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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?”

Basketball Insiders

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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 Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers

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Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz

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The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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