Even though elite NBA players cost about a billion dollars a dozen these days, there’s no such thing as a perfect player. (Bill Russell couldn’t shoot, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar couldn’t feed himself with his left hand, Larry Bird couldn’t guard anybody one-on-one, Magic Johnson couldn’t guard anybody none-on-one and Michael Jordan couldn’t shoot with his left foot.) Even so, the flaws in some players’ games have traditionally been ignored because of the numbers they produce, and because of their obvious talents. But numbers can be misleading, and talent isn’t enough to measure a player’s true value.
At the heart of the matter is the very essence of what professional basketball is all about. Are spectacular highlights and impressive numbers the goal? Or is the long season all about winning?
So, then, let’s take a look at some of the NBA’s most celebrated players, past-and-present, who — despite what they might say when the red light is turned on and a microphone is shoved in their faces — care more about accomplishing personal rather than team goals. Here are some overrated All-Stars.
DWIGHT HOWARD heads the list. No matter what his rebound totals might suggest, he simply fails to come down with enough tough in-traffic missed shots. Even after being in the league for lo these many years, Howard’s offense remains crude and is easily stymied by the better-coached teams in the league.
In addition, Howard can’t complete complicated passes when two-timed; can be fouled for profit; is so eager to swat shots that smart teams can sucker him into following the bouncing ball; and is unable to contain opposing bigs who can turn, face and attack.
Even so, Howard believes that he’s already the best he can be.
ROY HIBBERT is weak, awkward and, despite being 7’2”, is short-armed whenever a game is up for grabs. Hibbert reached his peak in Indiana only when Brian Shaw was an assistant coach. Without Shaw’s constant goading and challenging Hibbert to be aggressive, the big guy became the NBA’s perennial leader in getting knocked to the floor. Hibbert is also among the league leaders in committing silly fouls.
TYSON CHANDLER has trouble latching on to those passes thrown to him that aren’t shoulder-level and above. His rebounding range is limited to how far his arms can extend when he’s standing still, i.e., the definition of a one-space rebounder.
Chandler never accepts responsibility for his own misplays and plays best against bad teams.
PATRICK EWING sweat profusely and certainly played hard — but this was true only on offense and only when he had the ball in his hands. Widely praised as a great defender at Georgetown, Ewing couldn’t adequately defend any NBA opponent who could score facing the basket.
Because Ewing was reluctant to pass, he routinely made bad passes, and his number one priority was to score. Despite being glorified by the New York media, Ewing was one of the biggest choke artists ever to play in the Big Apple.
KARL MALONE was similar to Ewing in that he was all about getting his own points — this, even with the original Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics.
He could take his right hand to the hoop with awesome power, but because he didn’t have a lively body, he couldn’t catch and explode. This hesitation allowed clever defenses to make adjustments that limited his effectiveness.
Malone was also widely criticized by his peers for making bad decisions in the clutch — usually shooting low-percentage fadeaway jumpers turning to his left, or else trying to force pinpoint passes into heavy traffic.
Although Malone was routinely named to various All-Defense teams, veteran coaches claimed he was a poor defender. “He was much too concerned with avoiding personal fouls to play solid defense,” said one coach. “That’s because he couldn’t score any points while sitting on the bench. So he always went for the strip, sometimes knocking the ball out of bounds, rarely making a steal and, most often, giving his man a good shot.”
His assist-turnover ratio was a horrendous 5:4. There are only two reasons why Malone is deemed to be an elite power forward — John Stockton, and longevity.
DAVID ROBINSON was a graceful, agile athlete, but he lacked a passion for the game. “David didn’t want to work out during the offseason,” said a one-time Spurs assistant coach, “because he didn’t love basketball. He’d much rather play the piano, fuss around with his computer and tend to his Christian business. For Robinson, basketball was just another business.”
In truth, the Admiral was strictly a finesse player who’d rather shoot mid-range jumpers than play big in the shadow of the basket. The only real successes Robinson ever accomplished were when he was paired with either Tim Duncan or Dennis Rodman.
For sure, he could come from the weak side and block shots, but he’d also be used by centers who came right at him. Indeed, Robinson never wanted to guard Hakeem Olajuwon without the aid of a double-team the instant Olajuwon touched the ball.
“David is a really nice guy,” said a well-traveled NBA scout, “but he was known in certain circles around the league as the Tin Man because he had no heart.”
CHARLES BARKLEY was a true phenomenon — a relatively small power player who could outmuscle most small forwards and outmaneuver the standard-sized power forwards. But these same advantages made him too small to defend power forwards and too slow to defend small forwards. It was axiomatic that no matter how his own numbers added up, Barkley normally gave up more than he contributed.
On offense, he either launched his erratic jumper from the outside or stubbornly backed the ball toward the basket. In fact, most opposing coaches liked to see Barkley make his first perimeter shot so that he’d keep on shooting. Moreover, he didn’t want to yield possession of the ball unless he could make a spectacular pass.
On defense, he wouldn’t rotate and only played ferocious defense when the spirit moved him (which was seldom). His laziness was no secret, nor was his eagerness to scold his teammates for faults he himself was guilty of.
According to one NBA insider, “Charles was only concerned with his own self-aggrandizement. And because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, he screwed up every team he ever played for.”
CHRIS WEBBER was always likable and extremely intelligent, but he was spoiled by all the Fab Five hype at Michigan. On the court he always had to be the center of attention, so he invariably got upset whenever a play was called that didn’t go through him. And remember how he’d fondle the ball and cast longing eyes at the basket before passing?
Also, whenever a crucial game was on the line, C-Webb would shoot mid-range jumpers or fadeaway jump hooks rather than battling his way hoopwards and possibly get banged. That’s why Webber’s shooting percentage always diminished as a game proceeded. Face it, this guy was a loser.
KEVIN GARNETT is, and always has been, a choker. He specializes in beating his chest and scowling, shouting while slamming his fist against cushioning of the basket, screaming at his teammates, and tallying beaucoup points in blowouts.
Even in his prime, KG was ridiculed by the coaching fraternity for being a bust in the clutch. Even one of his ex-coaches said that Garnett “Could never, ever, at any stage in his career, be considered close to being a franchise player.”
It was, and is, no secret that Garnett’s mouth was always bigger than his game.
WALT BELLAMY — He was lazy, sloppy, soft, selfish, defenseless and useless in the clutch. The media called him “Big Bells,” but his fellow players had another name for him — “Tinker Bell.” His career averages of 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds per game notwithstanding, what’s Bellamy doing in the Hall of Fame?
CONNIE HAWKINS — He could finish in spectacular ways, and he could make both plain and simple passes. Otherwise, he couldn’t shoot, rebound, run or play defense. How bad was the Hawk’s D? The first time he played in Madison Square Garden, the Suns tried to hide Hawkins’s atrocious defense by matching him up with Dick Barnett. Too bad Barnett was so insulted by the ploy that he lit up Hawkins for 35 points. Also, nobody ever accused Hawkins of having a passion to play basketball: He once told the Suns that he couldn’t play that night because he had a fever. A doctor was summoned, and Hawkins’s temperature registered at 98.9. As a result, Hawkins felt justified to sit on the bench in his civvies. Hawkins was all flash and very little substance.
BOB McADOO — Here’s all anyone needs to know about McAdoo’s game: When he played against the Celtics, McAdoo was usually defended by Dave Cowens. Now, Cowens was a legitimate tough guy who always played with intensity, power and courage, and whose rough-house tactics on defense would often approach minor felonies. At the start of McAdoo’s matchups with Cowens, B-Mac would assume his favorite position on the left box. Perhaps he’d even get a shot off. Perhaps he’d even get fouled. But Cowens would definitely assault him with elbows, knees, hips, forearms and fists. By the middle of the first quarter, McAdoo would post-up five feet beyond the box. By the end of the fourth quarter, he’d be looking to receive the ball near the three-point line. Anything to avoid contact. In other words, McAdoo was nothing more than a big, quick, soft, jump-shooter deluxe.
ANDREA BARGNANI … Hold on. Does anybody in the league (except for his accountant) still retain a positive view of this guy?
RUSSELL WESTBROOK is incredibly quick (within a limited space) and fast (from coast-to-coast), but he’s not suited to be the point guard on a championship-worthy ball club. That’s because he still overhandles, forces too many shots, often ignores Kevin Durant, is an iffy shooter from beyond the arc and is a turnover machine.
It’s remarkable how little his point-guard play has improved since he was a rookie. Westbrook (and the Thunder) would be better served if he was repositioned at the 2-guard slot.
RAJON RONDO’s ornery, petulant attitude inevitably annoys his coaches and his teammates. Also, Rondo can’t shoot himself in the foot yet always has to dominate the ball to be effective. This is a parlay that never has a happy ending.
MONTA ELLIS is another high-volume shooter who can’t differentiate between a good shot and a bad one. Also, his assist-to-turnover rate is only marginally acceptable.
Beware of players like Ellis who post otherwise impressive numbers on poor, mediocre or underachieving teams.
DERON WILLIAMS has apparently left his game somewhere in Salt Lake City. Without the support, definition and protection of Jerry Sloan’s highly disciplined system, Williams’s performance has been aimless and erratic.
ALLEN IVERSON shot too much, missed too much, dribbled too much and was generally mesmerized by the ball. When Iverson was on the floor, his teammates were reduced to being bystanders. They knew that they’d get the ball only when Iverson’s headstrong ventures into the paint were jammed by collapsing defenders who rendered him shotless.
Okay, so he was gangsta tough and his boyz were packin’. But Iverson’s mucho-macho game plan wasn’t designed to win championships. How many NBA champs featured a point guard as their high-scorer?
Only four times in 69 seasons — Bobby Davies with the Rochester Royals in 1952, Walt Frazier with the Knicks in 1973 and Isiah Thomas with Detroit in 1989 and 1990.
MARK JACKSON was slow and defenseless. The primary reason why he accumulated so many assists was that he’d endlessly dribble and back-in until he found a shot of his own or one for a teammate.
No wonder he was repeatedly traded, waived and wound up playing for seven teams (not including repeat appearances with New York and Indiana) over the course of his 17-year career.
But, hey, he was born and raised in Brooklyn, played college ball at St. John’s in Queens, and played with the Knicks in Manhattan. And even the national media’s spotlight always shines brightly on New Yawk hoopers.
PETE MARAVICH — A one-man circus who wouldn’t throw a pass unless it was behind-the-back or through-the-legs or in one-ear-and-out-the-other. His ball-hogging made him unpopular with his teammates, but scored big-time with the media. It’s no accident that his teams were always pretenders and never contenders. It also says here that Maravich was the worst defender in NBA history.
GARY PAYTON – GP was always a shoot-first point guard, favoring post-ups, open middles, and high- and low-screens to locate his shots. He was also a confrontative player, demanding perfection form his teammates and his coaches, but never from himself. Payton’s reputation for playing outstanding defense gained him All-Defense honors for nine seasons, and a famous nickname, “The Glove.”
Even so, during the 1996 Finals, the Chicago Bulls set out to prove something that they already knew — that Payton’s rep was mostly bogus. In lieu of playing solid contain defense, Payton routinely gambled for steals at every opportunity, and when he failed he put his teammates in jeopardy. The Bulls limited Payton’s room to maneuver by posting Michael Jordan, who had little difficulty catching, shooting, driving and generally having his way against GP.
Payton’s game was less than meets the eye.
In the wonderful world of the NBA, much of what glitters is probably gold-plated.