Dallas Mavericks

The Underrated Jason Kidd

When I attended undergrad at Cal, there was a running joke in the school newspaper about Jason Kidd and his lack of intellect. The joke went something like this:

What was Jason Kidd’s SAT score?

a.) 670

b.) 540

c.) 630

d.) 480

e.) All of the above.

Of course, the answer was (e). Jason Kidd Cal student was no rocket scientist, and legend has it that he had to take the SAT four times to get into Cal. The 480 was apparently just above the 400 you got for signing your name, well, at least he didn’t spell Kidd with one ‘d’.

The irony of all this of course, is that on the court, Kidd is one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever seen play.

But somehow, this type of treatment of Kidd has been prevalent throughout his career. Yes, he’s always been a well-respected point guard in the NBA and a definitive Hall of Famer, but there have always seemed to be lingering questions about his true greatness. “He doesn’t shoot the ball well.” “His feet are too slow.” “He’s never won a championship.” This type of cynicism even extends itself to Kidd’s standing among fantasy basketball  wonks. “Sure, he’s a triple double waiting to happen, but his FG% will KILL you! ”

As a result, in many conversations comparing Kidd against the point guard peers of his generation, he often seems to get overlooked. John Stockton is the all-time assists leader. Steve Nash won two MVPs. And Gary Payton was, well, The Glove. And Jason Kidd?

Well, in this author’s opinion, Jason Kidd is just underrated.

Let’s first state what we know of Kidd.

For many years, he was the premier playmaker in the NBA, this generation’s Magic Johnson.

He is one of the few players in NBA history who could fill seats from people waiting to see his spectacular playmaking ability. I would sometimes differentiate Kidd vs.Stockton in this way: Stockton always seemed to make the right pass, whereas Kidd would create a pass where no pass was intended.

He was (and still sometimes is) a triple double machine.

He is 3rd on the all-time list with 106 triple doubles, and leads the next active player (Grant Hill) by over 75 triple doubles. He is also 2nd on the all-time playoff list with 11 triple doubles. His combination of passing and rebounding skills at the point guard position have only been rivaled in the last 40 years by Magic Johnson. He actually averaged a triple double in the 2006-2007 playoffs putting up an Oscar Robertson-like 15/11/11 in twelve games with the Nets.

He has been a well above average defensive point guard.

As Kidd enters the tail end of his career, he has been maligned for not being able to keep up with the faster, younger point guard crop that is springing up around the NBA. However, this should not diminish his overall contributions at the defensive end.  He has averaged 2 steals per game in both the regular season and the playoffs throughout the year – understanding how to keep his man in front of him, and fill defensive lanes to get the key steal in the 4th quarter of numerous games.  Any doubters of Kidd’s defensive ability need only reference the single coverage job his did on Kobe Bryant during the 2011 playoffs.

So with all of this, why I do I still believe that people underrate Kidd? I think Kidd is undervalued for two things he does that don’t show up immediately in most stat sheets: (1) make his teammates better about as well as anyone who has played the game (perhaps save for Magic) and (2) just figure out ways to win.

Kidd has done as much as anyone else in the game over the last 20 years to make his teammates better. I always had a sense this was the case, so I decide to check and see if there was any statistical evidence to back-up Kidd here.

First off, who can forget the “3 Js”, the supposedly lethal Jason Kidd-Jim Jackson-Jamal Mashburn combination, in what ended up as some Dick Motta twisted reincarnation of Run TMC. For two years, it looked promising, Kidd winning Rookie of the Year (with Grant Hill) while leading Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn to the best years of their NBA careers. Unfortunately, Toni Braxton came along, and Kidd and Jackson (allegedly) had a falling out over who would win the contest for “biggest height discrepancy between a celebrity sports couple” (a title which Shaquille O’Neal has been co-owner of for many years since).

As it turns out, Mash and Jim Jackson weren’t much without Kidd. The table below shows their performance during full seasons with Kidd vs. without. In both cases the differences are glaring, with Jackson averaging  70% more PPG with Kidd than without, and Mashburn 33%. Anyone who watched the three play together can clearly make the conclusion that Kidd’s penchant to get his teammates easy baskets led to the stellar performance of the two other Js during the 2 full seasons they played together.

Player PPG RBG APG
Jim Jackson (with Kidd) 21.9 5.0 3.2
Jim Jackson (without Kidd) 13.0 4.6 3.2
Jamal Mashburn (with Kidd) 24.0 4.0 3.6
Jamal Mashburn (without Kidd) 18.1 5.5 4.0

Kidd’s other primary foray during his career (other than a few Cliff Robinson highlights with the Suns), took place with the New Jersey Nets. Again, Kidd played a critical role in turning around a young Nets team with two up and comers: Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. These two players saw their market values reach all-time highs with J-Kidd, and then saw their stock plummet very soon after leaving him: both dropping in every single major category. Kenyon Martin through his career has averaged about 33% more points when playing with Kidd, and Jefferson 10% (a number that would have been worse had he not been entitled to jack up any shot he wanted while on a terrible Nets team). If only Denver Nuggets GM at the time Kiki Vandeweghe had known of Kidd’s ability to make mediocrity look good prior to trading away 3 1st round picks for K-Mart.

Player PPG RBG APG
Kenyon Martin(with Kidd) 16.1 7.7 2.5
Kenyon Martin (without Kidd) 12.2 7.0 1.9
Richard Jefferson* (with Kidd) 18.0 6.1 3.3
Richard Jefferson* (without Kidd) 16.4 4.2 2.2

In both of these cases, it’s clear that Kidd made the careers of the other star players on his team (to the extent that once they left him, they were exposed for the generally middle tier players they actually were).

Lastly, and this is a point that Kidd gets criticized most unfairly for: Kidd is a winner who figures out ways to help his team win. Sometimes it’s the clutch shot. Sometimes it’s a steal. Sometimes it’s a momentum changing alley-oop pass. But either way, Kidd has a knack for making not just the players around him better, but the teams as well. In his rookie year, the Dallas Mavericks improved by 23 games, going from a horrendous 13-69, to a much more respectable 36-46. Similarly, Kidd joined the Suns during the 1996-97 campaign. The very next year, the Suns team posted a 16 game improvement, going 56-26.

For his next act (and perhaps greatest team achievement), Kidd took a lowly Nets team through a 26 game improvement in his 1st year (the only tangible difference being that Kidd replaced “hometown boy and playground legend” Stephon Marbury) and eventually to two NBA Finals. This was a notably weak Eastern Conference, but still, Kidd was able to take the Nets through the best years of its franchise history.

Now Kidd sits once again on the cusp of helping another team (the Mavericks) get to the NBA Finals. He now plays a slightly different role. No longer the floor magician he used to be, Kidd’s stat lines look more similar to the California penal code for murder than the triple doubles that used to define his earlier career. Still – let’s give him credit where credit is due: as one of the great point guards to ever play the game of basketball.

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Discussion

5 Responses to “The Underrated Jason Kidd”

  1. nice article Mamba. I’ve always thought that Kidd didnt get his due just because he’s never had a shot…the guy is a monster at everything else tho.

    Posted by theheatison | May 20, 2011, 8:24 am
  2. It’s shocking that his SAT scores were so low and it took him 4 attempts to get 670. Had to have been more biased back then, and his spacial skills are so off the chart I guess that’s not covered with the SATs like most IQ tests.

    His basketball IQ is definitely at a genius level though.

    Posted by Kyle | May 26, 2011, 12:06 am
  3. A good read, but if I could give some constructive criticism.

    I found the final section to be lacking. You may be on to something; it’s very believable that Kidd makes those around him better. However, I think your statistical argument just doesn’t hold water.

    There are a ton of hidden factors that you don’t even pretend to try to account for which completely negate your evidence. For example, the Monster Mash’s rebounding numbers and assists improved without Kidd, and for his Heat teams he was the third scoring option.

    So besides age, injury, etc. you also cherry-pick 4 players Kidd has played with. If you did an analysis of all the players Kidd has ever played with in the NBA, you might get a different result.

    There’s no denying that Kidd is one of the NBA’s best, but you should be more careful when invoking statistics.

    Posted by Fred | May 26, 2011, 10:12 am
  4. I agree with Fred. In Jim Jackson’s case, injuries played a huge role in his drop off.

    Other than that, well done. I think Kidd should have won the MVP his first year with the Nets…

    Posted by t2jax | May 28, 2011, 3:02 pm

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  1. [...] Kidd has been one of the great point guards in the history of the NBA. Whether you believe he is underrated, or already acknowledge his ability to raise the play of the teams he has been on, Kidd always [...]

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