Keltner List: Detlef Schrempf
This past week, a reader asked if we could run one of our world-famous Keltner Lists on Detlef Schrempf, a player he felt had really been underrated by the general public. And I happen to agree, I think Detlef has always been slept on by the media. But does that mean he belongs in the Hall of Fame, or just the lesser-known Hall of Really Underappreciated? Let’s find out…
Height: 6-9 Weight: 214 lbs.
Born: January 21, 1963 in Leverkusen, Germany
High School: Centralia in Centralia, Washington
College: University of Washington
Draft: Selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1st round (8th pick, 8th overall) of the 1985 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? No. In fact, during his playing days you would probably get laughed out of the room for making that suggestion.
2. Was he the best player on his team? No. Whether it was Rolando Blackman, Reggie Miller, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, or several others, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find a season where Schrempf was the best player on his own team. Although it does bear mentioning that he led the ’95 Sonics in Win Shares.
3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position? No. While he consistently one of the best small forwards in the game during the late 80s and 90s, there was always somebody like Dominique Wilkins, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, or Grant Hill ahead of him.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals? Schrempf’s teams usually made the playoffs, but he only made the Finals once, with Seattle in 1996. He also played a role on the 1988 Mavs team that pushed the Lakers to the brink in the Western Conference Finals (at least until he broke his ankle in Game 5), as well as the infamous 2000 Blazers, but in the final analysis, Schrempf did not have a big impact on a number of deep playoff runs. With a career 6.0 WS/3K in the playoffs, it’s not like he played poorly in the postseason, but his teams never really seemed capable of advancing very far once they were there.
5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime? Yes, this was a guy who was still playing 35+ minutes a night for a .500 ballclub at age 36.
6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame? Look, every rational person on Earth wants to see the A-Train in Springfield. And I, for one, want to be able to give a different answer to this question once in a while. So what do we have to do to make it happen?
7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame? Schrempf’s key selling point is his efficiency, with a career offensive rating that ranks 22nd all-time. If you include his .586 career TS% as a requirement, the list of similar career players looks pretty good. Lower the shooting standard to a .540 TS%, and you keep the greats but also start to get some good but not HoF-caliber players like Marques Johnson. And the flip side is this: only 5 players have made the Hall with worse per-game numbers than Schrempf, the last of which was Bill Bradley, who retired in 1977. So if we’re talking efficiency, yeah, his best comps are HoFers. But if we’re looking at raw production, the answer is probably no.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards? Reinforcing the point made under question #7, Schrempf’s career Hall of Fame probability is a mere 0.5%, meaning his numbers do not really meet the typical standards of the Hall of Fame.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics? Yes and no. Schrempf was not known as a defensive standout, he never garned an All-Defense appearance, and his career translated defensive rating is 108.6, which is slightly worse than the 2009 average of 108.3. However, his career Statistical +/- of 2.43 is better than you’d expect from his raw stats, so there’s a good chance he was doing some positive things on the court that weren’t picked up by the raw box score numbers.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame? Scottie Pippen will be eligible next year, so that’s going to be a big “no”. Besides, there’s not a lot of evidence that Schrempf was better than, say, Bernard King or Chris Mullin anyway.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close? No. Schrempf’s best ranking in Win Shares was 5th in 1995, when he was 3rd-Team All-NBA, but he didn’t garner any MVP votes that season. In fact, the only time he got any MVP consideration was 1992, and that was the year he started only 4 games & was the league’s top Sixth Man, so it’s hard to imagine a bench player as a viable MVP candidate.
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? Schrempf played in just 3 ASGs, which is certainly not something to boast about on your Hall of Fame résumé. He was of borderline All-Star quality throughout the 1990s, but you can say that about a lot of guys — it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily Hall-worthy.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title? This is merely a thought experiment, seeing as how Schrempf was never actually the best player on any of his teams (see #2). But my best guess is that a team featuring Schrempf as its top dog would not be anywhere close to a “likely” championship squad.
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? The German-born Schrempf is notable as one of the very first international players in NBA history (his career began even before guys like Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Rik Smits, & Sarunas Marciulionis hit the scene). Plus, an indie rock group called “Band of Horses” named a song after him in 2007… which, come to think of it, is actually more bizarre than anything else, but still kinda cool.
The Verdict: Schrempf is a pretty borderline candidate, but I’m going to have to take a pass. Yes, he’s significant as an international pioneer, I’ll grant him that. And yes, he was highly efficient as a 2nd or 3rd banana — but if you think about it, there was a reason he never carried a team as its alpha dog. And if you get past the (admittedly) great percentages, there’s not a whole lot of additional evidence to support his case for the Hall. Was he a very good basketball player? Absolutely. Better than most who ever played the game, in fact. But at the same time there is no shortage of very good players who don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, a place (theoretically) reserved only for the most elite players in basketball history. And Schrempf was simply never an elite player, no matter how you look at it. My verdict is “no”.