Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The 45 Most Important Players to the Chicago Bulls Dynasty - #20 Craig Hodges

Craig Hodges
Craig Hodges is one of those guys who arrived to the NBA about three decades too early. The three-point specialist was drafted by the San Diego Clippers in the third round of the 1982 draft who came in and predictably...couldn't hit a three to save his life...well, I did not see that coming. His first two years in the NBA, Hodges shot just 22% from long range. Despite that rough start, Hodges would start to put it together in year three, and eventually raised his percentages all the way up to 40% for his career mark.

And that's really what Hodges will always be remembered for. He is the greatest three-point shootout contestant in history. Steph Curry couldn't carry his jock, he'd put Kevin Durant to shame, and let's face it, he made Larry Bird his bitch. He won the contest three consecutive times, from 1990-1992, made the finals two other times, and somehow even more impressively, he competed in the 1993 contest without being on an NBA team. Just look at this generic NBA jersey that he had to wear.

But let's get back to why we are here, and that is his contribution to the Bulls. After bouncing from the Clippers to the Bucks to the Suns, where he was traded to the Bulls in December of 1988 for Ed Nealy and a future second round pick. Oddly enough, both Nealy and that second round pick, Ricky Blanton, would end up spending time with the Bulls during their first three-peat.

Hodges would shoot over 42% from three-point range in his first year with the Bulls before following that up by reaching over 48% the following year. In the Bulls first two championship years, he shot a still very good 38% from long range while winning the last two of his three straight Three Point Contest Titles.

Although he played a more impactful role earlier in his career, for the Bulls, he served as Michael Jordan's backup which led to a lack of available minutes for Hodges. He only averaged about five points per game, but his per 36 minutes would have put him over 15 points, and he did it while shooting well from the field, and incredibly well from the free throw line (over 95% in championship years). He filled his role on those first two championship teams as he provided some scoring off the bench.

In the playoffs, it was more of the same. In the first game of the playoffs in 1991, Hodges put up 16 points and three steals to bury the Knicks before they even had a chance to hope for an upset. Although he didn't have any standout performances outside of that first game, he played over 12 minutes per game and averaged around five points per game. It was enough for the Bulls to finally get the monkey off their back and win their first championship.

In the 1992 playoffs, his contribution diminished somewhat due to the emergence of Bobby Hansen, but he was the same cog he had always been, coming off the bench and providing more good than bad.

The Bulls chose not to resign him in the offseason, and he became a free agent. Despite being a quality bench player, Hodges was not signed to a contract, likely due to his Muslim beliefs and outspoken political beliefs.

As I said earlier, it's a shame that Hodges played when he did as he was about thirty years before his time. He had a very good career int he 80s and 90s, but this is the type of player that gets PAID in today's NBA. Honestly, he would probably be the best YMCA basketball player out there at this stage in life, because shooters can shoot, and Hodges was one of the greatest marksmen of all time.

Finally, there was really no place to work this in, so I guess I'll end with it. I'm not gonna beat around the bush; his wife once doused him with gasoline and tried to set him on fire. She luckily did not succeed. She was still ordered by a judge to leave Chicago, but she's not in prison, and she should definitely be in prison. I was unable to confirm whether this spawned the term, "He's on fire," when a shooter gets on a hot streak. If you need to see a shooter on fire, figuratively, not literally, it doesn't get much better than Craig Hodges hitting 19 in a row to secure his third straight Three Point Title.

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