Exercises In Futility:The 50 Worst NBA Rotation Players, 10-1

Photo from xcode via Flickr

A Danny Chau and James Herbert collaboration

It’s been a summer of lists — or at least that’s how it has seemed. Over the past few weeks the NBA blogosphere has been inundated with them. Some see them as a pointless exercise in futility (you see what I did there), but no matter where you stand on the idea of ranking players, it makes for conversation. And this has been an offseason starved of honest-to-goodness basketball-related talking points.

Inspired by Top 100 lists created by Zach Lowe over at Sports Illustrated’s The Point Forward and the trio running CBSSports’ Eye-On-Basketball, we decided to run in the opposite direction. What if we ranked the worst players?So we set some guidelines and shortened the list down to 50. For one, all players had to have averaged 15 minutes of playing time last season. An arbitrary number, yes, but it kept things consistent.

And it’ll soon be evident (at least it was for us) that when ranking the worst, there really isn’t much of a formula. Arguments can be made for most of these players as the worst. We did our best to take context and potential into consideration, but this list is completely open-ended — that same open-endedness fuels the chaos, riles up emotion, and makes things fun.

Here are 50-41, 40-31, and 30-21, 20-11. We’re here. The final frontier. It’s been a long, painful journey. Let’s finish this one off right.

10. Andres Nocioni
F, Philadelphia 76ers

If this seems a bit high for Andres Nocioni, it shouldn’t. This isn’t 2006. We aren’t living in a world where he’s a hardnosed defender and efficient, lights-out shooter from anywhere on the court. This isn’t the Nocioni that’s going to give the hard foul or hound you on defense. He’ll give you five seconds of honest effort, but at any emerging signs of defeat, it’s as though some sort of trigger goes off. His body sags off the opponent, and it’s over. Dunk. Open jumper. You’ve won. And it only took a few seconds of work.

Nocioni’s offense has aged even more rapidly. Outside of his two years of brilliance in Chicago circa 2005-2007, Nocioni has been an inefficient scorer for much of his career. Nocioni still notches a barely-above-average three-point shooting percentage, but the area between the rim and the three-point line has become a ghost town, and will remain so until Nocioni decides to hang it up. He still (somehow) has the quickness to take his man off the dribble, but at some point in the isolation process, the body needs to stop, gather, and rise up. The problem is, this is where much of his quickness has abandoned him. He’s not a fast leaper, nor does he seem very willing to throw his body at his opponents. His running hooks, floaters, and layups are largely useless – almost as much as the range between 10-23 feet.

So what does that leave us with? A corroded player with a false reputation and a steadily declining utility quotient. If this ranking seems a bit high, watch him next year. We’re more than a half-decade away from 2006, and Nocioni makes that fact all too evident.  -DC

9. Earl Watson
PG, Utah Jazz

I saw this Henry Abbott comment about Earl Watson and it made me happy:

Earl Watson doesn’t play much offense, so he’s always described as a defensive specialist. But not playing offense is not the same as being great at defense. To my eyes, there are plenty of better defenders.

Via Tuesday Bullets | 8/2/11

This is where I admit that I made an NBA hate list last year and Earl Watson is on it. So are 5 other players mentioned in this post. There are only 15 names on the list, so apparently I can’t stand players who are really unproductive and get rotation minutes. That or these rankings are totally biased because I rated players extremely poorly when I found them annoying. I think Danny kept that in check, though.

I should clarify the hate list thing — I don’t actually hate Earl Watson. In fact, I used to like him! Back when the Sonics existed, I was a fan of his defense (which has since deteriorated a fair bit) and his propensity to throw alley-oop passes. He’s always been a turnover machine, but I usually like point guards who try to make flashy passes even when it’s a bad idea. It’s not like I’m coaching them.

This brings me to P.J. Carlesimo and the reason why Earl Watson is on my “hate list.” In 2008-2009, Carlesimo started Watson for the first month of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s existence. Being a huge Russell Westbrook fan, I resented the hell out of Watson. The team was terrible but fun, so I watched almost every game on League Pass, rooting for them and yelling at their coach through the TV. I unfairly picked apart everything Watson did, outraged at every minute he spent on the floor at Westbrook’s expense. His alley-oop passes were still cool, but I enjoyed them begrudgingly.

When Scotty Brooks arrived and placed Russ in the starting lineup, that should have been the end of my grudge. Watson is an extremely ineffective player, but he really shouldn’t be an unlikeable one. I still get annoyed whenever he checks into a game, though — old habits die hard. -JH

8. Samardo Samuels
PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

Byron Scott: “[Samardo Samuels] has more talent and is more athletic than Kevin Love.”

Everyone else on the planet: “No.” -JH

7. Eddie House
G, Miami Heat

After reading Chris Ballard’s must-read “The Art Of A Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour Of The NBA” for the first time, I gained a tremendous respect for the pure shooter. The kind of psychological preparation that Steve Kerr went through to make sure he was dependable at any point in the game was intriguing, and it really shows the work and dedication of a man who was put on this earth to shoot and exclusively shoot for a decade of his life.

Eddie House isn’t Steve Kerr. I don’t care what the percentages tell you. I don’t care what his role has been for the last six seasons. House came into the league as a volume scorer. But I’ve seen stray cats dribble basketballs better than he does. So he resorted to shooting threes when he’s open. And good for him. He makes them often.

But it’s not the same as Kerr or other pure shooters. He has that scorer’s unrelenting braggadocio which is even more nauseating when you realize that he isn’t a pure shooter. He’s just a cocksure guy that was somehow too proud to develop anything resembling point guard, or even shooting guard skills. The absence of skills beyond shooting doesn’t make you a pure shooter. It makes you lazy, and makes your hubris grating and borderline offensive to the sanctity of the game.

That’s Eddie House. He shoots the ball. The end. -DC

6. Mike Bibby
PG, Miami Heat

You can’t redeem Mike Bibby.

In hopes of humanizing the blogosphere’s most reviled point guard, I spoke with Norma Wick, who covered the Grizzlies when Bibby began his NBA career. She said he was shy, but a bit of a prankster. He and Michael Dickerson were like Cuttino Mobley and Steve Francis — after being teammates in college, they always had adjacent rooms on the road in the pros. This is endearing, but it probably doesn’t change your opinion of him. You probably liked Bibby when he was a Grizzly, anyway. You might have loved him for the first five or six years of his Kings tenure. I did. But now? No.

Now, Mike Bibby’s game is as appealing as Richard Jefferson’s tattoo. As soon as you put him in the game you’re putting your defense at risk. In theory, he’d redeem himself for his defensive deficiencies by helping your offense. If his shot is on, then this… might be true? I mean, he did hit 45.5% of his threes for Miami in the regular season. He never created a good shot for himself or drove past a defender, but he had value as a floor-spacer, I guess. Ugh.

You can’t redeem him after watching him brick his way to the worst playoff run in NBA history. The man who was on the floor strictly to shoot couldn’t manage better than 28.1% from the field, playing with three of the best offensive players on the planet. He made me scream for more Mario Chalmers. He made me miss Carlos Arroyo (#25 here). He did these things. He is the worst. -JH

5. Jason Maxiell
PF, Detroit Pistons

Go to YouTube and type in his name. You’ll love him.

K, now go to Basketball-Reference. Same thing. Yeah, see that 2010-2011 season? Do you still love Jason Maxiell? He’s the worst.

You can and should still love Maxiell’s dunks and blocks, but let’s be realistic about his prospects as a rotation player. Aside from highlights plays, screen-setting, and baby-eating, you’re not getting anything from him. He could never shoot, pass, or dribble. He’s regressed in a big way on the boards. Last year was the third straight season that his production has dropped and this time he found himself out of the rotation for long stretches. It’s sad when the undersized overachiever stops overachieving. -JH

4. Yi Jianlian
PF, Washington Wizards

Four years ago, Fran Frascilla introduced Yi Jianlian as the anti-Yao Ming. He was new school. He was hip-hop. He was 50 Cent (an outdated reference then, let alone now). Indeed, after four years Yi could very well be seen as the opposite of Yao. While Yao carried his enormity with grace and nobility, there isn’t a basketball player alive more uncomfortable in his own skin than Yi.

You’ll never get the sense that Yi dislikes basketball. It’s clear that he very much enjoys it. But in a sport where height is king, Yi treats his towering frame as a burden. He’s that friend you have – the hopeless romantic that empathizes with every romantic comedy, and knows every line to 500 Days Of Summer– that internalizes the drama of cinema and tries to reenact his own life accordingly. Yi never wanted to be seven feet tall. He wanted to be the superstar wings that were universally recognized. He wanted to be Chinese Jordan. He wanted to be Kobe.

And it shows. It shows in his absolutely abysmal turnaround fadeaway which he insists on hoisting possession after possession. Pound for pound, he is easily the weakest player in the league. He uses none of his fluid, run-jump athleticism consistently, and for everyone who recognizes Yi’s talent, it’s maddening. He is a career 40.5 percent shooter. Yi honestly couldn’t be more of a letdown if he tried. He’s the worst.

Yi, I mean this sincerely: Go back to China. Go back home where you can dunk on anyone and everything. Go back to the style of play that’ll make you happy in a place where it is actually feasible. Go back to where you’re adored. You’re miserable here, and it’s making us miserable too. -DC

3. Targuy Ngombo
G/F, Minnesota Timberwolves

This isn’t about Targuy. We love Targuy from what little we know of him, but he’ll never step foot in the NBA.

This is actually about Rasual Butler. Unfortunately, Butler decided to hop on over to Gran Canaria, a team in the Spanish ACB league, after we finalized our top-50 list. I don’t quite understand why they want him, though. He’s the worst.

He’s the worst because he shot 32.3% from the field, and 33.8% from behind the arc. His only purpose on the floor is to shoot. He couldn’t do it. According to Synergy Sports Technology, he was 2-for-19 (10.5%) for the season in ISO possessions. That means on 19 separate occasions, Butler thought it was a fantastic idea to take more than two dribbles, try and inevitably fail to create space, and throw up a wild shot with literally no chance of going in.

Why does he do it? Because he’s made tough shots in the past. And by past, I mean four years ago. His mind still thinks he’s capable, and for a shooter, that’s all you need. There’s no mental filter that says, “Rasual, this is a really stupid idea. Don’t do this, or you’ll get benched.” So basically, he’s Travis Outlaw without the potential, athleticism, or base talent. Wow. Did we all just gag in unison?   -DC

2. Chris Duhon
PG, Orlando Magic

Oh, Chris Duhon. What are you good at?

Nothing. You’re the worst. -DC

1. Stephen Graham
F, New Jersey Nets

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXSsWOc8JK8 w=640 h=390]

This is it. The worst rotation player in the league is Stephen Graham. Watch the video above, painstakingly crafted with love and care (hate and disdain) by none other than James. It’s excruciating.

I think about fruit flies a lot. I think about their capacity for memory. I think about how they fly, and how they are probably frightened as hell by our slappy hands. But seconds later, they’re flying in the same vicinity with the same ignorance and audaciousness before. Do you ever wonder about the fruit fly in mid-flight as their memory resets? Do you think they scream out, “OH HEY!” every three seconds, as if they’re seeing the world for the first time for the millionth time?

This is what I think about when I don’t want to think about how awful Stephen Graham is.

Sometimes I wonder if Stephen Graham was bitten by a radioactive fruit fly. Because when he has the ball in his hands, for three seconds, he’ll look like a competent basketball player. Then he drives and rises up. And in that moment, his memory resets, and suddenly he doesn’t know what a ball is. The ball is either thrown violently at the hoop or slips out of his hands like he was trying to catch a catfish with his bare hands. There is no in between. He’s a terrific athlete, but there’s absolutely no excuse for going up for a layup and throwing the ball hard against the backboard.

He has the gifts of a prototypical NBA wing, but he also has hands like ostriches have opposable thumbs. He is the worst.And this time, we mean it.

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