Power Ranking: The One-Dimensional All-Stars
At the behest of those who enjoy watching beautiful people doing beautiful things, Ben Wallace has announced he will retire at the end of this season. One of the hungriest underdogs to ever play basketball, Wallace hammered himself into a niche with unprecedented brute force, becoming known for much, much more than a scraggly afro.
He was respected, beloved, and, to some degree, feared. Wallace was a rare breed: SO good as a rebounding defensive presence and SO bad as an offensive threat. In his honor, I’ve decided to rank all the modern day one-dimensional players, with Ben Wallace in mind as the Godfather of them all. The league has very few players who’re equally effective on offense as they are on defense, but one doesn’t have to overshadow the other (for example, the 2008 Kevin Garnett tilted the entire league with his defensive intensity—it became apart of his identity as he forced the Celtics to keep up on their way to a championship—but it wasn’t like he struggled on offense); this list highlights 14 guys who excel on one end of the floor while leaving much to be desired on the other.
Who Cares If He’s One-Dimensional? So Good, It Doesn’t Matter
Steve Nash. In what will eventually be looked back upon as the point guard’s “Golden Era”, a 38-year-old whose most electric offensive teammates are Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley is averaging more assists per game than anybody else. To gauge how influential Nash has been on his teammates throughout the years is to measure the importance of ketchup on a bag of french fries. Immeasurably important. His ability to create something out of nothing is on an unparalleled level and he regularly makes things that are difficult—like dribbling the ball baseline and surveying the floor from the inside-out—look easy. Oh, and for good measure, he’s shooting better from the field than Dwight Howard this season. On the other end, if a turnstile were married to a parking cone, then cheated on it with a folding chair, the baby would be Steve Nash.
Dirk Nowitzki. Here might be the best example of a player whose skill on offense is too great for anyone to ever worry about how he does on the other end. Defense is important, of course, but in basketball, the all-time great offensive players are unguardable. And if you choose to double and triple team them, well, there’s four other guys you need to account for so it’s a pick your poison situation. When Dirk has the ball in certain spots on the court, it’s just him and the hoop. There’s no resistance or outside interference. So what if he’s almost always a step slow and most known for hacking down on a driving player’s arms as they make their move near the basket. In last year’s postseason, the Mavericks were very fortunate to run into a diminished Pau Gasol. After that there really weren’t any front court threats to take advantage of Dirk’s sub-par defense (and when things looked dire, Carlisle could always turn to his trusty 2-3 zone.)
Carmelo Anthony. I used to believe that Carmelo Anthony’s defensive problems were as easy to solve as filling a dark room with light. Flip a switch and everybody’s happy. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. If the culture changing comparisons are correct, and Tyson Chandler has the infectious ability to make his teammates better defenders, a la Kevin Garnett, then why hasn’t Anthony responded? Well, maybe he did. Maybe he just isn’t all that good at defending people/does not/will never care. As long as we accept that and recognize him as being one of the three best offensive players in basketball, who cares? Personally, I believe players like Carmelo were put on this earth to push the truly great ones of his era to levels they probably would never have reached. With no Carmelo, maybe LeBron never has incentive to become one of the league’s best defenders? I don’t know, that’s just a theory.
Clumsy Has Never Looked So Good
I hesitated on leaving Tyson Chandler off this list just because of his current standing on the TS% leader board, but who’re we kidding here. All three of these guys are dependent on good guard play, and all of them would collapse as dependable players if the pick and roll had never been invented. If they aren’t catching the ball above the rim or tipping in a missed shot, chances are the ball isn’t going in the hoop (this rule especially applies to all attempts at the free-throw line).
On the defensive end is where each player earns his money, and watching there mere presence deter a guard’s shot selection can be a beautiful thing. But if JaVale McGee chooses to lower his head like a bull 10 feet from the basket and throw up the type of shot that makes me think he’s never participated in an offensive drill before, I’m going to throw up. (An honorable mention on this list goes to Samuel Dalembert, but after watching him step outside and knock down a few jumpers this year in Houston, he was simply too good.)
The Scrappy Hustlers
Ekpe Udoh. Every time I watch Udoh play I marvel at his varying defensive abilities. There aren’t many shot blockers who can also poke the ball away from a point guard out on the perimeter. Udoh matches long arms with incredible instinct to make up one of the most underrated defenders in the league. On offense he’s a halted work in progress. This season he’s shooting under 40% from the field with a single digit PER. And here’s a fun fact courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com’s amazing new Shot Finder feature: In Udoh’s career, he’s never made a shot in the 4th quarter or overtime that would tie a game or give his team the lead. That’s pretty terrible for a sixth overall draft pick.
Tony Allen. Tony Allen’s career has been one of the most confusing roller coaster rides of all time. In Boston there was no place for him on offense. Every time he touched the ball, fans in the Garden would either cry, scream, or pass out. But since signing with Memphis he’s become one of the most tenacious perimeter defenders in the league, succeeding in an area where so many have difficulty and doing his part to help change the identity of a struggling franchise. He still can’t hit a jumper (from 10-15 feet he’s shooting 7.1% this year) and tends to miss the wide open layup from time to time. Right now he’s a starter who plays less than half the game. Apt for someone whose game is so incomplete.
Jared Jeffries. Had to be included just because he’s the worst offensive player in basketball, and he plays above average defense.
Born To Shoot
Jamal Crawford. One of the great chuckers the NBA has seen in recent years, Crawford is absolutely unconscious when it comes to shooting the basketball. Right now he’s averaging about four fewer minutes per game than last season, yet he’s attempting two more shots and the same amount of threes. With a usage rate that currently stands as the highest of his career—and (gulp) higher than LaMarcus Aldridge’s—he can’t be stopped! Crawford loves having the ball in his hands so much, it sometimes feels like he’d rather let his man score to get it back than waste energy trying to get a stop. God bless his soul.
Kevin Martin. We all know Kevin’s as one dimensional as they come. He makes shots from just about every spot on the court with an unorthodox form that to this day still forces defenders off balance, yet he can’t guard a thing. When he isn’t scoring (and this season may be the most inconsistent of his career) Martin is useless to his basketball team. Approximately 24 hours ago he was wonderful against OKC, but the previous night in Memphis he was a ghost. When he isn’t on, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale hasn’t hesitated in replacing him with Courtney Lee in crunch time. Due to his nonexistent ability to prevent opposing guards from penetrating on the perimeter, if calls aren’t going his way and trips to the free-throw line become sparse, Kevin Martin’s time in Houston could end on a sour note.
Disgraced Bash Brothers
Nothing else needs to be said about these two. Both are deplorable defenders who should seriously consider forfeiting half of their salaries to charity to make up for the way they protect their basket. Boozer especially. I can’t name another player in recent memory being paid so much money to sit on the bench at the end of tight games because he can’t be trusted to participate in crucial defensive rotations when they matter the most. He’s played professional basketball for a decade and yet he still has no clue what he’s doing. Had the Knicks or Suns ever had a suitable replacement, Stoudemire would probably qualify for this criticism as well.
To watch both of them play is to witness a startling display of lethargic stubbornness. Both are strong veterans with bodies more than sturdy enough to defend at a high level, but their effort and mindset have never caught up. Where’s the hunger? Where’s the motivation? These two of are the most sickening players on this list, and it’s dishonorable to compare their contributions on offense to what Ben Wallace did on defense.
The Elephant In The Room
Dwight Howard isn’t uncoordinated like those other centers, but we hold him to a higher standard. (He received more fan votes to the All-Star game than every other player in the league, and is currently the subject of daily trade rumors.) Here are a few numbers courtesy of Basketballvalue.com that to some degree help prove this point. When Howard is off the court, the Orlando Magic score 2.79 PPP fewer than when he’s playing. When Ryan Anderson is on the court as opposed to off it, the Magic score 20.59 more PPP. This is far from hard proof that Ryan Anderson is a better player than Dwight Howard, but it does support the theory that Anderson might be having a larger offensive impact.
Now, I realize Howard’s reverberations go far beyond what numbers are able to tell us, but watch him play and compare him to some of the truly great centers we’ve seen in the last 20 years. Howard’s offensive skill set is nowhere NEAR any of those guys. In exactly half of his games this season he’s scored less than 20 points, and just twice his scoring total has gone above 30. Can someone please explain to me how this is possible? To make a popular comparison, in 1998-99, the last lockout shortened season, Shaquille O’ Neal scored less than 20 points five times in 49 games. This is what dominant big men should do. We’re now in the eighth year of Dwight’s career. If he hasn’t learned any unstoppable low post moves by now, it’s time we stop referring to him as a singular dominant force on that end of the floor.