Playing 'Overrated or Underrated' Using NBA Statistics
Tallying how many points and rebounds players accumulate is a poor way to measure their effectiveness. Mainstream sports outlets still tout 20-point games and 10-rebound nights, but these metrics fail to understand the nuanced way in which a player got to those totals.
If it hard to know whether a player who scored 20 points actually played well unless you know, for example, how many shots he took. While a 10-rebound game is never a bad thing, it is a lot less impressive if the guy played 40 minutes in a game in which the opposing team missed 50 shots.
It isn't that "advanced" stats are the be-all, end-all of understanding basketball, but looking at shooting efficiency and rebound rate (the percentage of boards corralled out of the total available) provides a deeper knowledge of how players actually performed in the game.
While individual metrics like PER and plus/minus also have their place, I find that the simple advanced stats most accurately measure a player's production.
With that in mind, here are a few players I consider to be underrated and overrated based upon the perceptions generally held by those who look at traditional box scores.
Underrated: Omer Asik
The idea that averaging a double-double automatically makes you a top-tier big man has always been sort of foolish. If you're taller than 6'10" and play a lot of minutes, getting 10 rebounds shouldn't be that hard.
One player who deserves attention for such production, however, is Omer Asik.
His 10.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game can't help but impress. They stand out even more when you see that, among players who average at least eight boards per night, only world-class rebounders Reggie Evans, Anderson Varejao and Kevin Love have a higher rebound rate than his 22.1, according to Basketball-Reference.
For a player who is better at playing defense than anything else, Asik's continued improvement on the glass makes him one of the more valuable big men in the NBA.
Overrated: Richard Hamilton
Richard Hamilton simply isn't a very good basketball player anymore.
His ability to make shots seems nonexistent (looking at true shooting percentage), he is turning the ball over more than ever (by turnover rate), and he has the worst individual defensive numbers (defensive rating) on one of the league's best defensive teams.
Skimming through his page on Basketball-Reference, we see that the last time Rip's true shooting percentage dipped below 50 percent was during his rookie season in Washington—when he lived in the same city as then-president Bill Clinton.
The Bulls also score over four more points per 100 possessions with Rip off the court. That is bad enough in and of itself, but the Chicago defense also allows almost two more points per 100 possessions when Hamilton is on the court, according to Basketball-Reference.
The team only allows 101.5 points per 100 possessions, and nobody on the team performs worse individually than Hamilton, who gives up 106 per 100.
Underrated: Larry Sanders
As of press time, Larry Sanders was still underrated.
But as tends to happen when a prominent stat geek names an "effect" after the way you play defense, Sanders could be on a trajectory to be severely overrated in about 10 minutes.
This will be no fault of his own, of course. His defensive acumen should have him among the league's best players on that side of the ball.
It's just that, at this point, he is little else than a shot-blocking menace who makes it very difficult to score. According to "proximal field-goal percentage," opponents shoot only 34.9 percent when Sanders is within five feet of their shot. The average rate is 45.6 percent, as reported by Ian Segovia of Bucksketball.com.
As long as nobody wants to call Sanders anything more than what he is, everything will be fine. Because as the recent Kirk Goldsberry research shows (via Segovia), there is virtually nobody in the NBA who makes it harder to score around the rim than Sanders.
Now that we have ever-improving shot location data to tell us that, instead of just relying on blocks per game, it should only raise his profile.
Overrated: Monta Ellis
Since arriving in Milwaukee, Monta Ellis has shot worse and scored less than he did for the Golden State Warriors. His shooting has hit a career low this season, dropping to 40.9 percent.
The only time he has finished a season below 43 percent was his rookie season.
Sometimes shooters will have a low field-goal percentage, but when you factor in a high three-point or free-throw percentage, the total becomes a better barometer of their actual contributions.
Not for Monta, whose effective field-goal percentage is still a meager 43.2 percent, according to Basketball-Reference.
He really doesn't do much else on the basketball court, so if he isn't making buckets at a reasonable clip, to quote Office Space, what exactly would you say you do here?
Underrated: Ryan Anderson
Despite Dirk Nowitzki winning a title and Kevin Durant being undisputed as one of the two best players alive, scorn persists when it comes to tall guys who shoot. Ryan Anderson has been one of the most productive offensive weapons in the NBA this year, but nobody seems to care.
At 54.4 percent, Anderson has the eighth-best effective field-goal percentage among players averaging at least 16 points per game, according to Basketball-Reference.
Best of all, he actually appears to be becoming a better shooter, as he is increasingly able to create his own shot.
According to Hoopdata, Anderson is shooting a career-high percentage from both three-point range and on long twos (from 16-23 feet). We can see that he is able to find his own shot more this season by comparing the 88.2 percent assist rate on his three-pointers to that of seasons past.
In previous years, that number has mostly been just a tick under 100 percent, meaning that almost every time he made a shot from behind the arc, it came off a pass. Now, however, he has shown an ability to mix in the occasional step-back or relocation after a screen.
Overrated: Rudy Gay
There is a reason not many teams wanted Rudy Gay. In fairness, that reason was mainly his contract—not his game.
But even on the court, he leaves something to be desired.
Gay's shooting percentage has been waning for years as he has developed into more of a volume scorer. His ability to space the floor by hitting three-pointers has fallen off a cliff.
He was perennially a 35 percent three-point shooter until a few seasons ago, which lofted his effective field-goal percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.
But he has now hit just 108-of-360 (30 percent) of the threes he has launched since the start of last season.
Add in the fact that he doesn't create well for others and that he seems to have the physical tools to be a better individual defender than he shows on the court, and it is no surprise the Memphis Grizzlies were not able to get much playmaking talent in return for the overpaid wing.
Underrated: Tony Parker
The San Antonio Spurs point guard went down at the worst time. In an already tremendous career, he was posting the highest PER (24.9), true shooting percentage (59.5 percent) and assist rate (40.8) of his life, according to Basketball-Reference.
And this isn't exactly a guy who hasn't previously put together banner statistic seasons. Really, he was having as impressive of a season statistically as anyone in the league not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant, who are both in a league of their own.
Still, he was less discussed than he deserved.
Worst of all, since he got hurt and may miss the entire next month, his achievements will not be remembered as fondly as they should be.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder are able to make it to the NBA Finals again this season while the Spurs come up short, few people will acknowledge that Parker was probably one of the best five players in the NBA this season when healthy.