Our All Alphabet league moves on the letter H, today.
In putting together the best fivesome to have their surname start with H, we've stumbled upon a team that might be our most controversial. We've got a player that pushes the rules of the game to the limits, a player that pushes relationships with his teammates to the brink, a player that married a supermodel before going off the rails, and a player that said some quite abhorrent things about a group of people. They're balanced out by one of the most revered and universally liked players in the sport.
This team is polarising, but they're also incredibly talented.
Point Guard – Tim Hardaway
Timbug was a player that captured the NBA zeitgeist in the early 1990’s.
Hardaway (Just to be clear, we’re talking about Tim Snr, here – not the current day player) starred in the early 90’s, forming the famed Run TMC trio with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. The diminutive point guard was lightning fast, possessed a devastating crossover, and a dead-eye pull up jumper.
He was also chippy, not afraid of getting in his opponents face, nor of drawing contact. Hardaway was, in many ways, the precursor to the modern point guard. He was able to break down his man and instigate the drive and kick game, or pilot a solid pick and roll.
A knee injury robbed Hardaway of the 1994 season, and as a result that his speed was greatly diminished. That said, he was still an excellent point guard through to his mid 30’s winning 2 of his 5 All Star appearances and 3 of his 5 All NBA berths as a member of the Miami Heat, after making his recovery from his knee surgery.
Hardaway drew the ire of the greater NBA community with a controversial post retirement interview back in 2007, where he strongly admonished the LGBTQ community. To his credit, Hardaway got himself educated and now does a mountain of work within those communities.
If we discount his nomadic later career, Hardaway averaged 18.7 points, 8.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game, shooting a solid 35.5% from deep.
Shooting Guard – James Harden
Harden is undoubtedly one of the most polarising players in recent NBA history. No matter what you think of Harden's singular style of play, his pushing of the rules and spirit of the game to places anew, his aversion to perimeter defense, you cannot doubt his remarkable ability as an elite offensive fulcrum.
Harden's career is split into two very definite sections. As the effective 6th man in the presumed Thunder dynasty-in-the-making, Harden was secretly the glue in a team that featured Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. After making the finals – and being named 6th Man of the Year – in 2012, a petty contract squabble led to a shock trade to Houston and with it a seismic shift in the NBA landscape.
Harden's second act as the star around which the Houston Rockets orbit has made him one of the most credentialed players in the league. If we isolate his Houston years, Harden gives his team a nightly 29.6 points, 6.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.8 makes from beyond the arc. In his eight seasons in Houston, Harden has played in 8 All Star games, been named to 6 All NBA teams, won a pair of scoring titles, led the league in assists, won the MVP in 2018, finishing runner up on 3 other occasions.
Harden isn't a perfect player by any means. His trials and tribulations in the playoffs are well documented, although he was perhaps a defective Chris Paul hamstring away from a finals berth in 2018. His defense has been rightfully lambasted, but he is quietly a stout post defender, and his steals totals are testament to his fast hands.
In many ways, Harden has reinvented the sport. He is the poster boy for the Heliocentric offensive system. He pushes the boundaries in drawing shooting fouls both at the basket and on the perimeter. Now his team is the first contender to play with a true 5-out system.
Is he controversial? Yes. Is he an all time great? Certainly. Is he in out H Team? Without doubt.
Small Forward – John Havlicek
One of the greatest to ever play – and undoubtedly the greatest 6th man in the history of the sport – Hondo steps in as the starting wing in our H Team.
The Celtic’s star was a force at both ends of the court, averaging 20.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists through his career. Steals were only recorded in Havlicek’s last 4 professional seasons. He averaged 1.2 per game over that span, but it’s believed he averaged close to 3 steals in his prime, including one of the most famous steals in NBA history:
Hondo was a player that did everything well. At 6’5” he possessed good size for a small forward of the era, was lightning fast, had excellent handle and was an expert at rolling off screens for catch and shoot opportunities.
Havlicek’s Hall of Fame CV is one of the most decorated in basketball history:
13 time All Star
11 time All NBA
8 time All Defensive
1974 Finals MVP
The one glaring hole in his resume is the lack of an MVP trophy, although that’s a testament to his ability to fill whatever role was needed on a nightly basis. That ability made him a perfect fit coming off the bench to impact a game. The fact that he spent so much of his career paying off the pine surely cost him an MVP at some point in his storied career.
Power Forward – Spencer Haywood
Spencer Haywood changed the league as we know it.
After leaving college at the finish of his sophomore season in 1969 in order to provide for his family, Haywood was ineligible to play in the NBA due to the rules at the time stating that a player couldn’t turn professional until four years after their high school class had graduated. He therefore spent his first professional season in the ABA with the Denver Rockets – and he dominated.
Haywood averaged an even 30 points to go along with 19.5 rebounds, leading the league in both categories. As well as the inevitable Rookie of the Year award, Haywood was also named All ABA and the league MVP.
Haywood’s move to the NBA resulted in the famed restraint of trade case brought against the league. His win in court opened up the option for college players to join the league before their college eligibility was up, or for overseas players to join the NBA without having played college ball.
It is conceivably the most seismic shift in NBA history.
As a player, Haywood was an undersized but athletically dominant power forward. His five seasons in Seattle produced 24.9 points and 12.1 boards per game, as well 4 All NBA awards and 4 All Star appearances.
Unfortunately, the bright start to his career fizzled out; a combination of injuries and cocaine addiction robbing him of his once all world athleticism. He had a brief resurgence with the New Orleans Jazz in 1979, putting up 24 points and 9.6 rebounds, but his career was effectively over by the time he was 30, when Lakers coach Paul Westhead dismissed him from the team during the finals for falling asleep at practice after an all night bender (eat your heart out Dennis Rodman), casting a cloud over his sole NBA title.
Centre – Elvin Hayes
The Big E was so awkward as a teen that he was literally laughed at whilst playing high school basketball. To go from an object of derision to a Hall of Famer, is incredible.
The 1st overall pick in the 1968 draft, Hayes only went and led the NBA in scoring as a rookie, with 28.4 points per game. He picked up the first of his pair of rebounding titles in his 2nd season.
He went on to earn 12 All Star games, 6 All NBA nominations and 2 All Defensive awards through his stellar career, leading the Washington then-Bullets to their only NBA championship.
Hayes was a bruising, athletic marvel. Despite his powerful 6'9” frame, he was swift up and down the court – a modern day Karl Malone (with extra shot blocking) in style. Blocks were not recorded in Hayes' first 5 seasons, though he averaged 2.8 blocks per game in the three seasons after they became an official stat.
An undoubtedly gifted player, Hayes had a prickly personality. His clashes with coached and teammates were legendary and, unfortunately, they often cloud the conversation when discussing Hayes' place in the basketball pantheon. What can't be doubted, however, is his on court impact.
Elvin Hayes was a remarkable player, who gives the H Team a powerful inside presence, as well as a certain unpredictability.