We recently talked about team values in the MLB, but now it’s time to take a moment and talk about player value in sports at large. It’s no major secret that sports creates celebrities. This is the reason that names like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Mickey Mantle continue to pervade the world of baseball long after they’re time in the spotlight is over. It’s why people still recognize names like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving in the world of basketball. Then the NFL has retired players such as Dan Marino, Joe Namath, and Emmitt Smith. There are numerous names we’ve left out, because the list is simply too extensive to include everyone.
Even the world of college sports has created legends. Christian Laettner’s contributions to the NBA were arguably negligible, but most people remember his winning jump shot against Kentucky when he was playing for Duke back in 1992. In similar fashion, Archie Griffin was far from the best player in the NFL throughout his seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Nonetheless, most people are aware of his name because he is the only college football player to have one the Heisman Trophy twice (and in two consecutive years, to boot). Neither of these players made great waves when they went pro, but their names are still legendary in the world of sports.
Of course, there are also players who sometimes get more hype than they should. Maybe they used to be greats, and they’ve simply begun to slow down. Yet their names are still big in the press, and the unfortunate result is that we don’t always hear about the players who are being undervalued for their continued contributions to their teams.
The following is a list of some of the current athletes in sports right now who we should be focusing on, as well as athletes who could use a little less exposure in the press.
MLB – Kris Bryant v. A-Rod
Undervalued – Kris Bryant has been impressing the heck out of the Chicago Cubs. In fact, he might be impressing them a little too much. They’re currently thinking of bumping him down to the minors for the first month or so of the season so that he won’t be on the roster for Opening Day.
Why? Because, bumping Kris Bryant down a peg or two will ensure that Chicago can keep him around a little longer. Until 2021, to be exact. Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not keeping him stuck on the team for another six or seven years is worth his absence at the beginning of the season.
We’re talking about a player who’s made waves during Spring Training by dinging home runs off of “King” Felix Hernandez, and who just recently threw a double play while playing left field against the Angels. Granted, he also struck out more than once during the same game. Still, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs must know he’s one of the more valuable players on the team, or else they wouldn’t be trying to save money while still keeping him around for as long as possible.
The thing is, the Cubs need to focus on how valuable Bryant is this season, not how valuable he might be in the future. When the Atlanta Braves first acquired Jason Heyward, they bumped him up immediately and he began showing his solid colors from his first at-bat. Yes, they didn’t keep him around as long as a result. But they also made the postseason through his efforts. The Cubs have no idea whether or not Bryant will be as valuable to them in the future, but they know he can be valuable to them now. It’s ridiculous that they’re even thinking of giving that up.
Overvalued – If you’re anything like some baseball fans, you might be getting sick of hearing constant news about Alex Rodriguez. We’re willing to go out on a limb and say that no other baseball player’s Spring Training performance has been documented quite so heavily as A-Rod’s. At the very least, most players don’t make headlines on ESPN, FOX Sports, USA Today and countless other news outlets every single time they hit the ball or make a run to first. Because they shouldn’t.
A-Rod is a decent player, but Spring Training isn’t potty training. He’s not a child, and the press shouldn’t be dancing around and giving him a cookie for every single achievement that he makes. There are some who disagree with what we said about Kris Bryant up there, who feel that he’s the one who’s being overvalued and that the Cubs shouldn’t hinge their success on his involvement with the team. Yet at least a few of those same sports writers seem to think that the glorious return of Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez is going to spell a possible World Series win for the Yankees this year.
And, heck, maybe it will. They’ve got a few solid players right now, and A-Rod might help round out the list if he can continue to establish himself as a designated hitter. But forget about that for a moment, and forget about the fact that the Yanks have been struggling for a couple of years now or that a number of their players have been suffering injuries lately (which is never a good sign).
Instead, remember why A-Rod is making his glorious return in the first place. He wasn’t out last year for injury. He didn’t take a year off to spend time with his family, and he isn’t coming out of retirement. He’s a guy who was sacked for a year because he boosted his performance with human growth hormone. That doesn’t mean he has no natural skills, but there’s still a big asterisk next to his name. Everyone makes mistakes, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s simply not the best thing to happen to baseball. Stop treating him like he is.
NCAAB – Bobby Portis v. Frank Kaminsky
Undervalued – Bobby Portis plays power forward for the Arkansas Razorbacks, so you almost can’t blame people for failing to see his merit after the team fell to the Tar Heels early in the Division I Tournament. After that, people started setting their sights on the teams who were still in it to win it. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop talking about Portis just yet, and he actually seems well aware of this fact himself. In fact, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson isn’t even sure that Portis will be returning to the court next year. At least, not as a college baller.
After Portis won SEC Player of the Year, buzz started to generate that the young sophomore might fast-track his way to the NBA Draft. So far, he’s been saying otherwise. Not just because he likes his team (which he does), but because he wants them to win next year. And with his determination, they absolutely could.
Not only does Portis stand just one inch below seven feet tall, but he has a shooting percentage of more than 75% when shooting at the rim. He’s also got percentages of more than 40% on jump shots and three-pointers. This makes him capable of a diverse number of plays, and that’s just in terms of his offensive game. He also averages between eight and nine rebounds per game, and he’s a solid shot-blocker as well.
To be fair, the Razorbacks aren’t the ones who have been undervaluing Portis and his abilities. He gets close to thirty minutes per game, and some have projected him as a first round draft pick for the NBA if he chooses to throw his hat into the ring. But a lot of college hoops fans tend to talk more about power forwards whose teams made it farther in the tournament, such as Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, whose stats are only slightly better and who is not improving at nearly the same rate despite an extra year of experience. It’s kind of a shame, when there are players like Portis who are much worthier of discussion.
Overvalued – Frank Kaminsky is far more overrated than Montrezl Harrell, although it’s somewhat understandable. He’s playing for Wisconsin, one of the teams with the overall best chances of stopping Kentucky from earning the championship. He’s got an astounding free throw percentage, and his other percentages rival those of Bobby Portis (although his career three-pointers aren’t quite as decent). He’s also shown improvement, so it may sound on the surface like he has all the same strengths we just credited to Portis. But this is not quite the case. First of all, he’s a senior. That means it took him four years of improvement to reach stats that would rival those of Portis. A solid player is a solid player, but the odds are that Kaminsky is a lot closer to peaking than Portis is.
If you’ve read our previous Final Four predictions, then you may have noticed we’ve had positive things to say about Kaminsky in the past. That hasn’t gone away. He’s still a gifted player, he simply has some restrictions in comparison to Portis that make him seem overvalued in comparison. At least one of these pertains to his overall playing style, and became especially prevalent in Wisconsin’s Elite Eight match-up against Arizona.
See, one of Frank Kaminsky’s go-to plays is to draw fouls. Given his excellent free throw percentage, it seems like a strategically solid move. But in the aforementioned game, he showed how sloppy he can be in this regard when he slammed his armpit into Arizona’s center, Kaleb Tarczewski. Kaminsky could be seen afterward, ostensibly arguing with the ref while Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker (one of the team’s best players alongside Kaminsky) tried to talk him down. It wasn’t even his only flop in the game, resulting in a number of semi-humorous photos being posted on the internet at Kaminsky’s expense.
Drawing fouls is, as far as strategy is concerned, a little sketchy to begin with. But if a player’s going to disrespect the game in such fashion, they could at least try to be good at it. If he carries this type of behavior into the NBA, he’ll wind up embarrassing any team that chooses to draft him.
NBA – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope v. Kevin Garnett
Undervalued – The Detroit Pistons are currently fifth in the Central Division, with an abysmal losing record of 28-45. With numbers like that, it stands to reason that some of their players are going to be overlooked this season. But Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been establishing himself as one heck of a shooting guard. Given his young age of 22, the rookie stands to keep improving if he can keep up his current numbers and begin improving upon them.
For six games in a row, Caldwell-Pope managed to maintain double-digit scores each game. The numbers average out to just over twenty points per game, with close to five rebounds per game as well. Of course, these numbers aren’t quite as high as those of fellow guard Reggie Jackson, who just recently managed to net himself a couple of triple-doubles. Jackson’s performance has notably overshadowed that of Caldwell-Pope, but that doesn’t mean Kentavious should be ignored by Pistons fans.
If anything, playing on the same team as Jackson has been one of the driving factors behind Caldwell-Pope’s increasing success on the court. Jackson is the better rebounder of the two, but Caldwell-Pope has been slowly but surely increasing. In two separate recent games, Caldwell-Pope managed to nab eight rebounds, something he has never done before. He’s also been working on his drive. It seems more than slightly noteworthy that Caldwell-Pope’s increasing aggression in this particular area of play has coincided with better overall scores for the Pistons in their recent games.
While Caldwell-Pope has been vastly improving his offense as his relationship with Reggie Jackson continues to jell, his defense is already solid and has been rubbing off on his teammate. Not only has Jackson expressed open admiration for his young teammate’s defensive abilities, but in an interview following the Pistons’ recent loss to the Miami Heat, Jackson noted that KCP was one of the only players on the team capable of putting up a defense against Dwyane Wade. With a solid defense and improving offense, Kentavious is one of the top players in the NBA to keep an eye on right now.
Overvalued – Kevin Garnett used to be one of the greatest power forwards in the game, and his name will likely grace the Hall of Fame one day. He’s one of the sports legendary players, and we aren’t about to say otherwise. In terms of the player he once was, Kevin Garnett cannot be valued enough. But in terms of the player he is now? That’s a different story.
Garnett’s getting up there in years, so it would be hard to expect him to play the way he once did. Many are saying that he might not have long left in the game, and that his return to the Minnesota Timberwolves might be a way of going out with the team that made him who he is. He certainly wasn’t going to do it with the Brooklyn Nets, for whom he played mostly single-digit game in terms of his scoring average with a shot percentage of under forty percent. Of course, his performance in terms of rebounds was a lot better. Garnett is nothing if not a pro when it comes to defensive play.
His recent return to the T-Wolves, however, saw him dropping off quite a bit. He managed eight rebounds, which is decent (although almost average for a player such as Garnett), but his offensive play continued to dwindle. In his first game for the team since he left more than seven years ago, he only managed five points. Even so, he received a massive standing ovation, with some fans electing to stand for the duration of his time on the court. It’s possible that the hype is more symbolic than anything else. Minnesota certainly hasn’t played the same without Garnett on the team, and his presence would be selling tickets if he hadn’t been out sick for the past dozen games or so.
But the fact of the matter is that his game is getting worse and worse. About a week after his return, he was ejected from a game against the Memphis Grizzlies for a technical foul with only six points to his name. He also had only three rebounds, which is unusually low for him. Two days later, he got physical with Austin Rivers during a game against the Clippers. He’s also been outspoken, saying that the Denver Nuggets had quit on their former coach Brian Shaw and that they would quit again, although it’s unclear what gives him the right to trash a team after losing to them by fifteen points. Garnett’s one of the best players to have ever stepped foot on the court, but lately he’s become abrasive and non-essential. The Wolves haven’t done any better or worse this season regardless of Garnett’s presence on the court, so perhaps it’s time to let the aging player retire with glory while his dignity is still intact.
NCAAF – Zack Hodges v. Jameis Winston
Undervalued – If you haven’t heard of him already, then you definitely won’t recognize OLB Zack Hodges from our recent mock draft. Players in his same position weren’t insanely popular on that list to begin with, and Hodges himself isn’t projected to get drafted until about the fifth round or so. But just because no one expects a player to get drafted in the first round doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a little more credit.
If there’s one primary reason that the senior player for the Harvard Crimson has likely been overvalued, it’s his size. His height is decent, listed at an even six feet. But his average weight throughout his senior year was only about 235 pounds, which isn’t exactly ideal for his position. To his credit, he seemed to have recognized this issue leading up to the combine, gaining about fifteen pounds. But since he hasn’t had any real game time at this weight, no one knows if he’ll be able to maintain his speed. This calls into question whether or not he’ll be the pass rusher that most teams are looking for right now.
However, all he really needs to do is learn to adjust a bit to his increased weight. We already know that he was able to move at 235, managing more than two dozen sacks over the course of his college career and establishing himself as one of the best pass rushers at Harvard. He’s quick off the line, and he knows how to pick up his man with relative ease.
Aside from his skills as a pass rusher, Hodges is also pretty solid when it comes to making tackles against runners. He shrugs off most blocks as if they were nothing, and his increased weight should help him even further in that area as long as he is able to maintain his agility. He’s pretty decent at providing coverage behind the line as well, although it isn’t necessarily his strong suit. While most college football players in general have been under-hyped leading up to the draft, Hodges is going to be worth watching once he finds a place on a deserving team.
Overvalued – Jameis Winston of the Florida State Seminoles is the highest-rated QB up for the draft right now. He’s certainly got a number of admirable credits under his belt, and becoming the youngest Heisman Trophy winner during his freshman year is far from the least of them. Many experts are pegging him not just for the first round of the draft, but as the first pick overall.
That said, there are a few reasons to suspect that Jameis Winston might be somewhat overvalued right now. The first one is obvious if you’ve been paying close attention to this list thus far. We noted A-Rod’s use of performance enhancers. We called out Frank Kaminsky’s undignified flops on the court. And we made mention of Kevin Garnett’s increasingly abrasive personality. None of these were the sole reasons for calling these players overvalued, but they didn’t help. In short, personality counts.
So where does Winston rank in terms of personality? Well, we’ll leave out the allegations of sexual assault, because the Tallahassee police did a monumentally poor job of building their case against him. While some have claimed that this is due to the lead investigator’s connections with the Seminole Boosters, those connections are irrelevant—legally, Winston is innocent. We’ll also leave out the fact that he stood on a table and shouted vulgar and sexist comments, because he’s a college kid and that type of behavior unfortunately just isn’t that shocking. But he’s still the type of guy who shoots at squirrels on campus (as if there’s no better place to do that), and his reported thefts of Publix crab legs and Burger King fountain soda rank him as about the pettiest thief ever.
These things might not influence his performance on the field, but they don’t do much for his value as a person. While coach Jimbo Fisher claims these acts resulted from Winston “wanting to be normal,” that simply calls into question Winston’s potentially frightening definition of “normal.” Add to that the fact that his admittedly impressive sixty-five touchdowns and twenty-eight interceptions over the past two years have no bearing on whether or not he’ll be able to adjust to playing in the NFL (for all we know, he’s another Archie Griffin), and suddenly Jameis Winston isn’t quite the indisputable star quarterback that everyone seems to think he is. Of course, that’s the problem with the draft in the first place—a seemingly pro-ready player always has the potential to have peaked at the collegiate level. We won’t really know until the start of the season.
NFL – Brian de la Puente v. Ndamukong Suh
Undervalued – Brian de la Puente is still a free agent, but it’s hard to figure out why. At six-foot-three and over three hundred pounds, he has an impressive frame. He’s highly experienced with a number of teams, meaning he can bring something to the table in terms of strategy, and he was one of the best linemen on the team during the three seasons he spent as a starting center for the New Orleans Saints. He didn’t get to do much of anything for the Chicago Bears last year, but that’s fairly forgivable considering his ankle injury in November got him put on injured reserve. Even so, the Bears were expected to re-sign him so that he could start for them during the coming season. So what happened?
There’s really no logical reason that the Bears should have let such a versatile center (also somewhat capable at playing guard) go to free agency. He’s almost 30, but his game hasn’t slowed down too much. He’s recovered from his injury, and he’s still cheap enough compared to some players that they couldn’t have possibly cut him for any salary cap issues. This is the second year in a row that the center has had to wait around on the market for a team to sign him.
Of course, his injury might be related to the issue. He only played around 320 snaps last season. But in a way, that makes him even more impressive. Despite limited playing time, he was rated among the top seven centers in the NFL last year. It could be that there just isn’t a high demand for centers right now. There’s a somewhat greater need for guards, but the fact that Brian de la Puente can fill those shoes doesn’t necessarily mean that he should. It isn’t his best role (he was actually playing left guard when he got injured), and there are numerous more talented guards that have already been traded or signed during free agency. These factors have so far left the poor guy without a team to play for this year.
There are still a few teams left that might choose to use Brian de la Puente to pad out their roster, but so far he just doesn’t seem to be anyone’s top priority. It really shouldn’t, but it’s beginning to appear as if his age might have something to do with it. He isn’t old by any definition of the word, but he isn’t the youngest center in the league, either. If he were a more established name in the NFL (star running back Marshawn Lynch is only one year younger), things might be different. As they are, however, it looks like this talented center is everybody’s last pick in what is becoming increasingly known as a young man’s game.
Overvalued – We’ve gone over players’ personalities quite a bit in the preceding entries. Considering it hasn’t been too long since we noted Ndamukong Suh as one of the worst egos in sports right now, we’ll go ahead and spare you from any further analysis on that particular aspect of his career for the time being. It doesn’t really need to be discussed in this case to begin with—now that he’s receiving more than most quarterbacks, Suh is quite literally one of the most overvalued players in the NFL.
DT Suh is now paid better than any other defensive player in the history of the league, but does he deserve it? He was pretty quick to jump on the Miami Dolphins’ $114 million contract, and it recently surfaced that Miami might have started courting him a bit earlier than they should have. The Detroit Lions were supposed to have time to continue buttering him up before any other teams threw their hat into the ring, but the Dolphins jumped the gun. Despite this alleged tampering, the Lions are apparently not going to be pursuing a case. The NFL has been quiet on the matter as well, probably busy dealing with the heated case between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots over CB Darrelle Revis.
To even risk a tampering case, Miami must’ve thought that Suh was worth the money they were willing to dish out. He certainly has some notable credits to his name, having never been injured and having improved his stats a little bit over the course of the past season. But Ndamukong Suh is receiving around $20 million each year with this new contract, more money that Buffalo Bills DE Mario Williams (who receives about $16 million each year), Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt (who receives about $16.6 million each year), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy, whose contract for $95.2 million over seven years grants him just about $13.5 million each year.
Yet Suh is hardly the best of these players. Over the past five years, he has only managed to rack up about 36 sacks. Now compare that to college player Zack Hodges, who made only ten less sacks over four years. Suh’s average comes to about 7.2 sacks per year, while Hodges has an average of about 6.5 sacks per year. In short, Suh is just barely outshining a college player. He’s not bad at what he does, but those numbers certainly don’t establish him as the most valuable defensive player in NFL history.