Nerdnumbers avatar

Dikembe Mutombo is a First Ballot Hall of Famer

Dikembe Mutombo is the reason I became a basketball fan. When I was a child, my parents got me a lifesize poster of Mutombo to encourage me to read (unfortunately I've lost this poster!). The simple fact is that Dikembe is one of the greatest players of all time. Now, he is also one of those players that I love in regards to the Wins Produced stat. One of the common arguments we hear is that we don't give enough credit to the NBA's best defenders – which is a fair complaint by the way, as it's tough to figure out how much individual players contribute to their team's defense. But at the same time, we're also told that we overrate players like Dikembe or Dennis Rodman – two players who earned a combined six Defensive Player of the Year awards. Anyway, I'll actually stay very simple in regards to why Dikembe belongs in the Hall.

Out of the box

I'll be ignoring some classic methods, such as "in a box", which uses how previous voters acted to estimate future Hall of Fame candidates. In fact, if we believe a lick in the "Moneyball revolution", then we have to accept that a majority of players in the Hall were selected using subpar methods. Of course, that's not to say that they don't belong, just that it's unlikely that they were scrutinized as well as we scrutinze players today. My method is to simply show that Dikembe belongs in the Hall by virtue of an impressive and unique career.

Mainstream Opinion

Outstanding players get recognition for their actions; Dikembe was no exception. Check out the awards on his résumé:

  • 4 Time Defensive Player of the Year (Tied for most ever with Ben Wallace)
  • 8 All-Star Games (Tied for 44th all time)
  • 6 All-Defense Teams
  • 3 All-NBA Teams

In regards to awards, I'd also like to point out that Dikembe is a magician. In 1995, he was placed on the All-Defense 2nd team behind David Robinson. Yet somehow he won the Defensive Player of the Year award, while Robinson finished 4th! (It's safe to say that it's likely that voters are not consistent in their criteria for voting)

Basically, Dikembe was regarded as one of the best defenders in the league for over half a decade, and is tied with Ben Wallace for the most DPOTY awards in a career. It is simply not possible to discount the perception of Dikembe while he was active. His achievements put him in elite company, and this company is overwhelmingly composed of players who are in (or soon to be admitted into) the Hall of Fame.

Check the Stats!

As I said, I'll keep these simple, so no aggregate all encompassing statistics. Here are two very simple stats in Dikembe's favor. Years leading league (total) in:

  • Blocks - five times (ranked 1st)
  • Rebounds - four times (ranked 4th)

Dikembe is in fact one of only four players to rank in the top five leading the league in total for a "basic" stat. The other three?

  • Wilt Chamberlain: led the league in total points 7 times (ranked 2nd) and rebounds 11 times (ranked 1st).
  • Michael Jordan: led the league in points 11 times (ranked 1st) and steals 3 times (ranked 3rd)
  • John Stockton: led the league in assists 9 times (ranked 1st) and steals 2 times (ranked 4th)

Dikembe was the best in the league at rebounding and blocking in an unparalleled fashion (it's worth noting that blocks weren't recorded in Wilt's time; no doubt he'd be on that list, too).

The End of the Defense Argument

Defense comes up a lot. It's used as a reason to support the case that advanced stats are "not good enough yet". It's used to explain why players are overrated. Allegedly, defense is why teams win titles. And when it comes to Dikembe, he blew away the competition in rebounds, blocks, and defensive accolades. If this isn't enough for to make it into the Hall of the first ballot, we may as well just give up on defense. If both the statheads and the mainstream agree that Dikembe was a dominant defensive player, and he somehow isn't a clear cut Hall-of-Famer, then as far as I'm concerned, the defense argument is done.

Ending other arguments

I don't often get to say Justin Kutbatko (creator of Basketball-Reference) is wrong. But I do here. He also penned an article on Dikembe Mutombo's Hall of Fame chances. While I agree with the sentiment that the voters won't like Dikembe, I disagree with the notion that it's even a question that Mutombo belongs in the Hall. While Justin does indeed say Dikembe belongs in the Hall, he doesn't think it's a no brainer (things like his finger wag and social work come up). The simple fact is that Mutombo's play alone dictates he should get in. There were a few arguments Justin brought up I'd like to swat down.

Was he the best player on his team? Justin acknowledges Dikembe was, citing the Nuggets and Hawks. Yet, he has to list Dikembe as second fiddle to Allen Iverson on the 76ers team. It's worth noting Justin' own Win Shares lists Dikembe as a better player (per minute in the regular season, Dikembe was a late season trade) than Iverson in 2001. Was the mainstream opinion the team was AI's? Yes, he won the MVP that season (over players like Shaq and Tim Duncan. Literally one of the worst MVP votes ever.) But that's not the point. Dikembe was a key member of a squad that made the Finals, and arguably the best player using the advanced stats. At worst it's a Kobe/Shaq like argument.

Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals? Justin again votes no. This is interesting as first, Win Shares lists Dikembe as the best player in the playoffs for the 76ers the year they made the Finals. I'm never a huge fan of using the Finals as a measuring stick for individual players because it requires a good team for this to happen. Michael Jordan's best years were arguably before the Bulls were winning titles. As Jordan proved, one player can't win it on their own. Dikembe arguable impacted another Finals, as he helped defeat the Sonics, the #1 seed in the NBA, and thus kept them from advancing. A fine line for sure, but I'll take it!

Are more players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? The reason I want to poke this is Justin uses career Win Shares as his "similarity" score. And as I mentioned above, Justin left Win Shares at the door for other questions. That said, the reason this question is interesting to me is as follows: Dikembe is not comparable! As I said, he is the first player to win four defensive player of the year award. He is the only player to lead the league in blocks five seasons. We don't need to compare Dikembe and ask if he's good enough. We can say "No one is like this guy! He's the top of the heap!"

If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title? When I read Justin's "It's unlikely", I stared in disbelief. Again, using Win Shares, Justin's own stat of choice, Dikembe WAS the best player on a team that made the Finals. Let's also not forget that Dikembe's Nuggets took down the Sonics in '94 and also took the Utah Jazz to 7 games. And the Nuggets in 1994 were meh outside of Dikembe. They only won 42 games. When Dikembe departed in 1996, the team fell into ruin. To clarify, Dikembe was the best player on a team that made the Finals. He was the best player on a team that upset the team with the league's best record. To say "unlikely" basically just ignores reality.

As I mentioned, Justin voted up for Dikembe in the end. But the truth is that this isn't a question. This is a rubber stamp, first-ballot player. And if Dikembe doesn't go in first ballot, it's a sign that the Yay Points! grip on basketball voters persists.

Last year's DPOY also finished on the second string of the All-Defensive team - behind both Tyson Chandler (13th for DPOY) and Joakim Noah (4th for DPOy) in his position.

This phenomenon of players with strong defensive reputations also having great WP showings has always been interesting to me. Joakim Noah, Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen - they're all thought of as primarily defensive threats, but they all show up as very good according to the fairly offense-focused WP. Why is that? My assumption has always been that a lot of good defenders are also smart, opportunistic offensive players, so they contribute efficiently without pushing it. And of course the speed, size, and length that help you defend also help you rebound.
Nice post, but is there any doubt that the Yay Points! grip on basketball voters persists?

Oh, and one nit: "(It's safe to say that it's likely that voters are not consistent in their criteria for voting)"

No, it's just that there are different voters for the two awards. DPOY is voted on by sportswriters and All-Defense is voted by the coaches. Or maybe the other way around.
I think it may be interesting to see who are the first ballot hall of famers in the C position. We have, if I am not wrong, Mikan, Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Moses, Olajuwon, Robinson, Walton, Parish, Ewing (Shaq will add to the list soon with probability 1). I think the first 7 names are beyond the reach of Mutombo, since they could rebound and defend as good as him-or better if Wilt and Russel-, but they could also carry the offense. Walton is there for his college years and his peak, that was at the level of the other guys. Parish is probably a player similar to Mutombo, more points but less rebounds and blocks, same ability to play in their 40s... but Parish has the rings. Ewing was not a good defensive centre and rebounder as Mutombo, but was a far better offensive player. I hope Mutombo will enter soon, but I don't think he will add to this list (btw Nate Thurmond was not a first ballot choice... and I think playing in in the years in which the 3 best centers ever were playing has influenced this choice... so the shadow of Hakeem, Robinson and Shaq is also to be taken in account for Mutombo's possibilities)
Good article. Quick Question: Who should have won the 2001 MVP? I don't ask to defend Iverson. I am actully curious.
"Who should have won the 2001 MVP?"
Shaq, with Timmy #2.
As a 76ers fan (also a Celtics fan, so sue me), I always thought that team got to the finals based on defense (just like another Coach Brown team a few years later in Detroit). My favorite players were McKie, Snow, and Ratliff. Once Mutombo was added to the mix the team got really good (their overall defensive numbers for the year weren't great but they really gelled once Mutombo got into the rotation). Of course I like Iverson as well but I mostly liked the team because I like defense. In fact, after that team started declining my "unofficial" rooting interests switched to Detroit/SA until the Celtics rebooted with Garnett and Thibs. Anyway, I think Mutombo should definitely be a first ballot hall of famer. Few players in NBA history have more intimidated players from attempting to drive to the rim than he did. Mutombo allowed a defense similar to what Thibs preaches prior to the rule changes without needing much help on the back-line which led to the defense being better able to stay on shooters and block the passing lanes. I miss the finger wag despite it being pretty bad sportsmanship.
I would have given it to Duncan over Shaq. I also would have given it to Garnett or Mutombo over AI as well (centers are just more important than inefficient SGs - one of the reasons MJ was so great was he took a relatively weak position and made it a very useful one for the Bulls). That was the year that Mutombo won DPOY and McKie won sixth man... you don't think some of that had as much to do with the team's success as AI? Even as a Sixers fan I thought that was a dumb vote (just like the two Nash votes and the Kobe vote the year he took 80 shots a game).
Doesn't Mutombo's list of accomplishments somewhat discount the "yay points" narrative? 8 all-star games with 10 ppg makes me believe that people have always been very conscious of how important defense and rebounding are to basketball.
Without looking at numbers, I feel Duncan should have 1 or maybe even 2 more MVPs in the trophy case. Of course, if Shaq has spent some time on the exercise bike instead at the crispy creme, he should have won, idk, 4? mvps 'stead of just 1.
The Sixers got really good once they got Mutombo??? The year they went to the Finals their record was 41-14 without him, and 15-12 with him. The next year they were 43-39. But, the next year, replacing him with Derrick Coleman(!) at center they improve to 48-34 and into the second round of the playoffs. Mutombo may have played great for the Sixers but he must have been putting something into the Gatorade to make all his teammates play like crap. I guess he was fun to watch play though.
Mutombo was best Hawk ever in his brief stint with them as well.

They took some time to integrate him but he was vital in the playoffs. As for Derrick Coleman, he played 2080 minutes in 2001-2002 (the year they went 43-39). Since he played fewer minutes the next year I don't really think that Coleman had anything whatsoever to do with their improvement.
Eh... I'd tip him in for the finger wag, and the "WHO WANTS TO SEX MUTOMBO" story.

What other play with a slight shot to get in do you guys want in?

I feel like the tide's finally turned and people are expecting Manu to make it now, which is what I wanted.
@DooDoo_Jump: What, what do you mean the tide's turned? Manu has been described as a "future Hall of Famer" for years, now. When, recently, has anyone doubted this?
No No No
It's not really 'Yay Points' for hall of fame induction either. Adrian Dantley, Bernard King, Dominique Wilkins, Alex English, etc were not first ballot hall of famers yet they were all scoring leaders so…
Nice dilemma for proponents of the "advanced stats don't adequately capture defense" argument. Felt it was worth explicating:

Dikembe is one of the greatest defensive player of all time. The Hall of Fame should recognize the players who greatly impacted the game. If Dikembe is not a Hall of Famer, then being one of the greatest defensive players of all time does not greatly impact the game. And if great defense doesn't impact the game significantly, then a statistic which doesn't adequately capture defense captures everything of significant impact. But Dikembe also rates well on advanced statistics. So, either defense matters and Dikembe should be in or defense doesn't matter and Dikembe should be in based on WP/WS.

Sign in to write a comment.