Blake Griffin is brimming with potential, but at this point he's still more sizzle than steak.
At the end of every season, there are always those players—generally young guys—whom the media fawn over, whether it’s because they ended the season on hot streaks or because they had good playoff series.
But their accomplishments usually come in miniscule sample sizes and speak to their potential more than their track records. Sure, they may be as good next season as they were in their last six games, but they’re not there yet.
So let’s stop acting like they've made the proverbial “leap.”
That’s why I’m rolling out the NBA’s all-hype team going into next season.
It’s in the same format as the All-NBA teams—two guards, two forwards and a center.
The criteria are pretty arbitrary—really these are just players that I feel are being depicted as being at levels higher than what they have consistently shown. Not to say that they’re not capable of playing at those higher level, just that they haven’t done it enough yet to earn those reputations.
What surprised me most in compiling the all-hype team was how many of these guys I personally like as players. I’ve even vehemently defended a few of them against their detractors. (Feel free to thank me any time, Blake.) But in this space I have to evaluate them against the media attention they get.
Here then, is the 2013-14 NBA all-hype team.
G: John Wall
Five months ago no one wanted to touch John Wall. He was seen as an injury-prone underachiever who would never live up to his No. 1-overall draft selection.
Now, though, he’s all set to be the next transcendent point guard in the NBA.
Here’s an illustration of how meteoric his rise has been: At the end of January, ESPN put out a list of the top 25 players under the age of 25. I’ll give you a second to guess where Wall was on that list.
Fast forward to the beginning of April, just 38 games later, when ESPN put out their end-of-the-season ranks of the top 30 players in the league. Wall came in at No. 21.
That’s right, from not being one of the top 25 players under the age of 25 to being one of the 25 best players in the league period in a span of less than three months.
Now, Wall was fantastic in the second half of the season. He shot better, scored more and racked up more assists than in his previous two seasons, all while turning the ball over less. It was by far the best stretch of his career.
But it was still just 49 games. Wall has missed 46 games in three seasons, so we still can’t bank on his health.
He’s also yet to develop an outside shot and continues to be a shaky decision-maker.
Wall’s star is certainly ascending, but let’s wait to see it for a full season before vaulting him up to the cusp of the NBA’s top 20.
G: Klay Thompson
More than anything, it’s the team success—especially in the postseason—of the Golden State Warriors that has overhyped Klay Thompson.
People tend to lump him in with Stephen Curry because of the shooting and the whole Super Splash Bros. thing (fantastic nickname, by the way) and assume he’s one the five- or six-best shooting guards in the league, but Thompson is nowhere near that level.
In fact, Thompson regressed somewhat alarmingly in his second season as a pro. His 12.7 PER is well below league average and ranked 40th (!) among all 2-guards (via ESPN), behind the likes of Ben Gordon and Nick Young.
Shooting is Thompson’s strength—he connected on 40 percent of his threes (actually down slightly from his rookie season), and he has one of the prettiest strokes in the game, but even his true shooting percentage placed him just 30th at his position (via ESPN), behind gunners without consciences like Marcus Thornton and Jamal Crawford.
Also, shooting is about all Thompson does at an above-average level.
You may be thinking that the playoffs proved that he’s taken a step forward, but really he performed even worse in the postseason.
Thompson’s playoff PER dipped all the way to 10.2. He scored 1.5 fewer points per game despite playing six additional minutes per contest.
But the most worrisome stat is that Thompson shot six free throws total in 12 playoff games.
The potential is there, but thus far Thompson has had far too many games in which he's failed to make any impact at all.
F: Paul George
Paul George was probably the single toughest player to include on this list.
Really, after the year he had, he doesn’t deserve it, but that’s what happens when the media gets carried away, proclaims him one of the five best players in the game and anoints him as the next LeBron James. (Yes, these things were actually said.)
George undoubtedly took a step forward this year, but it may not be as big a step as you think.
His PER barely went up from 2012, and his win shares per 48 minutes actually decreased slightly. He was one of just four players to average 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game, but he shot poorly—just 42 percent from the field and 36 percent from three, both lower than his previous campaign.
I give him a pass for all that because of the way he embraced his new role as “The Man” on the Indiana Pacers, but remember it’s not about how I evaluate him, but the gap between that evaluation and his portrayal in the media.
As great as George was at times in the postseason, he was still pretty inconsistent and really didn’t play that well in the first two rounds. He went toe to toe admirably with LeBron James, but in the biggest game of the year, he produced just seven points and fouled out with more than half of the fourth quarter still to play.
George’s playoff numbers weren’t that eye popping either. His scoring rate held constant, while his rebounding dipped and his outside shot failed him. (Curiously, he really struggled from the free-throw line as well, despite sinking those three crucial ones at the end of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.)
Meanwhile, he turned the ball over four times a game, and the Pacers were a markedly better team when they ran their offense through Roy Hibbert and David West as opposed to George.
Paul George has all the hallmarks of a franchise player in this league. If I were the Pacers, I’d definitely lock him up to a maximum extension.
But I believe he’ll play his way into being worthy of that contract. He’s not there yet.
F: Blake Griffin
Oh, Blake Griffin, you tantalize me so.
I have no doubt that Griffin is the least controversial member of the all-hype team, so let me start by actually defending him. (Yet again. Still waiting for that thank you, Blake.)
To anyone who says that all Griffin can do is dunk and flop, you’re not watching the games. (Or rather, you’re only half-watching, because I concede that the flopping is an issue.)
The skills are very real, however, and they continue to improve each season.
Griffin is arguably the best ball-handling and passing big man in the game. And his post game is potent enough to command double-teams. Griffin increased his shooting percentage out to 15 feet by a substantial amount this season, according to Hoopdata—a testament to his improved post play.
And unlike others (cough, Dwight Howard, cough), Griffin has actually shown the ability to dramatically improve as a foul shooter, upping his free-throw percentage from 52 percent to 66 percent in one year.
He’s grown into a much better team defender, as well. Griffin uses his speed to help-and-recover admirably on pick-and-rolls, and he’s greatly increased his steals rate, too.
There are reasons to be concerned, however. Even though his skills continue to develop, they don’t all translate to the court.
As a rookie, Griffin averaged better than 22 points and 12 rebounds per game. This past season he was down to 18 and eight.
Sure, a lot of that has to do with a significant reduction of minutes and a lower usage rate since Chris Paul came aboard, but the lack of aggression is concerning.
Too often Griffin catches the ball and looks to pass without trying to attack the rim or even glancing at the basket. When you don’t even offer the threat of an attack, you become much easier to defend. Griffin’s passivity made him predictable and therefore easier to stop.
Griffin is blessed with both the skills and physical tools to dominate games on a consistent basis, yet he rarely ever does. I can’t think of a single game last season after which I came away thinking that Griffin is an unstoppable monster. Those games were almost common two seasons ago!
During his rookie year, he had 14 30-point games and recorded 15-plus rebounds in a game 22 times. This past season, he cracked 30 points just three times and didn’t grab 15 boards in a single game all year.
The tale is even more telling against him in the postseason, in which he has played well below his established levels. The drop-off is astounding, even if the sample size is admittedly small.
There’s no denying his underachievement in those most crucial of circumstances, though.
In order to take that next step and play like a true superstar, Griffin has to be more assertive and allow his constantly improving skills to affect more games more often. Until he does that, he’s locked in to this list.
C: Roy Hibbert
Again, the Pacers’ tremendous postseason run has lifted Roy Hibbert to elite big-man status. Shaquille O’Neal even declared him to be the best big man in the game on live television! (I know, I know, it’s Shaq. But still, you see where I’m going with the media-hype thing, right?)
No doubt, Hibbert raised his game when it mattered most, but a very nice 19-game stretch doesn’t wipe out how terrible he was for 79 regular season contests.
Hibbert did a great job anchoring the best defense in the NBA, but he regressed tremendously on offense from his All-Star-worthy 2012 campaign. His offensive win shares were less than half of what they were in a season that was shortened by a lockout.
He’s a 7'2" dude who failed to shoot 45 percent from the field. How is that possible?
Breaking it down further, Hibbert (remember, he’s the biggest guy on the court at all times) shot just 53.6 percent on field goals attempted at the rim. According to Hoopdata, that ranks dead last among all centers by a wide (repeat: wide) margin.
Watching Hibbert toss up hook shots that didn’t have a prayer of going in during the regular season was excruciating. It made him almost a liability on offense, given how often the Pacers fed him the ball. His true shooting percentage ranked 45th out of 54 qualified centers (via ESPN).
Overall, Hibbert’s PER fell from 19.3 in 2012 to 17.3 in 2013. Just three months ago he garnered mention in Bill Simmons’ list of the worst contracts in the NBA as an overpaid (but undeniably productive) player.
He managed to turn that around in the playoffs, but he did so against the Atlanta Hawks (who don’t play a true center), the New York Knicks (whose only real big man—Tyson Chandler—was hurt to the point of being barely functional) and the Miami Heat (who don’t play a true center).
The matchups made Hibbert look even better than he played (and he did play very well). The fact that he was the biggest reason the Pacers nearly made it to the Eastern Conference Finals makes me think he won’t be on this list next year.
But until he proves that for a full complement of regular-season games and vanquishes the ghost of his disappointing 2013 campaign, Hibbert’s hype outweighs his established level of play.