With the future prospects of the NBA looking bleak, bloggers tend to shift their gaze longingly (or mockingly) to the past. A few weeks ago, the folks over at the Big Lead did a great piece on NBA players who have been the biggest waste of basketball talent. They restricted the list to 10, but easily could have run the list to 20 or 30 without breaking stride. The initial list included former Wizard Rasheed Wallace and local guy Stevie Francis, but you could easily make the argument for Gilbert Arenas, Kwame Brown and Chris Webber.
What about the players who have made the most with the least talent or physical skills?
What about those that turned one elite skill into a solid career?
Muggsy Bogues: One of my favorite Bullets growing up and the shortest player in NBA history at 5-foot-3. Poor Muggsy didn’t even qualify for a Napoleon Complex (at 5-6 or 5-7 Napoleon could have posted up Muggsy). To his credit, Muggsy put together a solid 14-year NBA career (including nearly 10 years as a starter), and during one stretch he finished in the top five in assists per game five times in six years. He ended up 17th in career assists (ahead of Stephon Marbury, Kevin Johnson and Sam Cassell), and averaged a steal and a half per game over his career (mostly because as my father used to point out, no matter how short he was, his opponent still had to dribble the ball past his hands).
In Over Your Head Division
Chuck Hayes: Talk about having to raise your game, on any given night, the 6-6 Hayes was giving up anywhere from 2-4 inches at power forward, and on the rare occasions he got slotted in at center, sometimes a half foot or more. Despite that built-in disadvantage, he averaged over 8 rpg last year and finished fourth in offensive rebound percentage among forwards.
Shawn Kemp Division
Calvin Murphy: Despite being 5-9, he was an unstoppable scorer both on the court (averaging 20 points per 36 minutes played 11 times in 13 seasons) and off the court (fathered 14 children by nine women). The only Hall of Famer under 6-feet who played after 1960, he also surprisingly (at least to his untraditional family situation) won the NBA’s citizenship award in 1979.
Mark Eaton: Sure he was tall, but there have been 18 NBA players who started at least 50 games in a season who were at least 7-2 (Eaton is 7-4), and of their 97 cumulative seasons, Eaton had six of the 10 highest blocks per game seasons. He’s first in career blocks per game and while he wasn’t good at much else (never averaging more than 9 ppg and only twice averaging double figures in rebounding), Eaton found the one thing he was truly great at and excelled in it.