Kris Humphries: Misunderstood and Underappreciated

Kris Humphries has always been misunderstood. This is why we should appreciate him more.

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Complex Original

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It was March 2, 2012 when I fully realized the bizarre effect that Kris Humphries has on the typical basketball fan. Even though he’s simply an average or very slightly above average power forward, the emotions he is able to evoke from fans are entirely unique and make him one of the most fascinating players in the NBA. A couple years (and teams) removed from his ill-fated marriage to Kim Kardashian, Humphries has returned to the relative obscurity from whence he came and is now assuming a key role for the Washington Wizards, one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams. While you’d never confuse him with an All-Star, Humphries’ past has colored over his ability on the court and made him one of the most underappreciated gems in the NBA. Who wouldn’t want a player with this kind of year-in, year-out consistency?


To understand where Humphries is now and where he’s going, you have to take a look back. For me, my fascination with Humphries the basketball player began that night almost three years ago when a friend managed to secure a couple prime seats to a Boston Celtics-New Jersey Nets game at the TD Garden. The game pitted a clearly bored Celtics team against an absolutely pathetic Nets squad that entered the game 11-26 and looked every bit the part. Johan Petro played 17 minutes and Shelden Williams played 15. It was that kind of ugly.

As we took our seats and the starting lineups were announced, something completely unexpected happened. I have been in the building to see a lot of “enemies” take the floor against the Celtics over the years: early 2000s Allen Iverson, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant, to name a few. But I have never heard a reaction quite like the booing Humphries got as soon as the announcer finished saying, “at power forward, from the University of Minnesota, Kris Humphries.” It wasn’t so much the pure anger reserved for Heat-era LeBron or Kobe; it was more like complete and utter disgust. Humphries was in the news a lot after his very public marriage had fallen apart a few months earlier, and people were just sick of him.

Throughout the course of the night, the crowd was delighted as Humphries—who was actually having a very good season—struggled mightily. He ended up attempting just four shots, finishing with six points and five rebounds in 25 miserable minutes that saw fans boo him every single time he touched the ball. It was a horrible night all the way around, and as I left the building I didn’t think twice about why everyone hated this guy so much.


Looking back on it now, though, this visceral reaction makes absolutely no sense. Like, who really cares that much about a guy who has averaged 6.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game over the course of his career? He’s a prototypical journeyman who has played for six teams in 11 seasons and will probably make it a couple more before all is said and done. Until he took up with Kardashian in October of 2010, nobody other than hardcore NBA fans even knew who this guy was. So why, just because he was on Keeping Up With the Kardashians all of a sudden, was he expected to be something he’s just not?

Expectations were fairly high for Humphries when he came into the NBA. In his one season at Minnesota, he had won the 2004 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award and made the All-Big Ten First Team thanks to averages of 21.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game (both of which led the conference). The problem, though, was that his team was terrible; they went 12-18 overall and a putrid 3-13 in the Big Ten, and there were plenty of people who watched Humphries and saw a player who knew he was going to be “one and done” and was just trying to get his and boost his draft position.

After the Jazz chose him at No. 14 overall in the 2004 draft, that fear basically came true. Humphries really struggled to find himself during his first five years in the league, with his best season coming in 2007-08 when he averaged 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. While you wouldn’t call him a bust at that stage, expectations for him quickly sank from “potential All-Star” to just hoping he could make it as an “energy guy/occasional contributor.”

A trade to Dallas in 2009 and then the Nets a few months later saw Humphries finally realize his NBA destiny as a decent scorer, good rebounder, and someone who could be a borderline starter/20-plus minute per game reserve. It was an ideal situation for him; he came off the bench behind Dirk Nowitzki and Drew Gooden for the Mavs and Brook Lopez for the Nets as he continued to develop his game on both ends of the floor.

I have been in the building to see a lot of “enemies” take the floor against the Celtics...But I have never heard a reaction quite like the booing Humphries got 

Getting more minutes and becoming a starter for much of the 2010-11 season with the Nets proved to be both a gift and a curse. While Humphries’ Per 36 minute numbers stayed largely the same (and have been pretty steady for almost his entire career), the increase in minutes saw his per game averages take a noticeable leap. While he was essentially the same player, people all of a sudden started taking notice of this Humphries guy who was emerging as a legitimate force on the block. Unfortunately for Humphries, his increased prominence and symmetrical face caused Kim Kardashian to take notice, and when you’re a naïve 25-year-old Minnesotan who might not realize what Kardashian-level fame entails, how can you resist?

All of a sudden, Humphries was everywhere. If he wasn’t putting up 15 and 10 on the court, he was on the cover of US Weekly. Girlfriends and wives who had no prior interest in basketball all of a sudden knew who he was. Somewhere in this tabloid-driven craziness, America lost sight of the fact that Humphries was merely a useful role player who was benefiting from an increase in minutes and playing for a terrible team. We collectively expected more from a guy who had already demonstrated it just wasn’t going to happen.

The Nets made things way, way worse when they signed Humphries to an ill-advised two-year, $24 million extension in the summer of 2012. GM Billy King said at the time that “Kris has been a very consistent player for us over the past two years. He has developed into one of the top rebounding forwards in the league, and we are very pleased to welcome him back.” Nice praise, sure, but is that the kind of statement that comes with signing a player making $12 million a year? No way.


The Nets knew that this was a contract they’d immediately be looking to trade. They wanted Dwight Howard at the time, and felt that Humphries’ productivity and now-sizable contract would be an ideal piece to make a potential deal work. It wasn’t a terrible idea, and ultimately helped them land Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett a year later; however, fans and casual observers took the contract as a sign that Humphries was an elite player worthy of that big money. He wasn’t.

Despite signing his huge new deal, Humphries’ minutes dwindled in 2012-13, which in turn made him more of a punchline than a basketball player. Fans laughed at him and essentially wrote him off. Of course, in reality, the Per 36 minute stats showed that while Humphries’ scoring efficiency and PER were slightly down, he was rebounding and playing defense as well as ever. His trade to the rebuilding Celtics and hostage-style press conference photo really seemed like rock bottom, even though the truth of the matter was he simply had experienced a slightly down season.

Having watched him a lot firsthand with the Celtics last season, I can tell you that Humphries is still basically the same player he was when he came into his own in 2009-10. He plays hard, is very strong around the rim when it comes to both shooting and rebounding, and is really hard for a coach to keep off the floor. He was certainly an afterthought for Brad Stevens when the 2013-14 season began, but by the end of the year he had the Celtics trying to sign him to an extension. Humphries been similarly valuable for the Wizards this season, filling in as a starter for an injured Nene when needed and providing exactly the kind of hustle and rebounding the team asked for when they obtained him in a sign-and-trade this summer.

It took until his 30th birthday, but the expectations and ability have finally aligned for Kris Humphries. Winning NBA teams absolutely need guys like him to do the dirty work and provide size and depth off the bench. In this respect, Humphries is actually “elite” for what he is: a reliable player who stays healthy, hustles his ass off, and does exactly what you ask of him and nothing more. He “plays within himself,” but in comparison to similar players around the NBA Humphries' production level is actually pretty high. Watching him play now versus five years ago, it’s really hard to see any discernible difference.

Truth is, Kris Humphries never really had a fall. Or any stark rises, for that matter. He’ll almost certainly never be an All-Star or make $12 million per year again. But when it comes to consistency in the face of inflated expectations and poise amidst a whirlwind of national hatred, there's something to be said for what hes accomplished. 

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