Speedburner’s Countdown of the Top 150 Players in NBA History (#125 – #121) – BasketballWednesday, October 26, 2011 22:21
#125 – #121 of Speedburner’s countdown of the Top 150 players in NBA History.
#125 – #121
- 125) Larry Nance – 6′ 9″ PF from 1981 – 1994…Among the most explosive and athletic big men to ever play in the league, Nance arrived upon the scene with little fanfare as the 20th player picked in an absolutely stacked 1981 NBA Draft. How stacked? 1, 2, 3 were Mark Aguirre, Isiah Thomas, and Buck Williams. Others taken before Nance were Orlando Woolridge, Tom Chambers, Rolando Blackman, Kelly Tripuka, Herb Williams, and Darnell Valentine. Danny Ainge was a nice 2nd round selection in that draft. But back to Larry, he also left high school with very little fanfare, graduating just under 6′ 6″. He grew up a short drive from Clemson, and shortly before he was about to enroll at a local junior college, they offered him a scholarship. The positive aspect of his late growth spurt, combined with lots of soccer up until junior high, was that he developed a good shot and had very smooth, coordinated footwork for a tall guy. After four years at Clemson, Nance grew 3.5 inches taller and put up 15.9 pts and 7.6 rebs while hitting 57.5% from the floor his senior year. Drafted by Phoenix in 1981, he only played 15 minutes a night his rookie year, before then embarking upon an 11 year stretch of incredibly consistent productivity, highlighted by ESPN ‘Play of the Day’-worthy dunks and blocked shots. For the next 11 seasons, Nance never averaged less than 8.0 rebs/gm or more than 9.1. For all but two of those seasons, he averaged between 2.0 and 3.0 blks/gm, finishing his career at #19 on the all-time list with just over 2,000. And he never scored less than 16.3 pts/gm during that stretch, reaching as high as 22.5 in 1987 and 4 more times averaging over 19. He also finished in the top 10 in FG% seven times during this stretch, while finishing his career at 54.6%, good for 16th on the all-time list. But Nance was a lot more than numbers, as mentioned earlier – he was a highlight machine! (note the posterization of Kareem at the 1:34 mark). The winner of the 1st NBA Slam Dunk competition in 1984, Nance could dunk with flair and power, as well as reject shots with the best of them. With the ability to shoot from 16, 17 feet out, combined with a quick first step, he was a difficult matchup for bigs to guard. He played on two conference finals playoff squads – the 1984 Suns, alongside Maurice Lucas and Walter Davis, and the 1992 Cavs, a nice squad that included Mark Price at PG, Brad Dougherty at C, and Hot Rod Williams, who would sometimes play at PF moving Nance to SF when the Cavs went big. Alas, Jordan and company took care of them 4-2 in the Eastern Finals, as they had in the first round in 1988, and in the legendary 1989 series, when Jordan’s shot over Ehlo crushed the Cavs on their home court by one point in the deciding game 5. In those two playoffs combined, Nance averaged 17.4, 9.0, and 2.35 blks while shooting 54%. If the Cavs hadn’t traded Ron Harper for super-stiff Danny Ferry in 1989, one has to wonder if the Cavs could have maybe won the East once or twice during that period. And with Nance, Hot Rod, and Dougherty, why did they want another big guy anyway?!?!!? Tragically dumb trade. Anyway, having grown up the son of an auto mechanic and later visiting a drag race during his playing days, Nance owned a car during his playing days and currently races them for the IHRA in the Pro Stock Series. Oh, and look out for Larry Jr., a 6′ 7″ freshman at Wyoming.
- 124) Pau Gasol – 7′ 0″ PF/C from 2001 – today…I first saw Pau at a Clippers pre-season game and it was immediately apparent to me and the fans nearby that he was a player. Very tall but extremely agile and skilled for his size, now I could see why he was so coveted during the 2001 NBA Draft, going 3rd overall, just behind Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler, and right in front of Eddy Curry & J-Rich. (Brief aside, my big guy for that draft? Eddie Griffin – loved him. He went 7th. He played 1 yr at Seton Hall and dominated, posting 17.8/10.8 with over 4 blks/gm. He was 6’10″ and athletic. But sadly, he was a bit immature & irresponsible, and ended up being released by the T-Wolves at 24 yrs old w/ just a month left to go in the season, hardly playing anyway. Later that summer in Aug ’07, he hit a moving train driving while completely drunk – .26 BAC.) Anyway, back to the 2nd best Euro to ever play here, Gasol had an immediate impact in the league, scoring what is still his career low in points, 17.3 pts with 8.9 rebs and 2.1 blks…while shooting 51.8%! No Euro had ever come over and put up numbers like this his rookie season, certainly not Dirk (8.2/3.4) or Drazen (7.6/1.4/1.5), or any others. And it wasn’t a fluke because he’s been putting up similar or better numbers now for 10 years straight. Here’s the resume he’s built: ROY in ’02, 4 All-Star games, top 10 in rebs twice, FG% & Blks 3 times, with two rings and 1 all-NBA 2nd Team appearance, two 3rds. His career FG% of 52.2 lies at #43 all-time. Gasol just knows how to score in the post, putting his size and good footwork to use against his opponents, while doing a solid job on the boards, especially since he came to the Lakers (3 of his 4 best reb seasons are with the Lakers, twice over 10/gm). He’s not the most exciting player, you never ask your buddy ‘did you see that Gasol highlight last night?’, but the next morning you open the paper and check his line, and you see 20/9/2 blks, 4 or 5 free throws, and 3 dimes…another rock solid night from the Spanish big man. In the playoffs, his rebounding dipped in his 3 trips with Memphis, all 1st round defeats. But with Lakers, he stepped it up, garnering well over 10/gm when they won their two titles. Strangely, Gasol turned from rock to sandstone during last spring’s playoffs, shooting 42% while scoring only 13.1 with just 7.8 boards. It was as if he’d just aged 5 yrs from the regular season to the playoffs. Is this the new Gasol? He struggled vs. the Hornets in round 1 against Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry!! What was happening? He looks to be one of the more volatile guys on this list, likely to move up or down 20+ spots over the next few years, it’ll be interesting to see which way he goes…I would guess south.
- 123) Cliff Hagan – 6′ 4″ PF from 1956 – 1969…Think of a white, poor man’s Charles Barkley in the 50′s – an undersized PF, quick, strong, tougher and more of a fighter than Chuck, but like Barkley, also built like a football player ( a muscular 210lbs, the build of 50′s/60′s TE’s & LB’s). Hagan was a two-time All-American on some great Kentucky teams in the early 50′s, but a point shaving scandal robbed him of tournament appearances after his sophomore year, despite his team finishing the regular season in 1954, his senior year, at 25-0. He was drafted by the Celtics but served two years in the Air Force first. Boston eventually traded his draft rights along with Ed Macauley for Bill Russell, and Hagan became a St. Louis Hawk instead. While Boston certainly came out ahead in that deal, Hagan and Bob Pettit did lead the Hawks to an NBA title over the Celts in 1958…with Hagan posting far more efficient and impressive numbers than Pettit during the playoffs that year – in 1 less minute a game, he scored more (27.7 to 24.2), at a far better FG% (50.2 to 39.1), and had much better assist numbers (3.4 to 1.8)…at five inches taller, Pettit did outrebound Hagan 16.5 to 10.5. As a matter of fact, Hagan and Pettit led the Hawks to 3 other NBA Finals appearances in Hagan’s first 5 years in the league, losing each time to Boston, while twice going to a 7th game. Hagan’s overall playoff averages his first five years in the league were a stout 23.6/10.5/3.6 asst in 53 games. One of the better all-around players in his time and known for his quick, accurate hook shot, Hagan was often amongst the league leaders in scoring (4 times top 10), rebounding (3 times over 10/gm), FG% (3 times top 5), and assists (4 times top 10). He was an all-star 5 times in the NBA and once in the ABA, while twice being named all-NBA 2nd team. Hagan retired from the NBA after the 1966 season, sat out of pro ball for a year, and then joined the ABA as a player/coach with the Dallas Chapparals in 1967, the ABA’s first season. A tough guy and intense competitor, he was legendary for his loud locker room rants and toughness on the court, where he was eager and willing to take on anyone in a league that practically promoted fighting. He also posted impressive averages of 18.2 pts, 6 reb, and 4.9 asst his first year at age 36. Hagan became a Hall-of-Famer in 1978, the first Kentucky Wildcat to enter the Hall, when he was three years into his 13 year stint as Kentucky’s Athletic Director. In 1993 the school renamed its baseball field Cliff Hagan Stadium, and it is affectionately known today by students and fans as ‘The Cliff’.
- 122) Amare Stoudamire – 6′ 10″ PF/C from 2002 – current…When Amare Stoudamire arrived in the league fresh out of high school in 2002, a lot of people thought he was a raw project who would take a good deal of time to develop. After 15 games through the end of November, those people were largely right as Stoudamire was averaging under 9 pts, under 8 rebs, and shooting just 36% in 26 minutes a night. But then came December, and Amare showed that his learning curve was steep and his ceiling quite high. He recorded 8 double/doubles in the month, while averaging 15.6 pts, 9.8 rebs, and shooting 53.8%, including an enormous last Dec game on the 30th where he totalled 38 pts, 14 rebs, and 2 blks (prep to pros points record broken by Lebron the next yr). The man-child had suddenly arrived, and in a big way. The 9th pick of the 2002 NBA Draft, Stoudamire was known to be a phenomenally explosive athlete for his size, but thought to be way too raw to contribute immediately. He didn’t play organized ball until the age of 14, as his mom was in and out of prison and his father died when he was 12. He went to six different high schools, finally graduating from Cypress Creek High near Orlando after averaging 29 pts, 15 rebs, and 6 blks his senior year. Phoenix not only drafted the young ‘project’, but after winning just 36 games the season prior, decided to let him play through his growing pains, even after his very rough start. In 2004 they acquired Steve Nash and, not coincidentally, Amare immediately had his best season as a pro, playing center on the famous run-n-gun Suns alongside The Matrix (Shawn Marion), Nash, Joe Johnson, and Quentin Richardson (back when he was productive). Amare finished the year 5th in scoring (26.0), # 2 in FG% at 55.9, and 1st in free throw attempts (3rd in makes) before leading the Suns to the Western Conference finals while averaging 29.9 pts and 10.7 rebs in 15 playoff games. Microfracture surgery stole his 2005-06 season, but he came back strong, if maybe just a tad less explosive, to average 20.4 and 9.6 the next season while finishing 5th in FG% at 57.5. A fearless, explosive, intimidating inside player, who also shows the smooth shooting ease of a SF or SG, this highlight video compilation shows him in all his power and glory, pre-surgery (compiled and uploaded in Feb. ’06). Combined with Nash in the mid 2000′s, they were a deadly Batman & Robin combo, especially on the pick-n-roll, and a treat to watch. After just eight full seasons in the league, Amare has compiled an impressive resume, including 7 seasons of 20+ pts, 6 All-Star games, and 5 all-NBA teams (one 1st team, four 2nd teams). Never known for his stout defense, it will be interesting to see if the Knicks can acquire a legitimate, defensively strong center and slide Amare to PF. Then add a pass-first PG (Chauncey is 35 and fading) to keep Melo & Amare happy and productive, and viola – an Eastern contender can be born!
P.S. I must mention what is sadly, possibly, the most famous Amare Moment, when his leaving of the bench (because of an incredibly dirty play by San Antonio’s old, fading Robert Horry) during game 4 vs. the Spurs in the 2007 Playoffs caused his suspension the next game, an absolute crime of ‘letter of the law’ winning out over ‘spirit of the law’ AND COMMON SENSE….any ref or fan knew he wasn’t getting up with malicious intent, but mere curiosity to see what was happening, and never once acted in an aggressive manner. Completely tilted the scales artificially in an epic playoff series…thanks Stern & Co.
- 121) ‘Sweet’ Lou Hudson – 6′ 5″ G/F from 1966 – 1979…It was Bill Russell and Sam Jones who gave Hudson his nickname, and not only were they all-time players, but they gave the perfect moniker to one of the game’s all-time guard/forwards. Hudson had one of the sweetest jump shots ever, and a pleasant disposition to match. He shattered his shooting hand in the 4th game of his senior year at Minnesota , coming off a 23 & 10 board junior season, missed two weeks, then came back and shot left-handed, mostly from the post as a 6′ 5″ guy. He ended up averaging 19.8 while shooting 47.2%…and grabbing 8 rebs a game. (Kind of the opposite of what Reggie Miller would have done – miss the season and prep for the draft). Not only did he continue to score impressively and efficiently, but he mixed it up as well in posting significant boards with a broken right hand! He was the 4th pick of the 1966 Draft (shortly after the Cowboys had drafted and signed him in the NFL), and averaged 18.4 with 5.4 rebs as a rookie, but then missed almost half the season in Year 2 after being drafted into the army. His third season began a streak of 7 straight 20+ point seasons, and also saw him grab a career high 6.6 boards. Soon he tied the franchise scoring mark held by Bob Pettit when he scored 57 in a one point win over the Bulls in 1969. He is still tied for the record, but Dominique has joined them. It wasn’t just his pretty jump shot that made Sweet Lou a 6-time All-Star though, as Hudson was a decent rebounder and passer who took pride in his top notch defense as well. He worked tirelessly on offense to get open, much the way Rip Hamilton does or Reggie Miller used to do. He played alongside Pete Maravich in Pistol’s first few years, and they became the 2nd teammates to each score over 2,000 pts in a season in 1973, West and Baylor being the first. And when the postseason came, Hudson stepped up his game sharply, posting averages of 23.6, 5.9, and 2.8 asst during his prime – 52 games spanning his rookie year through 1973. And in that 73 season, he averaged 29.7 and 7.8 boards in Atlanta ‘s 4-2 loss to the Celtics in round 1. He only made the playoffs two times after that, his last two seasons in the league with the Lakers (quick aside, look how impressive the 1978 Laker roster was, and yet lost 1st round to the Sonics: Kareem, Norm Nixon, Adrian Dantley, Jamal Wilks, Hudson, and Charlie Scott. And before they traded him to Indiana mid-season, they had a rookie named James Edwards who would later win 2 rings playing center for the Pistons before finally retiring at age 40 in 1996. That is a boatload of talented players!). Anyway, back to Lou, he ended up averaging over 24 pts/gm five times, peaking at 27.1 in that ’73 season, averaged at least 5 rebs/gm six times, and in the first year they kept track of steals, he nabbed 2.5/gm. And yet, no Hall of Fame for him…but we shouldn’t be shocked, even though he and Mitch Richmond are the only Hall eligible players to sink over 7,000 field goals and average over 20 pts for their careers and not make it in. This is the same Hall of Fame that left Artis Gilmore twisting in the wind for his first 18 years of eligibility before finally admitting him this summer. So the owner of one of the game’s all-time jumpers, who also scored the first points in the history of the Atlanta Hawks, sits and waits…alongside our #133 guard-forward who played in largely the same era, Chet Walker.
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