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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.

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