Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Big Shot Bob: Robert Horry and the Hall of Fame

Let's take up a burning question in NBA circles: is Robert Horry a Hall of Famer?

OK, maybe it's a smoldering question, but it was burning during this season's playoffs, and among many other writers, J. A. Adande said yes, Horry belongs.

Those who know the general inclinations of stat geeks know that we tend to give less weight to postseason performance and to clutch performance than most other fans and analysts. Therefore, it's probably not surprising that I think Horry, whose only claim to the Hall involves some clutch shots in the postseason, is nowhere remotely close to a Hall of Famer. Many others could make that case better than I.

What separates this from a number of parallel cases (that of Jack Morris in baseball, for instance) is the media coverage of the incident in the 2007 playoffs when Horry pushed Steve Nash, and the resulting scuffle brought about suspensions to Horry, Amare Stoudemire, and Boris Diaw.

Reading and hearing reactions to this incident, I noticed a consistent pattern: in all the disputes about the dirtiness of Horry's push and about the fairness of the suspensions, everyone seemed to agree that Stoudemire's absence would hurt his team much more than Horry's would hurt his--even though Horry was suspended for two games and Stoudemire one.

My sense was that this consensus was exactly right: for all of Horry's previous clutch shooting, and even though Stoudemire hadn't won a thing, everyone seemed to understand that even in the playoffs, Stoudemire was the true star, Horry only a role player. This wire report offered the standard account:

The Spurs probably can do without Horry, a role player known for his clutch 3-point shooting. The Suns, however, will sorely miss Stoudemire, a first-team all-NBA selection and their leading scorer and rebounder in the series.

Precisely! And the League had to justify the suspensions in terms that acknowledged the obvious competitive unfairness of the suspensions:

"It is not a matter of fairness, it's a matter of correctness," said Stu Jackson, NBA executive vice president.

For almost a year, I indulged the fantasy that the comparison of Stoudemire and Horry had clarified for all the world that even in the playoffs, Horry's value couldn't touch that of a truly excellent player. That was a good year.