Last week, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter received his fifth career Gold Glove. Considering that a lot of observers feel Jeter is among the worst defensive shortstops in Major League Baseball, the fact that he won an award for being the best at his position caused more than a little uproar.
But to the casual fan, Jeter is totally deserving of a Gold Glove, if not several other awards. After all, he’s Derek Jeter. His reputation precedes him.
The NBA is full of Derek Jeters, players who are still getting recognition — or simply getting by, period — based on the name they have built for themselves more than what they’re currently doing on the court.
But a name doesn’t mean everything. I mean, Nate Dogg used to be a great singer to put on the hook of your song, but nobody today is blowing up his phone for a feature just because he’s Nate Dogg. Who in the NBA is living off an old reputation?
5. THEO RATLIFF, Lakers — During the prime of a career where he’s played for nine different NBA teams in 15 years, Ratliff was a shot-blocking specialist. Three times he led the League in blocks per game (’01, ’03, ’04), building a reputation as a fearless defender. He would challenge any dunker, and won enough of those mid-air battles that he also altered a lot of shots by players who were worried about getting swatted. However, with age goes shot-blocking ability, and now Ratliff has gone from hosting block parties to being the poster boy. His reputation as a shot-blocker convinced the Lakers that he was worth signing, even though he hasn’t blocked more than 1.6 shots per game since 2005.
4. SASHA VUJACIC, Lakers — Formally known as “The Machine,” he was once L.A.’s go-to three-point shooter. In ’07-08 he shot a career-high 46 percent from long range, hitting 219 threes that season. Since then, however, his minutes have decreased each year along with his role on the team. At the peak of his career, Sasha was thought be some to be one of the best shooters in the League as well as a scrappy enough defender to earn significant minutes, but times have changed. Last season he played less than nine minutes per game, hitting a mere 30 percent of his three-pointers. And if the Lakers expect Vujacic to be a factor in the hunt for a three-peat, they’ll be highly disappointed.
3. RON ARTEST, Lakers — The Lakers may need some defensive help on the perimeter, and quick. Sure, Ron Artest used to be a great defender, maybe even the best in the League, but why is he still getting labeled as a defensive force? Let’s be honest here: Who is Ron Artest really shutting down anymore? Dating back to last season and early into this season, almost all the elite wing players in the League have had their way with Artest. LeBron dropped 37 points on Ron-Ron in their last meeting, Rudy Gay lit him up for 30 earlier this month, and Carmelo Anthony gave him 32 just last week. He’s also openly admitted to Brandon Roy giving him a hard time. Lakers fans still call Artest the best defender in the League, and a lot of people were upset that Ron didn’t make the All-Defensive first or second team last year, but Kevin Durant made him look like a 40-year-old out there in the first round of the playoffs. If L.A. runs into OKC or Denver or even a healthy Portland squad in the playoffs this year, Artest’s now-overrated defense could get in the way of their three-peat chances.
2. VINCE CARTER, Magic — Don’t get me wrong, he can still play, but can he still jump? When Dime ranked the Top 25 dunkers in the world a couple weeks ago, many readers felt that Vince (#20) got snubbed. Some even said he should be in the top three. Maybe they didn’t get the concept, but the article was about the best dunkers currently, not 10 years ago. I know the guy has had some monumental jams in his heyday, however his athleticism clearly isn’t where it used to be. Vince knows that, and he’s OK with it. Therefore you don’t see him going for those reckless bangers anymore. On Saturday I went to a barbershop in Jamaica, Queens, and we started talking about the NBA dunk contest and what it used to be. I was done when people started seriously saying Vince Carter needs to be in the 2011 dunk contest. If the NBA does that, they might as well let MJ suit up again.
1. CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, Nuggets — Chauncey’s “Big Shot” days may be coming to an end. He’s still a great point guard, and controls the tempo of a game like few PG’s can, but his reputation for making clutch shots has become overblown in recent years. He doesn’t even take that many, since Carmelo is the best player on the team and one of the best in the League in crunch-time. When the Nuggets need a big shot, they go to ‘Melo before first. Chauncey can be a great decoy, and he didn’t earn the nickname “Mr. Big Shot” for no reason. But, in this case, sometimes a name is just a name.