Chris Webber's LegacyChris Webber's 15 year NBA career ended on Wednesday when he officially announced his retirement. Webber, who finished with career regular season averages of 20.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 4.2 apg, participated in just nine games this season with the Golden State Warriors; his balky left knee simply would not allow him to continue playing. He averaged at least 20 ppg and 10 rpg in six different seasons and he would have finished his career as a 20 ppg-10 rpg player if not for the 70 games that he played for three different teams in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Perhaps this is what ESPN's Rick Carlisle was referring to when he said that Webber could have "orchestrated" his retirement better; certainly, all Webber did in his last two seasons was lower his career averages. That is not entirely his fault--he can't help it that he was never the same after suffering a devastating knee injury in 2003--but, as Carlisle indicated, it is unfortunate when the last memory people have of your career is of you limping around the court.
Webber joins Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham and Kevin Garnett as the only players to average at least 20 ppg, nine rpg and four apg during their careers. The first four players are all Hall of Famers and members of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time list, while Garnett will definitely be a Hall of Famer after he retires. Webber's averages testify to his high level of productivity but no one seriously considers him to truly be in the same category as those players.
Webber's career is a classic example of the difference between putting up good numbers and having a Hall of Fame level impact. Stephon Marbury has averaged at least 20 ppg and eight apg in six different seasons, more than anyone other than Oscar Robertson, who did that 10 times; does anyone really believe that Marbury is a great point guard, let alone second only to Robertson on the all-time list? Of course not (other than perhaps the self-proclaimed "Starbury" himself). A player's role on his team, how often he handles the ball, the pace that his team plays at and other factors play a role in what statistics he accumulates. Webber was a very, very good player who had some moments of greatness but his time as an elite level player was brief. He only made the All-NBA First Team in 2000-01, when he averaged a career-high 27.1 ppg and finished fourth in MVP voting. He earned four other All-NBA Team selections and he made the All-Star team five times.
Webber only posted two 20 ppg-10 rpg seasons in the playoffs and his playoff averages (18.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.6 apg) were lower across the board than his regular season averages; that kind of decline is not unusual: the playoffs feature the toughest competition, the pace of the game slows and teams are really able to focus in on forcing players away from their strengths and toward their weaknesses. Still, it must be said that Webber's performances in clutch situations will not be remembered fondly by fans of his teams, dating all the way back to the infamous timeout that he called in an NCAA Championship Game when his Michigan Wolverines had no timeouts left. Prior to that fateful error, he appeared to commit a traveling violation, though nothing was called. The bottom line is that he often seemed to not want the ball in game deciding moments nor was he consistently productive in such situations. I'm not even specifically talking about buzzer beating shots, which are somewhat glamorized and overrated, but just his ability--or lack thereof--to put his stamp on big games down the stretch. Webber put up decent numbers the two times that he played in seventh games (20 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, 9-21 field goal shooting in the 2002 Western Conference Finals; 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, 8-17 field goal shooting in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals) but his Sacramento Kings lost on both occasions, in no small part because the other team's star or stars outperformed him.
Webber did not make my list of the greatest power forwards of all-time. He had a very good career but--to answer the question that has been posed several times on air and in print--I do not consider him to be a Hall of Fame level player. As NBA TV's Pete Vecsey--who shares that assessment--said, there is no shame in that and it does not reflect poorly on Webber; there is nothing wrong with having a very good, 15 year NBA career.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:24 AM