Michael Collins continues his look at the NBA’s most overrated and underrated. In Part 1, Collins looked at teams, coaches and fan bases. Today, he rolls out Part 2 with a look at players, GMs and, just for fun, jersey/court combinations.
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 under rated list.
Overrated Player: Rajon Rondo
Rondo was seen to be suffering from a classic case of badteamitis when Danny Ainge shipped off Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He evolved into an assist whore while forgetting what made him an elite defender. Even still, most believed Rondo had an extra gear tucked away. And so, the Mavericks bit at the temptation of Playoff Rondo setting the table for Dirk and Monta and plenty of fans and analysts jumped on for the ride.
Let me be clear: Although the deal elicited risk for the Mavs, it was a necessary move. Jameer Nelson just wasn’t cutting it on either end, and Rondo’s arrival has steadied Dallas’ pick-and-roll defense and propelled them to 12th in defensive efficiency. Carving a near top-10 defense matters, particularly in the playoffs.
Still, watching Rondo spot up in the corners and upset the Mavs’ historic pace on offense has been mildly depressing. The Mavs’ offense has dropped from 113.6 to 106.3 points per 100 possessions since they trade for Rondo.
Of course, Rondo is still a passing sorcerer with fierce competitive instincts who’ll help the Mavs in May, even if they’re only 11-8 since the trade.
And yet, in a league where elite offenses are cultivated by perimeter shooting and minimal bricklaying, it’s difficult to call a guy who can’t shoot from anywhere – including the free throw line – an elite point guard. The NBA has evolved and so has our understanding of what makes a great player in 2015.
Underrated Player: Al Horford
Here are some similarities between the 2014-15 Hawks and the 2013-14 Spurs: both can be considered talent-rich, multipronged, uniquely unselfish squads that lean on their uniquely unassuming big man as its foundation.
Make no mistake: their systems of delightful passing would not be possible if their superstar center objected to fewer post-up and scoring opportunities. Al Horford is a sort of Tim Duncan-lite in the manner he cares about winning and shies away from the limelight.
Horford’s greatness shouldn’t be a secret anymore as Atlanta’s dazzling streak has certainly elevated his profile. Horford does everything you would want from your big guy in today’s NBA. He can drag defenses out of the paint with his spot-up game, set expert screens, and pass out of traffic to one of Atlanta’s perimeter snipers. Horford is a model of consistency that hasn’t shot below 54 percent in any of his past six seasons.
The old school definition of a truly great big man suggests you need 25 and 10, and this was certainly true for much of the league’s history. And yet, despite what every retired old grump will belt out, today’s big man position has never been so demanding. They have to extend their shooting range, make sharper split-second reads, step out on the pick-and-roll and somehow contend against the greatest class of point guards we’ve ever seen. Hell, there’s a reason why Popovich and the Spurs moved away from relentlessly pounding the ball inside to Timmy and into an up-tempo motion offense back in 2007.
Still not convinced of Horford’s stardom? Well, Atlanta was a top-four team in the Eastern Conference before Horford’s season ending pectoral tear last year, and just a meager sub .500 team thereafter.
The Hawks’ ability to advance in the playoffs will come down to Horford doing legitimate superstar things, and perhaps this will finally be the moment he shreds the underrated title.
Overrated GM: Sam Presti
The pursuit of sustained excellence and long-term flexibility is an admirable quest, but it’s also a dangerous gamble on the “now”. It assumes that the status quo remains… well, the status quo. Winning an NBA championship requires a great degree of luck. And as the Oklahoma City Thunder is learning, it’s bloody tough work.
One could argue that untimely injuries have robbed the Thunder and its GM Sam Presti of the ultimate success. Perhaps.Oklahoma’s investment in player development is a staple in any quality organisation, and Presti has certainly set the tone in that department. Reggie Jackson, who ultimately won them a few playoff games (and probably the Memphis series), and Steven Adams are products of their program and management’s vision. Indeed, free agency’s only part of a General Manager’s job.
But here is the painful reality: Oklahoma’s supporting cast hasn’t improved in four freaking years. In their elimination game against the Spurs last season, only five guys scored.
Presti might not be totally to blame here. After all, he doesn’t have much room to wriggle with the owners’ refusal to pay the tax. Even so, the Harden deal was characteristic of Presti’s blueprint.
I’m not suggesting Presti fumbles anywhere in the David Kahn class. It’s just that every time I think about the Thunder and Kevin Durant’s pending free agency, all I hear in my mind is what Popovich tells reporters every year about the secret to the Spurs success: “What we did is, we didn’t screw it up.”
Underrated GM: Danny Ferry
So who exactly draws the spotlight for Atlanta’s surprising winning splurge?
Is it their three (soon to become four) All-Stars? Coach Bud? Their five Eastern Conference Players of the Month? The outstanding bench unit?
How about Danny Ferry? We barely notice him, or at least, we’ve chosen to snuff him out of any feel-good Hawks chatter. But Ferry deserves a five star architect rating even if you don’t believe in second chances. He lured Budenholzer away from San Antonio, cleared the exit isle for Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, and sold a vision to Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap.
Of course, Ferry had strong detractors before the off-season controversy. His time as GM in Cleveland was underwhelming, as he never could quite assemble the right supporting cast around LeBron James.
And yet, anyone who plays architect to a team that inspires Spursean comparison would be the frontrunner to any Executive of the Year award.
Hawk management might well officially oust Ferry before the season’s end, and so any EOY potential is void. Still, we would be wrong to not appreciate the father to everyone’s new love child.
For reasons that are unclear, Chicago’s court looks worse on TV than it does in the above diagram. Sure, some good things are happening here.
The snarling Bull, for one, remains a top-five logo in sports. Michael Jordan elevated Chicago’s brand to legendary status. But c’mon, if he rode the Costa Concordia, we’d all probably hop on that sinking ship as well. So let’s garner some perspective.
Red is the most overused colour in sports, and if it isn’t used in the right tone and shade, it can be miserably heavy on the eyes (see Houston Rockets). The Bulls’ jerseys aren’t eye-sores, but they certainly feel tired.
I suppose the message here is: let’s not succumb to historic bias in deciding court and jersey artistry.
Both orange and purple are the most undervalued colours on the sporting sphere, and we can mostly blame Fremantle and Greater Western Sydney for butchering its existence in Australia.
Here’s what I love: The spelled-out “SUNS” at center court. It’s clean, simple, pronounced and readable from any angle. The Suns’ purple road jerseys are just a hell lot of fun particularly when Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isiah Thomas form a purple haze on a fast break.
You could make arguments for other jersey/court combinations, but Phoenix, with its modern contemporary spin and historical ties, rule my power rankings.
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