The 8 Naughtiest and Nicest Players in the NBA Right Now
For all the NBA players on Santa's naughty list, there's plenty of nice guys in the league, too.
The stereotype of the "me-first" athlete is pervasive, but it is overblown. On-court selfishness, from ball-hogging to extracurricular physicality and other nonsense, is real and fuels that perception. That said, take that naughtiness with a grain of salt, because only a minority of players will receive a lump of coal.
'Tis the season to be jolly, so let's highlight all the niceness in the league, too. Between beautiful play, team-first focus and general benevolence, there's so much goodness in the world of basketball that deserves to be celebrated.
What better time to do so than the holiday season?
Dwell on the nice here, not the naughty. Rather, treat the latter as cautionary tales; for every one, there is someone merry making a far greater impact.
Naughty: Paul Pierce
If nothing else, Christmas should inspire people to have bigger hearts, especially during the holidays. The last thing you want to do is to let your Grinch-like behavior ruin your season's tidings.
With one swift blow, Paul Pierce may have earned himself a Yuletide on the sidelines.
When George Hill intercepted a Joe Johnson pass and broke out in transition, Pierce met him at the basket and raked him across the head. Hill went sprawling to the floor while Pierce walked off, earning a flagrant-2 and an ejection from the game for his transgression.
That sort of behavior earns you Santa's ire any time of year. However, should the league uphold the flagrant-2 designation, Pierce will be suspended for the Brooklyn Nets' next game: a Christmas Day bout against the Chicago Bulls.
Leaving your team wanting on Christmas; it doesn't get much lower.
Nice: Ricky Rubio
There are players who share the ball more than Ricky Rubio—six to be exact. But no player relies so heavily on his passing to produce (he's shooting just 34.7 percent from the field), and no player passes with such festive flair.
When Rubio recorded his career-high 16 assists, he carved up the Cleveland Cavaliers with just about every kind of pass imaginable.
Outlets, inbounds, overheads, off-the-dribble, between defenders, into the paint, to open shooters. It was a classic performance by a guy who's at his best when he's creating opportunities for others.
And that was just one game. This season, he has nutmegged Nicolas Batum, set up Kevin Love with a behind-the-back, no-look dish and found Nikola Pekovic with a spinning bit of trickery, among countless other fantastic assists.
It's a shame Rubio won't be in action on Christmas Day. He exemplifies giving on the court, and he displays how playing that way makes the game better.
Naughty: J.R. Smith
No player was more self-centered this season than J.R. Smith against the Milwaukee Bucks.
On December 18, 2013, one week before Christmas, Earl Smith III started shooting. That's not an unusual activity for Smith; he's attempted 11.1 field goals per game in his career. Except on this special night, he kept shooting and shooting, with no regard for effectiveness or efficiency.
When the final buzzer sounded, he had attempted 17 three-pointers in an NBA game. He hit five of them. No player in New York Knicks history had matched that egregious performance. Only three other players in league history have taken so many threes and hit so few.
That night, Smith confirmed his reputation as an unapologetic gunner, in that he did not apologize for his gunning. He was surprised himself he had shot so much, but he expressed no misgivings.
Beyond the chucking, there's also the matter of his show of fraternity to Chris Smith.
Mike Woodson told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News that Chris had a better chance of making the Knicks this fall because he's J.R.'s little brother.
“I look at him just like I look at J.R., though J.R. is the guy who played in a uniform and has been very productive for us. I have a great deal of respect for that family,” Woodson said. “That’s his brother. I respect that. We got to make some decisions. What those decisions will be, I don’t know."
So when Chris came up from the D-League Erie Bayhawks and rejoined the Knicks bench, it was disheartening to see Earl treat his family with a straight shot to the jingle bells.
When it comes to the NBA, there's only one appropriate kind of Jingle Bells, and that's the kind Rasheed Wallace and company sing. What went down between the Smith represents a total lack of Christmas spirit.
Nice: Andre Iguodala
On the other hand, Andre Iguodala approaches the game with his team foremost in mind, not himself. No matter his performance, no matter the circumstances, Iguodala is going to give his all to pull out a win.
Down one in the fourth to the San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors needed every bit of Iguodala's effort. But the nine-year vet was in just his second game back from a hamstring injury. If he went too hard, Iggy could have risked injuring himself yet again.
So when he couldn't corral a rebound and the ball squirted away from him, naturally Iguodala sprinted it down, saved the possession and leapt over the opposing bench and into the stands to do so.
Golden State went on to lose the game, but not for lack of trying. Iguodala's impact far exceeded the four field goals he attempted, which suits him fine; it's not about what he took for himself, but what he provided for those around him.
Naughty: Matt Barnes
Another Christmas lesson: No problem ought to be solved with a two-handed shove.
When Serge Ibaka fouled Blake Griffin hard and then threw aside the Los Angeles Clipper big, Matt Barnes took offense. Without taking any time to reason how he should respond so as to best help team and teammate alike, Barnes pushed Ibaka, inserting himself into the confrontation and escalating it in the process.
Barnes and Ibaka were both ejected, but Barnes was the instigator in this incident. His provocation drew all 10 players on the floor into the scrum, increasing the risk of the skirmish boiling over into a full-scale brawl. Ibaka made a fist, but sensibility prevailed, and he did not throw a punch.
This incident was overshadowed when Barnes took his son from the stands and into the locker room as he left the floor, but he also expressed his frustrations on Twitter with some not very Christmassy, NSFW language.
He calls his teammates family, but his devotion isn't at issue here; it's how he expressed it.
And he keeps expressing it, most recently drawing another flagrant-2 for a hit the head of Kevin Love. Though the league deemed the head contact inadvertent and reduced that penalty to a flagrant-1, Barnes stuck around to argue his case after his ejection and was fined for failure to leave the court.
This is a time for peace, and Barnes is only making matters worse by prolonging his conflicts.
Nice: Zach Randolph
Given his snarling presence on the court, Zach Randolph seems like an intimidating guy, but Grantland's Brian Phillips put it best when he described Z-Bo as "a happy monster made out of violent hams."
He only knows how to play angry, but in person it's clear he's a sweetheart.
A passing encounter with a fan gave Randolph the opportunity to show how nice he can be, and how the smallest gesture can have an outsize effect.
Z-Bo stopped to greet a young Memphis Grizzlies fan sitting near the court. When their brief exchange was coming to an end, the child decided he wanted the warm-up shirt Randolph was wearing. So the big man pulled the shirt off without thinking twice and made the little boy's day.
Coincidentally, this came a day after he received the November KIA Community Assist Award for his charitable work.
“I love to give back to kids in need and from single-parent homes because I was one of those kids growing up, so I feel as though I can relate,” said Randolph. “It’s a blessing for me to be able to help someone else."
This happened during a game, yet Z-Bo was able to put his competitiveness aside in the name of kindness and care. He just plays a scary guy in the game; otherwise, he's a class act who knows the importance of making others happy.
Naughty: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins could use that lesson in keeping his aggression from boiling over into his postgame interactions.
He has a weird thing about shaking hands after a loss. It first came up on November 23, when Cousins saw Isaiah Thomas going to slap five with Chris Paul and pulled his diminutive teammate away to keep him from doing so.
This proved not to be humbug for Boogie. A week later, J.J. Redick offered Cousins his hand, but the Sacramento Kings center walked away from the traditional display of good sportsmanship.
Maybe it's just a Clippers thing, but it seems like Boogie really doesn't want to touch you after you beat him. Yet even if he's coming from a place of commitment and dedication to his team, Cousins' Scrooge-like behavior is still antisocial.
Regardless of how Paul and Redick competed against him, whatever happened to goodwill toward men?
Nice: DeMarcus Cousins and Tony Allen
Above all else, remember this: Being on the naughty list doesn't make you a bad person. There is goodness in everyone.
The same DeMarcus Cousins who wouldn't shake a fellow player's hand dressed as Santa Claus and hosted a Christmas WalMart shopping spree for underprivileged children.
Seeing that soft side of Boogie is truly heartwarming, but what he said while in the Santa suit elucidates the difference between the player and the man:
'I wasn't one of the fortunate kids coming up,' Cousins said, 'so I know how it feels. I don't want those kids feeling like I did.'
One boy who recognized the Sacramento center despite the Santa suit was told by the 6-foot-11 Santa Cuz that he couldn't be DeMarcus Cousins because Cousins was 'on the naughty list.'
His heart is in the right place, and he knows some of his actions on the court are wrong. Admitting that much is the first step to righting his behavior.
Cousins isn't the only one to make the best of bad moments.
In another incident with CP3, Tony Allen accidentally kicked the point guard in the face while trying to make a desperate play on the ball. As a means of making amends, he signed the left shoe and put it on eBay, with all proceeds of the auction going to Christmas presents for vulnerable children at Youth Village.
Allen and Cousins are just two of the countless NBA players using their fame and fortune to make the world a better place. They all entertain us on the court; off it, they remind us why this is the most wonderful time of the year.