Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five players that have been difficult to rate over the years.
Since they became visible attributes, Overall Ratings have been the subject of much contention and debate. They aren’t nearly as important to realistic performance as individual ratings and other tendency data, yet they’re not completely irrelevant either. If a player’s Overall Rating seems too high or too low, it’s usually an indication that some (or many) of their individual ratings are off. Also, because they’re factored into rotation logic and trade value in franchise modes, it’s important that a player’s Overall Rating generally reflects their ranking amongst their peers.
It’s why in official and unofficial rosters alike, it’s necessary to pay some attention to Overall Ratings. Attributes such as “Intangibles” – found in certain NBA 2K titles – have been helpful in artificially adjusting Overall Ratings. Otherwise, it’s usually a matter of fudging a few ratings here or there so that the Overall Rating feels more accurate, without compromising realism in player skill and performance. Even so, there are some players that have been historically difficult to rate, especially without the aid of an Intangibles attribute. Looking back, these players are among the most likely to end up being overrated or underrated, at least according to their Overall.
1. Steve Nash
Look, we can debate whether or not Steve Nash deserved one or both of his MVPs. There were other players who were arguably just as (if not more) deserving in those years, and it’s well known that MVP voters can favour narratives over more objective criteria. MVP fatigue and media bias are both definitely real. Nevertheless, Nash did surpass the projected ceiling of “poor man’s John Stockton” in his pre-Draft scouting reports, becoming a great point guard in his own right. However, it wasn’t always easy to represent his status as one of the NBA’s top playmakers when it came to his Overall Rating, even in his prime. It usually felt he was at least a couple of points too low.
Unfortunately for virtual Steve Nash, with the way that many games calculated their Overall Ratings, his weaknesses weren’t always balanced out by his strengths. Again, he was one of the league’s best floor leaders, so his dribbling and passing ratings were naturally high. He could also be a deadly shooter from practically anywhere, a skill likewise reflected in his ratings. The problem was that Nash wasn’t an outstanding athlete compared to other players; at least in terms of speed, incredible leaping ability, or ability to dunk. Nash was also an average defender, even in his best years. It didn’t hold him back from being an MVP candidate, but it was difficult to rate him like one.
2. Josh Smith
During his prime years with the Atlanta Hawks, Josh Smith was a borderline All-Star. I actually had a false memory of him being selected at least once, but he never did get the call for the midseason classic. He was of course a Slam Dunk Champion, and also earned All-Rookie Second Team honours in 2005, and an All-Defensive Second Team selection in 2010. His athleticism, spectacular dunking ability, defensive and rebounding prowess, and consistent scoring average of around 16-18 points per game, meant that Josh Smith had ratings that were generally good across the board. That also meant that it was quite common for his Overall Rating to be slightly inflated.
Smith’s rebounding, stealing, and blocking numbers during his Hawks years, on top of his outstanding athletic attributes, made it virtually impossible to manage his Overall Rating without underrating his strengths. Essentially, it was the opposite problem to Steve Nash. Whereas Nash’s Overall was dragged down by his defensive abilities and lack of athleticism, Smith’s emphatic dunks, explosive leaping, and defensive plays that filled the box scores made up for his shooting deficiencies and inferior basketball IQ and playmaking skills. Oftentimes, their Overall Ratings would be very similar as a result, even though Steve Nash was undeniably the better player out of the two.
3. Kyle Korver
It’s not just perennial and borderline All-Stars that are often difficult to rate in games. Key role players can also be underrated or overrated depending on how the Overall Ratings are calculated, and whether they’re well-rounded or more of a specialist type of player. Kyle Korver definitely falls into the “specialist” category. Sure, he was an All-Star with the Hawks in 2015, though he was a replacement when Dwyane Wade was injured, getting the nod thanks to the Hawks’ dominance that year. After all, that was the season that the Hawks’ starting five were collectively named the Player of the Month for January, foreshadowing some of the silliness to come under Adam Silver.
Korver was an outstanding shooter, but not much else. He helped out on the boards, kept the ball moving for a couple of assists a night, and made an effort on defense, but his stat lines were generally pedestrian. He topped out at 14.4 ppg in his fourth year, and even when he was an All-Star, he posted averages of 12.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.7 spg, and 0.6 bpg. That doesn’t justify high all-around attributes, thus his Overall Rating often resembled a benchwarmer’s. The problem is that he was still a valuable role player, and spent a few years as a regular starter. Unfortunately, being a slightly one-dimensional specialist made it difficult to rate him in a way that reflected his role.
4. Gerald Wallace
Stuck on the deep bench in Sacramento for the first three years of his career, Gerald Wallace finally got a chance to show what he could do when the Charlotte Bobcats picked him in the 2004 Expansion Draft. It was immediately clear that he could be a double digit scorer who could also vacuum up a good amount of rebounds for a wing player, and pad out the stat sheet with crafty blocks and steals. In 2006, he topped the century mark in blocks and steals on the season, good for averages of 2.5 (best in the league that year) and 2.1 respectively. As an All-Star in 2010, he averaged 18 points and 10 boards, while still getting it done on D with 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.
Like Josh Smith, Wallace was also a tremendous athlete when he was in his prime, and capable of soaring to the rim for some fantastic finishes. And so, like Josh Smith, his combination of good defensive and rebounding numbers, athleticism, and strong all-around play – Wallace also became a decent shooter – would pump up his Overall Ratings in games set in the mid-to-late 2000s, and early 2010s. It wasn’t entirely inaccurate of course, but it often put him in the company of star players who were definitely a level above him. As was the case with Josh Smith, it wasn’t easy to fix without underrating him, and those ratings were far more important to get right.
5. Tony Parker
Just as the difficulty in rating Gerald Wallace was similar to the challenge of getting Josh Smith’s Overall Rating to appear “correct”, managing Tony Parker’s ratings mirrored Steve Nash’s situation. Although they had different styles of play, the way that the Overall Ratings were calculated always seemed to give more weight to their weaknesses rather than their strengths. As such, despite being multi-time All-Stars – and in Tony Parker’s case, an NBA Finals MVP – they didn’t always stand out as being among the best players at their position, or in comparison to the rest of the NBA. I recall trying to fudge Parker’s ratings as best I could, as I also did with Nash.
Parker was one of the league’s fastest players and did get up for the occasional dunk, but he didn’t fly like a Derrick Rose or a Russell Westbrook. Like Nash, he wasn’t a lockdown defender, but he also wasn’t nearly as good of a shooter from range or the free throw line. TP was adept at slicing into the lane to finish with floaters and layups at the rim though, often ranking among the leaders for points in the paint despite his smaller stature. He never averaged double digits in assists, while Nash reached that mark seven times, leading the league on five occasions. Parker’s stats and abilities still translated to ratings that made him a top player, but he still often felt a tad underrated.
Do you remember feeling that these five players were overrated or underrated in games over the years, at least in terms of their Overall Ratings? Who are some other players who have been historically difficult to rate? Have your say in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.