Over the course of the last decade or so, flopping has become an increasingly popular tactic on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. In an important basketball game where every play counts, a few free throws or an offensive foul can be the difference between a win and a loss. Everyone looks for an edge, and flopping is just one way of grabbing one.
Some players flop enough, in fact, that they've gained reputations as the league's top floppers. So, not surprisingly, when Sports Illustrated ran an informal player poll asking for the NBA's biggest floppers, the results rounded up the usual suspects. From SI.com (via PBT), the top 10 (of 15), in order:
1. Anderson Varejao
2. Manu Ginobili
3. Luis Scola
4. Derek Fisher
5. Kevin Martin
6. Shane Battier
7. Jarron Collins
8. Raja Bell
9. Jose Barea
10. Andres Nocioni
Some observers argue that an influx of foreign players steeped in the culture of soccer have made flopping a legitimate tactic in the NBA, but it's interesting to note that, apart from the top three, this list isn't exactly full of foreign players -- in addition to No. 15 Sasha Vujacic, six of the 15 players are foreign-born, and Barea may not count because he is from Puerto Rico and honed his craft over four years of NCAA ball at Northeastern. (Oh, and flopping is just as bemoaned by the foreign soccer press as it is in the NBA.) So, blame Europeans if you want, but it's not as if Derek Fisher learned how to flop his way to charge calls just because he saw Varejao do it once in 2005.
What's most interesting about this list, though, is that with the exception of Barea, a player poll from five years ago would have looked remarkably similar. These players flop, to be sure, but it's not as if no other NBA athletes have stepped up their flop game in the intervening seasons. Varejao and Ginobili earned their spots at the top of the list, yet they would find themselves in that position even if both seriously curtailed their flopping. Once you get a reputation, it's hard to shake it.
Still, the strength of reputations isn't the only thing that explains the lack of new faces on this list. As flopping has become a more common occurrence around the league, it's also become a more accepted part of NBA strategy. Take, for instance, the case of Thunder forward Nick Collison, who's been lauded for his ability to take charges even though, like most NBA players, he surely flops on a good number of them. However, instead of being called a sissy who won't play like a man, Collison has been praised for his toughness. This isn't because he's any tougher than players who take similar amounts of charges -- it's just that Collison had the good fortune of becoming a charge-taking savant when the play was already widespread enough to be seen as a useful move and not the coward's way out of playing defense.
What this means, ultimately, is that Ginobili and Varejao will top lists like this one until they retire, because the league's newest floppers don't stand out much when the tactic becomes a more accepted fact of the NBA game. In fact, when the players on this list retire, it'll be interesting to see if these sorts of polls even exist anymore. It's hard to call out the league's most active floppers when coaches start teaching it as an aspect of proper defensive technique.
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- Anderson Varejao