Between the more widespread use of advanced statistics, and the argument on whether we should take the words of players and coaches as gospel, some NBA players get unfairly hit with labels. We overrated some and underrated others, and often it’s a tag that sticks with them for years. I’ve said this before but in no other sport do we obsess over rankings like we do in basketball. In baseball, it’s so easy to hit a slump or tail off for a short period of time. The best hitters in the world can still go a whole month hitting measly ground balls and pop-ups. In football, it’s impossible to truly compare players. Is Philip Rivers better than Adrian Peterson? Ed Reed or LeSean McCoy? Too many different positions, responsibilities.
But in basketball, as we’ve done before, rankings players is easier. There are questions: can our eyes deceive us? Can a box score tells us something that the game can’t? Which players do we struggle to define as great, overhyped, decent or underrated?
At only 25 years old, Ellis is completely trapped when we talk about the best players in the game. He’s averaged at least 24 a night for two straight years, at least 20 in three of the last four, over two steals a game for two straight years, all while leading the league in minutes played. But as long as he plays on a team that can’t make the playoffs for an organization notorious for running-n-gunning in a city that while passionate, isn’t a part of the NBA’s inner circle, Ellis will always have a but attached to the end of his resume. So much of who he is as a player is a product of his environment. If he was on a great team, what would he put up? Would he be a No. 1 option? Perhaps no player in the league is a polarizing as Ellis. He could be the third-best two guard in the league behind two future Hall of Famers, or he could theoretically be a Sixth Man on a championship team.
There are people â€“ NBA fanatics â€“ that’ll tell you they’d rather have Carmelo Anthony than LeBron James. He’s better at the end of a game. He can create offense from anywhere on the floor, and simply makes big shots. Then there are others that’ll tell you he’ll never win anything as long as he continues to play defense like a cardboard cut-out. So some people wouldn’t throw Anthony into the top 20: he scores inefficiently and his defense makes even Mike D’Antoni cringe. He thinks that’s ridiculous. Here’s the good: in four of the last five years, he’s scored at least 25 a night, all while developing a three-point shot, and mixing up his game between the box, the wing and the arc. Here’s the bad: his teams were less than one point per 100 possessions better with him in the game last season (compared to someone like Steve Nash, whose Suns were 17 points better when he played), and as his career is aging, his assist rates are going down even as his usage rate stays very high.
Dime commentators are notorious for slicing down the middle with this one. Half believe Rondo would put up stupid numbers if he played on another team where he had to score and had the ball in his hands the whole game. The other half believe without the great players around him, his shooting would be exposed, he’d struggle to get assists and he’d turn into just another player. For the first half of last season, Rondo was a legitimately MVP candidate, and had many including him in the conversation for best point guard in the world. But then, he nosedived in the second half, and flamed out against Miami in the playoffs. Take away his big Game 4, and Rondo put up 7.5 points and 6.5 assists a night in that series. Rondo’s unique game makes him a perfect target. His assist rate was a ridiculous 79 last year, behind only Jason Kidd. Is that him, or is it having Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?
Is he the best player in Atlanta? Or is he a fake All-Star? Horford has settled into a career that looks primed to throw out routine 15/9 seasons, and whereas Josh Smith is the spectacular on defense for the Hawks, Horford is the rock. So he gets credit for that, and gets the All-Star votes when February comes. But if you’re a second round team at best, how good can the best player actually be? Joe Johnson scores more points, and has the ball in his hands at the end of a game, but if he shoots awful percentages and doesn’t stand out on defense, can you legitimately say Horford is more important to the team’s success? He’s a center who only averages one block a game. He’s a player who doesn’t have a single quality that stands out, other than being very good on defense without anyone really noticing.
[Related: Danny Granger – Noah Is Dirty]
Whereas Horford is the better scorer, Noah is the better shot blocker. Horford is the more skilled of the two; Noah is the better rebounder. Their strengths are different, but they’re responsible for the same things on two Eastern Conference playoff teams: bring energy every night, control the paint, play against bigger people and never cause a problem or take a shot they shouldn’t. Seems easy enough. Noah finished third in the entire NBA in defensive rating (96.8) – behind only Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. But since he can’t make jump shots, he shoots uglier free throws than just about anyone ever and because we like to think of great players as offensive stars, he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. The same things that make him effective – hustle, drive, unselfishness – also bring people to label him one-dimensional.
What are your opinions of these players? Who in the NBA sticks out as underrated/overrated?
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