On the day Jason Kidd becomes the first player truly known most as a Net to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame, we ask: When does Buck Williams get his due?
The Basketball Hall of Fame will welcome its 2018 induction class into the shrine in Springfield, Mass., Friday, a group that includes former New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd as well as the architect of the early 21st century Nets, former general manager Rod Thorn.
Kidd is the first inductee to have his career closely associated with the franchise now known as the Brooklyn Nets and on the day Kidd will get his just reward for a stellar 19-year career, we just have to wonder why the call hasn’t come for a Nets star from an earlier generation, Buck Williams.
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Williams was a great power forward for the New Jersey Nets from 1981-89, but had the poor timing to be a great forward in a league that was chock full of them, which made those four All-NBA slots very difficult to get.
Larry Bird was a lock for one of those spots. Julius Erving was more often than not penciled into another. Throw in Dominique Wilkins, Kevin McHale, James Worthy, Alex English, Adrian Dantley, Terry Cummings, Bernard King and, later, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone and there were some great players left off the All-NBA list every season in the 1980s.
Williams did gain an All-NBA nod in 1982-83, his second season, and was a three-time All-Star and four-time All-Defensive selection, as well as becoming the first Net to win a major NBA award when he was named Rookie of the Year in 1981-82.
He is the Nets’ all-time leader in rebounds (7,576, more than 3,000 more than second-place Billy Paultz) and rebounds per game (11.9 in an era where guys just didn’t miss a lot of shots).
Williams is also third in team history with a 55.0 percent mark from the field, a testament to his efficiency even as he was asked to be a primary scorer.
But Williams has faced a couple of problems gaining traction with selectors for the Hall of Fame. The first is that he played in New Jersey for his prime years and the Nets in New Jersey were not a nationally noticed team, not in an era dominated by the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
The second was that when he was a dominant player with the Nets, he got precious few opportunities to show his skills in the playoffs, where he only played in 21 games for New Jersey in his eight years with the club.
He was a key part of two NBA Finals runs with the Portland Trail Blazers in 1990 and 1992, but as a role player on teams where Clyde Drexler was the clear star of the show.
Then you throw in two years with the New York Knicks as a part-time player at the end of his career, as well as playing a bench role in his final year with Portland, and you get a diluting of his career numbers.
Even with the diminished playing time after he left New Jersey, where he averaged 36.4 minutes per game as opposed to 28.8 over his final nine seasons, he averaged a double-double for his career, 12.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per night over the course of 1,307 NBA games.
With the Nets, those averages were 16.4 points and 11.9 rebounds.
Williams is 18th all-time in NBA history with 1,307 games and is likewise 18th with a 54.9 percent career field-goal accuracy mark. He is third all-time in offensive rebounds (a stat that wasn’t kept until 1973-74, to be fair) and 16th in total rebounds with 13,017.
For good measure, he’s in the top 25 — 24th to be precise — with 42,464 career minutes.
Perhaps Williams’ biggest sin in the eyes of those who make the selections for the Hall of Fame is that he wasn’t a flashy guy. He didn’t cut a huge off-the-court swath with his endorsements and extracurricular activities. Williams was efficient as a player as did not have a score-first mentality.
He rebounded. He played rock-solid defense. He did the little things to help the Nets go from also-ran to perennial playoff team for his first five seasons.
There may be no greater indication of Williams’ greatness than his selection to the All-Defensive team in 1987-88 while toiling for a Nets team that won just 19 games and finished 15th among 23 teams in opponent points per game and just 18th in defensive rating.
Even when no one else in New Jersey seemed to be able to do their job, Williams always did his at a high level.
Perhaps Kidd’s induction can serve as a springboard for one of the greatest Nets ever to finally get his due. Maybe voters will take another look at just how good Williams was while playing with supporting casts that weren’t.
Maybe 2019 — 21 years after his career came to a close — will be the year Buck Williams gets his moment in Springfield.