Every sport has its super talented players that tantalize teams and fans with their talent, but underachieve and never seem to have it altogether upstairs. They are so naturally skilled and gifted, yet maybe aren’t completely serious on the court nor give their best efforts all the time. They might be brash, a head case or just immature, and sometimes their natural demeanor affects them and gets them in trouble off the court as well. These super talented players I speak of that seem to get by on talent and crazy potential alone are what I call “Knuckleheads.” You know them when you see them just based on what they show you on the floor in terms of talent and demeanor.
To qualify being a “knucklehead,” a player has to have some, but not all of these qualities:
-Very naturally talented, make it look effortless
-Immature on and off court
-Don’t always try or consistently give the best effort
-Can be a ball hog and play overly selfish
-Have a “too cool” to play hard attitude (Randy Moss “play when I want to” syndrome)
-Try to make too much happen by trying to play outside their position
-MUST NOT be a bona fide NBA superstar who routinely produces and expects to get calls (LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, etc.)
He doesn’t belong on this list and I admit it’s a big reach compared to his peers on this list, but how can you sweep “Tony P’s” French rap career under the rug? Parker is one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA, and almost led the NBA in points in the paint during the ’05-06 season. However, he fumbled away a coveted marriage with Eva Longoria by becoming involved with former teammate Brent Barry’s wife, and consequently after that happened, had his NBA 2K11 “steal” rating increase.
This is where the list starts for real.
Smith isn’t too much of a knucklehead by comparison, just a super athletic tweener forward with loads of potential who likes to think he is a dead-eye perimeter shooter. Watching him play against high school competition was comical, throwing the ball off the backboard casually in traffic and making it rain from three. J-Smoove is a highlight forward who does a great job protecting the rim as one of the NBA’s top shot blockers and finishers in transition, but he overly plays outside his element on the perimeter.
He shot a career high 33.1 percent from beyond the arc last season and is hitting 28.2 percent for his career from three. Thankfully, he only averages two three pointers per game, but he hovers on the perimeter and settles for jumpers when he’s clearly at his best attacking the rim and posterizing the D. A jumper is a nice weapon to have and it makes the defense respect you, but there’s a reason that he is given the shot from 20 feet and out, and more often than not, he will settle for it and hurt his team.
McGee is a specimen for athletic big men with outstanding length, skill and potential.
He really stepped up his game this year and established himself as one of the league's most imposing shot blockers. He has outstanding quickness and explosive leaping ability that makes him a terror around the basket, but he is also a 23-year-old kid learning how to play the game. Once he develops a consistent face-up jumper, refines his post play and works on his shooting touch around the rim he will be an absolute weapon and likely one of the league’s top big men from the new wave of youth.
His effort isn’t all there during the game and he doesn’t know how to dominate yet, but he has all the tools to get there. He had a knucklehead moment trying to get a triple-double this past March against the Bulls in a 19-point loss.
For someone who spent four years in the NCAA, it looks at times like Thornton didn’t learn much. While with the Clippers, he earned a rep as one of the more selfish players in the league. In his four years of NBA experience in 296 career games, he has had over five assists once and is reluctantly averaging 1.2 assists for his career. He’s a black hole with the ball in his hands and gets tunnel vision, looking to isolate and score rather than play team ball and give it up when nothing is there. Most perimeter forwards pick up at least an assist or more with off-ball entry passes to teammates for quick spot up opportunities, but Thornton isn’t his team's first choice to do so. He has undeniable talent and NBA skill, but when Donald Sterling of all people calls you “the most selfish player I’ve ever seen,” something is up.
He makes it rain on his birthday, decks out flagrant fouls like they are all the rage and isn’t shy about showing the Mavs who’s boss in a playoff blowout loss. Bynum is an outstanding talent who still has incredibly high upside for a 23-year-old, but he can come off as punkish and largely inconsistent. He has really started to come along as a player over the past four seasons, but injuries have set him back and likely frustrated him.
Bynum's had some big games for the Lake Show, but the aging L.A. cast needs him to stay healthy and step up to keep the ship from sinking. Andrew’s weakness as a knucklehead lies in him trying to be a punkish tough guy when he just needs to focus on trying to dominate the paint and play the game.
Cousins has all-world talent and ability as a ball player, but the real questions about his game come from his foreseen immaturity and unpredictable nature.
ESPN's Outside The Lines put together a good story on him earlier this year regarding his roller-coaster freshman season at Kentucky, perception in the basketball world and really who he is. His talent is amongst the top on the floor regardless of who plays, making it look effortless, as if he’s going through the motions at times. He can get caught trying to play too much like a guard, doesn’t always bring it on the defensive end and picked up an alarming 14 technicals and three ejections as a rookie. The NBA skill set and play is there for him to emerge as an elite power forward, as shown by a great rookie campaign with 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. But the questions will linger regarding his attitude.
Earl “J.R.” Smith has been the poster boy for being “too cool” to try during games, and despite being a solid player for Denver, he has largely been considered an underachiever in his career. He’s an outstanding three-point shooter who is hitting 37.1 percent in his career from three, and he challenged the record for most three-pointers in a game on multiple occasions.
He has had some memorable on-court antics, whipping out the “The Chicken Dance” and sparking the Trailblazer fad after giving the Portland bench “Three Goggles.” He may be a slacker on court who rarely took a shot he didn’t like, but he’s a super talented guard who can flat out shoot and finish at the rack. He’s had his share of off-court trouble as well, but what makes him a true knucklehead is the absurd shot selection, very laid back defensive effort and that “too cool” to try mentality.
Blatche has emerged as an intriguing big man in D.C., and has had some monster games for the Wizards. He’s a very skilled post player who can bully his man in the paint and face up to knock down the perimeter jumper when he applies himself.
Unfortunately, he too has an attitude, picking up 11 technicals last season and demonstrating numerous moments of immaturity. His effort is very up and down, but I don’t know that he’s ever played harder than he did a couple seasons ago, attempting to pick up a last minute triple-double. Blatche has the talent and body to be a force in the post when he tries, but he is a goof on court, prone to some very spectacular fails. He tries to play like a guard, is lackadaisical on D and un-athletic, but yet managed to put up 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in his sixth year out of high school.
Beasley is so supremely talented that he makes it look effortless and way too easy. It’s hard to knock a player who “doesn’t try” and can produce 19.2 points per game; he’s that good.
Watching him play defense is almost humorous, as his means of contesting a shot is leaving his hands down and staring his man in the face, daring him to shoot it. He played and dominated for six different high schools during his prep days, became a Big XII legend at Kansas State and is an unusual NBA talent that most coaches don’t want to bother with.
He has already had multiple documented marijuana issues and speculation surrounding him continues to grow in his short career. He was recently involved in a summer league incident, giving a fan the “Heisman” to the face. Beas is a “knucklehead” on the court with his effortless style of play and immaturity, but despite his antics, B-Easy can flat out score and is a star in the making.
I wouldn’t be stunned to find out that more than a few bolts are loose in “the artist formerly known as Ron Artest's” head. Metta World Peace is a loose cannon on and off the floor, and its become a regularity to expect the unexpected. There’s no doubt he’s a defensive stud who brings high competitiveness as an on-ball lockdown defender, but his offensive game is ugly. 90 percent of the time, "Garbage Ron" (what I personally refer to him as on offense) will either: A) lower his shoulder and force his way into the lane, or B) chuck up a three out of the flow of the offense. Honestly, there are too many mentionable links for me to include, so I made a list instead of embedding them into the article:
-He is all set to play overseas in Europe against the wishes of his agent and sponsors
-Rushed a “Champions” music video two days after the Lakers took the 2009-10 NBA Title
-Thanked his psychiatrist after the winning the title
-Got pranked by Jimmy Kimmel with some frisky animals
-Became a fan favorite in Utah
-Took out his frustrations on J.J. Barea
-Appeared on Jimmy Kimmel in boxers…
-Used to drink booze at halftime
-Pantsed Paul Pierce and then sang him an apology
He’s beyond crazy. Didn’t even need to mention “The Brawl” or name change to make a case. This is the quintessential NBA knucklehead, both on and off the court.