Kemp was unable to play basketball at the collegiate level for numerous reasons and was the youngest player in the league for some time. After a forgettable rookie reason, the ultra-athletic forward showed significant promise in his sophomoric outing.
At 6’10” and weighing in at a very muscular 230 lbs, Kemp was an intimidating force for most defenders. His end to end top speed could make any wing player jealous, and his vertical was almost unmatched in his prime.
Kemp had the strength to do battle with most big men in the post, while being far quicker than most of them. And for all that is made of his spectacular dunks, Kemp had an extremely extensive lay-up package; often finishing creatively around the rim with an array of difficult lay-ups and runners that was unusual for a player of his size.
Though not the most disciplined defender, he utilized his athletic ability and superior sense of timing to avoid being a negative on the defensive end. His frenetic energy on the court sometimes worked against him, however. Rather than keep the ball in play, he would go for highlight blocks that did not materially benefit his team.
Combine this with his propensity to gamble for unnecessary steals and it becomes clear why he was never selected to an All-Defensive team.
Passing was certainly not a crucial part of Kemp’s game, but he was somewhat underrated in this department. With his ability to draw double teams in the paint, he demonstrated the ability to easily find the open man for the easy shot whenever he chose.
Despite not being known for his ball handling, Kemp was more than adequate enough in that area to routinely bring the ball up the floor on his own, completing coast-to-coast buckets with ease.
Kemp easily defied the stereotype of the stiff big man with amazing body control and fluid mechanics despite not being a reliable jump shooter from outside of ten feet.
After his time with the Seattle SuperSonics, Kemp played three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he started to gain weight and allegedly had drug and alcohol struggles. In spite of these obstacles however, his production did not suffer, even posting a career high in points per game in his second season with Cleveland.
It was not until his final three NBA seasons (two with the Portland Trail Blazers and one with the Orlando Magic), that Kemp’s production significantly declined.
All told, Shawn Kemp finished his career with six All-Star selections and three All-NBA Second Team selections. This to go along with averages if 14.6 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game.
So why is Shawn Kemp not in the Hall of Fame? From a purely speculative point of view, it is possible that he is remembered mostly for his decline, particularly as it is seen to be largely as being caused by his own lack of motivation.
Players that “self-destruct” tend to be remembered less fondly than those that age out of greatness naturally. Another possibility is that Kemp is seen as an underachieving talent. His numbers, while certainly not shabby, are perhaps not necessarily indicative of someone that had his talent and physical attributes.
Removing the subjective lens through which we view Kemp’s potential however, it seems mostly unjustifiable to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
As an example, let’s take a look at the career of fellow 1989 NBA Draft class member, Vlade Divac. Divac is a Hall of Famer with one All-Star selection and a selection to the All-Rookie team. Not a single All-NBA or All-Defensive selection to his resume.
Even more interestingly, Divac’s career numbers are a notch below the Reign Man’s. Divac finished his career with averages of 11.8 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks per game.
A likely explanation for this discrepancy is likely – optics. While Vlade Divac was certainly a talented player with a productive career, he was largely seen as a role player. Kemp was viewed as a star with superstar potential.
Through those lenses it is easy to conclude that Divac mostly over-achieved and Kemp largely under-achieved. Which is likely an accurate assessment to be fair.
What is unfair however is the firm reality of Kemp’s accomplishments and impact in the league. Regardless of what he could have or should have been able to accomplish; what he did accomplish was good enough to earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame meritoriously.
Let the Reign Man in.
Clint is an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, and contributed to various sports publications prior to his work with Upside Hoops.