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Ranking the NBA's New Bad Boys

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2015

Illustrations by Henry Kaye

The NBA feels kinder and gentler than ever these days, but a few notable rebels ensure there's still enough mischief to keep things interesting.

The list we've assembled features a different breed of league office-offender than we're used to. Charles Oakley isn't here staring daggers into opponents, and Dennis Rodman isn't literally wrestling his matchup to the floor.

These guys aren't necessarily locker-room destroyers, either. In fact, most are legitimate team-leading stars. Today's bad boys come in many varieties, with different motives, and they have much more to offer than just extracurriculars.

We need to be objective about this, as one particularly memorable incident can lead to a label that a player's broader pattern of behavior doesn't warrant. So here's how we do that: Regular-season technical fouls, flagrant fouls and ejections are worth one point. Any fine or suspension that didn't stem from one of the three aforementioned events is also worth a point.

Starting from the 2012-13 season and extending until Jan. 4 of this year, we've compiled those violations, added them up and arrived at an aggregate Bad Boy Score. Only regular-season hijinks count.

Wild Card Factors came in to break a few deadlocks, moving guys up or down the list where warranted. If a player had a particularly egregious spat of bad behavior or got into trouble more recently, those things weighed in his favor. And if his objective score just didn't accurately capture the overall picture of badness, wild cards functioned as catch-all normalizers.

There'll be some usual suspects on this list, as well as a few surprises.

And remember, these aren't bad guys. They're the NBA's new bad boys.

Honorable Mention

Henry Kaye

Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

Checking in with 29 points is Joakim Noah. The Chicago Bulls big man has registered at least 10 technicals and one ejection in each of the past two full seasons. As competitive as any player in the league, Noah's passion sometimes boils over spectacularly.

His early exit from a game against the Sacramento Kings last February was one for the ages.

Lance Stephenson, Charlotte Hornets

Lance Stephenson narrowly missed the top 10 with a total score of 28, and if there were points available for postseason silliness (ear-blowing, playing dead after flops, etc.), Born Ready would almost certainly have made it into the official rankings.

He already has three technicals and a flagrant foul this season, so he's off to a good start for next year's edition.

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony (28 points) doesn't jump immediately to mind when you're trying to think of NBA bad boys. He's an ultra-skilled offensive talent, not a hack-happy bruiser.

Melo barks at officials plenty, though. And he's not one to back down from a challenge. Years and years of getting every defender's best shot has hardened Anthony, and he's been known to hand out his fair share of punishment in return—sometimes against former teammates.

Despite a higher score than a handful of the players above him, Anthony actually loses a few subjective points because his infamous confrontation with Kevin Garnett in 2013 failed to pass the tough-guy smell test. Melo waited for KG after a heated Knicks-Boston Celtics tilt at the C's' bus, seeking to continue their testy in-game exchange. There were no fisticuffs, and it felt like more of a front on Anthony's part than anything.

 

10. Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 25

Flagrants: 3

Ejections: 2

Other: 0

Tyson Chandler doles out the punishment. He's a great defensive big, but he'll knock opponents out of the air (ironic, considering his greatest fear is heights) and throw the odd elbow when it suits him. His 25 techs are solid, but it's his flagrant fouls that earn him a spot here.

Wild Card Factor: Chandler changes for the worse when he's stuck in a bad situation. He gets ornerier, more prone to snapping. That's less of a problem now that he's back with the highly functional, always-competitive Dallas Mavericks, but it was an issue during his time with the Knicks.

He was tossed from a blowout loss against the Golden State Warriors last season for instigating a scuffle with Marreese Speights.

“Emotions came through and I guess he wanted to pick a fight or something,” Speights said, per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “He was getting beat so that’s emotions.”

Bad Boy Score: 30

9. J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 16

Flagrants: 3

Ejections: 2

Other: 4

J.R. Smith is a different brand of bad boy. He's not a technical magnet, and he's not frighteningly physical.

His brand of misbehavior is generally sillier (sometimes bordering on ridiculous) than it is imposing or dangerous. Most of the time, it seems like Smith just can't help himself from doing the wrong thing—like the time he refused to heed the NBA's warning about untying opponents' shoes during games.

Earl got a hefty $50,000 fine for that last January, which is why his 25 Bad Boy points earn him a spot above players with much higher scores. You just can't ignore his proprietary blend of shenanigans.

Apparently, the Cleveland Cavaliers weren't bothered by Smith's behavior. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, they dealt Dion Waiters to bring in Smith and Iman Shumpert on Jan. 5.

We'll see what kind of trouble Smith can get into in the Rust Belt.

Wild Card Factor: Bad shots. Bad texts. Bad habit of hitting the town.

Smith is one player who enjoys acting up, but he's mostly harmless…unless of course you're actually trying to build a responsible, winning culture.

Bad Boy Score: 25

8. Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 25

Flagrants: 4

Ejections: 1

Other: 0

It's not hard to understand why Kendrick Perkins checks in this high with a score of only 30.

Think of it like this: If given the choice of having Perkins, Smith, Chandler or Anthony angry with you, Perkins would be the last guy you'd pick, right? If your team was winning in a blowout and you had a clear path to the bucket, knowing you'd probably be fouled hard for trying to score, Perkins would be the worst possible guy to see waiting for you under the rim.

Perk is a 7' monolith with razor sharp elbows, and he's not always in control of what those things are doing. He flails, shoves, shoulders, dislodges and always—ALWAYS—scowls.

Except, of course, when he's telling referees in advance not to call cheap fouls in what he plans to make a very physical game.

Wild Card Factor: Perkins isn't on the court to score, pass or catch the ball cleanly. He's out there to enforce…with force. Filling his role literally requires intimidation and physicality. That's frightening.

Bad Boy Score: 30

7. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 25

Flagrants: 4

Ejections: 2

Other: 0

Dwight Howard has been described as many things, but an on-court bad boy isn't usually one of them.

This is why we use objective metrics in these rankings.

His reputation is that of a goofball who just wants to be liked, and he probably spends more time smiling than all of the players we've covered so far combined. But the numbers say what they say—that Howard has incurred the wrath of officials 25 times for technicals in a little over two years, and that he's no stranger to administering hard contact.

He got Kenneth Faried on this one.

There was also this chase-down hack against Elton Brand in 2012.

Wild Card Factor: Coach-killing is bad.

To be clear, Howard doesn't inspire the kind of fear someone like Perkins does. And he's not as unpredictable as Smith. But his record contains an awful lot of bad behavior.

D12 gets a couple of extra points for the time he threw Stan Van Gundy under a bus.

Bad Boy Score: 31

6. Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 24

Flagrants: 4

Ejections: 6

Other: 0

Larry Sanders' bad boy resume is most notable for its missed opportunity. After getting tossed from a league-leading five games in 2012-13, Sanders played only 23 contests in 2013-14. One of the reasons for his many missed games was a nightclub incident that resulted in a torn thumb ligament. That indiscretion doesn't even factor into his overall score.

The point is, if Sanders had been able to stay on the floor last season, we could be talking about an easy top-three ranking. The fact that he managed to rack up six techs, two flagrants and one ejection in such a truncated 2013-14 campaign hints at what could have been.

Wild Card Factor: Sanders has a penchant for flaming out spectacularly, as he did in this ejection against the Indiana Pacers. His reputation has resulted in a very quick trigger from officials, but he's more courteous than most when he gets tossed.

Thumbs up!

Bad Boy Score: 34

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 30

Flagrants: 1

Ejections: 1

Other: 0

Kevin Durant has high standards.

We know that because he didn't settle for being the game's second-best player in 2012-13, pushing himself harder than ever to surpass LeBron James as the league's MVP the very next year. We also know that because he is extremely demanding of NBA officials.

His 30 technical fouls comprise nearly all of his overall points in our rankings.

KD doesn't bully opponents in the conventional sense. He's not frighteningly physical (though he is definitely scary to defend). Generally speaking, he's under control. The lone flagrant foul in his bad boy profile shows his discretion in that regard.

So does his single ejection.

Durant is perfectly happy to scream at officials over what he perceives to be missed calls, but he knows not to push those interactions to the point at which he's dismissed from the game. There may be an element of referees giving him extra slack because they don't want to eject the guy fans came to see, but we should give the lion's share of the credit to Durant's prudence. 

He's the most under-control bad boy of the bunch.

Wild Card Factor: There's more than one way to exact revenge. And where Blake Griffin loses ground for failing to react, Durant earns credit because he reacts to all forms of adversity—physical defenders, cheap shots, bad calls—by gritting his teeth and destroying whatever's in his way, as he told Sam Amick of USA Today"

What I heard was that people would talk about me and say that I don't have that killer dog in me, like a Kobe (Bryant) or—who else?—like Mike (Jordan), and those guys have. But I'm like, 'I wouldn't be able to survive this long in this league doing the stuff that I do at an elite level (if he didn't have it). I wouldn't be able to do it for seven straight years if I didn't have that it, you know?'

In that regard, KD is one seriously bad dude. Which is close enough to a bad boy.

Bad Boy Score: 32

4. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 37

Flagrants: 0

Ejections: 1

Other: 0

Blake Griffin is often wrongly categorized as a one-dimensional dunker. The truth is he's a multi-skilled forward who can knock down jumpers, score in the post with elite efficiency and pass the ball far better than most give him credit for.

When it comes to the accumulation of bad boy points, though, Griffin is a one-trick pony.

Techs, techs and more techs—that's all we get from Griffin.

If there were credit available for infuriating opponents by exaggerating contact and flailing around like a speared marlin, Griffin would certainly get some. But there's not, and he's here—all the way up at No. 4—because he gets mouthy with officials.

You could argue he has good reason to complain as much as he does; Griffin absorbs a lot of punishment because of his aggressive style, and it's difficult to correctly officiate all of it. At the same time, his theatrics haven't earned him favored status with opponents or (and we're just speculating here) referees.

Griffin knows when he's made his point. He's been tossed just once in the last three seasons.

Wild Card Factor: Restraint actually hurts Griffin here. For all the contact he creates and cheap shots he absorbs, we have yet to see him fly off the handle. And real bad boys retaliate.

"Yeah, probably," Griffin told Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com in October when asked if he's close to firing back following hard fouls. "I'm not going to do it for no reason or if it's not warranted and I didn't feel that was."

Probably? Not warranted? A lot of players are ranked lower who would have dealt with this situation a long time ago.

So despite an overall score that ranks behind just one player on this list, Griffin's pacifism checks him in at No. 4.

Bad Boy Score: 38

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 34

Flagrants: 0

Ejections: 3

Other: 0

Russell Westbrook is fun for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is the way his pathological competitiveness sometimes overwhelms him. In a contest against the Washington Wizards last November, Westbrook took exception to a shove from hulking center Nene and bounced right off the floor, ready for action.

He delivered a two-handed jolt to the big man, resulting in one ejection and thousands of "Man, Russ isn't scared of anybody" observations from viewers at home.

Incidents like the one with Nene are relatively rare for Westbrook; he tends to get into hot water more often for verbal missteps than physical ones. He piled up 25 technical fouls between 2012-13 and 2013-14, and he leads the NBA with nine violations in 20 contests this year. If a broken hand hadn't sidelined him for 14 games in November, he'd have an even more commanding lead. 

Wild Card Factor: Willingness to tangle with guys who have 70 pounds on him. "Nene’s reaction to Westbrook shoving him was excellent. He looked at him like he was crazy," SB Nation's Mike Prada tweeted after the incident.

Bad Boy Score: 37

2. Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 20

Flagrants: 7

Ejections: 5

Other: 1

If you're anything like me, the very first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Barnes is his total willingness to commit a foul. A hard foul.

Hence the seven flagrant violations since the beginning of the 2012-13 season.

He's taken big swings at everyone from Kevin Love to David West, and he's always been quick to jump into a scuffle started by somebody else—like the time he interjected on Griffin's behalf with a shove to the chest of Serge Ibaka.

From Jonathan Abrams' wide-ranging Grantland profile on Barnes last April:

Ten years and eight teams into his NBA career, Barnes insists he never starts fights. But he will end them. "If you look at my career, I’ve never really been messed with personally," Barnes said. "When I’m in trouble, it’s usually me sticking up for somebody else or taking it for a teammate. I don’t think I’ll change that."

Barnes' bad boy portfolio is easily the most diverse of the players we've seen so far. His technical foul count is strong, and he supplements it with a heaping helping of flagrants and ejections.

Wild Card Factor: Barnes does not know fear.

From Tom Ley of Deadspin, following a 2013 playoff tilt between the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies: "They say the best way to survive a bear attack is to stare the beast down as it charges you. Maybe that's what Matt Barnes was thinking about last night when Zach Randolph came charging toward him after a hard foul."

Barnes didn't blink. Instead, he smiled invitingly, perhaps hoping to scrap.

Bad Boy Score: 33

1. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

Henry Kaye

Technicals: 37

Flagrants: 3

Ejections: 6

Other: 3

In preparation for inevitable backlash against DeMarcus Cousins' No. 1 ranking ("He's matured! He's a victim of an unearned reputation! He's a good guy who just wants to win!"), I'll hide behind the numbers.

Griffin's overall score of 38 is the second-highest figure on our list, and he's the only player with more total points than Cousins has from his technical fouls alone. Nobody complains, gesticulates, pouts or generally antagonizes officials as frequently as Cousins does.

Nobody. It's not close.

He grouses when fouls go uncalled and, perplexingly, is often just as perturbed when he gets the whistle he wants. If, as a result of his history of disdain for referees, said whistle is rougher on him than most, it's hard to argue that's anyone's fault but his.

Cousins hasn't been penalized as harshly this season as he has in years past; he has just four technicals so far. Perhaps he's growing up—as so many of his advocates claim. To be totally fair, most of his especially egregious outbursts occurred two seasons ago. And he was ejected just once in 2013-14 after getting the heave-ho four times in 2012-13.

That's progress.

It's also worth considering the possibility that Cousins has become so ridiculously good that the narrative now focuses on his quality as a player instead of his faults in temperament.

"DeMarcus is better,” said Bulls center Joakim Noah, per Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee. "I feel sometimes he gets frustrated and that works in our favor. I feel this year, he’s the one getting guys frustrated, and it’s worked for them."

Still, Cousins' mountain of past techs and bizarre extracurriculars make him the only possible choice for No. 1 here.


Wild Card Factor:
 Do we even need one?
Cousins' resume is so loaded with bad behavior that any extra points would feel like piling on. The objective case is pretty strong on its own.

How about this: Cousins doesn't limit his confrontations to opponents or referees. He's perfectly happy to mix it up with television commentators, as he infamously did with San Antonio Spurs color man Sean Elliott in 2012.

Spurs radio broadcaster Bill Schoenig recounted the incident to Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: "I was wondering why Cousins was out there in his uniform waiting for them to finish his postgame show. Then I saw them in an animated conversation out on the court. I observed Sean walk away from Cousins and Cousins continue to talk to Sean as he left the scene, but I couldn’t hear what was being said.”

The conversation earned Cousins a two-game suspension.

Bad Boy Score: 49 

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