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NBA Top 150 – Numbers 123 thru 120

123) Cliff Hagan – 6‘ 4″ PF from 1956 – 1969…Think of a white, poor man’s Charles Barkley in the 50’s – an undersized PF, quick, strong, tougher and more of a fighter than Chuck, but like Barkley, also built like a football player ( a muscular 210lbs, the build of 50’s/60’s TE’s & LB’s). Hagan was a two-time All-American on some great Kentucky teams in the early 50’s, but a point shaving scandal robbed him of tournament appearances after his sophomore year, despite his team finishing the regular season in 1954, his senior year, at 25-0. He was drafted by the Celtics but served two years in the Air Force first. Boston eventually traded his draft rights along with Ed Macauley for Bill Russell, and Hagan became a St. Louis Hawk instead. While Boston certainly came out ahead in that deal, Hagan and Bob Pettit did lead the Hawks to an NBA title over the Celts in 1958…with Hagan posting far more efficient and impressive numbers than Pettit during the playoffs that year – in 1 less minute a game, he scored more (27.7 to 24.2), at a far better FG% (50.2 to 39.1), and had much better assist numbers (3.4 to 1.8)…at five inches taller, Pettit did outrebound Hagan 16.5 to 10.5. As a matter of fact, Hagan and Pettit led the Hawks to 3 other NBA Finals appearances in Hagan’s first 5 years in the league, losing each time to Boston, while twice going to a 7th game. Hagan’s overall playoff averages his first five years in the league were a stout 23.6/10.5/3.6 asst in 53 games. One of the better all-around players in his time and known for his quick, accurate hook shot, Hagan was often amongst the league leaders in scoring (4 times top 10), rebounding (3 times over 10/gm), FG% (3 times top 5), and assists (4 times top 10). He was an all-star 5 times in the NBA and once in the ABA, while twice being named all-NBA 2nd team. Hagan retired from the NBA after the 1966 season, sat out of pro ball for a year, and then joined the ABA as a player/coach with the Dallas Chapparals in 1967, the ABA’s first season. A tough guy and intense competitor, he was legendary for his loud locker room rants and toughness on the court, where he was eager and willing to take on anyone in a league that practically promoted fighting. He also posted impressive averages of 18.2 pts, 6 reb, and 4.9 asst his first year at age 36. Hagan became a Hall-of-Famer in 1978, the first Kentucky Wildcat to enter the Hall, when he was three years into his 13 year stint as Kentucky’s Athletic Director. In 1993 the school renamed its baseball field Cliff Hagan Stadium, and it is affectionately known today by students and fans as ‘The Cliff’.

 122) Amare Stoudamire – 6‘ 10″ PF/C from 2002 –  current...When Amare Stoudamire arrived in the league fresh out of high school in 2002, a lot of people thought he was a raw project who would take a good deal of time to develop. After 15 games through the end of November, those people were largely right as Stoudamire was averaging under 9 pts, under 8 rebs, and shooting just 36% in 26 minutes a night. But then came December, and Amare showed that his learning curve was steep and his ceiling quite high. He recorded 8 double/doubles in the month, while averaging 15.6 pts, 9.8 rebs, and shooting 53.8%, including an enormous last Dec game on the 30th where he totalled 38 pts, 14 rebs, and 2 blks (prep to pros points record broken by Lebron the next yr). The man-child had suddenly arrived, and in a big way.  The 9th pick of the 2002 NBA Draft, Stoudamire was known to be a phenomenally explosive athlete for his size, but thought to be way too raw to contribute immediately. He didn’t play organized ball until the age of 14, as his mom was in and out of prison and his father died when he was 12. He went to six different high schools, finally graduating from Cypress Creek High near Orlando after averaging 29 pts, 15 rebs, and 6 blks his senior year. Phoenix not only drafted the young ‘project’, but after winning just 36 games the season prior, decided to let him play through his growing pains, even after his very rough start. In 2004 they acquired Steve Nash and, not coincidentally, Amare immediately had his best season as a pro, playing center on the famous run-n-gun Suns alongside The Matrix (Shawn Marion), Nash, Joe Johnson, and Quentin Richardson (back when he was productive). Amare finished the year 5th in scoring (26.0), # 2 in FG% at 55.9, and 1st in free throw attempts (3rd in makes) before leading the Suns to the Western Conference finals while averaging 29.9 pts and 10.7 rebs in 15 playoff games. Microfracture surgery stole his 2005-06 season, but he came back strong, if maybe just a tad less explosive, to average 20.4 and 9.6 the next season while finishing 5th in FG% at 57.5. A fearless, explosive, intimidating inside player, who also shows the smooth shooting ease of a SF or SG, this highlight video compilation shows him in all his power and glory, pre-surgery (compiled and uploaded in Feb. ’06). Combined with Nash in the mid 2000’s, they were a deadly Batman & Robin combo, especially on the pick-n-roll, and a treat to watch. After just eight full seasons in the league, Amare has compiled an impressive resume, including 7 seasons of 20+ pts, 6 All-Star games, and 5 all-NBA teams (one 1st team, four 2nd teams). Never known for his stout defense, it will be interesting to see if the Knicks can acquire a legitimate, defensively strong center and slide Amare to PF. Then add a pass-first PG (Chauncey is 35 and fading) to keep Melo & Amare happy and productive, and viola – an Eastern contender can be born!

P.S. I must mention what is sadly, possibly, the most famous Amare Moment, when his leaving of the bench (because of an incredibly dirty play by San Antonio’s old, fading Robert Horry) during game 4 vs. the Spurs in the 2007 Playoffs caused his suspension the next game, an absolute crime of ‘letter of the law’ winning out over ‘spirit of the law’ AND COMMON SENSE….any ref or fan knew he wasn’t getting up with malicious intent, but mere curiosity to see what was happening, and never once acted in an aggressive manner. Completely tilted the scales artificially in an epic playoff series…thanks Stern & Co.

 121) ‘Sweet’ Lou Hudson – 6‘ 5″ G/F from 1966 – 79...It was Bill Russell and Sam Jones who gave Hudson his nickname, and not only were they all-time players, but they gave the perfect moniker to one of the game’s all-time guard/forwards. Hudson had one of the sweetest jump shots ever, and a pleasant disposition to match. He shattered his shooting hand in the 4th game of his senior year at Minnesota , coming off a 23 & 10 board junior season, missed two weeks, then came back and shot left-handed, mostly from the post as a 6′ 5″ guy. He ended up averaging 19.8 while shooting 47.2%…and grabbing 8 rebs a game. (Kind of the opposite of what Reggie Miller would have done – miss the season and prep for the draft). Not only did he continue to score impressively and efficiently, but he mixed it up as well in posting significant boards with a broken right hand! He was the 4th pick of the 1966 Draft (shortly after the Cowboys had drafted and signed him in the NFL), and averaged 18.4 with 5.4 rebs as a rookie, but then missed almost half the season in Year 2 after being drafted into the army. His third season began a streak of 7 straight 20+ point seasons, and also saw him grab a career high 6.6 boards. Soon he tied the franchise scoring mark held by Bob Pettit when he scored 57 in a one point win over the Bulls in 1969. He is still tied for the record, but Dominique has joined them. It wasn’t just his pretty jump shot that made Sweet Lou a 6-time All-Star though, as Hudson was a decent rebounder and passer who took pride in his top notch defense as well. He worked tirelessly on offense to get open, much the way Rip Hamilton does or Reggie Miller used to do. He played alongside Pete Maravich in Pistol’s first few years, and they became the 2nd teammates to each score over 2,000 pts in a season in 1973, West and Baylor being the first. And when the postseason came, Hudson stepped up his game sharply, posting averages of 23.6, 5.9, and 2.8 asst during his prime – 52 games spanning his rookie year through 1973. And in that 73 season, he averaged 29.7 and 7.8 boards in Atlanta ‘s 4-2 loss to the Celtics in round 1. He only made the playoffs two times after that, his last two seasons in the league with the Lakers (quick aside, look how impressive the 1978 Laker roster was, and yet lost 1st round to the Sonics: Kareem, Norm Nixon, Adrian Dantley, Jamal Wilks, Hudson, and Charlie Scott. And before they traded him to Indiana mid-season, they had a rookie named James Edwards who would later win 2 rings playing center for the Pistons before finally retiring at age 40 in 1996. That is a boatload of talented players!). Anyway, back to Lou, he ended up averaging over 24 pts/gm five times, peaking at 27.1 in that ’73 season, averaged at least 5 rebs/gm six times, and in the first year they kept track of steals, he nabbed 2.5/gm. And yet, no Hall of Fame for him…but we shouldn’t be shocked, even though he and Mitch Richmond are the only Hall eligible players to sink over 7,000 field goals and average over 20 pts for their careers and not make it in. This is the same Hall of Fame that left Artis Gilmore twisting in the wind for his first 18 years of eligibility before finally admitting him this summer. So the owner of one of the game’s all-time jumpers, who also scored the first points in the history of the Atlanta Hawks, sits and waits…alongside our #133 guard-forward who played in largely the same era, Chet Walker.

 120) Ron Harper – 6′ 6″ G/F from 1986 – 2001…Yes, Ron is an NBA all-timer, even if very few acknowledge it, including SLAM Magazine (ranking him #327) and every all-star team during his career (he made none). The 8th pick of the ’86 Draft, he came off a dominating senior year which saw him average 24.4, 11.7 rebs, 4.3 dimes, and over 3 steals with 2+ blks/gm as a high-flying athletic wing playing SF. His athletic explosiveness combined with ample skills and game were on display immediately in the NBA, as he averaged 22.9 pts and exactly 4.8 for both rebs & assts his rookie year. And he showed the heavy steals & blocks at Miami of Ohio were no fluke as well, averaging 2.5 and 1.0 respectively. He was part of one of the most legendary draft classes in the history of the league, as the Cavs took center Brad Dougherty 1st overall (career 19.0, 9.5, 53.2%), Harper 8th, Mark Price as the first pick of the 2nd round (Dallas gave him up for a 1989 2nd rounder), and then nabbed John ‘Hot Rod’ Williams with their own 2nd round pick, 45th overall. As rookies, Harper, Dougherty, and Williams were 1,2, & 3 on the team in scoring. By year two, Price was the starting PG (16 & 6 dimes), Larry Nance was acquired, and they were a playoff team, with 4 of their top 5 guys acquired via the 1986 Draft. For the first 3.5 years of his career, Harper was an excellent poor man’s Clyde Drexler, putting up explosive and acrobatic highlights like this (focus on the Clev clips, esp at the 1:42 mark where he picks Barkley’s pocket and goes in for a 360 degree spinning layup). His pre Clipper Curse knee injury numbers were a robust 19.8, 4.8 rebs, 5 asst, 2.3 stl, .98 blk, and 47.5% shooting. Choosing among the Cavs Big 4 at the time, it was hard to say who was the best and most valuable – Price, Dougherty, or Harper – I’ll put Nance as 4th. But certainly Harper, more than the other three, had the whole package – Price was somewhat a defensive liability and undersized, Dougherty couldn’t jump and wasn’t a shot blocker at all, while Nance was happy to be a complementary option, not the go to guy. After wrecking his knee (and too bad it was fixed with 1990 procedures, not 2011 methods), Harper still managed to put up almost similar numbers (18.9, 5.5 reb, 4.8 asst, 1.9 stl, .85 blk, 43.1%) with the Clippers the next 4 years, just not in as spectacular a manner. Two of those years he and Danny Manning led the team to the playoffs as the Clips co-number 1 guys. He then joined the Bulls in 1995, eventually playing about 27 minutes a night in the three championship postseasons (’96 – ’98) as a co-number 4 guy with Toni Kukoc, contributing nice buckets (7.5 pts), boards (3.9), dimes (2.6), thefts (1.2), and fly swats (.67 blks) at age 32, 33, & 34. He then virtually duplicated those exact numbers as a co-number 4 guy with Robert Horry in L.A. during the 2000 postseason, at 36 yrs old, as Kobe & Shaq won their first title. He played one last year with L.A. in ’01 before calling it quits, garnering his 5th ring despite being injured much of regular season and playoffs. Basically, without the bad knee injury and playing in the shadow of Greatness (MJ), Harper would have had much larger playoff success (Clev lost to Chi in both the ’88 and ’89 playoffs), an even deeper ‘wow’ highlight reel, and Top 70 or 80 all-time status. He was an athlete who adjusted beautifully to his less athletic body, and on four championship teams played the role of solid defense and smooth facilitator on offense. He ended his career #18 on the all-time steals list with 1,716, at 1.7/gm (#29 all-time), 3,916 assists (#99 all-time), and finally, as one of the top 5 shot-blocking guards of all time alongside Dwyane Wade (#1), David Thompson, Michael Jordan, and Vince Carter.

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