All it takes is one good playoff series, a single spectacular game, even one buzzer-beater for a player to boost his status among the NBA's elite. Before long, he is being praised with the game's all-time greats and all but guaranteeing his spot in Springfield. A reputation can sometimes be a tough thing to gain, but is usually an even tougher thing to lose. Reputations, right or wrong, lead to the notion that a player is either underrated or overrated.
Both sides of the coin are often debated, but I find it more interesting to talk about why a player is overrated than why he is underrated. Without further ado, here is my list of the five most overrated players in the NBA:
5. Dwyane Wade, Heat: Some may scoff at this ranking, pointing to the NBA Championship he won after being in the league just three seasons. I've even heard such absurd comments as "Wade won a title before Lebron, so he is a better player in my book." My response: has Lebron ever played with Shaq, or any player for that matter, that was a viable scoring option? No. The Cavs have never had a better second option than a slow, soft, and certainly goofy Zydrunas Illgauskas.
I'll admit, I was on the Wade bandwagon -- until this year. I realize Wade was struggling with injuries, but have you watched any Heat games this year? Silly me -- they are on TNT every week, so how could you not have watched them play? Without Wade, they are pitiful. With Wade, they weren't much better. When Wade hung up the sneakers for the season, the Heat had an NBA-worst 11-54 record highlighted by a stint where they went 1-26. Can you honestly imagine KG, Lebron, Kobe, or Duncan - even paired with eleven of the league's worst players - starting a season 11-54? I sure can't. In fact, I think Wade is surrounded by just as much talent as Lebron and the Cavs are 4th in the East. So why does Wade get mentioned in the same breath as the superstars I mentioned above? I rest my case.
4. Robert Horry, Spurs: I know he doesn't get a whole lot of mention during the regular season, but when the playoffs come around he is getting more publicity than the Beckhams. I swear Marv Albert is going to spontaneously combust every time he utters the phrase "Aw-ry, for three!"
I realize big names are born in the playoffs, and Horry has hit numerous game winners, but let's examine his career stats: 7.0 pts & 4.8 rebs. "Yeah, but he saves his game for the playoffs when it counts..." Horry's career playoff averages? 8.4 pts & 5.8 rebs. He shoots 42% in the regular season and 43% in the playoffs.
Those shots in the final minute have been clutch, no doubt, but what about the other 47 minutes in the game? Is he more valuable than the guys who put up 20+ during the game purely because he has a propensity for hitting the "big one" at the end? Apparently so, because I've heard more than one broadcaster plead Horry's case for the Hall of Fame. If that prophecy ever came true, he would have beat out hundreds, if not thousands, of current and former players who have contributed more to their team's success over the course of an entire 48-minute game.
3. Yao Ming, Rockets: I really hesitated on this one, because I think Yao has all the tools to be one of the most dominant forces this league has ever seen. He is 7'6", yet shoots free throws better than most guards (85%+). It's not that I think Yao has underachieved per say, I just think he has been the victim of unparalleled hype. The first player to come to the NBA from the World's most populous region, this hype was probably inevitable.
That said, he is grossly overrated. I measure a player's worth by the overall impact he has on his team's winning. Correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't the Rockets played their best ball while Yao has been out of the lineup? I'm not saying he makes the team worse, I'm merely pointing out his team has continued to improve despite his absense. I hate to bring up King James again, but every time he is out of the lineup, the Cavs play miserably. Same goes for the Suns when Nash is out, and the Spurs when Duncan isn't playing. At this point, Yao is an offensive force who is incredibly injury-prone, a defensive liability, and picks up stupid fouls. Sure, he is capable of putting up 30 & 15 any given night, but does he really make the Rockets much better as a team? If this past month has shown us anything, it's that the Rockets can be an elite team -- with or without Yao.
Part of my claim that Yao is overrated stems from my beef with McGrady-haters. T-Mac has taken most of the heat for the Rockets' underachievement in the postseason, while Yao has escaped criticism for the most part. If you watched the Rockets-Jazz series last year (like I did), you saw McGrady at his best, putting up 25 pts, 7 asts, & 6 rebs per game in the series. By no means did his play lead to the Rockets' demise. The Rockets lost that series because Yao couldn't contain a smaller, quicker Carlos Boozer, giving up 35 pts and 14 rebounds to the Jazz big man in the decisive game 7 (Boozer scored 41 in game 2 of that series, as well).
2. Shawn Marion, Heat: This selection probably has a few of you scratching your heads, and I think I know why. This may be counterintuitive, but Marion is a rare player that has been called underrated so much over his career that he has actually become overrated.
Marion's pouting in Phoenix these past few years has been well-documented, as he has called himself undervalued (despite being paid $16.4M per year) and asked to have more plays called his way. Either D'Antoni totally missed the ball, or Marion just isn't the type of player you can run an offense through. I tend to believe D'Antoni in this case, as he is an offensive mastermind.
Marion will fill up the stat sheet, but he cannot create his own shot. He may be the best "garbage" player in the league, but his team will only be successful if he is surrounded by capable offensive threats and he doesn't have to be a primary option. Case in point: the Heat got no better after acquiring the Matrix and I'll bet his efficiency dips with Wade out. For this reason, I don't think he's deserving of that gaudy contract. If a player's contract is reflective of his perceived worth, I think he is one of the most overvalued players in the league.
1. Shane Battier, Rockets: I know a lot of you Dukies are going to be butt-hurt over this selection. Coach K's golden boy could never do wrong if you're a true fan of the white and blue. His heroics guided Duke to a National Title and his intellect warranted Billy Packer's bona fide man-crush during March Madness.
I know, I know, Shane is "Mr. Efficient." He's as consistent as winter rain in the Northwest. If by consistent you mean consistently mediocre, I agree. Despite playing nearly 37 mpg, he has only managed to average 9 pts and 5 rb per contest this season. For a player who's consistency and fundamentals are constantly praised, I was surpised to find he was shooting a miserable 43% from the field and a below-average 72% from the charity stripe.
It's not that Shane is a bad NBA player, it's just that he is very average. For whatever reason, though, USA Basketball (mainly Coach K) felt inclined to include him on the National Team. I know that the staff is looking for the best "team," not necessarily the best "players." Using that criteria, what makes Battier a better fit than Ime Udoka or Luke Walton? Because he is Shane Battier, "Mr. Efficient," "Mr. Intangibles," or whatever other adorable nickname he earned in college.
In my opinion, Shane Battier has been a bigger beneficiary of his past reputation than any other player in the league. The fact that he was asked to represent our country as one of our best fifteen players is reason enough to call him the most overrated player in the game.
Disagree with any of these opinions? If so, leave some feedback... maybe even your own list of the league's most overrated players.