NBA Stock Watch: Overrated and Underrated (Part 1)

Even with league pass and social media capturing every gorgeous passing ballet and Boogie profanity, we still seem to lose our power ranking bearings. Who’s properly rated and who’s really just a grotesque image that Twitter spat out? Perhaps social media and its trollers and hashtags have strayed us away from rational observation. Or maybe fans just innately stress offense and box score numbers over two-way steadiness.

Kyrie Irving was the champion ‘Market Inflation’ player of last season; the point guard prodigy who somehow flew into the top five point guard discussion on the back of glorified pick-up game MVP honours and Uncle Drew momentum.

Finding the right pieces to fill the over and under positions for players, coaches, teams, GMs, fan bases and jerseys is an imperfect science, but here’s our best shot at challenging commonly held perceptions, and deciding 2015’s over and unders.


Overrated Team: Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have gone from screaming “Why the hell is nobody talking about us?” to “WE THE NORTH” to “Holy crap, what happened to us?” in a space of 12-months. While the Drakes are sure to ride this rollercoaster to season’s end, it’s becoming clear that they’re most likely the Joe Johnson era Atlanta Hawks; a second-tier playoff team capable of winning an early round.

Through rocking a rabid fan base, taunting Brooklyn, and inspiring a social media frenzy, the Raps have somehow flipped from underrated to overrated.

Don’t get me wrong: Kyle Lowry is an A-hole in the best possible way, DeRozan continues to grow every year, and the team lives at the line. They’re a fluid team with an impressive home court advantage. But unfortunately the Raptors’ defense has softened this year, which is a worrisome trend for any contender, and Lowry has bathed in basketball mortality over the last month.

Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams are slow-footed perimeter defenders, and Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson provide insufficient security on the boards. As a result, Coach Dwayne Casey has had to shuffle the decks in the pursuit of a more defensively committed rotation.

Sure, if the Raps can hold firm and importantly avoid the fourth seed (a date with Chicago/Cleveland looms… Good luck!), advancing past the first-round is a near formality. But the Drakes’ ambition isn’t achieving first-round honours. Either way, the general perception of Toronto as genuine Eastern Conference title contenders feels like overs to me.


Underrated Team: Memphis Grizzlies

If Andrew Bogut was to snap his Achilles (OH. GOD. NO), and Coach Bud was slapped with three more DUIs before Pia Miller struts her first bikini run on Home And Away, the Memphis Grizzlies might just be the best team in basketball. In fact, scratch that. The Grizz are the best team in basketball!

These are not the same grit-n-grind Grizzlies of years past. With Memphis’ new assortment of shooting wings, and Contract Year Marc Gasol inspiring fear league-wide, they’ve discovered an offensive ruthlessness (top ten in offensive efficiency) that never previously seemed possible in the Grind House. And yeah, Z-Bo is quietly enjoying his best season since 2011.

At full health, the 2015 Grizzlies have no noticeable weaknesses. Gasol, Z-Bo and Kosta Koufos form the league’s most belligerent frontcourt, and the roster is laced with battletested guys.

Seeding is nearly irrelevant when we discuss the Grizz. It matters that they hold the mental edge over the Clippers. It matters that they’re the most experienced playoff team in the Western Conference aside from the Spurs and Thunder (assuming they steal the eight seed). This team is ready. And we all better prepare for the idea of a Grizzly takeover in June.


Overrated Coach: Randy Wittman

Wait! What? People actually rate Randy Wittman? Well, his two-year contract extension, which includes a team option for a third year, suggests he is rated… and frighteningly so in Washington DC.

John Wall is the premier point guard in the Eastern Conference, Bradley Beal flirts with all-round potential, and Marcin Gortat and Nene are nasty giant human beings. Throw in Paul Pierce’s late game savvy and this is a fine team with very serious Finals aspirations in a shallow conference. Indeed, Wittman deserves credit in guiding Washington beyond their recent history as a comedy routine.

And yet, as long as Wittman’s drawing up the late plays or managing the rotations late in a heated playoff game, the Wiz will linger in the underachieving grade. He’s the Damian Hardwick of NBA coaching – stands tall amongst JaVale McGee & Co. in year one, then transforms the team’s identity with sound player development in the following years, but ultimately lacks the tactical nose to elevate the Wiz in the grander scheme.


Underrated Coach: Frank Vogel

The Indiana Pacers were a weird case study of team chemistry and shocking photo-shoots last season (man, the Seahawks should have really taken this as a heed of caution).

After a 40-11 start, the Pacers went just 16-15 the rest of the way while flirting with the league’s worst non-Philly offense. Roy Hibbert spiraled from All Star to shell-shocked seemingly overnight with Lance Stephenson probably laughing somewhere in the corner. They were a disaster even if another conference finals appearance suggested otherwise.

Naturally, Frank Vogel was the man under fire especially when the Pacers trailed in the Atlanta series. Many thought that the soap opera, which surrounded Paul George, Stephenson and Hibbert, was somehow Vogel’s blunder.

Sure, he should have shouldered some blame for his team’s collapse last year but still, rumours of Larry Bird wielding the axe only distracted us from a really important truth: Frank Vogel is a darn fine coach.He helped validate rim protection as an elite strategy for defensive dominance in the modern NBA – an important contribution despite Mark Jackson’s assertion that rim protection is overrated.

Let’s not beat around the bush: This season’s 17-32 Pacers suck. They simply lack scoring talent at nearly every position. But Vogel’s ability to manufacture a competitive fighting unit out of a group that has endured stints without any of its starting five from last season has been remarkable.


Overrated Fan Base: The City of Los Angeles

The city of 16 championships and a former racist psychotic owner is also home to one of the more overrated fan bases in basketball. Sure, its fan base is great in force and Staples Center rocks an unmatched celebrity row, but the roar factor in a Lakers or Clippers game lacks the same ruthlessness that a Portland, Golden State or San Antonio home game incites.

Suffering through the heartache is an important step in a fan’s life. We regard LA highly because of its basketball culture and talent base. And yet, let’s not confuse big city glamour for substance.

In other words: When the Lakers are in the playoffs and Swaggy P isn’t their best player, the who’s who of Hollywood will clamber out of the shadows and fool America of their parochialism. Sorry, Justin Bieber donning a Lakers cap just doesn’t cut it. Every visiting Laker or Clippers fan should be required to sit a Los Angeles basketball aptitude test.

And for god sake, if you respond to every damn question with “Kobe” then you’re probably this dude’s cousin:


Underrated Fan Base: Detroit

Let’s jump off the moral high ground and forget the consequences of the Malice in the Palace for a moment: There are very few stadiums in America with this type of badass (and yes, slightly scary) potential.

America hadn’t known sports like that, where fans and players cross paths. That stuff was supposed to be left for some European soccer game, right?

However, what’s especially underrated about Detroit’s basketball fan base is the Michigan-bred NBA players who return to the city after retirement and support their childhood team. Jalen Rose (name a podcast where he doesn’t shout DETROIT BASKETBALL!!!) and Chris Webber are champions of this home loyalty movement in Detroit. It’s not brand driven or an insincere gesture. Instead, it’s genuine and kind of unique (even if there’s no metric to prove this point) in NBA fandom.


Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow: players, GMs and jersey/court combos.


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