The Overrated and the Underrated

Posted on February 12, 2007 by


One of the main stories we tell in The Wages of Wins is that there is a difference between how observers value performance in the NBA and how that performance actually impacts team wins. Perceptions of performance can be captured with metrics dominated by scoring – such as NBA Efficiency and the Player Efficiency Rating (PER). As we demonstrated in The Wages of Wins, NBA Efficiency has a fairly strong relationship to player salary and the NBA coaches’ voting for the All-Rookie team. Wins Produced has a stronger relationship to wins, but is not as correlated with player evaluations.

This disconnect between perceptions and production led us to offer in the book a list of “overrated” and “underrated” players in the NBA for 2004-05. Malcolm Gladwell asked for the list for 2005-06 and presented it on his blog last May. And with data collected for each NBA team after 41 games, I can now offer a list of overrated and underrated for the first half of the 2006-07 season.

The Overrated after 41 games

Before getting to each list, let’s define what it means to be “overrated.” An overrated player has a much higher ranking in NBA Efficiency than he has in Wins Produced (and an under-rated player is rated much higher in Wins Produced). In the first half of the season, 129 players logged at least 1,000 minutes (in the book we considered players who played at least 2,000 minutes in 2004-05). These players were ranked in terms of NBA Efficiency and Wins Produced. The difference in these rankings (Rank Wins Produced – Rank NBA Efficiency) was calculated. The following fifteen “overrated” players had the largest negative difference.

Table One: The “Overrated” at the Midpoint

Topping the list is Eddy Curry, the player the media in New York are increasingly referring to as the Knicks’ “star”. NBA Efficiency ranks Curry 40th of the 129 players who played 1,000 minutes. In other words, he is above average. Wins Produced indicates that Curry has made no substantial contribution to the Knicks’ meager success. Consequently, in Wins Produced he ranks 116th, or in the bottom 15.

Curry is not the only top 40 player in NBA Efficiency on the list. Other “top” players include Allen Iverson, Mehmut Okur, Richard Hamilton, and Antawn Jamison.

Before Dan Shanoff, Matthew Yglesias, and other Wizard fans become too irate seeing Jamison called “overrated”, I would note that a) Jamison is above average in Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] and b) the failure of the Wizards to succeed without Jamison recently is more a reflection of the inability of players like Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila to play very well. In other words, a player can look very good if his back-ups are very bad (a similar story can be told about Michael Redd, whose primary back-up is the very unproductive Charlie Bell).

Speaking of “bad”, one should also note that the overrated players are not all above average players according to NBA Efficiency. Mark Blount, Al Harrington, Jamal Crawford, Monta Ellis, and Shareef Abdhur-Rahim are all ranked by NBA Efficiency in the lower half of the 129 players examined. Wins Produced tells us, though, that these players are more than just a bit below average, but actually like Eddy Curry, are ranked in the bottom 15 in productivity.

The Under-Rated after 41 games

Okay, enough of the overrated. Which players were “underrated” in the first half of the season?

Table Two: The “Underrated” at the Midpoint

The most underrated player in the first half was Luther Head. NBA Efficiency ranks Head as 108th (out of 129). In other words, according to NBA Efficiency, he is one of the worst full-time players in the league. Wins Produced, though, ranks Head in the top 60; or reports that he is above average.

Head is probably not well-known to many NBA fans. A few underrated players, though, are a bit better known. Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Ben Wallace, and Grant Hill have all appeared on a national stage (All-Star Game, Olympic Team, NBA Finals) at one point or another. Each of these players is also above average in Wins Produced, but either close to average or well below average in NBA Efficiency.

Although thirteen of the fifteen “underrated” players are above average in Wins Produced, Trenton Hassell and Eric Snow are the exceptions. Hassell and Snow are ranked by NBA Efficiency in the bottom 15. Wins Produced agrees that both are below average, just not that far below average.

Where NBA Efficiency and Wins Produced Agree

It’s important to note that NBA Efficiency and Wins Produced do not always disagree. The following table reports 14 players where the two rankings are the same or only differ by one spot.

Table Three: Where NBA Efficiency and Wins Produced Basically Agree

Whether one uses NBA Efficiency and Wins Produced, you would find that Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, Tim Duncan, and Dwyane Wade are pretty good players. In contrast, Charlie Bell and Juan Dixon are not having good seasons. So NBA Efficiency does not always lead one to an incorrect conclusion, but in a few cases, obviously it can.

End of the Mid-Season Reports

With the posting of the overrated and underrated I have completed my analysis of the first half of the NBA season. For those wishing to review the coverage, here are the previous four posts examining the NBA after 41 games.

Roy is Roy

The Fans Select the All-Stars

The Coaches Select the All-Stars

The Assistant NBA Coaches Select the Rookie Stars

Going forward, I will be returning to the analysis of each NBA team. For my next post I plan on examining whether or not the Miami Heat has any chance to repeat as NBA champions.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say