The National Basketball Association is filled with good, mediocre, and bad players--for NBA standards that is. There are very few "great" players. The word great is thrown around too much. Very quickly great becomes all-time great, and all-time great becomes legend, and legend becomes the best of all time--look at the is LeBron James better than Michael Jordon debate. James isn't close--not yet anyway. James has three championships out of seven--Michael won six out of six, and he left the game in his prime. James has a shot to be in the discussion of course, he has a real possibility to score the most points in an NBA career. He's doing things this late in his career that no one has.
James, of course, is a great player and he is not overrated. However, there are many good players that are called "great," which demeans the word. There are too many players who score points, or have been on good playoff teams and get paid like a great. Let's explore who exactly is a good player who has been overrated.
15 Gordon Hayward
There has been a lot of praise this season for Gordon Hayward. Much of it is earned. He’s increased his points per game to 21.9—not bad for an All Star. He’s become a leader on a Utah team that has been making noise in the Western Conference. There has also been a lot of talk in regards to Hayward’s free agency this off-season. Seen as one of the premier free agents, Hayward is largely expected to choose between returning to Utah or leaving for Boston.
What is surprising is how many people talk about Hayward as if he’s a dominant player—who could make or break Boston’s championship chances. He would absolutely improve the Celtic’s team, but to discuss him as that Super Star to push them over the hump is a bit premature. Hayward can put up points and he shoots 40% from three, but he has yet to win a playoff series, and he hasn’t shown the same flashes of talent that players mentioned in the same breath of him have (aka. Jimmy Butler, Paul George).
14 Paul George
This criticism of Paul George comes with the full recognition of the awful injury that he sustained while playing for team USA. George is a legit Super Star, but he often gets put in the same tier as LeBron James and Steph Curry, and while George is an extremely talented player, he is not James or Curry—he may not even be Klay Thompson, or Jimmy Butler.
Numbers being down the year after George’s injury are to be expected. What wasn’t expected was for the Indiana Pacers to have such a bad team, and for George’s numbers to stay relatively the same. George only scored 23.7 points a game on a talentless team. The major question is: how does George not light the league on fire, like Russell Westbrook did, on a team that deficient? And there is a legitimate question if George can be the best player on a championship team or if he needs other Star Players around him in order to be a contender.
13 Kyrie Irving
It should be noted that Kyrie Irving didn’t have much basketball success before LeBron James came back to Cleveland. Now, Irving is a Super Star scorer. He’s perhaps the best ball handler in the league, and he eats up opposing defenders (minus Klay Thompson, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley). Irving made the biggest shot in the Cavaliers’ history—shooting a three over Curry to win Game 7 in Oracle.
Since that shot it’s almost as if Irving can do no wrong. Some people call him the best point guard in the league, and while Irving’s scoring is up there with the best, he’s a terrible defensive player—not unlike James Harden. Irving is especially deficient at guarding the pick-and-roll, mainly due to bad habits when getting screened (not setting up angels correctly, going underneath when he should fight through). Irving’s defensive clumsiness makes it so that Irving’s NBA success comes only as second fiddle to another Super Star.
12 Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka’s status in the NBA has always been helped by being a part of the Big-3 in OKC. It seems that playing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook encouraged people to think that he was a “great” player. Ibaka is a very good player—a type of player that championship teams need. However, Ibaka isn’t a great player. His defense is good, and his shot blocking is great, but his offensive game is limited and he doesn’t make his teammates around him better.
When Ibaka was traded to Orlando, his numbers didn’t dramatically increase. They stayed about even, and Orlando wasn’t a much better team because of him. All great players make teams a little better—but Ibaka is not that player. He can make defenses better, but not the whole team in general. Yet he’s talked about as a “great” player.
11 Andre Drummond
At one point Andre Drummond was heralded as the next great center—the next Shaq, the next Kareem—especially as the league was decreasing in size. Drummond has been the center piece for the Detroit Pistons in their rebuild, but it seems that the Pistons may rethink their “untouchable” label for Drummond. It looked like he was blossoming into an elite center in his fourth eason when Drummond posted 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds a game—both career highs. This season however, both decreased to 13.6 points and 13.8 rebounds.
This decrease in stats alludes to a very unfortunate conclusion—Drummond is not going to be a star. The league has also seen centers surpass Drummond in the eyes of dominance and talent (Hassan Whiteside, Myles Turner, etc.). He’s the focal point of the Pistons, but he really shouldn’t be anymore.
10 Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry has only been labeled as a great player since last season, when he jumped from 17.8 points per game to 21.2 points per game. Lowry is the second best player on the Toronto Raptors, behind DeMar DeRozan. While Lowry plays point guard his assists numbers are below par, setting a career high with seven a game. He is not a pass first point guard, and so he and DeRozan sort of trade who scores on the team.
While Lowry has been praised for his great play in recent seasons, he is not a “great” player. His career averages aren’t great: 14.3 points, 5.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and he’s 36% three-point shooter. Lowry hasn’t led the Raptors into playoff contention, and he’s at an age now where his numbers might start declining.
9 DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins’ stats are absolutely incredible. He and Anthony Davis are the best big men in the game—and time will tell if they’ll work well together. Cousins averages 21.2 points and 10.8 rebounds a game for his entire career, and that will probably only go up for the 26-year-old Center. While Cousins’ numbers are great, he’s never won 40 games before—his teams have never been over .500.
Along with Cousins’ lack of success, his temperament has cost his teams games. At times it feels like he has the temperament of a five-year-old boy. Everything will be going great, and then one foul call doesn’t go his way and Cousins is throwing a temper tantrum. Though the refs do seem extra sensitive to him, as compared to other high energy and intense players like Draymond Green.
8 Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside has one of the best rookie year stat line. He was drafted out of Marshall University in the 2010 draft by the Sacramento Kings. His rookie season Whiteside only played one game for two minutes. He didn’t get any points or rebounds or assists. He didn’t shoot at all, and he committed two fouls. A great, great stat line.
Whiteside lef tthe Kings after two seasons, and then did not play in the NBA for two seasons. He joined the Miami Heat in the 2014-15 season and since then has improved into a serviceable player.
But Whiteside isn’t effective enough to bring his team to the playoffs as the best player on the team. He had to have Deion Waiters or Dwyane Wade play in order to be a playoff contender. Whiteside is also a notorious stat filler—wanting to play in garbage time and pad those points and rebounds.
7 Rudy Gay
Rudy Gay has been in the league for 11 seasons now. Some scouts thought he’d be a Paul Pierce type players—but he’s only ever been a poor-man’s Paul Pierce. Gay was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies. His second season he played great, scoring 20.1 points per game, but soon Memphis found it wasn’t getting very far with Gay. It turned out he was only ever a scorer—and Memphis traded him to Toronto, who traded him to the Sacramento Kings the next season.
Gay has averaged 18.4 points per game for his career, but he hasn’t made the playoffs since he’s been with the Kings. He’s a good player, and a good scorer, but he’s not a great player or a great scorer, and that will hurt his free agency this off-season. He won’t eve be as highly sought after as Gordon Hayward.
6 Joe Johnson
Joe Johnson is both overrated and underrated. Drafted 10th overall out of the University of Arkansas by the Boston Celtics, Johnson didn’t find much of a life in Boston. He, like many young players under Rick Pitino, found themselves traded before the end of their first season.
Johnson eventually found a home in Atlanta, where for several seasons Johnson averaged over 20 points per game. With the Hawks, Johnson became an integral part to some playoff runs. The Hawks never made very long playoff runs, and Johnson became known as a volume shooter. Yet, fans always seemed to discount his clutch shot—something the NBA fan base got to see again in the Utah Jazz’s first round against the Los Angeles Clippers. Yet, fans still overvalued Johnson, and he returned to his season averages against the Warriors.
5 Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is a stud, he’s a basketball stud, and an incredible talent. It is incredible the numbers he put up, and the athletic ability he possesses. That being said, Westbrook has also killed OKC’s chances at winning big playoff games, he doesn’t seem capable of letting another star have the limelight, and he can be an enormous ball hog (very similar to Kobe Bryant).
Westbrook was the ultimate version of Westbrook this season. His usage rate was 41.7%--which led the league. That type of user % is outrageously big. But it seems that is what Westbrook wanted—dominating the ball, getting the rebounds, and ultimately it hurt his team. That type of mentality—a sort of me-before-the-team mindset—made the Thunder’s team too predictable. And it made late-game situations, when Durant was on the team, difficult for OKC, because opposing teams knew Westbrook wanted to shoot. Fans and media put Westbrook in a top-tier spot of stars, but his mentality towards his team and game should knock him down a few pegs.
4 Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin should have been a high recruit out of high school. He shouldn’t have gone to a less-than-stellar-basketball college in Harvard. Jeremy Lin’s story is a story of racism and prejudice in Basketball, and in the United States. Lin was a highly talented basketball player, who was an undrafted free agent—signed by the Warriors in the 10-11 season. Though it seemed that while the Warriors thought Lin was talented enough to make the team, they also might have been thinking about how lucrative it would have been to have a local Asian player in a large Asian market.
Lin broke onto the scene in 11-12 while playing for the New York Knicks. The Knicks were riddled with injuries. Amar’e Stoudemire wasn’t playing the same, Carmelo Anthony was out, and up stepped Lin—sparking Linsanity—the only time the Knicks have been relevant since Ewing. And while Lin was amazing, he was overrated quickly. As soon as the NBA had scouted him out, his numbers declined and he turned into what he is now—a serviceable point guard.
3 Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo was, at one point, a super star in this league. Drafted out of the University of Kentucky at number 21 by Phoenix, but was traded for by Boston. Rondo played with the Celtics the year before the big three was formed, then enjoyed two finals appearences over three years with Boston—winning one.
Rondo blossomed into one of three elite point guards—Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rondo. He was the best player in a series with LeBron James in it. But, Rondo became inconsistent, often only showing up to play hard on nationally televised games. That and Rondo tore his ACL. Ever since he’s been a good, but no longer “great” point guard. But when the Bulls started to beat the Celtics with Rondo playing an important role in those wins, fans and media started to talk about Rondo like he was the next best thing. He’s still the same point guard he’s been with both the Kings and the Bulls.
2 Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis was very popular in the Bay Area. Drafted by the Golden State Warriors, Ellis was scoring 20 a night by his third season. He struggled to stay on the court in his last four seasons with the Warriors. The Warriors management decided to stay with Steph Curry rather than Ellis, and they traded Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut. It was an unpopular trade, but of course, it worked out for Golden State in the end.
Ellis is still thought of as an elite scorer, but he hasn’t been as effiecient or as dangerous since joining the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers had hoped to get a “great” scorer to partner with Paul George—a sort of Lance Stephenson replacement—but Ellis only scored 13.8 points a game as a starter his first season with the Pacers. His second season, this past season, he only started 33 games out of 74 played, and averaged 8.5 points. Not a great scorer anymore, not really even a good one.
1 Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap is the best player on the Atlanta Hawks—but the Hawks weren’t very good this year. Millsap averaged a career high in points per game at 18.1. He’s an excellent “little things” player—doing all the little things to make sure team wins: screens, scrappy rebounds, post up offense, etc. He does a lot for the team, but he’s not a “great” player.
But Millsap is talked about like he is a “great” player. Like Gordon Hayward, he’s a free agent and discussed as though he’ll really improve any time he moves to—or that he’s essential to the Hawks future. Millsap is a really good player, and he would be an asset to a championship contender (the Clippers, Boston, Houston—a lot of teams could use him) but he’s not going to put a team on his back and win a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.
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