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NBA PM: The Most Overrated Player In The NBA?

We asked three of our Basketball Insiders to weigh in on a common question. This week we asked: “Who’s The Most Overrated Player In The NBA?”

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In what is a weekly Thursday feature, we ask three of our Basketball Insiders to weigh in on a common question. This week we asked: “Who’s The Most Overrated Player In The NBA?”

Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond puts up some monster numbers. He really does. In 2015-2016 he put up career highs in points and rebounds, dropping in 16.2 points per game and hauling in 14.8 rebounds per game, and in some of the most simplistic fantasy basketball leagues, that makes him a must-start guy every time he’s on the court.

Big numbers can be deceiving, however. Drummond is nowhere near as dominant as those statistics suggest, and in at least one important aspect of his game, he is literally the worst NBA player in the history of the game.

That area, obviously, is free-throws. In the same season that Drummond averaged those aforementioned career highs in points and boards, he also made a career-low 35.5 percent of his free-throws. His career 38.1 percent clip from the charity stripe is literally the worst in history. Shaquille O’Neal’s career free throw percentage, for comparison’s sake, is twelve points higher, and people still make jokes about how bad Shaq was at that particular skill.

The thing about Shaq, though, is he was dominant everywhere else. Drummond flat-out is not, which means Stan Van Gundy can’t count on him being on the court late in close games. O’Neal could at least hit one-of-two. Drummond is constantly at risk at missing both of them, and the rest of his skills don’t make up the difference.

He never has averaged 2.0 blocks per game, for example, despite his size and athleticism, and the most advanced defensive numbers don’t do him any favors. He was in the bottom third of the league when guarding the pick-and-roll and finished last season in the 36.9 percentile as a defender in the post. He’s too strong and too springy to get muscled around the way he does.

Offensively he has been so bad that Van Gundy had to change his entire offense just to accommodate having Drummond on the floor. Van Gundy has in the past run his offense through a big man, with lots of perimeter shooters waiting to reap the benefits of defenses collapsing on the big man. Drummond commands no such attention, firing up lazy jump hooks that miss the mark entirely too often. That means the perimeter guys aren’t eating, either. Particularly as the league moves away from “The Traditional Center,” Drummond looks more and more out of place.

It is easy to see Drummond as the sort of high-lottery pick/athletic freak that should be on the cusp of All-Stardom every year, but it never quite happens in large part because he really doesn’t will the Pistons toward any more wins from year to year. Some of the numbers are great, while others are historically bad, but whatever the statistics say, Drummond is overrated and that probably isn’t changing any time soon.

– Joel Brigham

Blake Griffin

If you missed it, Blake Griffin will be the NBA’s fifth-highest paid player in 2017-18 at $29.5 million and, for a franchise that lost Chris Paul over the summer, the recapture of their franchise forward was well worth a pretty penny. But the Los Angeles Clippers’ plan for success in the ultra-elite Western Conference seems to be running on borrowed time these days, just narrowly avoiding a complete rebuild in free agency last month. With Griffin now set as the team’s leader and first option, there’s some incredible pressure on him heading into training camp next month.

Since Griffin was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Clippers have reached the playoffs’ second round on just three occasions – 2012, 2014 and 2015 – and all of those appearances resulted in eliminations. For his worth, Griffin is a five-time All-Star and his statistics pass the eye test for an NBA-level superstar as well. He’s averaged 20 or more points per game in all but one year of his seven-season career (2012-13) and just tallied an all-time best mark of 12.1 rebounds over 38 minutes last season. Still, after all this time, his improved play hasn’t helped the Clippers join the conference’s elite contenders and it won’t get any easier this fall.

Despite his frequent inclusion on highlight reels, Griffin is still a somewhat limited player and one has to wonder how he’ll hold up for an 82-game season without Paul’s effortless playmaking abilities. While Griffin has certainly evolved past his dunk-only preferences – he dunked just 68 times in 2016-17 compared to his rookie season total of 214 – a look at his field goal percentage by distance still illustrates somebody that has struggled to expand his range.

Last year, 53.9 percent of Griffin’s shots came between 0-10 feet, a pretty typical range for an athletic power forward, and he knocked those attempts down at a 53.7 percent clip. In terms of finding your bread and butter and excelling at it, Griffin dominates the paint on most nights. Past that range, however, and it gets a bit dicier. From 10-16 feet, Griffin’s percentage fell to 32.2 percent, his lowest mark from there since 2011-12. A dip in percentage would be excusable if he was shooting it from that distance more, but Griffin actually attempted a shot from 10-16 feet just 6.1 percent of the time – the last instance in which he took that shot less was, once again, 2011-12.

Seeing a fall in both mid-range attempts and percentage is perfectly fine as long as Griffin continues to develop from three-point distances, right? Griffin posted a 33.6 percent mark from three-point range in 2016-17, his second-highest tally from deep in his career – a notch only beaten out by his much smaller 10-for-25 (40 percent) sample size from 2014-15. Even then, his 38-for-113 total falls far short of many of the elite big man shooters in the league, like Serge Ibaka’s 124-for-317 (39.1 percent), Kevin Love’s 145-for-389 (37.3 percent) or Ryan Anderson’s 204-for-506, (40.3 percent) ranges.

Ultimately, Griffin is a well-oiled superstar, one that’s probably well worth the fifth highest contract league-wide. However, considering Griffin’s current skill-set in comparison to many of the elite advances his position has made recently, he may come up just a little short. With the NBA’s best floor general now residing in Houston, we’ll have to wait and see how that influences Griffin’s ability to find quality, open looks at whatever distance he so chooses. Overrated may not be the best word to describe Griffin these days, but in an ever-evolving league, he’s fallen behind his positional peers, forever attempting to permanently extend his range.

– Benny Nadeau

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas had one of the more remarkable playoff performances in recent memory after his sister Chyna Thomas tragically died in a single car accident on the eve of Boston’s first round series with Chicago. Thomas honored his sister by playing through his grief, dropping 33 points on 18 shots in the opener, but the top-seeded Celtics looked vulnerable. The Bulls won the first two games on Boston’s floor behind inspired play from Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, but Boston stormed back to sweep the next four games. Thomas’ team-high 33 points in Game 4 helped the Celtics seize back home court advantage and provided the turning point in the series.

In the second round against the Wizards, Thomas was even more spectacular. With Washington pushing Boston to overtime in Game 2 in a series in which home court advantage proved decisive, Thomas scored an unforgettable 53 points on what would have been Chyna’s 23rd birthday to give the Celtics a 2-0 advantage. Thomas’ season would end in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals as he was unable to continue playing through a hip injury that had been aggravated in March. Thomas played through grief and played through injury, but in the end, he couldn’t help his team get past the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then came the offseason, and with it more chaos.

Thomas famously announced last summer that the Celtics better “bring out the Brinks truck” when he becomes a free agent in 2018, indicating that he expects to receive a max contract. Thomas reiterated that desire early this month, telling the Boston Herald he was “very confident” that he would receive the max next summer and “I deserve it.” How the Celtics might have handled his free agency will never be known because, on July 24, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving had requested a trade. On Wednesday, the Cavs and Celtics agreed on the final form of a trade that will send Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Brooklyn’s unprotected 2018 first round pick and a belatedly-added 2020 second rounder for Irving.

So how can a player with a credible case to receive a max contract make a list of the NBA’s most overrated players, especially after heroically leading his team to the conference finals? Start with this: Of 468 players rated in Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season, Thomas rated 467th. Only Doug McDermott rated as a worse defensive player than Thomas. The Celtics would have been faced with the same decision the Atlanta Hawks faced in 1994 with Dominique Wilkins set to enter free agency. Do you give superstar money to a player who only shows up on one side of the ball?

During the regular season, the Celtics allowed a team-worst (minimum 200 minutes) 108.6 points per 100 possessions with Thomas on court. With Thomas on the bench, the Celtics allowed a team-best 99.7 points per 100 possessions. In other words, Boston was nearly nine points better per 100 possessions when Thomas was out of the game, easily a team-high.

Thomas is one of the most spectacular and explosive offensive players in basketball, as he proved with his unbelievable performance in the playoffs. But it remains to be seen if his numbers will look as good on a Cavaliers team where he won’t be able to dominate the ball. LeBron James and Kevin Love will demand touches and Thomas will split time at point guard with Derrick Rose.

Thomas had the perfect opportunity to shine with a cast of complementary players in Boston. Thomas’ 1473 shot attempts during the regular season were 672 more than Al Horford, who was second in attempts for the Celtics. Unfortunately, the person who overrated Isaiah Thomas the most was Isaiah Thomas. After a season that will be delayed by Thomas’ ongoing recovery from the hip injury and an eventual role that won’t be nearly as ball-dominant as it was in Boston, Thomas will likely need to reevaluate his own earning potential when next summer’s free agency arrives.

– Buddy Grizzard

Every Thursday we’ll ask three of our guys to chime in on a common subject. If there is something you would like to see us address, drop it to us on Twitter at @BBallInsiders using the hashtag #ConversationThursday.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?

The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.

Bobby Krivitsky

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After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.

Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.

Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.

Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

 

 

While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).

One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.

Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.

So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.

Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.

If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season. 

Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.

If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.

There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.

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NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford

Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.

Dylan Thayer

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As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt. 

Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School. 

Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.

During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie. 

“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”

If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball. 

Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.

As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause. 

This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.

The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors. 

As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core. 

Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford. 

Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to. 

Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.

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NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future

Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.

David Yapkowitz

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There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.

Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.

If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.

The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.

Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.

There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.

The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.

It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.

But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.

Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.

Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.

But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.

Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.

That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).

Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.

That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.

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