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Keltner List: Alonzo Mourning

Posted by Justin Kubatko on January 26, 2009

Back in December we went through the Keltner List for Bernard King. (Recall that the Keltner List is a series of questions designed to assess a player's Hall of Fame worthiness.) With the recent retirement of Alonzo Mourning, we thought we would dust off the Keltner List once again to see if Zo should be making plans to travel to Massachusetts in five years.

Position: Center
Height: 6-10  Weight: 240 lbs.
Born: February 8, 1970 in Chesapeake, Virginia
High School: Indian River in Chesapeake, Virginia
College: Georgetown University

Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1st round (2nd pick, 2nd overall) of the 1992 NBA draft.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?

The best player? No. The best defensive player? Absolutely. But no one ever suggested that Mourning was the best overall player in the NBA.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Yes. Mourning was Charlotte's best player in his three years with the Hornets, and he was the best player on the Heat before Tim Hardaway's arrival (1996) and between the end of Hardaway's peak and the beginning of his kidney troubles (1999 and 2000).

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?

No. Mourning had the misfortune of playing his best years in an era dominated by a number of superior centers including David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?

Not really. The Heat made the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997, but Mourning was largely neutralized by Chicago's big men as the Heat fell in five games to the Bulls. Zo would return to the ECF in 2005, but he played a limited role in Miami's 7-game loss to Detroit. The following year, Mourning finally won a championship with the Heat, but he was 8th on the team in minutes played during the Finals. He provided leadership, toughness, and a defensive spark to those 2005 and 2006 Miami teams, but many players have had a far bigger impact on the Conference Finals and NBA Finals than Mourning did over his career.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes. He was actually good enough that he could play regularly (albeit as a reserve) after recieving a kidney transplant and battling back from a rare kidney disease.

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

Mourning isn't eligible until 2013, but even then he won't be a better candidate than the A-Train, Artis Gilmore (a similar -- but superior -- player who shamefully hasn't been inducted and didn't even recieve a single vote on three straight ballots, meaning he won't be eligible again until 2012).

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

For his career, Mourning averaged 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. Excluding active players, eight other NBA players have averaged at least 15 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game for their career: five of them are in the Hall of Fame (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Nate Thurmond), one will be (David Robinson), and two are not (Artis Gilmore and Larry Nance). That speaks well of Mourning, although it should be noted that he played by far the fewest minutes in this group.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

According to BBR's HoF probability metric, Zo has an 88.5% chance of eventually making it to Springfield, which is actually a better mark than a number of Hall of Famers.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Possibly better. Mourning was regarded as an outstanding defensive player, and as we all know defensive statistics are notoriously spotty. However, Mourning was a very good defensive rebounder and a great shot blocker, and we have a record of those accomplishments.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

No, that would be Artis Gilmore.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Mourning received MVP votes in four different seasons. He did not win an MVP award, but he did finish second in 1999 and third in 2000.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Mourning was selected to play in seven All-Star games, appearing in four of them. Twenty different players have been selected to play in seven All-Star games: twelve of them have been elected to the Hall of Fame, three are eligible but have not been elected (Jack Sikma, Chet Walker, Jo Jo White), and five are not yet eligible (Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, Mourning, Dirk Nowitzki, and Scottie Pippen).

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?

Likely? No. Possible? Yes. At his best Mourning was a defensive force who averaged 20 points per game, the type of player who could certainly be the foundation for a championship team. Mourning was on one championship team, the 2006 Miami Heat, although he was probably only the fourth- or fifth-best player on that team.

14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?

Mourning was a great college player (three-time AP All-America, although just one 1st team selection) and he was a starter on the USA's gold medal-winning 2000 Olympic team. It's also worth noting that Mourning and Sean Elliott are the only NBA players to make a comeback after receiving a kidney transplant.

The Verdict:

Punch his ticket to Springfield. Although his career totals are a bit deflated due to frequent injuries and illnesses, at his peak Mourning was a very good offensive player and a great defensive player, a combination that is both rare and exceedingly valuable.

6 Responses to “Keltner List: Alonzo Mourning”

  1. Azam Says:

    As a Heatfan, I idolized Zo. Great analysis. I'm biased but he should definitely get in. 20, 10 & 3 guy when healthy and still a major contributor after a life threatening disease not to mention his various college accolades

  2. jacob Says:

    I don't think he great for a long enough period of time. He had some good years and a few great, just not enough. I always felt he was in the second rung of centers with Mutombo behind the first rung guys of Robinson, Shaq, Hakeem,and Ewing.

  3. Doug Says:

    Let us never ever forget how physical and dominating Zo was and how he really did help The Miami Heat win their first Championship.
    Zo’s line for the game 6 clincher:

    14 min, 8pts (3-4), 6 rebs, 5 blocks

    5 Blocks in 14 mins first championship. Truly amazing performance =

  4. steve norris Says:

    zo was a true warrior. being from virgina and watching his whole carrer. i would say he is in the hall of very good. came up short alot in big playoff games and to b a HOF big man u cant do that. LOVE THE STATS GUYS YALL THE BEST

  5. C1 Worldtimer Says:

    Great post, thanks for the info

  6. Andres Says:

    I just read Tim Hardaway's analysis and I have to say this one for Zo was good, but lacking.

    At least try to make an argument that Zo was the best at his position. In 1999, he was runner up to Karl Malone in the MVP despite that being one of the more fraudulant MVP votes of recent memory. He WAS the best player at his position (Shaq was sleep-walking, the rest were showing signs of aging), and it could be argued that the best player in the league was between him and Tim Duncan.

    I won't argue that he was the best at his position for a long stretch of time. Right when Zo was reaching his prime, two things happened: his kidney ailment and Shaq put it together for a few years. I won't play the 'what if' game, but he should not be compared with the great centers of the 90's since they were further along in their development when they played together (except for Shaq, that's fair game).

    Like was mentioned, Zo was able to play regularly, though only as a reserve, coming off his kidney disease. I do not think it gives enough credit to his level of production. If he could play, say, 30 minutes a game, he would have been among the top 5 centers in the league (I'd argue top 3), partially due to such a poor talent pool. During his healthy years, he was never top 5 due to too much talent.

    Disclosure: I am a Heat fan, and a big Zo fan... but I'm such a big fan of Zo because he was such a really good center (and great defensive center). It took him some years for him to get it together, and when he did, he was amazing. It's a shame I couldn't get to see him play more, since he played a defensive game that would put Dwight Howard to shame.