Current NBA Players Who Could Make the Hall of Fame
We've made no qualms about our distrust/distaste for the process with which the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame elects its members, based on the simple fact that they let too many people in. For any Hall of Fame to keep a certain level of cache, it needs to be selective. You can't make that argument for the Naismith Hall of Fame.
In today's NBA, it seems like the term "future Hall of Famer" gets thrown around quite often, and for good reason. They let almost anybody with a decent career in, leading to younger players — like high-scoring Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young — up for consideration, even though they've barely begun their careers.
Taking into account our own wariness of the process and our understanding of what the Hall of Fame's criteria is, here's a look at current NBA players who could one day end up in the Hall of Fame, breaking them up into three categories — Too Soon to Tell, Too Close to Call and Absolute Locks.
Too Soon to Tell: Ja Morant
Ja Morant is the very definition of our "Too Soon to Tell" players — only three seasons into his career, he's only made one All-NBA Team and one All-Star team.
We might be jumping the gun a bit here, but there's just something about how Morant plays that really speaks to us. He seems special. If he can avoid injuries, he could be a Hall of Famer, which could be difficult because he plays with such reckless abandon … but my goodness what an exciting player.
Too Soon to Tell: Devin Booker
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker got on the radars of casual NBA fans in 2020-2021 when he and point guard Chris Paul led the franchise to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 — but diehard NBA Fans knew Booker was balling way before that. Remember that Booker was only 20 years old when he became the youngest player to score over 60 points in a game, torching the Boston Celtics for 70 points on March 24, 2017.
Take into account that Booker didn't even turn 19 years old until almost five months after he was drafted by the Suns in 2015, and you will see a bigger picture start to evolve — he made his third consecutive NBA All-Star spot in 2022, along with being named to the All-NBA Team for the first time. We'd bet good money Booker ends up in the Hall of Fame one day.
Too Soon to Tell: Karl-Anthony Towns
It's impossible to ignore the talent Karl-Anthony Towns possesses — through seven NBA seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he has career averages of 23.2 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Those are Hall of Fame numbers if he keeps it up.
On the flip side, Towns has proven to be one of the least likable NBA stars in recent memory. In an era when fans are embracing big men like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, Towns has been kept at arm's length.
One big reason for that? Through seven NBA seasons, Towns has led his team to the postseason just twice and has yet to advance past the first round.
Too Soon to Tell: Jayson Tatum
The rush to anoint Boston Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum as one of the NBA's best players has been one of the more tiresome parts of NBA media culture over the last few years, but even for the naysayers (like us), it's impossible to deny how great of a player he is after leading Boston to the NBA Finals in 2022.
For how good Tatum already is, it's scary to think of how good he will be in the future. He's only 24 years old, already a two-time All-NBA Team selection and three-time NBA All-Star.
Too Soon to Tell: Trae Young
You don't have to watch Trae Young play for very long to realize he's a scoring wizard, the likes of which don't come around very often.
After leading the Atlanta Hawks on a surprise run to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, Young went in the tank during the 2021-2022 season, losing in the first round of the playoffs. That said, Young made his first All-NBA Team in 2022 and is averaging 25.3 points and 9.1 assists through his first three seasons. Those, my friends, are Hall of Fame numbers.
Too Close to Call: Paul George
Before Paul George became a meme associated with playoff failures and excuses after losing big games, he was carving out a reputation as one of the NBA's great small forwards and one of the great defensive players of his generation.
George's career is in a weird place right now. He's been with the Los Angeles Clippers since 2019, paired with Kawhi Leonard in the hopes of leading the franchise to its first NBA championship. Through three seasons, the six-time All-NBA pick and Leonard, a two-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, have yet to even make the NBA Finals.
Too Close to Call: Anthony Davis
We get the feeling Anthony Davis will be a Hall of Famer one day — he won a national championship in one season at the University of Kentucky and added an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.
But there's something about Davis' career that seems off in our eyes. After winning the NBA title and signing a five-year, $190 million contract extension, Davis and the Lakers lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs in 2021 and missed the playoffs entirely in 2022, which largely fell on Davis' shoulders. He missed 46 games due to injury in 2020-2021 and 42 games due to injury in 2021-2022 and has appeared out of shape in both seasons.
Maybe he's already done enough to get in the Hall of Fame … smarter minds than ours will have to make that call.
Too Close to Call: Draymond Green
We'd like to think Draymond Green is a lock for the Hall of Fame, with three NBA championships and a reputation as one of the grittiest players in the history of the league — the thing we appreciate most about Green is you could drop him into any NBA era, and he would thrive.
New rules on how fouls are called in 2021-2022 have brought Green's style of play back into the spotlight — he made his fourth NBA All-Star Team and first since 2018. He was already a seven-time NBA All-Defensive Team pick and the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Too Close to Call: Kyrie Irving
No one can dispute that Kyrie Irving has talent on a level few have seen in NBA history. He's an offensive wizard who can handle the ball and score on a Hall of Fame level, and his 3-pointer to win Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals for the Cleveland Cavaliers is one of the greatest clutch shots in NBA history.
What’s also not up for debate anymore is how Irving, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, has gone out of his way to alienate coaches, teammates and managements at every stop of his career and failed to fulfill his potential to such a level that we question whether or not he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Which, of course, means he'll probably get in.
Too Close to Call: Klay Thompson
Most people will tell you Klay Thompson is a lock to be in the Hall of Fame — we would have agreed with that before he missed all of two seasons and part of another with injuries following the Golden State Warriors' loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Outside of the three NBA championships he's won, Thompson's career line shows him to be one of the better players of his era as a five-time All-Star, but he's only made two All-NBA Teams (and was a third-team pick each time) as well as just one NBA All-Defensive Team.
Too Close to Call: Jimmy Butler
We like to think Jimmy Butler is the type of player who the Hall of Fame will embrace one day, but we can't be sure about that. He's always been kind of an outsider in NBA circles — an elite player who never gets mentioned among the very best of the best but seems to always find himself in the mix when it comes to the end of the year.
Butler was one shot away from leading the Miami Heat back to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years in 2022, and we can't overlook the fact he was missing key players Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry, who were felled by injuries and largely ineffective down the stretch.
Butler has been an NBA All-Star six times, NBA All-Defensive Team selection five times and an All-NBA Team pick four times — if he can avoid what seems like a proclivity for imploding the teams he's on, he still has a shot at the Hall of Fame.
Too Close to Call: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is probably one or two seasons away from being an absolute lock — ironic considering he missed the first two seasons of his career with injuries after the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him No. 2 overall in 2014, and he only played 31 games in his first season in 2016-2017.
While Embiid has career averages of 26.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, he's also found injuries to be the defining aspect of his career — in six NBA seasons he's missed 162 games because of injuries, including two seasons where he missed over 30 games.
Too Close to Call: Rudy Gobert
We'll admit it — we still feel weird about Rudy Gobert. There's no way around it.
But we also see the facts, and it's hard to imagine a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and six-time All-NBA Defensive Team selection not making it to the Hall of Fame.
Of all the players on our Too Close to Call list, the 7-foot-1 Gobert is probably the closest thing to a lock at this moment. We think.
Absolute Lock: Damian Lillard
Because he's already been named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team and because he's widely considered the greatest player in Portland TrailBlazers history, we have to call Damian Lillard a lock to make the Hall of Fame.
In a rational world — one that doesn't exist for the Basketball Hall of Fame — Lillard isn't a lock. His six All-NBA Team selections are as impressive as his playoff failings have been the opposite. In 10 seasons in the NBA, he's failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs five times and missed the postseason altogether two times.
Absolute Lock: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard probably solidified his lock status as a Hall of Famer in 2019 when he won a second NBA championship and second NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award — the first came with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 and the second came with the Toronto Raptors.
Leonard's career doesn't boil down to just championships — he's also a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-NBA Team selection and, alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James, is just one of three players in NBA history to earn NBA Finals MVP honors for two different teams.
Absolute Lock: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo probably sealed his ticket to the Hall of Fame with his performance in the 2021 NBA Finals.
He was already a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player before bringing the Milwaukee Bucks their first championship in 50 years and did so in dramatic fashion, with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in the championship-clinching Game 6 win.
Absolute Lock: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic probably solidified his status as a Hall of Fame lock with his second consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player trophy in 2022 — through seven seasons, the Denver Nuggets center is already in the NBA top 10 for career triple-doubles.
Jokic's lack of postseason success needs to be looked at with a discerning eye, as the teams he's played on have been decimated with injuries. The man can't do it all himself, you know?
Absolute Lock: Dwight Howard
Do we like putting Dwight Howard on this list? No. Do we have to put him on this list? Yes.
You simply cannot overlook the fact that Howard is one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history — a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who is in the Top 15 in NBA history for both rebounds and blocks. If you could keep a player off for being a miserable teammate, Howard doesn't make it, even though he's firebombed the chemistry on every team he's ever played on, and he's on his seventh team in the last decade.
Absolute Lock: Luka Doncic
This is probably our biggest reach out of the absolute locks, as Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic has only played four seasons in the NBA and has yet to even reach a conference finals.
That said, there's never been a better case for being a surefire Hall of Famer this early in a career than Doncic, who already has three All-NBA Team selections and was named EuroLeague Most Valuable Player in 2018, at just 19 years old.
Absolute Lock: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry isn't just the greatest shooter in NBA history — he's also already a three-time NBA champion and was competing for a fourth at the end of the 2021-2022 season. Not to mention he's one of the most popular players in league history as well, turning into a global superstar.
Curry and the Golden State Warriors played in the NBA Finals five consecutive seasons from 2015 to 2019 — a stretch in which Curry won two NBA Most Valuable Player awards.
Absolute Lock: James Harden
Few players in NBA history could fill it up like James Harden has been able to since joining the league as a first-round draft pick out of Arizona State in 2009.
Harden's career took off after he was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets in 2012, where he spent a decade and won three NBA scoring titles, made seven All-NBA Team appearances and was named NBA Most Valuable Player in 2018.
Like so many modern players on this list who seem to be locks for the Hall of Fame, Harden's career is missing one key aspect — a championship.
Absolute Lock: Carmelo Anthony
Please remember that the Basketball Hall of Fame looks at a player's entire career, so Carmelo Anthony isn't just going to get credit for his two decades in the NBA, which include six All-NBA Team selections and 10 All-Star nods.
He'll also get credit for leading Syracuse to the lone NCAA championship in school history, which he did as a freshman in 2003. He's also No. 9 on the NBA's career scoring list and will almost certainly leapfrog Shaquille O'Neal to the No. 8 spot if he can play one more season in 2022-2023, which would be his 20th NBA season.
Absolute Lock: Chris Paul
Chris Paul was probably a Hall of Fame lock five years ago, but has solidified his status over the last three seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns. Paul led a team to the NBA Finals for the first time in his career in 2021 and has been an 11-time All-NBA Team selection, along with leading the league in assists five times and steals a record six times.
Paul is also top five in NBA career history for assists (No. 3) and steals (No. 4) with another two to three seasons probably still in the tank.
Absolute Lock: Russell Westbrook
Whatever you think of the absolute dumpster fire that Russell Westbrook's career has been the last two seasons, it's worth pointing out that he was not only one of the most exciting players of his era but the first person to average a triple-double in the NBA since Oscar Robertson in 1962 — and then somehow did it three more times.
Westbrook is a stats monster the Hall of Fame can't avoid — despite never having won an NBA title. He was named NBA Most Valuable Player in 2017, has been a nine-time All-NBA pick, two-time NBA All-Star Game MVP and led the league in scoring twice and in assists, three times.
Absolute Lock: Kevin Durant
The debate with Kevin Durant isn't really whether he'll be in the Hall of Fame but where he ranks among the greatest players of all time — is he top five? Top 10?
If the only two NBA championships of his career came with the Golden State Warriors alongside Stephen Curry, another absolute lock to be in the Hall of Fame, will history be more kind than it's been in recent years? Despite Durant winning NBA Finals MVP in back-to-back years, those are still looked at as Curry's teams.
History can be cruel, can't it?
Absolute Lock: LeBron James
LeBron James will almost certainly finish his career as the leading scorer in NBA history and is a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, four-time NBA Finals MVP and four-time NBA champion — a lock of all locks for the Hall of Fame.
The more interesting debate with LeBron — not unlike with NFL legend Tom Brady — is if you split his career into two parts, would each stretch be in the Hall of Fame on its own?
LeBron is entering his 20th NBA season in 2022-2023, and because you can split his accomplishments down the middle — two titles in the first 10 years and two titles in the last 10 years — the answer is probably "yes."