0 out of 5
Stacy Revere / Getty Images
The disrespect is seen every night in the NBA.
Often, a player shows this by filling the highlight reel with disrespectful dribbling moves or by punishing posterizers. But we dissect another type of disrespect.
This genre is not fun; It’s exhausting. It’s the kind that attaches a (often tired) story to a star player who describes it as something less talented than them.
The following five players experience this disrespect more than their peers, and we are here to debunk all the lies and give each elite its brilliance.
1 of 5
Matt York / Associated Press
In Devin Booker’s first four NBA seasons, his contributions were both revealing and never enough. He had totaled 5,820 points–81st record in league history for a player’s first four seasons… but production drowned in a Phoenix Suns loss pool (241, the most in this period).
Respect is almost impossible in these circumstances. He could jump for huge numbers (nine 40-point games from 2015-16 to 2018-19, tied with LeBron James for the 13th over), but critics would say his contributions lacked substance–and defense.
When victories don’t accompany production, players are selected for what they don’t do (or maybe what their team doesn’t do), instead of being celebrated for what they can offer.
“As long as you’re not part of a team that wins and fights for at least a playoff spot, that individual thing, they will note that you have points, but there is always:” Oh, you don’t play not in defense, “or” Oh, you don’t do that, “” Tom Chambers, TV analyst and former Suns star said Jonathan Abrams of B / R.
This season has been different–for Booker and the Suns. His true shot percentage, winning share and plus / minus defensive box have all reached career highs, and Phoenix has already tied its best total wins during Booker’s tenure (24). And yet, Booker didn’t land his first star invitation until the league needed a last-minute replacement for Damian Lillard this season.
Only 23 years old, Booker is one of eight players who average an average of at least 26 points, six assists and four rebounds per game and has the fifth most wins in this group (5.7). He’s a legitimate star, even if the basketball world has been slow to recognize him as such.
2 out of 5
David Zalubowski / Associated Press
Flash back to April 2019.
The Denver Nuggets, second seeded, after a season of 54 wins, have their hands full, then some with the San Antonio Spurs, seventh seeded. The Nuggets are down from a game to none and seem to be heading for a second consecutive loss at home.
Fox Sports 1’s Nick Wright takes on Twitter and triggers the following criticism of both the Nuggets and their leader, Nikola Jokic: “The Nuggets are exactly what so many of us have said they were: a pretender pretending to be an alleged superstar. “
Denver, of course, recovers from a double-digit halftime deficit to win this game and ultimately wins the series in Sept. Nuggets withdraw to next round, but not before pushing Portland Trail Blazers to another series of seven games. Even before the conference semi-finals were over, Wright was rushing review his hot plug on the Joker.
Jokic left him no other choice, averaging 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists in 14 playoff games. Jokic’s statistics line also included a .506 / .393 / .846 stellar slash.
He did what a superstar should do, because that’s what he is–although casual fans weren’t all aware of this as Wright did. Jokic may not always score as a superstar (seven outings with single-digit points this season), and he could be athletically upgraded to a recreation league of 40 and up, but his offensive arsenal—A soft shot touch at all levels and perhaps the best vision ever for a 7 foot… is overwhelming.
The Nuggets are within reach of a 0.700 win percentage (something they have never displayed since joining the ABA in 1976-77), and Jokic is at the center of that success. Everything from the full range of his scores per game (single player on average at least 20 points, 10 boards and six dimes) to his advanced statistics (sixth highest real plus-minus, by ESPN.com), points to the superstar in its own right.
3 of 5
John Amis / Associated Press
Basketball minds continue to deceive Khris Middleton.
He was not a first-round pick in 2012, falling instead of the 39th selection, one place behind Quincy Miller, who has played 69 games in the NBA. The Detroit Pistons finally jumped on Middleton, but they never reaped the rewards of that choice, as they let him go to the Milwaukee Bucks in the July 2013 exchange conspicuously highlighted by Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings.
“I thought he could become a good spin guy,” former Pistons assistant Dee Brown told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “I did not expect that.”
Analytics saw Middleton as an impact player from the start. He had the 10th highest plan in 2014-15, which left many people thinking about the formula, as he averaged just 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The league finally came and awarded it its first All-Star candidacy in 2018-19, the following year, he was one of 11 players who averaged at least 20 points, five boards and four assists per game.
The Bucks awarded Middleton a maximum maximum contract last summer, but initially considered making a lower bid in hopes of retaining Malcolm Brogdon as well, according to Ric Bucher of B / R. Middleton booked his second All-Star trip in February, but some, including Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports, thought the place belonged to someone else (Zach LaVine, in the case of Haberstroh).
Even with the Bucks approaching a possible 70-game winning season, some wonder if they have enough to fight. The main sticking point, as Steve Aschburner of NBA.com discussed in December, is whether they have a championship-level co-star for Giannis Antetokounmpo.
They do. It’s Middleton. Analytics still loves him (18th in RPM), the eye test appreciates his stroke creation and his defensive versatility, and the traditional categories note that he is about to join the much-touted club 50/40/90, as that scorer of 21.1 points per game, no less.
4 out of 5
Matt Slocum / Associated Press
Ben Simmons is on a short list of the best talents in the league, but he still generates polarizing takes.
In January, Rob Mahoney of the Ringer broke the rise of Simmons as “one of the best defenders in the NBA”. In February, Brad Botkin of CBS Sports examined whether Simmons was “a defender of empty statistics”. How’s that for a lightning rod?
Casual fans peck Simmons for his three-point allergy. Even the Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown has argued for longer balls. But too often, people let this discussion discolor all of their opinion of Simmons, as if his reluctance to pull sweaters he probably wouldn’t – he’s a 59.4% free throw shooter, friends – wipes out all the positive points it brings.
He is a defender with five tools. As a 6’10 “, 240 pound point guard, he can both stay in front of perimeter players and disturb opponents with a length around the basket. He always narrows passing lanes or harasses ball keepers (and leads the Association with 2.1 interceptions per match), and his ability to transform turnover into chances to score a transition highlights his best offensive attributes.
He has an elite vision on the ground and he can spot open teammates from all angles and at any speed. Few views are more intimidating than when Simmons winds up on the rim, and he knows it. Over 54 percent of his career placement attempts were within three feet of the basket, and he converted 72.2 percent of those looks.
Would it help if he could stretch the floor? Sure, but why did everyone decide that his weakness canceled out his strength? He has averaged at least 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in his first three NBA seasons (including this year); only Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson have matched this feat. Simmons contributed 24.6 shares of victory over this period; only 11 players counted more.
He should be appreciated as an elite. Instead, it is scrutinized for not matching our vision of the performance of an elite.
5 out of 5
Kim Raff / Associated Press
Ja Morant understands. His favorite player when he was growing up was Russell Westbrook, and as Morant said to Tim MacMahon of ESPN, he doesn’t understand why the dynamic general on the ground is not more famous:
“I always feel like he’s very disrespectful. People take his game for granted. I mean, he’s averaged a triple-double in the last three or four years, and I’m pretty sure they see what he’s doing this year, but it’s still the same thing. I love the fact that he always goes out and plays and runs his business and doesn’t care. “
Westbrook is relentless. What can embitter public opinion is that it is true, whether it is at its best or at its worst. His selection of shots was sometimes worthy of cringe, and some consider his style as not conducive to victory.
The truth is that it is great in almost any measure.
The 31-year-old already has the second most triple triple in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson. Some have questioned the meaning of this, as if we all expect someone to desensitize us to nighttime triple-dip. Westbrook’s macabre three career point percentage of 30.4 is a sticking point for some in the analytical crowd, but he has the 19th highest player efficiency rating in NBA history, and he is seventh at RPM this year.
He has relatively abandoned the hat-trick this season (his weakest attempts on average since 2012-13), and his percentage of goals scored has climbed to a personal best 47.0. He’s also averaged the third highest point in his career (27.3) and ranks 11th for assists (7.2), which shouldn’t be possible given how far the Rockets from Houston executed their attack by James Harden.
Westbrook’s resume includes the 2016-17 MVP award and eight All-NBA selections, but it could be The Brodie at its best. If you’ve ever slandered his style of play or wondered if he could co-lead a big winner, time is running out to revise these takes.
All statistics, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference and accurate through games played on February 28.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.