Last week, I constructed a 15-man all-underrated team for the 2016-17 NBA season. It’s only fitting that I reverse it this week and create an all-overrated team.
Before you get too mad about my selections, players who I see as overrated aren’t necessarily bad players. Many of them are very good, even great. However, it just seems like the most common opinion of them is one that’s unreasonably high.
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
This is more of a fan thing than a media thing. Outlets like Sports Illustrated and BBALLBREAKDOWN have been generally fair in ranking Irving leading up to the 2016-17 season, placing him 25th and 17th, respectively.
However, there’s a segment of the NBA universe that believes his Finals performance means he’s the best point guard in the league. They’ll mention that he outplayed (an injured) Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals and made a clutch three-pointer over the league MVP in Game 7.
Irving is nowhere close to a complete player, though, and he’s been prone to injury in the past, hurting his effectiveness even when he is on the floor. He was great in the postseason, but he was relatively ordinary in the regular season. LeBron James’ playmaking skills mask the fact that Irving isn’t a natural distributor, and his defense has been generally below-average throughout his career.
Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Irving highlights. The man is the most skilled ball-handler in the NBA, which makes his style popular with fans.
But until he plays a full season at a level near that of Curry, Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, there remains a definite gap between him and those guys.
Jamal Crawford (Los Angeles Clippers)
I have absolutely no clue how Crawford won Sixth Man of the Year in 2015-16. There were at least five players with a better case, if not many more. It was a classic case of reputation helping someone win an award that didn’t have a clear winner.
At this point in the 36-year-old’s career, the modest positives he gives you on offense simply do not cover for his defensive indifferences. For the past two seasons, his Real Plus-Minus has been below negative-2.0.
Guys who can create offense out of nothing have started to become undervalued in the age of analytics, but Crawford just doesn’t create efficient enough offense to be useful anymore. Remember, he’s doing a lot of his work against opposing bench players.
But Crawford, like Irving, has an amazing handle, so that helps his rep a lot.
Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves)
It’s still just flashes of stardom for Wiggins after his first two NBA seasons. A beautiful, athletic drive here, a stifling defensive stop there and a pretty pull-up three on occasion will have viewers salivating, but it’s not consistent enough, and there are still plenty of holes to his game.
He’s not a floor spacer, he doesn’t create looks for others, and his defense is surprisingly mediocre. According to ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, he ranked 18th out of the 19 small forwards (negative-1.17) who played at least 30 minutes per game last season. Only Harrison Barnes had a worse number from that group.
This is not an indictment on Wiggins’ potential. As I implied before, he’s got the talent; it’s just about becoming more consistent and having more of a relentless mentality.
Julius Randle (Los Angeles Lakers)
There’s a difference between a player’s skill and his actual impact on games. For example, Kobe Bryant was probably the most skilled player on the Lakers last season, but he was probably their worst player because of how he monopolized the ball, took ill-advised shots and chose not to play defense.
That principle, to a lesser extent, applies to Randle. He’s a big man who rebounds the heck out of the ball, has the handle and speed to go coast-to-coast by himself and then make some spectacular plays. Those are rare skills for a man his size.
On the other hand, a lot of what he’s shown thus far suggests he’s a poor fit for the Lakers and the modern NBA. He’s a slightly undersized big man (6’9″), which is size you can live with if said big man can space the floor or wreak havoc on defense.
Randle does neither, so that’s a bit cumbersome for the Lakers. Of course, the franchise was a disaster last year, so I’m certainly not counting out the 21-year-old’s chances at a very productive NBA career. There’s still plenty of time to hone some of his impressive physical gifts.
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Drummond’s game is a microcosm of the struggle of the modern NBA big man. The 6’11”, 279-pounder is a physical freak and could have been an All-NBA First Teamer last year if he employed a playing style similar DeAndre Jordan (the actual center on the All-NBA First Team).
However, the 23-year-old center insisted on frequently posting up, where his unrefined skills rendered him ineffective. He doesn’t like bullying players down low on offense, instead relying on touch that isn’t very good. His terrible free-throw shooting (a career-low 35.5 percent last season) likely played a role in that lack of aggressiveness.
Those issues resulted in a 49.9 true-shooting percentage for Drummond, a dreadful number for anybody, but it’s especially bad for a big man who doesn’t shoot outside of 10 feet. Drummond would be best-suited to get himself into more pick-and-roll situations, where he can attack the rim moving toward it and catch lobs galore.
His defense is also pretty good, but not nearly as strong as you might hope from someone of his size and reputation. It would be nice if Drummond could develop that into an elite skill like he already has with rebounding.
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Derrick Rose (New York Knicks), Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors), Dwyane Wade (Chicago Bulls)
Frequently-injured players have a tendency to get underrated or overrated, and Beal falls in the latter category. He’s got a naturally pretty shooting stroke, but his offensive game isn’t very well-rounded and every metric points to him being a minus defender. The frequent injury woes only hurt his effectiveness.
Bulls fans gradually became more and more disillusioned with Rose over his past two seasons, so he’s definitely not overrated by them. But now, the 28-year-old will have to live up to the unreasonably high expectations placed on him by Knicks fans. Rose has been a hindrance to his team in nearly every way the past two years, which is usually what happens when a point guard can’t shoot, has one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios at his position and defends poorly.
Thompson is the second-best three-point shooter in the league right now (maybe ever?) and one of the top 25 or 30 players in the league. Too much higher than that, though, and you’ve lost me. He’s not the elite defender people make him out to be, and that’s supported by nearly every metric possible. He’s good on that end, just not elite.
Also, he can disappear on offense just about as easily as he becomes the Human Torch. Thankfully, having the best offensive player in the league next to him in the background helps obscure that inconvenient truth most of the time. It’s still baffling to me that he beat James Harden for a spot on the All-NBA Third Team.
To be clear, prime Wade was not overrated at all. He controlled all aspects of the game and was a top-five player in the league from about 2005 to 2011. Now, though, his stats are somewhat empty. His shooting efficiency reached a new low last season, and his defense has been gradually regressing for years. Despite the fact that he was considered the “star” of the Heat last season, the team was 5.0 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the bench.
Evan Turner (Portland Trail Blazers), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets), Corey Brewer (Houston Rockets), Rudy Gay (Sacramento Kings), Bismack Biyombo (Orlando Magic), Zach Randolph (Memphis Grizzlies)
High-pick draft busts who stay in the league a long time often have their reputation go one of two ways. Some of them become underrated since the bust label causes people to automatically assume they are bad players. Others become overrated since people so badly want them to be good and look at the positive parts of their game as confirmation bias.
Evan Turner, the No. 2 pick in 2010, has gotten the benefit of the doubt for much of his career, and it was never more clear than when the Trail Blazers threw $70 million at him this summer. He’s terrible at shooting from the outside and is mediocre-to-solid in most other basketball skills. He’s a rotation player, but not worth $70 million.
Faried averages an efficient 17 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career. So why has he never played more than 28 minutes per game in a season? Because he’s purely an energy guy who isn’t the same player if he has to play a lot of minutes.
Also, just because someone brings energy on defense, it doesn’t mean he’s making an impact. Faried makes acrobatic blocks on occasion, but he usually seems out of the loop on the team’s defensive schemes.
When you think of Brewer, what word comes to mind? For many people, “hustle” is probably the answer. Unfortunately for the Rockets, that’s basically the only thing he does nowadays. He’s never developed a three-point shot, and he’s gotten worse at finishing near the rim with age. His defense consists of a lot of gambling and reaching, which is sometimes effective but often detrimental to his team.
Gay’s reputation is definitely catching up with the harsh realities of his impact, and I hesitated to put himself on this list because of it. However, he’s still the type of player box score-watchers hold in high esteem. He’ll score, but he doesn’t do it very efficiently. He’ll defend, but not consistently as you might like. His playmaking took a dive last season (1.7 assists to 2.0 turnovers per game).
I just can’t ever picture Gay playing a significant role on a contending team, unless he hones a three-point shot, plays better defense and accepts a smaller offensive role.
Biyombo is a dreadful offensive player. He has a pretty high field-goal percentage because he’s almost always shooting at the rim, but it’s all ugly outside of that. The Magic might be hoping he can be a DeAndre Jordan-type rim protector and pick-and-roll finisher, but his hands are rocks, and he doesn’t have the vision to make plays for teammates after receiving the ball.
Of course, he’s an excellent defender and very good rebounder, but it’s rare to see those big men get massive contracts just for averaging 5 and 8 as a reserve.
Let’s just say there’s a reason Randolph is finally moving to the bench for the Grizzlies. Being a 15-8 guy who scores a lot of points from post-ups doesn’t necessarily make someone a star, and I think Z-Bo still skates by because of that billing. Randolph’s mediocre size, lack of explosion and reliance on his left hand sometimes makes him easy to defend for smart stoppers. He’s pretty bad on defense, too.
On a positive note, I think Randolph will definitely succeed in a reserve role. He can bully bench big men and may contend for the Sixth Man of the Year award.