Who is the most overrated player in the NBA?
To answer this question, we need to first define what we mean by “overrated”. Dictionary.com tells us that the word “overrated” means: to rate or appraise too highly; overestimate
The word “high” is a relative term. To argue that something is “too high” or “too low” requires a reference point. Actually, to be precise, you need two points of reference.
At Huffington Post, the two reference points were points scored per game and Wins Produced. Such a comparison makes sense when we consider
1. Scoring dominates the perceptions of performance but does not capture a player’s contribution to wins, and
2.Wins Produced captures a players contribution to wins, but is not always consistent with perceptions of performance.
Although this comparison is certainly reasonable (at least, I think this is reasonable), one can construct a list of “overrated” players with other measures.
For example, perceptions of performance can also be captured with two different “advanced” metrics. The first — NBA Efficiency (reported at NBA.com) — is perhaps the oldest “advanced” measure of player performance. The calculation of this measure –as reported below – as quite simple.
NBA Efficiency = Points + Rebounds + Steals + Assists + Blocked Shots – All Missed Shots – Turnovers
Although the word “efficiency” is in the name, the NBA’s metric – as explained HERE –actually rewards inefficiency. In other words, an inefficient scorer can increase his NBA Efficiency by simply taking more shots. As long as he is successful on 33% of his shots from two-point range, and 25% of his shots from behind the arc, more field goal attempts results in a higher NBA Efficiency value. Players (as is often noted) are primarily rewarded for scoring, not for shooting efficiency. Consequently, the NBA Efficiency measure – which fails to punish effectively inefficient shooting – ends up being quite consistent with popular perception since more inefficient scoring does lead people to think a player is better.
When we employ NBA Efficiency in the construction of our list of most overrated, we do see some changes (relative to what was reported at Huffington Post). Chris Kaman – who was somewhat inefficient as a scorer last year (and not exceptional at anything besides taking shots) – now leads the way. And Monta Ellis – who topped the rankings when points per game was employed — is now ranked 4th.
Other changes include some new names. Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Boris Diaw – who did not appear in the scoring list — now appear in the top 10. And Danny Granger, Eric Gordon, and Devin Harris – who were in the top 10 when scorers were examined – are not in the top 15 when we consider NBA Efficiency. All of these players would still be thought of as overrated by either approach. But how much they are overrated does change with our choice of metrics.
And our choice is not restricted to scoring and NBA Efficiency. The latter measure is not often thought of as very “advanced”. This metric essentially adds together a player’s positive actions and subtracts off the negative. What happens if we turn to a measure that attempts to weight each player’s actions?
The most popular weighted measure is John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The simple version (okay, much simpler) of the PER metric – Game Score (discussed HERE)– indicates the basic weights employed.
Game Score = Points + 0.4*Made Field Goals – 0.7*Field Goal Attempts – 0.4*Free Throws Missed + 0.7*Offensive Rebounds + 0.3*Defensive Rebounds + Steals + 0.7*Assists + 0.7*Blocked Shots – 0.4* Personal Fouls – Turnovers
Game Score and NBA Efficiency have a 0.99 correlation (as has been reported before). PER is a per-minute metric, and it has a 0.99 correlation with Game Score per-minute (this has also been reported before). And none of these measures do a very good job of explaining wins (explanatory power is less than 40% — a point made in Stumbling on Wins).
The primary reason behind these high correlations (and lack of explanatory power) is that each of these formulas suffers from the same problem. Yes, each of these measures – and this observation includes PER (as noted HERE) – fails to penalize a player properly for inefficient scoring.
Again – like PPG and NBA Efficiency – PER does tell us about popular perception while not telling us as much about a player’s contribution to wins. And this means we can also use PER to construct another list of the most overrated players in the game.
Before we get to the results, though, we need to note that since PER is a per-minute measure our second reference point has to be WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]. Despite this change, we still see some familiar names. In fact, each of the players ranked in the top 10 of the overrated PER list appears in the list for scorers and/or the list constructed for NBA Efficiency.
The top player on the PER list, though, is a new overrated champion. Al Harrington – who recently signed with the Denver Nuggets – is the most overrated player when PER is compared to WP48.
So who is the Most Overrated? Well, the answer is not surprising. Economists often say that “it depends”. And that is the case here. Who is most overrated depends upon the two measures you consider.
Regular readers of The Wages of Wins Journal know that an overrated list – as the following two posts indicate – after the 2007-08 and 2008-09 season (and they also know much of the text for this year’s list was taken from these posts).
Each of these posts made an effort to combine the rankings one sees from scoring, NBA Efficiency, and PERs. Such an approach is appealing to those who want “the answer”. But upon further review, such an approach is ad hoc nonsense. In other words, just combining the lists is not a reasonable approach (at least, I no longer thinks so). Sometimes we don’t get “the answer” (as people who sign Allen Iverson realize – okay, that was cheap). Sometimes it is okay to have more than one answer (and of course, sometimes that is not okay — yes, it depends).
Let me close by noting that one can see a discussion of past seasons in Chapter 10 of The Wages of Wins. For more on NBA Efficiency, PER, and Game Score, one is referred to Stumbling on Wins (as well as an article I wrote with JC Bradbury and a forthcoming book chapter I have written – for an academic collection – on NBA metrics).
P.S. One can also see more on the metrics mentioned here in the following posts:
NBA Efficiency: Do We Overvalue Rebounds? (November 9, 2006).
PER: A Comment on the Player Efficiency Rating (November 17, 2006)
Game Score: Marvin Williams Makes a Hypothetical Deal (December 16, 2007)