The Matrix Reconsidered

Shawn Marion

After every NBA championship, many of us are left to ponder the effect it has on the legacies of the victors and the vanquished. Dirk Nowitzki is now confirmed as one of the all-time great power forwards and Jason Kidd finally gets a ring to accompany his well-earned reputation as one of the greatest point guards of all-time. Meanwhile, King James will continue to be seen by many as an emperor without clothes until he wins one of the many championships he promised South Beach.

One of the players who has been mostly overlooked in this analysis is Shawn Marion, whose solid all-around play and role in helping to guard LeBron in the Finals made him a key component in the Mavericks’ playoff success. At 33 years old, he’s well past the days where you could count on 20 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and a block from him every game. Hell, even when he was giving you that, he was mostly overlooked due to Steve Nash’s playmaking wizardry and Amare Stoudemire’s jaw-dropping dunks. To this day, I hear people give Nash most of the credit for Marion’s impressive numbers in Phoenix even though he averaged 20.1 points and 9.7 rebounds over the previous two seasons (2001-2003) playing with Stephon Marbury.

Marion was arguably the Suns’ best player on those 2001-2003 teams, and the fact that he’s never been suited to be the top player on a winning team is evident by their 80-84 record over those seasons. But when he’s utilized as a guy who can guard the opposing team’s best wing player, grab rebounds, disrupt passing lanes, throw down dunks on fast breaks and astound opponents and fans alike with his weirdly effective flip shot from mid-range, Marion shone for about a seven-season period (from 2000-2008) as one of the best all-around players in the NBA.

This is all well and good, but why bring him up now? In Bill Simmons’ “NBA Finals Game 6 Retro Diary” published on on Monday, he had this to say about Marion in a sidenote:

“Quick Marion tangent: Could you make the case that he’s one of the best 100 players ever now? Regular-season career numbers: 16.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 49% FG, 81% FT, 19.7 PER (72nd all-time), 0.162 win shares per 48 mins (64th all-time). His playoff numbers weren’t quite as good, but he played for two Conference Finalists in Phoenix (putting up a 20-12 for the undersized ’06 Suns), then was the third-best player on the champion Mavs (and shut down the league’s best player). Throw in four All-Star games and two 3rd-team All-NBA’s and he’s at least on the short list of Top 100 honorable-mention guys along with the likes of Chauncey Billups, Tony Parker, Bill Laimbeer, Lou Hudson, and Jack Sikma, right?”

I smiled in recognition when I read this because, in an appearance I made on theScore’s Hardcore Hoops Show in April, I made the case that Marion might merit Hall of Fame consideration by the time his career is over. Now that he has a ring, I’ll present the case here.

Simmons lays out some of Marion’s accomplishments effectively, but here’s another view of his career numbers that might surprise you.

— Career ranking in points (regular season/playoffs): 114th/106th
— Career ranking in rebounds: 52nd/52nd (uncanny!)
— Career ranking in steals: 36th/60th
— Career ranking in blocks: 69th/44th

Since there are two active players in front of him (Chauncey Billups and Jason Terry) before the 100th-ranked player, let’s say Marion will have to catch Jeff Hornacek (currently 98th all-time) to crack the Top 100 in career regular season scoring next season. That will take 508 points, which seems pretty easily attainable even if he drops off a little from his 12.5 PPG average of last season. Assuming the Mavericks don’t trade him during the season (and why would they?), he only needs to score 39 playoff points to catch Gail Goodrich and Walter Davis — who are tied for 99th overall in the post-season. Even if the Mavs get knocked out in the first round, Marion will probably reach that milestone if he’s healthy.

So what I’m getting at is that by the end of next season, barring a significant injury, Shawn Marion will most likely be Top 100 all-time in points, rebounds, blocks and steals in both the regular season and post-season — when he’ll be 34 years old with two more seasons left on his contract. I bet those rankings are loftier than you expected when you started reading this. What kind of class would this put Marion in?

Let’s look at the career totals you currently need to rank in the top 100 in those four stats in the regular season — you need at least 15,635 points, 6,891 rebounds, 1,104 steals and 872 blocks. Eleven players meet those career benchmarks — eight of them (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Robert Parish, David Robinson and Scottie Pippen) are already in the Hall of Fame, two of them (Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber) are locks to join the Hall when they’re eligible, and the 11th is the aforementioned Jack Sikma. This is not shabby company to be in.

Now let’s see how many of these players are also top 100 in these stats in the playoffs. To qualify for top 100 status in the post-season, you need at least 1,450 points, 614 rebounds, 90 steals and 64 blocks. To my surprise, all 11 of the regular season qualifiers were also top 100 in the playoffs — including the enigmatic Jack Sikma. So is Simmons accurate to lump Marion in with Sikma, a player who was consistently good, was never considered an MVP candidate in any season, and won a single championship ring on a team that nobody expected to triumph (the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics)?

It makes for an interesting discussion, doesn’t it? Anyway, Marion’s career appears to be far from over and I certainly wouldn’t usher him into the Hall right now if he never played another NBA game. I’ll say this, however — it bothers me a little that so many people ponder the Hall-worthiness of Vince Carter’s career when nobody seems to bring up Marion’s name in this kind of discussion. I bet I know who Jason Kidd would vote for if you asked him.