. By his third season, 1995-96, he was averaging 14.5 points and 5 assists per game off of Houston’s bench. Following that season, however, Cassell was traded to the Phoenix Suns and thus began his wandering days.

Over the next three seasons, Sam played for the Suns, Nets, and Mavericks before finally settling in Milwaukee. Not that he wasn’t productive. Cassell averaged 18 points and 6.5 assists in this span, but no club seemed to truly appreciate what he offered. The Nets were particularly foolish. They made their lone postseason between 1994 and 2002 while improving from 26 to 43 wins in their one full season with Cassell.

With the Bucks, though, Cassell found a home and exploited his talents to the max. His biggest assets, oddly for a point guard, were his abilities to post-up and generate lots of free throws. Milwaukee lacked a power forward or center capable of scoring, so Cassell’s production of 19 points and 7 assists per game while making 87% of his free throws was sorely needed. In 2001, teaming with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, Cassell’s Bucks narrowly missed out on the NBA Finals losing to the 76ers in a tough 7-game series.

Ever the wanderer, though, Cassell’s time in Milwaukee finished in 2003. Still, Cassell had a couple of curtain calls left.

The Timberwolves in 2004 enjoyed their best season in franchise history after Cassell’s acquisition. Indeed, it was a career year for Cassell who finally made the All-Star Team and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team at the tender age of 34. With Kevin Garnett as league MVP and Cassell riding shotgun Minnesota made the Western Conference Finals. An unfortunate back injury to Sam kept the Wolves from mounting a full challenge to the Lakers, though, and they lost the series in six games.

In 2006, after an injury-plagued 2005 season, Cassell helped lift the Los Angeles Clippers from their wretched depths. Yes, the Clippers, a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1976 as the Buffalo Braves. Cassell’s savvy, leadership, and still potent skills mixed beautifully with another superb power forward (Elton Brand) as the Clippers won 47 games. In the playoffs, Sam’s Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals where they lost to the Suns in seven games. From that point on, Cassell was severely limited by injuries, but managed to snag a final NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

With his ebullient energy, pull-up jumpers, fearless forays to the rim, and confidence Cassell improved every team he appeared with. The Rockets, Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Clippers were all demonstrably better with the services of Cassell. Even if those teams’ appreciation for Cassell usually proved very short-lived, that kind of track record is no accident, but proof of his prowess. In a career that was anything but short-lived, you can see that prowess almost from the get-go.

Years Played: 1993 – 2008

Accolades

3x Champion (1993-’94, 2008)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2004)
All-Star (2004

Statistics

NBA Career: (1993-94 through 2007-08)
Peak Career Production: (1997-98 through 2005-06)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 993 136 610 34th
PPG 15.7 12.2 18.4 30th
RPG 3.2 2.6 3.6 200th
APG 6.0 4.4 7.0 9th
SPG 1.07 0.77 1.16 54th
BPG 0.16 0.14 0.17 225th
TS% 0.544 0.525 0.547 68th
2PT% 0.477 0.430 0.482 98th
3PT% 0.331 0.363 0.333 142nd
FT% 0.861 0.847 0.866 15th
PER 19.5 15.9 20.9 21st
WS/48 0.141 0.093 0.158 24th
Ortg 110 106 112
Drtg 108 109 108

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 993 136 610 34th
Minutes 29812 3539 20731 27th
Points 15635 1656 11229 18th
Rebounds 3221 349 2203 112th
Assists 5939 592 4275 6th
Steals 1058 105 710 33rd
Blocks 163 19 105 212th
2PTs 10529 448 3789 18th
3PTs 672 117 374 102nd
FTs 3567 409 2529 17th
WS 87.5 6.9 68.3 20th

Atlanta Hawks Franchise History: 1996-97 through 2005-06

Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta Hawks (sportslogos.net)

Championships: 0
Conference Titles: 0
Division Titles: 0

Regular Season Record: 325-463
Regular Season Win Percentage: 41.2%
Playoff Appearances: 3
Playoff Series Wins: 2
Playoff Record: 8-15

This was a miserable decade in Hawks’ history. They only had three winning seasons and they were all frontloaded in 1997, 1998 and 1999. During this three-year stretch, the Hawks won 64% of their games. Naturally, the selections for this decade’s players are also frontloaded in this period. Dikembe Mutombo was brightest spot for the Hawks nabbing back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1997 and 1998. After being swept by the New York Knicks in the 2nd Round of the 1999 playoffs, the aging Hawks were blown up and Lenny Wilkens left as coach in 2000.

From 2000 till 2006, Atlanta mustered a pathetic winning percentage of .328, bottoming out in 2005 with just 13 wins. From that point on, Mike Woodson would slowly rebuild the Hawks into a frisky playoff team during their next decade.

PREVIOUS DECADE
1986-87 through 1995-96

STARTING FIVE

C – Dikembe Mutombo – 343 Games
11.9 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 3.2 BPG, 52.9% FG, 69.2% FT

F – Christian Laettner – 156 Games
16.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.5% FG, 83.8% FT

F – Shareef Abdur-Rahim – 211 Games
20.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 47.3% FG, 83.5% FT

G- Steve Smith – 181 Games
19.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 43% FG, 85.1% FT

G – Mookie Blaylock – 196 Games
14.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.5 SPG, 40.6% FG, 73.9% FT

BENCH

Jason Terry - 403 Games
16.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 45.5% FG, 36.7% 3PT, 84.5% FT

Alan Henderson - 406 Games
10.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 0.7 SPG, 46.4% FG, 64.8% FT

Tyrone Corbin – 196 Games
9.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 42.3% FG, 75.6% FT

The Longest Series Ever Played

The following article was contributed by John WIlmes. As you’ll see, he is a huge fan of the Chicago Bulls. Currently, you can can find John’s basketball writings at red94.com, a member of ESPN’s TrueHoop Network.

John Wayne doing the math of the longest series (20th Century Fox)
John Wayne doing the math of the longest series (20th Century Fox)

I was just eleven, when Michael won his sixth. I have only the most ephemeral, only the blurriest of recollections of John Paxson’s shot, when I was seven—but I’d certainly say I prefer it that way. You all had to watch Hoosiers, and pretend the whole thing happened for you, when you were my age. By the time I was ten, Paxson had morphed into Steve Kerr.

I grew up in Bullsdom — my formative memories are slathered in their tinges of triumph. I was privy to the some of the greatest basketball ever played; I was privy to the force it creates, to the favorable sense of gravity and confidence that such a mind-blowing form of awesomeness grants to the land around it, as if it were an earthquake of good will.

But the most fun I’ve ever had as a Bulls fan was when I was twenty-two, and living beyond the rim of that glory, hours west in Iowa City.

Continue reading

Pro Hoops History HOF: Grant Hill

Grant Hill
Grant Hill

What Grant Hill’s career could have been is something of joyful imagination mixed with sorrowful reality. The prodigious talent was mixed with demoralizing foot injuries, the endless rehabs, the near-fatal staph infection he suffered… it’s all enough to dash the fantastic dreams we had of Grant Hill leading the Detroit Pistons or the Orlando Magic to potential title glory.

It surely was enough to dash what should have been the middle portion of Hill’s career.

From the 2000-01 season to the 2005-06 season, Hill played in just 135 of 492 potential games. And half of those 135 came in the 2004-05 season. He also missed all of the 2003-04 season. His sojourn in Orlando was just rife with pain. But taking a step back from the sorrow, we do realize that Hill’s career was its own brand of magnificent.

He was co-Rookie of the Year in 1995 for the Detroit Pistons. In just his second season, he was approaching triple-double territory with regularity averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He kept up a similar pace through the 2000 season. This era was undoubtedly the apex of Grant Hill. Amongst all NBA players of this era, Hill ranked 9th in PPG, 15th in APG, and 24th in RPG fully displaying his versatility.

But his final games for Detroit were played on an injured ankle that should have been rested. Hill’s impending free agency, however, cast an unfair pall. If Hill wisely sat out the playoffs to heal his ankle, accusations would have arisen claiming he was unfairly putting himself above his team. Yet another selfish millionaire athlete. If he played, he’d be a “team player”, but he’d put his health in jeopardy. Which is exactly what happened. To keep alive the season for a middling Pistons squad, Hill practically sacrificed five years of his career.

After finally emerging fully healthy in 2006, Hill enjoyed a surprising rejuvenation. Over the next five years – one with Orlando, the rest with Phoenix – Hill would average a respectable 13 points and 5 rebounds. Clearly, not what he once was, but after what he had experienced, these twilight years were glorious for Hill.

Only three other players (Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Larry Bird) had replicated Hill’s 1996 season of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists. But his season at age 38 in 2011 was nearly as remarkable. His 13 PPG that season was the 11th highest ever for a player that age or older. And he did it shooting nearly 40% from three-point range, quite the change from his early days. Nearly 20 years before, Hill happened to have the world’s best spin-cycle on his drives going to the hoop… but he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn from downtown.

Nonetheless, he did what he had to do as time went on to remain an effective basketball player. Truthfully, he did what he had to do just to simply remain any kind of basketball player. He easily could have given up at any number of points without any complaints. But his perseverance is astounding.

Don’t sleep on Grant Hill’s actual talents, though. Few small forwards ever handled the ball like Hill. Few have ever passed like Hill. Few have ever encapsulated so many grand qualities with such grace like Hill. He’s a Hall of Famer and an astounding one at that.

Years Played: 1994 – 2013

Accolades

NBA -
Rookie of the Year (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1997)
4x All-NBA 2nd Team (1996, 1998-2000)
7x All-Star (1995-’98, 2000-’01, 2005)

Statistics

NBA - 1026 Games
16.7 PPG,6.0 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 48.3% FG, 76.9% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1994-95 through 2012-13 season)
20th Points, 16th FTs Made
22nd FGs Made, 32nd FG%
20th Assists, 29th APG
18th Steals, 32nd SPG
36th Rebounds
22nd Games Played, 20th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Chris Webber

Chris Webber
Chris Webber

For 15 NBA seasons, Chris Webber silently put together one of the best careers in NBA history. If the actual merits of his achievement remained but a deft whisper, there was nonetheless a lot of noise surrounding it.

Coming out of college, Webber was the most prominent member of the University of Michigan’s Fab Five. His talent and the hype surrounding that fabled squad bolted Webber to the top of the draft board in 1993 and the Orlando Magic took him #1 overall. However, he was quickly traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for the draft rights to Penny Hardaway. This inaugural experience set a big tone for Webber’s career…

Highly coveted, but often traded.

He lasted one year with the Warriors as the ultimate dream for Don Nelson’s small ball center, but the two men didn’t see the least bit eye-to-eye. Webber was traded to the Washington Bullets after his rookie season and he was reunited with his college teammate Juwan Howard. His time in DC was rocked by injuries, but in 1997 he put together one of his finest campaigns and led the Bullets to the playoffs for the first time in ages. But as an 8th seed, they were ravaged by the Chicago Bulls.

After the 1998 season, Webber was shipped back west to northern California. The Sacramento Kings gave up Mitch Richmond for Webber. What he did for the Bullets was amplified for the Kings. He pushed that franchise to their highest point since moving from Kansas City in the mid-1980s. They became perennial playoff participants and in 2002 were moments away from the NBA Finals. A searing, controversial loss to the Los Angeles Lakers ultimately blocked the Kings’ path.

That ’02 season was the last truly monumental season Webber put together. Over the ensuing years, he’d play well, but he’d also play increasingly injured. In 2002 he missed 28 games. In 2003 he was out for 15 games. Then in 2004 he missed all but 23 games due to a knee injury. The Kings traded the damaged Webber to the Philadelphia 76ers where Chris amazingly put together a 20/10 season on one good leg. But he shot just 43% from the field in the process clearly showing he was withering.

His final two seasons (2007, 2008) were spent split between Philly, Detroit, and back in Golden State.

The slow limping Webber of these seasons was nothing like the dynamic force of the 1990s and early 2000s. When so inclined, especially in his Warriors and Bullets days, he was a menacing dunker. He was always a great rebounder. He could rain in points with his superb jumper. And best of all he was an amazing passer. Watching him and Vlade Divac pass in and out of the post is one of the greatest basketball joys one could ever imagine.

The effervescent joy that came with those passes was always fleetingly around the corner when i came to Webber’s career, though. No doubt a Hall of Famer. No doubt a super talent. But there was so much of Webber left on the table for various reasons that his career nonetheless remains a bit unsatisfying.

It’s moments like these, however, where it’s wise to appreciate what we receive and what we’re given. When that sage advice is followed, we can indeed fully appreciate the greatness of Chris Webber.

Years Played: 1993 – 2008

Accolades

NBA -
Rookie of the Year (1994)
All-NBA 1st Team (2001)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1999, 2002-’03)
All-NBA 3rd Team (2000)
5x All-Star (1997, 2000-’03)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1994)

Statistics

NBA - 831 Games
20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.4 SPG, 47.9% FG, 64.9% FT
RPG Leader (1999)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1993-94 through 2006-07 season)
7th Points, 14th PPG
6th FGs Made, 32nd FG%
36th FTs Made
7th Rebounds, 10th RPG
11th Steals, 20th SPG
14th Blocks, 17th BPG
25th Assists, 31st APG
34th Games Played, 13th Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Karl Malone

John Stockton and Karl Malone
John Stockton and Karl Malone

The duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone are inseparable. For 18 years they brought playoff basketball and pick-and-roll offense to Utah. No two players ran that bread and butter play as well and as often as those two did.

But Malone was much more than the receiver of Stockton’s passes.

He was obviously a sterling scorer who could roll to the basket for forceful layups and strong jams. Or he would roll away from the basket and knock down his highly effective mid-range jumper. Malone was also a great rebounder and finisher on the fastbreak. And somewhat downplayed, but better appreciated as his career wore on, was Malone’s great passing. Karl also trained ridiculously hard and was on the vanguard of insanely muscled NBA athletes. He also applied that training to his free throw shooting which went from an atrocious 48% as a rookie to 60% as a second-year player to 70% in his third season.

Perhaps his best asset though was durability. In a career that spanned 19 seasons, Malone missed a grand total of 50 games out of a possible 1526 games played. And 40 of those missed games came in his final season.

He didn’t just play well, he played all the time.

Well, eventually he played all the time. During his first season, Malone was Utah’s starting power forward but was not their first or main offensive option. That was the monstrous Adrian Dantley who averaged 30 points per game on 56% shooting that year. But Utah saw that their future lay with Malone. So even though he averaged just 15 points his rookie year, the Jazz felt comfortable enough to trade Dantley and hand the offensive keys to Malone.

After a stellar sophomore campaign, Malone truly took off in the 1987-88 season averaging 28 points per game. His improved and All-Star play lifted the Jazz to their first extended playoff run. In the Western Conference Semi-Finals, the Mailman delivered four straight 29-point performances against the Lakers displaying the regular service he became known for.

Although Utah lost that series in seven games they’d be perennial contenders in the Western Conference. As players like Dantley, Rickey Green, Blue Edwards, Chris Morris, and Byron Russell came and went, it was Stockton and Malone that were there for the whole ride of success.

They likely would have been great wherever they went, but being together for all of those runs, trials, and joys made their careers greater than they otherwise would have been. Each fed off the other and made each other better. It’s the true mark of great players and great teammates to have such a reciprocal thing happen.

Years Played: 1985 – 2004

Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz

Accolades

NBA -
2x MVP (1997, 1999)
11x All-NBA 1st Team (1989-’99)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 2000)
All-NBA 3rd Team (2001)
3x All-Defensive 1st Team (1997-’99)
All-Defensive 2nd Team (1988)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1986)
14x All-Star (1988-’98, 2000-’02)
2x All-Star Game MVP (1989, 1993)

Statistics

NBA - 1476 Games
25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 51.6% FG, 74.2% FT

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1985-86 through 2003-04 season)
1st Points, 6th PPG
1st FGs Made, 14th FG%
1st FTs Made, 26th FT%
1st Rebounds, 10th RPG
5th Steals, 30th SPG
16th Blocks, 34th BPG
16th Assists, 38th APG
1st Games Played, 1st Minutes Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: John Stockton

John Stockton and Karl Malone
John Stockton and Karl Malone

The duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone are inseparable. For 18 years they brought playoff basketball and pick-and-roll offense to Utah. No two players ran that bread and butter play as well and as often as those two did.

But Stockton was much more than the feeder of Malone’s baskets.

He was obviously a sterling ball-handler who had an incredibly low amount of turnovers considering just how much offensive responsibility he had. He was also a fantastic defender who made liberal use of the NBA’s defensive rules to annoy and pester opponents. His shooting was off the charts. He could make a jumper from any spot on the floor and had a sneaky ability to finish at the basket with scooping layups.

Perhaps his best asset though was durability. In a career that spanned 19 seasons, Stockton played every game in 17 of them and missed a grand total of 22 games out of a possible 1526 games played.

He didn’t just play well, he played all the time.

Well, eventually he played all the time. During his first three seasons, Stockton was locked into a time-share at point guard with Rickey Green. Green was a former All-Star guard in his own right and rightfully held starter’s duties, but as time marched on it became clear Stockton was the future. By the 1987-88 season he was Utah’s clear starter and he helped push the club to their first of many extended playoff runs.

That 1988 postseason matched the Jazz against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Stockton dazzled opposite of the NBA’s premier point guard Magic Johnson. In Game 5 of the series John went berserk with 23 points, 24 assists, and 5 steals in a two-point loss. In Game 7 of the series Stockton again went bonkers with 29 points, 20 assists, and 5 steals. The Jazz lost this game as well, though.

From that point through 2003, the Jazz would make the second round of the playoff eight times, the Conference Finals five times, and the NBA Finals twice. The Jazz had a revolving door of talented players like Jeff Malone, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Hornacek, and Thurl Bailey, but it was Stockton and (Karl) Malone that were there for the whole ride.

They likely would have been great wherever they went, but being together for all of those runs, trials, and joys made their careers greater than they otherwise would have been. Each fed off the other and made each other better. It’s the true mark of great players and great teammates to have such a reciprocal thing happen.

Years Played: 1984 – 2003

Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz

Accolades

NBA -
2x All-NBA 1st Team (1994-’95)
6x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988-’90, 1992-’93, 1996)
3x All-NBA 3rd Team (1991, 1997, 1999)
5x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1989, 1991-’92, 1995, 1997)
10x All-Star (1989-’97, 2000)
All-Star Game MVP (1993)

Statistics

NBA - 1504 Games
13.1 PPG, 10.5 APG, 2.7 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 51.5% FG, 38.4% 3PT, 82.6% FT
9x APG Leader (1988-’96), 2x SPG Leader (1989, 1992)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1984-85 through 2002-03 season)
1st Assists, 2nd APG
1st Steals, 4th SPG
12th Points
15th FGs Made, 16th FG%
9th FTs Made, 26th FT%
22nd 3PTs Made, 11th 3PT%
1st Games Played, 2nd Games Played