What would have happened if that incident and maybe a few others went differently?
World Peace, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN:
“I could’ve been in the Hall of Fame,” he said.
“If I would’ve been a more stable player …” he said.
“I had to play on other people’s teams so my average went down, my stats went down, less All-Stars, less All-Defensive teams,” he said.
“I was averaging 22 points against the Lakers. I can’t average 20 now? But now I’m on a team with Kobe. … That’s called sacrifice,” World Peace told ESPN. “After Houston, my individual career was pretty much done, because I’m with Kobe.”
As World Peace later said before his team’s loss in Phoenix, “I felt like I wasn’t getting the credit that people should’ve gave me for sacrificing. Nobody ever really talked about that, so it was frustrating. … I kind of went to China just to prove that I could score the ball. … It’s hard to adjust to your mind to be a role player.”
World Peace has not had a Hall of Fame career. That’s not in dispute.
But could he have had one if he were more stable?
At his best, World Peace was the NBA’s best defender. He averaged 20 points per game. And he won a championship.
He just never did even two of those things simultaneously.
The all-time best players succeeded in multiple ways. World Peace had some of the elements. He just never put them together during stints with the Bulls, Pacers, Kings, Rockets, Lakers and Knicks – let alone for long enough to establish his greatness.
World Peace sacrificing his individual numbers for team success didn’t cost him the Hall of Fame, either. His 2010 title with the Lakers improved his stature, showing he could help a championship team. He’d probably be out of the league now if he spent that season averaging 18 points per game and making an All-Defensive team while playing on a loser.
And he didn’t go to China to prove he could score (which he didn’t do that impressively there, anyway). He went to China because not even the Knicks wanted him.
Still, the central question is difficult to assess, because a more-stable World Peace would have been such a different player. Maybe he would’ve stayed with the Pacers, developed into a go-to scorer while maintaining his defensive excellence and led an underrated Indiana group to the title.
The counterfactual is hard, and this case is far removed from reality. I come back to World Peace’s playing style. He defended so exceptionally, because he played with an edge. He was extremely physical with opposing perimeter players. He often crossed the line, committing an absurd number of flagrant fouls, and that behavior could spread off the court. But if World Peace didn’t have type of mindset, would he have defended as well? The aggressiveness of his defense and personality might go hand in hand.
As we get further down the rabbit hole of changing World Peace as a person, we risk changing him as a player – maybe for the better, but maybe for the worse.
Could a more stable World Peace have made the Hall of Fame? I really don’t think so, but it’s impossible to say with absolute certainty.