Shawn Kemp was an excellent player who did not quite have a Hall of Fame career. Kemp was one of the best, and most ferocious, in-game dunkers in league history. But despite making six All-Star teams and three All NBA 2nd Teams, his career statistics and accomplishments leave him just a bit short of the Hall of Fame.
How good was Shawn Kemp?
Shawn Kemp could throw it down! The man really was one of the greatest in-game dunkers in the history of basketball. He participated in the dunk contest four times but never won – he really was better at dunking in games than contests.
Dunking was not the only good thing he brought to the court. Shawn Kemp was a 6x NBA All Star and made 3 All-NBA 2nd Teams. Those are pretty impressive honors.
He averaged 14.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for his career and had a nice statistical career as you can see above.
Kemp came to the NBA without playing in college. He failed to qualify academically and had to sit out his first year at the University of Kentucky.
He faced an accusation of theft at the school and left for a junior college, where he also never played, before declaring for the NBA draft.
Kemp was chosen by the Seattle SuperSonics with the 17th pick in the 1989 NBA Draft but only averaged 6 points as a rookie.
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He increased his scoring to 15 points per game his second year and steadily rose to a peak of scoring just about 20 points per game and grabbing more than 11 boards for the Sonics in ‘95-’96 while helping the team make the NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls beat the Glove and the Reign Man in those finals and it was pretty much downhill from there for Shawn Kemp.
Kemp put up similar numbers for one more year in Seattle before being shipped off to Cleveland in a trade that got the Sonics Vin Baker. The Reign Man put up decent numbers, including a career-high 20.5 points per game in his second of three seasons in Ohio, but he was not as effective. He kicked around the league for a few seasons with Portland and Orlando before retiring at age 33.
Why isn’t Shawn Kemp in the Hall of Fame?
While dunks are one of the most fun parts of the game, they don’t put people in the basketball Hall of Fame based on dunking ability alone. Check this list of dunk contest winners.
Sure, Jordan and Kobe won it. But Kenny Walker, Dee Brown and Brent Barry will not be getting a call from Springfield anytime soon.
So, no matter how great they were, the Reign Man’s vicious throw downs are not enough to put him in the Hall.
The issue for Shawn Kemp is that dunking was probably his most outlier skill.
In order to put Kemp’s career in context, I have compared him in the table below to two other power forwards. The Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett, is one of the greatest players to ever live. He was an obvious Hall of Famer.
Horace Grant had a good career including 4 NBA titles with the Bulls and the Lakers. In this article, I argued he was good but not quite at the Hall of Fame level.
|Player||PER||Win Shares||Box Plus/Minus|
You can see that Kemp’s numbers put him much closer to Horace Grant than to Kevin Garnett.
Now, Horace Grant is not bad company. There are those who will say he is a Hall of Famer as well. But there are areas of his resume that Kemp can’t match – starting with those 4 NBA titles.
Grant’s Hall of Fame argument is that he was a relentless winner who made his teams better despite only putting up nice, but not otherworldly, numbers. The same cannot be said for Shawn Kemp.
Kemp never won a title and he was viewed as a problem at times for his organizations because of both his behavior and his unhappiness with his contract.
For a player with the combination of no titles and a reputation for being disgruntled at times, his numbers would have to be clear Hall of Fame caliber for him to make it to Springfield.
Kemp’s numbers are not there. After age 30 he averaged only 6 points per game. And in the three seasons before that age in Cleveland, while he still averaged close to 20 points per game, his weight had gotten completely out of control and he was no longer the physical force he had been in his prime in Seattle.
What ruined Shawn Kemp’s career?
In Cleveland Kemp was still in his late twenties – the prime year for many NBA players, but he was not the same player. Kemp is reported to have had alcohol and cocaine addiction issues. He had to cut one season short in Portland to enter rehab.
In this article on the opening of his marijuana store called Shawn Kemp’s Cannabis, he admits he used to smoke before games. That kind of lifestyle first started taking its toll on him in Cleveland.
His weight was the main symptom of those problems in Cleveland. After an NBA lockout, he came back weighing over 300 pounds – 80 pounds over his weight in Seattle and 30 more than the team officially listed him at in Cleveland that year.
With the additional weight, the physical dominance that marked his game in Seattle was gone. He became more of a shooter than a high-flying dunker and it never got better.
It is likely that his personal problems cost Kemp years of his career and significant productivity during the last six years he did play.
If that had not been the case, it is likely he’d have been a Hall of Fame caliber player. As it is, he is a bit short of that level.
Summary: Shawn Kemp Hall of Fame
Shawn Kemp was a Hall of Fame dunker but not a Hall of Fame player. His career statistics and accomplishments leave him at a level slightly-below Hall-of-Fame caliber. Kemp’s addiction and weight issues cost him several productive years that may have pushed him over the line into the Hall of Fame level.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Adapted from: “Shawn Kemp and Isaiah Thomas” by SportsAngle.com is licensed under (CC BY-SA 2.0)
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.