I know what you're thinking: what is an unathletic 5’7 guy doing trying to find out who the worst player is in the NBA? Is this supposed to make him feel better about his self-esteem? Maybe.
I have always had a fascination for failure at the highest level. Finding the worst player in a professional sports league is like finding the bottom of the elite group of people at their job - like picking on Donald Trump out of a group of billionaires. If anything, it makes you realize how far down the rabbit hole you can go when looking at different tiers of performance in a competitive field.
Looking at the worst players in the NBA isn't about finding something to laugh at. It's about appreciating the difficulty in high level competition - and realizing that even out of the best people, there are levels of play.
In order to determine the worst player in the NBA, I’ve tried to narrow down the group of players to ones who have enough minutes to qualify for overall value statistics. This obviously doesn't mean they're definitively worse than everyone else, but it certainly puts them in the running.
Worst by Real Plus Minus: Shabazz Muhammad at -6.60.
Remember the days when Muhammad was being heralded fresh out of high school as the new Kobe Bryant, but then he went to college? Though Muhammad has made the pro leagues, his play leaves a lot to be desired and his impact on the court - even with his streaky shooting can sometimes result in good individual production.
Take a moment to realize that his RPM is almost the inverse of Kevin Durant (6.42). In other words, the kind of impact that Muhammad has on the Timberwolves is around the same level that the former MVP is giving the Thunder this year. That's terrifying if you're a Minnesota fan watching Muhammad play 20 minutes a night, stagnating his team’s offense with ball dominance and questionable shot selection.
I haven't even gone into the other end of basketball, where Muhammad just might be the worst defensive wing player in the league. His DRPM of -5.04 is dead last out of qualified players (to get significant playing time.) When he is on the court, the Timberwolves allow over 1.13 points per possession, a number that makes the Minnesota defense the worst one in basketball.
That number does not even explain for how bad he is off-the-ball. While Muhammad has the athleticism to keep up with his opponent on isolation plays, he simply has absolutely no awareness when it comes to being effective on the pick and roll (1.05 points allowed per possession) and looks like a traffic cone when defending spot up players (1.19 opposing PPP). It gets even worse when you consider that 34 percent of Muhammad’s defensive plays are in situations where he fails to rotate to cover a shooter.
Worst by Player Efficiency Rating: James Anderson (3.31 PER)
Anderson is a big-league veteran shooting guard, having been drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft. However, after shifting teams a lot and even a brief stint in Lithuanian basketball, Anderson is back with the Sacramento Kings and the results are, well, indicative that a 26-year-old returning from playing overseas may not have what it takes to keep up in the NBA.
It might not outright declare him as the worst player, but part of what makes Anderson the statistical equivalent of invisible is how little he contributes in terms of individual production. His 2.2 points, 0.5 assists and 1.3 rebounds per game on a putrid 41.6 percent TS (True Shooting) shows that even with his lack of total stats, his inefficiency is just as individual killing. It’s not as if he’s taking “YOLO” mid-range fadeaways either - the kinds of plays Anderson goes for are largely at the rim (due to his strong, 6’6 frame) or beyond the arc.
Yet the worst part of Anderson’sgame is how often he will shoot threes, but miss. His 47.5 three point attempt rate is just about one and a half times higher than his terrible 26 percent three point percentage. For reference, even Stephen Curry’s three point attempt rate isn’t that high. Moreover, though Anderson likes to attack the rim a lot, his anemic 15 percent free throw drawing rate leaves a lot to wonder about how stagnant his offense is when he’s attacking.
Perhaps it’s his 32 games played that makes him rusty, but nonetheless, Anderson’s lack of ability on the individual end definitely makes for an interesting study of how athleticism doesn’t always translate to the big leagues.
Worst by Value Added: Tayshaun Prince (-70.4)
When we think of once-great players that are now past their prime, we usually think of Kobe Bryant playing today. However, Prince, a former world champion once known as one of the league’s most consistently underrated perimeter defenders, has really lost a step in 2016. And that pains me as a huge fan of Prince, who also ranks dead last among qualified players for Expected Wins Added (-2.3).
While his 6.42 PER is not proof that Prince has lost any semblance of basketball intelligence, what’s more daunting is how slow the 35-year-old looks on offense, having the majority of his plays come through spot up opportunities (41.6 percent of offensive plays for him). Though Prince has never been a great player with the ball or as an individual scorer, he has gone from a respectable off-the-ball threat to shooting very few threes (0.3 attempts per game at a horrendous 20 three-point percent). If you can’t shoot the three, you kill an offense.
It’s not as if Prince is exactly the best defensive player any more. He plays on the same team as Muhammad, so when both of them enter the court, the results are pretty saddening, with 1.18 points per possession given to opposing teams and 1.03 points per possession for their own offense. For reference, even the league’s worst team, the Philadelphia 76ers, don’t get outscored by that much. Think about how bad that is: that adding Tayshaun Prince to a Shabazz Muhammad perimeter defense actually makes things even worse than they already are.
So all in all, who is the worst relevant player in the NBA? I still have no idea. All of these guys are tremendously talented for making it there in the first place. If I had to guess, I’d probably say Muhammad carries the least value for a basketball team right now, but his relatively young age gives him more time to develop his game, while Prince seems prime for retirement. Feel free to tweet at me whoever you think is the worst player.
Anokh Palakurthi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. He tweets @DC_Anokh.