Every NBA season, we see some amazing performances. From Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double in the 1961-62 season to Steph Curry’s otherworldly three-point barrage last year, we see amazing happen year in and year out. Still, numbers can be deceiving, especially in basketball which naturally lends itself to empty numbers because of its large volume of possessions and high scoring games. We have all seen players average more than 20 points and wonder whether the guy really is that good or overrated. Whether it be inflated numbers, not having an impact on the team's wins, or getting undeserved attention due to the player’s media market, the signs that a player is more overrated than good are usually obvious.
Not every single player is going to be an All-Star or future Hall of Fame player. Some will be flash-in-the-pan stars that floundered after the increased attention and others will simply be average players that watched themselves become the center of attention.
This column is going to examine some of the most hollow numbers since the turn of the new millennium. One player from each season will be highlighted and will be labeled as the most overrated player of that year for a variety of reasons.
16 2000-01 Season: Jerry Stackhouse
Despite finishing second in points per game with 29.8 and making the All-Star game, Jerry Stackhouse’s numbers seem a little hollow with more context. First, Stackhouse finished second in shots attempted per game and minutes played behind only league MVP Allen Iverson. A high volume of shots and playing a lot isn’t a bad thing if you can score efficiently. Stackhouse struggled with this, as he ranked 301st in field goal percentage.
15 2001-02 Season: Antoine Walker
Antoine Walker would make the All-Star game in the 2001-02 and would help lead a feisty Celtics team to a winning record. Still, the heart of that team was Paul Pierce and while Walker didn’t hurt the team, his numbers paint the picture of an aggressive chucker. Walker finished 5th in field goal attempts per game and 3rd in minutes per game, which he parlayed into being the league's 12th best scorer on a per game basis.
14 2002-03 Season: Ricky Davis
One of the trademarks of being an overrated player is the explosive year that quickly becomes an outlier and Rickey Davis’ 2002-03 season is a perfect example of this. This season, Davis scored 20.6 points per game on 18.6 field attempts a game, both well above his career averages. This season also included Davis’ well-known stat padding game when he was able to record his first ever triple-double. He tossed a ball at his basket and quickly grabbed the “rebound” to record a 10th rebound. He was not given credit for the rebound and was mocked relentlessly.
13 2003-04 Season: Jamal Mashburn
No list would of forgettable chuckers would be complete without Jamal Mashburn. While Mashburn didn’t play much for the Hornets, it’s still impressive to see how much the 31-year-old player got to shoot. He averaged 20.9 shots per game, which allowed him to average 20.8 points per game, which is...uh...not a great ratio.
12 2004-05 Season: Stephon Marbury
Despite always stuffing the stat sheet, Marbury often left fans wondering what to make of the player. The talent was always there, but so was the ego. Marbury often referred to himself as the best point guard in the league despite never leading his team past the first round. I choose this season of Marbury because it was his first full season with the New York Knicks, where the mix of potential and giant media machine made the hype around Marbury ridiculous.
11 2005-06 Season: Chris Webber
Well past his prime, the majority of the attention to Chris Webber came from the legend of who he was. Years had passed since he was part of the upstart challengers to the Lakers and his size and athleticism made him a star. Webber played for an underwhelming Philadelphia 76ers team and was focused on more for the fact that he had been traded than anything else.
10 2006-07 Season: Caron Butler
Another example of a player that benefitted from shooting and putting up stats, Caron Butler finished in the top 10 in minutes played and top 25 in shots on a per game basis. Due to this high volume of shots, Butler averaged a robust 19.1 points per game and earned a trip to the All-Star game and that he probably didn’t deserve the attention he got.
9 2007-08 Season: Antawn Jamison
Not to pile on the mid-2000s Washington Wizards, but Antawn Jamison also thrived from a scoring aspect like Caron Butler did. Jamison averaged 21.4 points per game and was named to the All-Star game, the second of his career. While the scoring total is impressive, one only needs to look at his shot total -- averaging 17.9 per game, good for tenth most -- to know something is off.
8 2008-09 Season: Allen Iverson
This is not a referendum on Allen Iverson’s career but simply the year that Iverson’s aura surpassed his actual value on the court. Iverson started the season on the Denver Nuggets and was traded midseason to the Detroit Pistons. Despite the fact that he wasn’t deemed valuable enough for the Nuggets to keep him, Iverson still was named to the All-Star game despite a career-low in points per game with 17.5.
7 2009-10 Season: Monta Ellis
Despite finishing 6th in point per game with 25.5, Monta Ellis was an extremely overrated player in 2009-10 and has been for most of his career. His ball hogging tendencies are legendary and the 2009-10 season is his master thesis in shooting too much. Ellis took 22 shots a game, good for first in the NBA. Sadly, Ellis would only make 9.9 shots a game, good for a field goal percentage of .449 which ranked 221st in the league.
6 2010-11 Season: Andrea Bargnani
Heralded as a can’t-miss European All-Star, Andrea Bargnani quickly became a well-known player in the NBA. He was tall and could shoot threes and the Toronto Raptors thought they might have found a future franchise star. Bargnani was playing the part this season, averaging 21.4 points a game, good for 16th in the league. Sadly, this would be Bargnani’s career-high.
5 2011-12 Season: Deron Williams
It’s amazing to think back to when people argued about which point guard they’d rather have; Chris Paul or Deron Williams. We now know the answer is Paul, but the debate at the time raged. Williams was good in Utah, where he averaged 17.3 points per game and 9.1 assists per game. When he moved to New Jersey, many people anointed him as the next great point guard, which would turn out to be wrong.
4 2012-13 Season: Rudy Gay
Many of Rudy Gay’s seasons are similar but this one stands out because it was the season he was traded. His trade seemed like a slam dunk at the time. Toronto was gaining a young wing player that had a knack for scoring. What could go wrong?
3 2013-14 Season: Al Jefferson
Al Jefferson was doomed to have an uninspiring career due to his lack of defensive abilities despite the offensive firepower he possessed. As teams began to covet rim protection more and more, Jefferson continued to slide in value. Still, when you can score points, people will talk about you. This is what happened for Jefferson, as he averaged 21.8 points per game for a likeable Charlotte Hornets team.
2 2014-15 Season: Nikola Vucevic
A perfect example of the fantasy basketball star, Nikola Vucevic has always had the numbers that made people think he is better than he was. In this particular season, Vucevic averaged a double-double, putting up 19.3 points per game and grabbing 10.9 rebounds per game. They seem to be good numbers but fail to account for the fact that he shot 16.3 times a game, good for 21st in the NBA.
1 2015-16 Season: Kobe Bryant
Similar to the Allen Iverson section, Kobe Bryant and the hype around his final season came from the player that he was, not the player on the court. Bryant completely hijacked the offense this season, forcing young players such as D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle to take backseats and watch Bryant jack up contested midrange jumpers. Fans didn’t seem to care at all, as Bryant was rewarded with an All-Star game berth and ovations at visiting stadiums.
Bryant’s season point per game seems decent, at 17.6, but then you see his ghastly .358 field goal percentage. Couple that with the fact that he was averaging 16.9 shots a game and you have the profile of a player that is shooting way too much. Bryant is one of the greatest of all time, but this season is a reminder that Father Time remains undefeated and will hamper everyone at a certain point.
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