The early-90s “Run TMC” combination of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in the NBA as the sun set on the era of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Isiah Thomas.
Michael Jordan inherited the mantle of Eastern Conference dominance that Boston and Detroit vacated, while the new power in the West was supposed to include the Warriors alongside the Gary Payton/Shawn Kemp Sonics, the John Stockton/Karl Malone Jazz, Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Rockets, and the Charles Barkley Show in Phoenix once the 76ers finally got rid of the disgruntled Round Mound of Rebound.
Trouble was, the glory never came together for those guys. While Richmond’s three years in Golden State did feature two playoff appearances and even two playoff series wins, the team never got past the conference semifinals and didn’t win more than 44 games in a regular season (1990-91, Richmond’s third year.)
After that ’91 run, Warriors management broke up the team, shipping Richmond to Sacramento for Billy Owens.
Golden State took off the following year, winning 55 games, but when they lost in the first round to Seattle, that was ultimately all she wrote.
An injury-plagued 34-win season the following year led to Hardaway’s departure to Miami, and a playoff sweep at the hands of the Suns in 1994 would be the last time the Warriors saw playoff action until one magical run in 2007 that Dallas Mavericks fans would prefer to forget.
And as if that weren’t bad enough, the franchise wouldn’t make the playoffs again after that until 2013, when the world got the first inclination that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were really, really good.
Richmond, meanwhile, would become a 6-time All-Star and 5-time All-NBA selection in Sacramento, but the teams he was on were horrible, posting zero winning seasons and only one playoff appearance, a 39-43 season that netted them the 8 seed and the right to lose to a Finals-bound Sonics team in the first round in 1996.
When Sacramento shipped Richmond to Washington for Chris Webber in advance of the 1999 lockout season, that marked the beginning of the Kings’ run that might well have included a trip to the Finals if not for the most egregiously one-sided officiating the playoffs have ever seen dominating the early-aughts narrative.
Richmond, just to cap a career of perpetual Great Stats Bad Team Guy madness, was on that 2002 Lakers team that beat the Kings in the Western Conference Finals and won their third straight title over the New Jersey Nets shortly thereafter, but by then, Richmond was 36 years old and averaged just 4.2 points in 11.1 minutes per game and retired once he finally had his ring.
All of the above is a great career by a guy who was always good as an individual, never meshed with his teammates enough to elevate them, and had a middling, well shy of Hall of Fame career.
Except Richmond is in the Hall of Fame.
Which leads me to wonder, did I just utterly underrate him? Or is this a case, much like Yao Ming in the first edition of this series, where you can’t blame a guy for the teams that were put around him and you have to consider him as an individual who should’ve had more glory than he got and more than deserved his Hall nod?
For that we’re going to have to go inside the numbers. But let’s not kid ourselves; if Richmond’s going to get the Confirmed plate here, he fine well better have been a Hall of Famer on the stat sheet because “count the rings” doesn’t carry much weight when your one title year involved being ninth on your team in minutes and having Shaq, Kobe, and human ring machine Robert Horry on your team.
The Counting Stats
For his career, Richmond averaged 21.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists a game in 35.9 minutes.
Even when you consider the slower pace of the league during Richmond’s career (the Kings played at a 91.0 pace in 1996-97 and managed to rank 11th out of 29 teams that year, so slow was the NBA at the time), that still makes him at best a 23-5-5 guy today.
Those are not destroyer-of-worlds stats. They’re not bad, but Richmond’s career high PER, and yes, PER is a counting stat (a fantasy-points aggregation that’s “advanced” only insofar as it’s normalized to league averages), was 21.6. His career PER was a not-all-that-mighty 17.6.
Richmond was an efficient 3-point shooter, feasting on the shorter arc in the mid-90s to top out at 43.7 percent in 1995-96 and hit 38.8 percent for his career on a robust-for-the-era 3.5 attempts per game.
But here’s the list, in the 3-point era, of guys with at least 20.9 points per game while pulling down less than four rebounds and dishing out less than four assists per contest:
Funny. That’s three volume scorers whose teams never really won anything. Free made only five playoff appearances in his 13 years in the league, and the only times he won a playoff series, he had Julius Erving on his team.
Beal, in his eight years in the league (including this year, since there’s not a chance in hell the Wizards are making the playoffs), had some good playoff runs, but that’s due to (a) the East being garbage and (b) John Wall.
My point is that World B. Free isn’t a Hall of Famer. Neither, no matter his individual Richmond-like glory, is Bradley Beal if his career track continues to be Great Stats Bad Team.
But let’s get to something with a little more bite.
The Advanced Stats
Once again, we’re going to limit this to the 3-point era because it is staggeringly difficult to compare scorers from a time before the game looked anything like it does in its modern form (and advanced stats before 1977-78 are themselves kind of a devil’s bargain because individual turnovers, completing the statistical picture, didn’t come into use before that year.)
Mitch Richmond had 79.3 career Win Shares. Of guys whose entire career happened in the 3-point era, that puts Richmond in the company of Zach Randolph, Isiah Thomas, Carlos Boozer ahead of him and Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle, and Stephon Marbury behind him among retired players.
Interestingly, if Damian Lillard retired today, he’d rank just above Richmond on this list, and it’s hard to imagine Lillard going into the Hall without playing a few more years, especially if he never wins a title.
Of those six guys mentioned, only Zeke is in the Hall of Fame, and nobody questions that he belongs there because Win Shares be damned, he was the best point guard in the Eastern Conference if not the league (depending on how you feel about Magic late in his career) and was an integral piece of two title teams.
Richmond was an integral part of steaming hot garbage during his All-Star seasons.
Richmond also topped three VORP only four times, at his absolute apex, and the best he put up in that stat was 5.2 in ’96-97, good for 11th. He was a top 20 player in that catch-all stat just three times, and never cracked the top 10.
Interestingly, Basketball Reference’s own “Hall of Fame Probability” stat ranks Richmond as a 70% chance. Which means he rolled pretty well on the dice to avoid the other 30.
But this is my Hall of Fame vote in a sense, and…
I just can’t give Richmond Hall of Famer credit when nothing about his career jumps out at me as Hall of Fame material.
Golden State shipped him out and improved by 11 wins. Sacramento shipped him out and went on the best run the franchise ever had in California.
His years with the Kings were quintessential Great Stats Bad Team Guy (yes, I stole that line from Bill Simmons) numbers, and his one-sided devotion to scoring at the expense of anything else useful on a basketball court (he was a below-average defender every year he played) is part of why his teams never won anything.
Yeah, the rosters around him were hot garbage, but being the best player on a sub-30-win team makes you…well, World B. Free and Bradley Beal.
Was Mitch Richmond a Hall of Famer? Not by a mile. This one is a whole lot more than 30% busted.
It is 100%, don’t-vote-for-counting-stats-if-you-have-a-Hall-ballot Busted.
NEXT: Antoine Walker.