In the NBA, there are worse things to be than a one-trick pony. Plenty of players have made a living as a one-dimensional role player. While not everyone can be a LeBron James dominate-all-aspects type talent, players have survived in the association while possessing just one major ability.
Sometimes one-dimensional players are called stars, especially when their talent is scoring. Plenty of big-time scorers can only get the ball in the basket. There are also role players that have only one skill—be it as a spot up long-ball shooter, a big time shot-blocker, or as a perimeter defender.
The NBA’s history is littered with one-dimensional players. Manute Bol was a famous blocker, Bruce Bowen was a tenacious defender, and Steve Kerr was an excellent perimeter shooter. All three were integral parts of successful teams.
There are plenty of players who succeed thanks to one spectacular ability. Let’s take a look at ten of the NBA’s most one-dimensional players.
Thabo Sefolosha starts for the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to his spectacular defensive abilities. He’s a tough opponent who stays in front of his man and has always been given the task of defending the opponent’s best scorer.
As a scorer himself, Thabo is almost non-existent. He shot 41.8 percent from the field last year, according to Synergy Sports, but there were only 328 offensive possessions last year that ended in him shooting the ball. Compare that to superstar teammate Kevin Durant, who had 2248 offensive possessions. To make matters worse, Sefolosha turns the ball over on 15.3 percent of his touches—second worst among shooting guards.
Sefolosha was the main defender in 508 shots by opponents last season. He held those opponents to 36.5 percent shooting. He’s a great value as a stopper for the Thunder, even if he’s not an offensive threat.
A whopping 61 percent of JR Smith’s offensive possessions last season (statistics again from Synergy Sports) came as spot-up shots or isolation players. He made 37.5 percent of those shots.
He has worth to his New York Knicks as a shooter, but that seems the extent of his skills. He’s a poor defender, and allows .91 points per defensive possession (341st in the NBA). Smith couldn’t probably even defend himself—while he shoots 38.6 percent on spot-up jumpers, he allows opponents to shoot 47.5 percent on spot-ups.
You can argue he’s also a fair rebounder. For a shooting guard, he has a rebound rate of 8.1, which is 12th highest for his position.
Blake Griffin has vastly improved his low-post scoring since he entered the league. He averaged 20.7 points on 54.9 percent shooting last year, and while he’s no Tim Duncan in the low post, he’s certainly a threat. Synergy Sports records him at .99 points per possession, which is ranked 65th.
He’s also a solid rebounder, snagging 10.9 a contest and finishing with the 22nd highest rebounding rate at 17.8. A one-trick pony, he is not. He’s a two-trick pony.
He lacks any consistency in his jump shot and shot 52.1 percent from the free throw line last year. On the defensive end, he’s below average. Syngery has him giving up .91 points per possession, 341st in the association.
He doesn’t always try hard defensively, so if he ever wants to graduate from “electric star” to “superstar”, he needs to work on both his jumper and his defensive awareness.
Greg Stiemsma averaged 1.5 blocks a game last season while playing in just 13.9 minutes a contest. That gives him a block average of 5.3 per 48 minutes, putting the 6’11 big man in some rare company.
He’s certainly not bad at everything else, but he isn’t great at anything else. He averaged 3.2 rebounds per contest, a rebounding rate of 13.6—tied for 44th among centers (for reference, Marcus Camby led the NBA with a rebounding rate of 22.8). He was lower than then-teammates Kevin Garnett (15.9), Chris Wilcox (14.9) and Jermaine O’Neil (14.0).
He shot 54.4 percent from the field, and had 2.2 shots a contest, but you’d hardly call him a reliable go-to scorer. He’s still young, but at the moment the only thing you can count on is his shot-blocking.
James Harden is an offensive juggernaut and one of the most efficient scorers in the league, but on the other end of the court he leaves much to be desired.
Synergy Sports shows Harden scored a whopping 1.1 points per possession last year, 10th highest in the league. He shot 47.5 percent from the field, had a PER of 21.13 (according to John Hollinger of ESPN), and an assist ratio of 19.8. When it comes to anything offense, Harden is your man.
Defensively? Not so much. He’s not a horrid defender by any means, but his defense is nowhere near his offensive capabilities. He allows .85 points per defensive possession, 218th in the league. He was worst in isolation sets, where he allowed .97 points per possession and 41.4 percent shooting from his opponents.
He’s still a young player and has plenty of time to work out defensively. Hopefully someday he’ll be as good a stopper as he is a scorer.
Like Sefolosha from Oklahoma City, Tony Allen is known for his defense and not much else. He’s a tenacious defender who holds his opponents to 35.8 percent shooting (credit to Synergy Sports), and is even better on isolation plays. When it’s a one-on-one matchup, opponents score on him 33.3 percent of the time.
On offense, he’s average at best. He shoots 46.8 percent from the field, but most of his shots are spot-ups and he makes 32.1 percent of those. He also has a 13.5 turnover rate and shoots 30.8 percent from the three-point line.
On defense, you can trust Allen to lock down an opponent. On offense, you have no idea what he will do, but it won’t always be good.
When it comes to one-sided big men, Carlos Boozer takes the cake. Even on a team famed for its defensive tenacity, Boozer’s poor defense stands out.
According to Synergy Sports, he allows .89 points per possession on the defensive end. Comparing him to a great defender in Tim Duncan (allowed .73 points per possession, 34th in the league) and an average defender in Chris Bosh (allowed .78 per possession, 75th in the league) shows just how bad Boozer is.
Offensively, he struggled last year, but he has a career field goal average of 53.7 percent so it’s obvious he has the abilities on offensive. With Derrick Rose out, the Bulls will need him to be a far more effective scorer. Yet that means more time on the floor, and that means accepting Boozer’s less-than-stellar defense.
Let’s get Brewers’ bad spots out of the way first. He shot 42.7 percent from the field last season, including a 27.5 percent clip from three. His true shooting percentage, according to John Hollinger of ESPN, was a poor 46.5 percent.
The good news for New York? On defense, he’s excellent. According to Synergy Sports, he holds opponents to 37.2 percent shooting. He’s a sharp ball hawk, snagging 1.1 steals a game and will do wonders for the Knicks as a perimeter guard.
Even better news for Knicks fans is that while he’s inconsistent on offense, that’s mainly as a jump-shooter. He’s very good in transition, scoring on such plays 62.5 percent of the time. If New York runs a faster offense, Brewer’s efficiency could skyrocket.
Kyle Korver has unrivaled use as a spot-up shooter, especially from distance. With the Bulls last season, he had a better three-point percentage (43.5 percent) then he had total field goal percentage (43.2). His true shooting percentage, according to John Hollinger of ESPN, was an absurd 60 percent.
Synergy Sports reports that Korver got 32.1 percent of his shots last season as a spot-up. A majority of those were threes, and he made a whopping 48.9 percent of those shots.
That’s the extent what he gives on the court. He’s not a bad defender, but he’s nothing special. His assist rate (18.3) and rebounding rate (6.0) are both average for his position.
Carmelo Anthony is a star. He’s the face of the biggest NBA franchise in the grandest city in the world. So why can’t he just try to play tougher defense?
He’s not a dreadful defender, but he’s nothing special. He allows .86 points per possession (again, thanks to Synergy Sports) which is ranked at 240th in the association. Compare that to other small forward stars such as Kevin Durant (.79 points per defensive possession, 91st in the league) or LeBron James (.83 points, 166th overall) and it’s clear that Melo is below average for his stardom level.
Offensively he’s a great weapon, although hardly an efficient one. He shot 43 percent from the field last year, although it was a turbulent season all around for the Knicks. He’s also an average rebounder (a 10.6 rebounding rate) and not a great assist man (13.1 assist rate) for someone who handles the ball as much as he did.
He’s certainly in the top 10 to 15 best players in the NBA and is the heart and soul of a playoff squad. Still, if he could try as hard defensively as he does offensively the Knicks would be far better off.