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.
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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.
Many of the arguments against Stackhouse could be made against Iverson as well, but there is one major difference between the two. Iverson was able to lead his team to a 56-26 record and the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Despite comparable scoring stats, Stackhouse finished with a 32-50 record, raising the obvious question of how much his scoring actually helped the team.
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.
Still, Walker finished the season 336th in field goal percentage (he shot under 40 percent!) and also fired away ineffectively from three, as he led the league in attempted three-point shots per game but finished 128th in three-point percentage. This inefficiency from scoring is even more worrisome when you look at his usage rate, which came in at 27.8, good for 22nd in the league.
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.
Davis' stats also scream empty when you think of how terrible the Cleveland Cavaliers were, finishing 17-65 as they tanked for some high schooler from Akron. Despite the scoring output, the Cavs also felt Davis was less than his numbers said because they traded him the following season.
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.
To help hammer this point, look at Mashburn’s shooting percentage. He finished below 40 percent on field goal percentage and at 28 percent from three-point percentage despite attempting three and a half per game. Mashburn would retire after this season. He would finish this season with a field goal percentage of .392, good for 319th in the league. Mashburn embodies the empty stat man, as his high volume of shots allowed him to put up numbers that didn’t represent his actual talent.
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.
His stat line this season was 21.7 ppg, 3 rpg, and 8.1 apg, which is quintessentially Marbury. The numbers are good but his personal numbers never transferred to team success. This season, the Knicks would finish 33-49 and 12th in the Eastern Conference.
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.
When you look at his stats, you see some things that harken back to the fantastic version of Webber. Then you realized that he was throwing up 19 shots a game and parlaying that into an underwhelming 43 percent field goal percentage. Sure, he was scoring more than 20 points a game, but he was past his prime and benefitted from playing with Allen Iverson.
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.
Still, his stats paint a different picture of the All-Star. Butler’s field goal percentage checked in at 161st in the NBA. He also broke his hand to end the season and watched as his team limped into the playoffs and were promptly swept away. The injury bug would rear its head around Butler frequently, as he was unable to play more than 70 games until he was traded away from the Washington Wizards.
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.
He didn’t convert the shots with much efficiency, finishing the season with .436 field-goal percentage. He ranked 240th in the league and played his same uninterested defense. While the scoring punch he brought was admirable, Jamison is a classic example of high volume scorer that simply isn’t efficient enough. As we know, that was the least of the Wizards' problems in the late 2000s.
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.
Iverson has always been one of the most beloved players in NBA history, so the hype around him in the 2008-09 season was understandable. Still, it’s extremely misplaced because the Iverson that many people enjoyed was gone at that point. Much of the attention around Iverson at this point was because of the player he was, not the player on the court at that moment.
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.
Despite the high scoring totals, Ellis did not make the All-Star team. This may have been the league's punishment for a player that was absurdly inefficient. Couple Ellis’ bad habits of dominating the ball for bad shots with his horrid defense and you can see why Ellis was so overrated this season.
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.
There are a number of reasons that Bargnani should be considered overrated. Whenever a tall player that can shoot threes arrives, people are quick to compare them to Dirk Nowitzki. Bargnani lacked the aggressiveness to survive in the NBA and struggled with health throughout his career. This season was the one that people thought Bargnani might be taking the leap, but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
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.
While this season wasn’t bad for Williams, there were a lot of red flags in his stats that people should’ve seen. Sure, he averaged 21 points per game and made the All-Star game, but he was shooting a ghastly .407. This season was also the start of recurring injury problems. Still, because of his location and the ownership's drive to become relevant, Williams became a household name despite being overrated.
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?
It’s been well-established that Gay is a highly inefficient scorer. People see the total points per game and begin to salivate over what looks like an All-Star. Still, when you watched Gay play, you could tell he was mucking up the offense. The ball would stick in his hand for too long and he would often take contested shots. NBA fans talked about Gay as a great player this season but never bothered to talk about his abysmal .416 field goal percentage this season.
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.
This was Jefferson’s second best scoring season, but it preceded a steep fall in production. Jefferson began to be talked about as one of the best offensive big men in the league because of his ability to post-up. While these skills existed, they were often exaggerated and failed to cover up his struggles on the defensive end.
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.
Vucevic continued to put up hollow numbers and was painted as a growing star. He has always struggled on defense and is useless on offense unless he is a few feet away from the basket. There is a reason that the Orlando Magic was not winning even though they seemed to have a star playing for them.
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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