One of Bill Simmons’ best basketball observations was the presence of the Irrational Confidence Guy. This tends to be an offensive-minded player who overestimates his own abilities to put the ball in the bucket. This isn’t always a bad thing, however, as these players’ brash tendencies often allow them to lift their team out of an offensive funk.
J.R. Smith is a recent example of such a player, as he exploded for a Cavs playoff record by knocking down eight-of-12 3-pointers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks.
With that said, let’s look at 10 players who epitomize the spirit of the Irrational Confidence Guy more than anyone else:
10. Jeremy Lin
This all comes down to Linsanity. These days, Lin is a quality backup point guard who can provide solid bench scoring, and once in awhile explode for 25-30 points. But what puts him on this list is those glorious three weeks in February 2012 where he broke through, and briefly seemed like the greatest player in the NBA. Undrafted out of Harvard, the only reason Lin is in the NBA now is because of that stretch with the Knicks. He raised his game to a ridiculously high level, forcing the establishment to acknowledge that he belonged here. Writing his post-Linsanity career off as a disappointment is missing the point. That Lin isn’t really as good as he looked during that run just makes it all the more impressive that he was able to play that well for as long as he did and secure his place in the league. I mean, that guy put up 38 against Kobe. That’s amazing!
9. Monta Ellis
Never the most efficient shooter — advanced stats *really* don’t like this guy — Ellis is nonetheless capable of scoring in bunches, averaging 25.4 points a game on the 2009-10 Warriors. In his last two seasons with the Mavericks, his game improved considerably, and he should be a relatively hot commodity as he hits free agency this summer. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a title contender picked up Monta and used him as a sixth man.
8. J.R. Smith
J.R. is about to play in his first Finals, and if he comes up with a few big shots, he could shoot his way up this list. Swish is generally the kind of guy who takes all the shots he wants no matter what. But on the Cavs, the presence of LeBron and Kyrie Irving has forced to him to rein in his shoot-first-ask-questions-later routine. Still, he’s the exact type of unconscious shooter the Cavs need to have a shot against the Splash Brothers. Look for J.R. to either help the Cavs win a few games, shoot them out of a few, or both.
7. Jamal Crawford
The only reason Crawford isn’t higher is because he’s never played in the Finals. After years of being stuck on perpetually doomed Knicks teams, Crawford really found his niche when the Hawks made him their sixth man in 2009-10. He averaged 18 points a game, and won his first of two Sixth Man of the Year Awards. While not terribly efficient, Crawford is a relentlessly confident shooter, who will take big shot after big shot, and make a lot of them, including some that have absolutely no business going in the basket. Crawford is a free agent after this season, and it’ll be interesting to see if he re-ups with the Clippers. The current Clippers crop has the potential to make a Finals, and that could give Crawford a chance to solidify his legacy as an all-time Irrational Confidence Guy.
6. Nate Robinson
Robinson staked his claim among the Irrational Confidence Immortals in 2013, when he helped the Bulls defeat the Nets in an epic seven-game series. Robinson was a surprisingly perfect fit on the Tom Thibodeau Bulls. His relentless offensive approach provided the perfect counter-balance to Thibs’ slow, defensive mindset, and that was a big part of why that team still reached the second round without Derrick Rose. After struggling with the Nuggets and Clippers this past season, Nate’s future is uncertain. But even if he never plays in the NBA again, he’s given us dozens of great memories.
5. Sam Cassell
I mean, The Sam Cassell Testicle Dance pretty much sums up why Cassell has to be on this list. During his 16-year career, he made multiple stops around the league, playing in two Finals early in his career with the Rockets, and another in his final season with the 2007-08 Celtics. Additionally, he managed to help lead a pre-CP3-and-Blake Clippers team (Ed. Note: Props to Elton Brand) to the second round, which might be his most impressive accomplishment of all.
4. Vernon Maxwell
Mad Max! A man so irrationally confident, he was known to try and fight Michael Jordan. On the 1994 Rockets, Maxwell epitomized the concept of Irrational Confidence because he seemed to genuinely believed he was on the same level as Jordan, or whatever All-Star he was going against that night. He may not have been right, but his brash attitude was a big part of why he was able to help the Rockets win the 1994 NBA title. It was also why he trumped up a hamstring injury after a lone game against the Jazz in the 1995 postseason, when he was really just sore Clyde Drexler has stolen his off-guard minutes. That’s more the “irrational” part of this list.
3. Robert Horry
Big Shot Rob! I mean, we could probably just put the entire ’94 and ’95 Rockets on here. Not much to say about this guy other than he made an insane number of key playoff shots. Horry was never going to put up super-impressive stats, especially in the regular season, when he usually rested his aging ones. But Horry firmly believed he was going to make every pivotal shot he attempted, especially in the playoffs, and he was usually right. One last thing: WHY DID THE PISTONS LEAVE HIM OPEN!
2. Vinnie Johnson
Basically, the definition of “heat check.” As the sixth man on the Bad Boy Pistons, Vinnie, also known as “Microwave,” provided instant offense off the bench, and provoked the immediate dread of whoever was stuck defending him. Those Pistons were primarily known for their brute force and intimidating defense, but Vinnie allowed them to be frightening on the other side of the ball, as well. Laimbeer, Mahorn, and Rodman can only be so terrifying when nobody’s scoring. Johnson’s presence allowed the Pistons to become a dynamic team that won back-to-back titles to end the 1980s.
1. Allen Iverson
I fear this choice will be interpreted as an insult — “AI can’t be an Irrational Confidence Guy, he won the MVP!” — but hear me out. AI is the greatest Irrational Confidence Guy because he was able to become an historically great player in spite of his limitations. As many statheads point out, he wasn’t a particularly efficient player (he was a career 42.5 percent shooter, and he only shot 31.3 from beyond the 3-point line), but what was so amazing about Iverson is that he found a way to be great anyway through sheer relentlessness. He would keep taking shots, and it would eventually start working. Iverson’s game might have had some flaws, but his unwavering confidence in his own abilities allowed him to have a Hall of Fame career. With that in mind, naming him the greatest Irrational Confidence Guy in NBA history is not an insult, but rather a compliment of the highest order.