Last March, I unveiled a college basketball squad featuring five players that I believed to be the most overrated in the nation. The purpose of the exercise was less to single out and humiliate individual players (although Greivis Vasquez has never been a favorite of mine), and more to educate about the deceptive nature of certain basketball statistics. As I mentioned then, traditional per-game statistics can be awfully misleading about a player’s performance. Points, assists, and rebounds per game do not account for factors such as pace and efficiency. Because of this, I have begun looking at players like Monta Ellis in a whole new light. Ellis’ 25-5-4 line is superficially impressive, but when you realize that he plays in the NBA’s fastest-paced offense, shoots mediocre percentages, and turns the ball over as often as he assists it, his value takes a tumble. Ultimately, that’s why I single out these overrated and underrated players – so that you and anyone else who reads this can learn to evaluate players more intelligently using metrics that shed more light on players’ true ability.
Here are my selections for the 2010 All-Overrated Team and the honorable mentions. As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms, as long as you don’t use terrible statistics, selective memory, and mysticism to back them up.
Sherron Collins, G – Kansas
I figured I’d jump right into the deep end with this selection. To many, including Collins on this team might constitute basketball blasphemy. After all, Collins is the undisputed leader of the best team in the country. He leads the Jayhawks in scoring and assists, achievements that pale in comparison to his ability to hit clutch shots (this is what ESPN and CBS tell me). Derisiveness aside, it is absolutely true that Collins is a good basketball player. But he is uniformly described as a transcendent player, an elite player, a player whose faults are mitigated by his innate ability to raise his level of play when his team needs it the most. It is when Collins is held to this ascribed status that he becomes overrated.
Collins’ main issue is his efficiency. When compared to other big-conference point guards, his efficiency numbers are certainly above-average. But again – and through no fault of his own – I am comparing him to the mythology that surrounds his play, and his numbers fall short in that regard. Collins’ 15 points per game come on 42.3% shooting from the field – a figure that has declined every year he’s played at Kansas. This percentage can be divided into 45.8% from two and 37.8% from three, numbers that are certainly good but not elite. His 55.6% True Shooting ranks 22nd in the Big 12, behind fellow diminutive guards John Roberson, Jacob Pullen, Tweety Carter, Keiton Page, and B.J. Holmes.
Of course, scoring isn’t the only way a point guard can contribute to his team, but Collins isn’t quite as good as advertised in these other areas either. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a solid 1.81 : 1, but he’s only 12th in the conference in assist rate and a fairly shocking 34th in turnover rate. Collins doesn’t steal the ball much either and contributes virtually nothing on the boards too.
Collins is a good player and deserves tremendous praise for both his individual skills and his prominent role on an elite team. But is Collins an elite player himself? The evidence says no.
Courtney Fortson, G – Arkansas
Fortson is college basketball’s equivalent to Monta Ellis in the NBA, right down to playing in one of the game’s fastest-paced offenses. Like Ellis’, Fortson’s line appears to be prolific – 18 points, five rebounds, six assists, and a steal per game from a 5’11” guard. A closer look (but not much closer, really) reveals that these numbers are problematic and in no way indicative of a good player.
Fortson’s problem is the total absence of efficiency in his game, as opposed to the relative lack in Collins’ case. Fortson shot a miserable, pathetic 35.5% from the field in 2010. He hit 38.1% of his twos and 31.4% of his infrequent threes. Sure, he shot 76.9% from the line, but good performance on the least valuable shot in basketball does very little to negate his woes from the field. He’s not a good distributor either; for every assist he dishes out, he turns the ball over. Fortson retains some value as a rebounder and a drawer of fouls, but that does little to undo the horrific damage he does to his team’s offense. Don’t let his line fool you: Fortson was awful in 2010.
Jerome Dyson, G – Connecticut
At the last minute, I almost relegated Dyson to the “honorable mentions” category in ignominious favor of a certain freshman guard in the SEC. I decided to keep Dyson on the team, however, because of his inefficiency coupled with his status as a senior. Broadcasters continually mentioned the latter fact during every UConn telecast I saw, as if it excused Dyson for his shooting woes. UConn certainly had a difficult year on offense, particularly with respect to shooting from distance. Unfortunately, Dyson had a lot to do with that.
Dyson was asked to carry a heavy burden for the Huskies this season. He took nearly a third of his team’s shots when he was on the court, the third-highest percentage in the Big East. And, when those shots came inside the three-point arc, this tactic wasn’t necessarily the worst idea in the world. Dyson hit 44% of his twos – not good, but not jaw-droppingly bad for a guard either. It was a different matter altogether when Dyson stepped behind the arc. He hit 28.9% of his 122 attempts from distance, which most would consider evidence that that’s too far out of his shooting range. This contributed heavily to the Huskies’ 276th-ranked long-distance shooting in 2010.
Dyson does have some redeeming skills. He was eighth in the Big East in assist rate and fourth in drawing fouls. But even these come with some caveats; he was 62nd in the conference in turnover rate and hit 70% of his free throws (just barely above NCAA average). All things considered, it appears that Dyson was miscast as an alpha dog in the 2010 season. I do have sympathy for players who are asked to carry the load on offense because of a mediocre supporting cast. But the numbers are the numbers, and considering how much praise Dyson got for his gutsy, senior leadership-y play this season, I think he can take a little criticism.
Klay Thompson, F – Washington State
For once, I’m including a player on this team for something other than his offensive efficiency. The 6’6″ Thompson hit 45.6% of his twos and 34.4% of his threes in 2010, numbers that are perhaps on the low side but not horrendously so. No, the reason I chose him was because of his failure to contribute to his team in any other area. Despite being the clear nucleus of the team and having NBA size, Thompson did very little but use 30% of his team’s possessions with middling effectiveness.
The most glaring deficiency in Thompson’s game is his rebounding. The Cougars actually recovered their own misses well this past season, ranking 99th in the NCAA. As you may have guessed, none of this was because of Thompson, who ranked 30th in the Pac-10 in offensive rebounding percentage (behind three of his teammates, including the load-bearing DeAngelo Castro). More damningly, Thompson contributed to the Cougars’ team-wide defensive rebounding problems by recovering just 12.8% of opponents’ misses – good for 28th in the conference. And yes, that is the 5’8″ Isaiah Thomas you see slotted three spots above Thompson. A theoretically excellent passer, Thompson recorded over 30 more turnovers than assists in 2010. He ranked 23rd in the Pac-10 in assist rate and 29th in turnover rate, marks that are just as unspectacular as his rebounding percentages.
It’s impossible for us to know exactly how much of Thompson’s mediocre numbers can be attributed to his ghastly team. I’m sure there’s at least some negative effect. But there are plenty of players on bad teams who manage to put up solid numbers in a variety of categories, something that Thompson has failed to do so far. That’s why you’re reading about him here.
Craig Brackins, F – Iowa State
I feel bad for Brackins. A year ago, he was being talked about as a first round pick in the NBA Draft, particularly given the weak talent pool. And a year ago, I would not have scoffed at the notion of him being selected so high. On a miserable Iowa State team, Brackins averaged 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds in 2009. He hit 50.7% of his twos and 28.4% of his infrequent threes, while shooting an acceptable 70% from the line. He also ranked 13th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, turned the ball over infrequently for a big man, blocked some shots, and drew lots of fouls – all while using the fifth-most possessions of any player in the NCAAs. These numbers plus his NBA size (6’10”, 230 lbs) seemed to bode well for his professional future.
Inexplicably, however, Brackins elected to return to the Cyclones for his junior year, a decision that has dealt a serious blow to his reputation. His per-game averages of 16.5 points and 8.6 rebounds are still good, but his efficiency has fallen off a cliff. He’s now shooting 42.1% from the field (47.5% last season), including hitting a miserable 44.2% of his twos. His three point and free throw shooting have improved somewhat, but there’s more that’s gone wrong. Brackins is now 201st in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage and, if his fouls drawn numbers are any indicator, he has stopped attacking the basket like he used to.
For whatever reason, Brackins is simply not the player he was last year. By any reasonable estimation, he should be in the NBA right now with a contract that grants some measure of financial security. But Brackins did what so many pundits encourage players to do – return to school! – and now he’s a second round pick at best.
Ronald Moore, G – Siena
The nation’s leader in assists per game, Moore’s distributing prowess is totally nullified by his shooting ineptitude – 35.8% on twos, 19.7% on threes, and 61.2% on free throws.
Devan Downey, G – South Carolina
You had to know this was coming.
Kenny Boynton, G – Florida
This highly-touted freshman almost displaced UConn’s Jerome Dyson for a spot on the team. Boynton leads his team in shots, which would be a good thing if most of his shots were twos (he hits 50.9% of those). But he’s taken 209 threes this season, hitting 58 of them. That’s 27.8%. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Boynton is the reason Florida’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament are in jeopardy.
Denis Clemente, G – Kansas State
The 45.2% on twos is acceptable for a small guard in a chaotic offense, but the 33.7% on threes (193 attempts) is tough to swallow.
Darington Hobson, F – New Mexico
Hobson gets a fair amount of attention for his 16-9-5 line on a 28-3 Lobos team, but he’s not elite. The three point shooting is good (38.5% on 91 attempts), but that 43.9% on twos? For a 6’7″ guy? And that 66.1% free throw shooting? I can’t wait to pick against New Mexico if they get a 3-seed.