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.
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.