It seems that on today’s NBA landscape, every player falls into one of two broad-spectrum classifications: under or overrated. According to popular opinion, no player in the league has been accurately assessed by the general public. They have either been snubbed or slept on, slighted or over-promoted, fronted on or over-hyped.
Last week, I emailed the world’s greatest podcast to ask for their thoughts on why this need be the case, and if any player today is (for lack of a more grammatically correct name) ‘rightly rated.’ I wondered why it is apparently no longer possible for us to correctly assess a player’s merit and agree upon their relatively value.
The answer to that is simple: the entire process of player evaluation and the rating schema of us fans is relative, subjective, and personalized. Every fan assigns differing values to elements of any player’s game that is non-uniform. Therefore, we are apt to think the majority has under, or over, rated those players whose proportionate fame and respect within the league does not mesh with our own individual grading.
That said, I believe there are a select few players around the Association whose game we the public have reached a widespread understanding on. These are players whose talents and contribution are perfectly in line with our shared understanding of them. They are the Perfectly Portrayed and the Correctly Considered. I give you the All Rightly Rated Team.
Marcus Camby: An illustrious defender, Camby has sustained his high level of play even as his age advances past the point at which most bigs begin to slow in production. With averages of 11.2ppg and 12.3rpg, it is clear that he is still an excellent contributor and the sort of veteran that improves overall team defense and brings a number of positive intangibles to the locker room (his 2.3 blocks a night don’t hurt either). That said, he earns $10 million a season, and while most of his numbers are still above his career averages, his blocks have dipped and his 19.57 PER this season places him only seventh in the league among Centres. He is not an All-Star, but no one really considers him as one either, meaning he is generally acknowledged for what he is: an elite-level role player that has offensive shortcomings that he makes up for with long arms and great defensive timing
Derek Fisher: Fisher is a model of efficiency, consistency, and heady leadership. His stats are not, and have never been, gaudy in any respect (he is averaging a mere 10.6ppg) but his ability to control his team’s offensive sets and demand respect from all of his teammates (Kobe included) is something that cannot be measured. Leadership aside though, he remains a woefully average finisher in the lane, and while his clutch shooting in big game/playoff situations is well documented, he has never been able to create his own shot. He generally makes up for this by being LA’s second best defender, having lead the league last year in charges drawn. We all agree on who he is and who he is not. He does not possess any one special skill, nor is he incredibly athletic or long, but he has proven three times that a team can win a title with him at the helm, and at a mere $4,700,000 he has a reasonable contract, too.
Kevin Martin: Martin is an excellent, dynamic offensive player, and that is about it. He is a terrific scorer, pumping in over 24 points a contest, but his assists are woefully low for how often he is controlling the ball in Sacramento’s offense (just 2.7apg). He shoots a phenomenal 43.5% from three, but his overall game has become stagnant, as his PER has dropped to 18.93 from 21.51 just a year ago. That leaves him with the 43rd best PER in the league, which is ahead of the likes of Caron Butler and Steve Nash, but is nowhere near the All-Star level some thought he was capable of. He is in many ways the heir to Mitch Richmond’s title as a great scorer on a bad team (the Kings connection is too obvious to ignore) but he is a poor help defender and rebounder, and he does not create offense for his teammates. While he is certainly better than most comparable contemporary two-guards, we all agree that he is unlikely to be an All-Star.
JR Smith: Smith is accurately rated in that the general consensus about him is that he is impossible to try to rate. He is capable of exploding at any time for a run of 18 unanswered points, but equally as capable of going multiple quarters without finding the basket. He is neck-and-neck with Jamal Crawford as the definitive streaky scorer in the league today, and is considered by almost everyone as little more than an offensive firestarter and potential dynamo that can never seem to put it all together (he is averaging just 13.9ppg). His scoring productivity and efficiency vary greatly, while his poor on-ball defense and insistence on gambling for cheap steals makes him only an average defender. The overall agreement amongst fans seems to be that he is energetic enigma and not much else.
Antawn Jamison: The rap on Jamison is that he is a very good, but never great player, and that seems about right. He is a two-time All-Star, and has only had a PER below 17 once in his long career, yet he is nothing close to being a game-changing or franchise-saving star. To his credit he is averaging 21.7ppg and 9.1rpg, good for a 20.31 PER (up for the fourth year in a row). His rebounding rates have steadily improved throughout his career, and he is able to protect the ball and make good decisions while having one of the lowest turnover rates for any forward in the game. His sense of the game is wonderful and he is excellent at moving without the ball to get into spots where he can be effective, however he never distinguished himself as a guy that could carry a franchise and lead a team to any kind of meaningful playoff success. For this reason, the basketball public is generally in agreement that Jamison is an excellent second-option player on a real contender, but that he is not a perennial All-Star.
Emeka Okafor: Okafor has become something of a ‘poor man’s Dwight Howard,’ which is actually very significant praise given how dominant D-12 has become. As such, Emeka is rightfully considered to be an above-average-but-below-All-Star caliber of player, which is an accurate (if drawn out) description for a Centre with a PER of 18.76. That number puts him eighth among Centres, which is admittedly in the upper quarter of the league, however at such a shallow position, the accomplishment should be taken with something of a grain of salt. Still though, Okafor is averaging 14.1ppg and 10.6rpg and blocks almost two shots a night. These numbers are all down slightly from his career year from 2006-07, when he put up a 20.16 PER rate, but he is a very effective second or third option. No one considers him a star, and no one believes that he will ever blossom into one. Yet we all can agree that he is a top-10 pivot that is an excellent defender and solid rebounder.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2009 Rightly Rated Team. Got any disagreements? Suggestions? Feel free to throw out ideas about your own accurately assessed player in the comments below.