Last week I produced an in-depth
of racial and ethnic perceptions in the NBA (note: italics
are my sarcasm font for this
sentence), so I think it’s time to shift my focus elsewhere. Today we’re going to examine the geopolitical
dimensions of the NBA’s global infrastructure, and maybe use applied
macroeconomic models as an interpretative framework to…
Actually, I’m not exactly sure what the word “geopolitical”
means and I’m too lazy to google it right now.
However, we are going to do some mind-bending stuff here. You are used to basketbawful being the place
to read about “the very best of the worst” of professional basketball. Today, we are flipping things upside
down. Today, we are going to look at the
“worst of the best” of U.S. Olympic basketball.
Make no mistake, ever since the Dream Team’s 1992
, we’ve seen some questionable talent don the
American jersey. But really, the main
reason we laugh at the thought of players like Christian Laettner getting
included on the U.S. Olympic team is because the talent around Laettner was so
good, it made him look bad. Laettner
wasn’t a god-awful player in his NBA career (yes, that’s a compliment). But he definitely doesn’t belong on a team
with the NBA’s elite. Keep that in mind
as we go through this list…all of these players were quality players for at
least a few years. It’s not like the USA
was ever suiting up the likes of Tyronn Lue (presumably because our coaches
never felt the need to add a player with the role of “guy-who-gets-stepped-over-after-a-jumper-is-splashed-right-in-his-mug.”)
With that said, here is my starting five of the “worst” U.S.
Olympians. I’ve based my decisions
almost entirely on their NBA careers, with only minor consideration given to
their actual Olympic performance. As
always, your comments and corrections are welcome.
Point Guard = Stephon Marbury (Member of 2004 bronze medal winning
Yo…are those the new
Which was the more misinformed decision during the Bush presidency: to invade
Iraq because of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or to include and
start both Marbury AND Allen Iverson on the 2004 U.S. team? To Marbury’s credit, he did shoot a full five
percentage points higher than Iverson in Athens (42% compared to 37%). However,
with utterly no regard for defense (or practice), the Marbury-Iverson pair was
a match made in advanced-metrics hell.
Marbury may have been an exciting player but he was not a
winning player. He was traded three times (four if you count draft night), he
had a career 43.3 FG%, his career offensive production per 100 possessions was
lower (108) than his defensive points allowed (110), and (not counting his
bench-riding role on the Celtics) he never made it to the second round of the
playoffs. His 35.5 FG% during the
playoffs may have had something to do with that.
Shooting Guard = Allan Houston (Member of 2000 gold medal winning team)
This is the only
evidence in existence that Houston ever attempted a shot inside 10 feet.
Allan Houston was a glorified Kyle Korver.
He had one elite skill (shooting, in case you were wondering), and he
translated that into two all-star appearances and earnings of nearly $120
million. Aside from shooting, Houston
was merely an average player and weak defender.
He was the only Olympian to have a career Player Efficiency Rating
(14.9) below the league average of 15. In win shares per 48 minutes, another
advanced statistic, Houston had a career average (.094) below the league
It’s only fitting that two overrated offensively-oriented
players like Houston and Marbury got to spend two years together with Isaiah
Thomas’ Knicks, and make tens of millions of dollars doing it (technically,
they only played together for a small part of those two years…but just let me
have this for the sake of symmetry.)
Small Forward = Tayshaun Prince (Member of 2008 gold medal winning
Hard to tell from
this angle, but there are only 2.3 inches of space
between those two defenders.
Prince is a good defender (although he’s declined recently in that arena)
and is decent in almost every other component
of the game. He was actually a perfect
fit for the 2008 team. With Wade, Lebron, Kobe, and the rest of the superstars
needing plenty of shots, Prince could be the guy who knew his place, stood in
the corner, and shot only when passed to.
Still, Prince is as ever-so-slightly-above-average as you can
get in a player who has made it to the highest level of competitive basketball. His career Player Efficiency Rating, right at
the league average of 15, is a testament to that fact. Plus, he’s the only NBA player who I could
take down to the low block. My shot
would get swatted once I got to the block, but the point is, I would make it
If the U.S. Olympic team is supposed to be the best of the
best, Prince doesn’t deserve even a tryout.
But, if the Olympic team needs that one guy about whom every team member
can say, “Hey, at least my biceps are bigger than THAT guy’s,” Prince is
perfect. He helps builds camaraderie, knows
his place, and will probably spend all night exchanging pleasantries with the
ugliest girl at the club when the team goes out.
*Insert record-scratching/rewinding sound here*
Small Forward = Richard Jefferson (Member of 2004 bronze medal winning
looked at the scoreboard and saw his name
inserted into the “Worst Olympians”
As soon as I got done writing that nice little reflection on Prince, I realized
I was being an idiot. Richard Jefferson
is worse than Prince. Jefferson’s PER
may be slightly higher, but that’s only because of his years getting inflated
stats while running the break with J-Kidd.
I’d much rather have Prince on my real team than Jefferson, which means
that I’d much rather have Jefferson on this team.
Power Forward = Christian Laettner (Member of 1992 gold medal winning
This is what
basketball would look like if Hitler would have won World War II.
The spot for worst power forward was surprisingly competitive. Vin Baker, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Lamar Odom
could all make a claim. But rightly or
wrongly, Laettner has become the poster child for out-of-their-league
His NBA career was up-and-down, riddled with injuries, and
mostly devoid of defense. He ended up
with career averages of 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.8 blocks, while
shooting 48% from the field. His one
all-star appearance (with the Hawks) was followed up the next year with
Laettner losing his starting job to Alan Henderson. Surprisingly, he ended up with a solid PER of
16.9, which is either proof that Laettner wasn’t that bad, or John Hollinger
isn’t that good (I’ll opt for the former).
Even if Laettner was the worst Olympic power forward, he did
play a vital role on the 1992 squad. If
not for his 45% shooting percentage, Michael Jordan would have had the worst
shooting percentage on the team (45.1%).
So there’s that. Also, based on this
regarding mismanaged finances, Laettner was probably a whipping
boy in all of the high-stakes cards games that you can be sure Barkley and
Jordan took part in. If you feel bad
that the big, bad NBA superstars were taking advantage of the young rookie,
just remember: he went to Duke.
Center = Emeka Okafor (Member of 2004 bronze medal winning team)
I don’t know how
nervous Okafor was for this picture, but I can
guarantee more sweat accumulated
in his jersey from this photo
than from any game action in Athens.
Okafor has had a fine NBA career, making his mark as a solid
low post defender and very good rebounder.
Unfortunately, his offensive game is about as smooth as Tyler the
Creator’s voice. You can’t fault his self-awareness,
though: Okafor’s shot attempts per game declined every single season for his
first eight years in the league.
First off the bench: