Friday, September 11, 2009

Possible Atlanta Hawks Numbers To Be Retired

Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub wrote a thought-provoking piece about the probability of San Antonio retiring Bruce Bowen's number:
Most statistics show that Bruce Bowen contributed nothing to an NBA team.

And yet, despite an almost complete lack of visible basketball ability in a box score (and beyond) sense, Bruce Bowen is likely going to have his number retired and go down as one of the most memorable players of the last 15 years among hoops junkies. And there are two reasons—and only two—why he made this happen.

1) He became a tenacious, aggressive, relentless man-on-man defender. I’ll leave it to the Spurs blogs to tell you about that, but you probably know about it already.

2) He mastered the corner three.

Bowen's contributions did, of course, show up in the box score though largely in the difference between San Antonio's opponents' field goals attempted and made but that's not how any of us actually read a box score. Lowe goes on to acknowledge both the unique nature of Bowen's contributions and the history of teams retiring role players somewhat similar (Dave Twardzik, Mark Eaton) to Bowen or markedly inferior (Brad Davis).

The Hawks have been admirably stingy in retiring numbers. Only three players, Bob Pettit, Lou Hudson, and Dominique Wilkins, each of whom scored prodigiously and shone brightly for the franchise for at least a decade have their numbers retired. No other Hawks players approach the accomplishments of those three and none have joined them in the rafters.

For the purposes of this post, though, what if someone were to join them?

Ignoring active players (in deference to the unknown), assuming there's little impetus for retiring the number of an excellent supporting player from the St. Louis Hawks days (no disrespect to Bill Bridges or Cliff Hagan), and setting a minimum of five years service with the Hawks (thus eliminating Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Smith, and Pete Maravich) I've identified four possible candidates that could garner some support were the Hawks to lower the bar for retiring numbers.

#10: Mookie Blaylock

PROS: Criminally underrated. 9th in franchise history in minutes played. 1st in 3-point field goals made and attempted. 1st in steals, steals per game, and assists per game. 2nd in assists. First- or second-team all defense in six of his seven years in Atlanta. Finished in the top three in the league is steals per game in each of his first six seasons in Atlanta. Every Hawks team he played for made the playoffs. Until I saw Allen Iverson in the 1996 East Regional, Blaylock was the fastest basketball player I'd ever seen. Whatever Blaylock lacked comparatively in foot speed he made up for in hand quickness and strength. Billy Tubbs might attend ceremony. Would not let Pearl Jam name themselves after him.

CONS: Played only seven years in Atlanta. Those teams won just four of eleven playoff series and never advanced beyond the second round. Was noticeably past his peak (though still useful) in his final two years in Atlanta and as inscrutable as possible for a man named Mookie. Liked by members of Pearl Jam.

#14: Lenny Wilkens

PROS: Played for seven years and coached the team for seven years. As a player, 4th in franchise history in assists, 8th in minutes, 10th in points. As a coach, 3rd in wins and 4th in winning percentage. The Hawks made the playoffs in six of the seven years he coached the team. Named amongst NBA's 50 greatest players and 10 greatest coaches. Member of Naismith Hall of Fame as both player and coach. Seattle Supersonics no longer exist.

CONS: Played only for St. Louis Hawks. The teams he coached went 17-30 in playoff games. Hawks coaching career accounts for just 22% of games coached in NBA. Number 19 already retired by Seattle Supersonics.

#30: Tree Rollins

PROS: 2nd in franchise history in games played, 7th in minutes played. 1st in franchise history in blocks, tied for 1st in blocks per game. 5th in franchise history in rebounds. 1st in franchise history in personal fouls. 2nd in field goal percentage. 1st team All-Defense in 1983-84. Ably supported teams both John Drew and Dominique Wilkins for a full decade. Key figure in Hawks/Celtics rivalry lore.

CONS: A true role player, he has nothing in common with Pettit, Hudson, and Wilkins. The Celtics/Hawks rivalry burns briefly and irregularly ('57-'61, '86, '88, '08). Honoring someone, even in part, for having bitten Danny Ainge is in questionable taste and a poor hygenic example to the nation's children.

#42: Kevin Willis

PROS: 4th in franchise history in games played, 5th in minutes, 3rd in rebounds, 6th in points. Played ten seasons for the Hawks, seven of them being winning seasons, including the best four year run (1985-89) the franchise has had in Atlanta. Is a pleasant, ubiquitous presence around town. Makes quality jeans for a demographic traditionally underserved by denim companies.

CONS: Played another eleven seasons for another eight teams. He made only one All-Star team, generally struggled in the play-offs, and the limitations of his game helped make the Dominique Wilkins/Danny Manning trade worse even though it isn't Willis's fault that Stan Kasten failed to realize that Manning and Willis wouldn't complement each other at all.

Vote for your choice below. Choose other if you feel I've overlooked someone or reject any of the parameters I set for myself and name your choice in the comments.

Assuming the Hawks retired another number, whose number should they choose?
Mookie Blaylock
Tree Rollins
Lenny Wilkens
Kevin Willis
Other (please specify) free polls


Jason Walker said...

I would vote for none of the above, though as a fan I loved Mookie and Tree, loved them both. Kevin was/is a super guy, but a complimentary player all the way. Lenny was never Atlanta--not his fault--and he is a HOFer.

More criminally underrated than Blaylock though is Dan Roundfield, who was an excellent rebounder, and defensive player who could score the ball. A 3-time all star as well, Roundfield never got the pub or the fan love because he is about as crabby as one can get. Still, his productivity during his run with the Hawks was fantastic and deserves to be mentioned with this group despite the fact that none deserve to hang (literally) with Bob, Lou, or 'Nique.

Bret LaGree said...

I'd vote none of the above also, but the Hawks absence of championship-quality teams would otherwise leave them out of the Bruce Bowen-like retired number discussion

Dan Roundfield's absence is a shocking and shameful oversight. One of my favorite players as a kid. I spent a fair amount of time poring over the franchise's career leaders (listed 1 through 10 on Basketball-Reference) in the hopes of not leaving anyone out. Roundfield must be 11th or 12th in a lot of categories.

Drew Ditzel said...

sign me up for none of the above. if we have to have someone, just give me steve smith as a way of acknowledging how horrible the Isiah Rider trade was.

but i do love mookie.

Bronnt said...

I had to vote Mookie. He wasn't here long enough, and he was eroding at the end, but a class act who was a big part of the team's defensive identity during some of their best years.

I can't say that role players during the 'Nique era deserve any extra consideration since those teams all ended up losing in first/second round anyway.