Ranking LaMarcus Aldridge and the NBA's Most Underrated Players
In a season that has seen the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin and the end of Derek Fisher's run with the Los Angeles Lakers, it's almost crazy to think that there are people that are underappreciated in the NBA.
Kevin Love would have been the king of the list last season, when he began his ascension towards the top of his positional rankings and started putting up numbers not seen since Moses Malone.
Since Love finds himself on the cusp of MVP voting, he seems to be right where his skills have led him. The same can't be said for the 10 guys on this list, who despite their best efforts, can't seem to get the publicity of a Love, Lin or LeBron James.
Here's the NBA's most underrated players during this 2011-2012 season, and here's hoping that their talents don't go as unnoticed for much longer.
Honorable Mention: Marcin Gortat
Marcin Gortat has what doctors call "The Steve Nash Syndrome." He's gone from relative anonymity as Dwight Howard's backup in Orlando to being the go-to guy in the pick-and-roll in Phoenix.
Gortat has quietly put together a double-double average this season, scoring 16.2 points and grabbing 10.0 boards per contest, also while shooting a formidable 56 percent from the floor.
The man known as "The Polish Hammer" has certainly benefited from playing alongside Nash in Phoenix's uptempo offense. However, the reason he only merits an honorable mention is that very fact.
Will he be able to continue to produce the same numbers should Sebastian Telfair or someone else run the point for coach Alvin Gentry next season?
That remains to be seen, but this season has certainly opened the eyes of the league to the type of force Gortat can be in the right offensive scheme.
10. David Lee
Lee resides in the player pool of arguably the best position in the Western Conference. He nightly must go head-to-head with names like Nowitzki, Griffin, Duncan, Love, Aldridge and Randolph.
Despite that, he's averaging close to a double-double with 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, to go along with 50 percent shooting.
Sure, he's plays on a team in the Golden State Warriors that struggles to defend and play consistent basketball. But Lee is about the most consistent player the Warriors have at their disposal. He's only missed 12 games over the past five seasons, and his numbers are actually down this year if you look at his stats from his 2009-2010 campaign with the New York Knicks.
Amidst the injuries and other problems the Warriors have faced this season, Lee has been there, striving to turn the fortunes around in the Bay City.
Don't forget, folks, he'll have Andrew Bogut by his side starting next season. That could spell trouble for the rest of the West.
9. Danilo Gallinari
Gallo, the centerpiece of the Carmelo Anthony trade last season, is only 23 years old. That's a pretty young foundation to build your team around in Denver.
He's got a smooth jump shot that's drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki, and I can't emphasize enough that Denver seems to have gotten the better overall heap of players and talent when you think about what they have to build around the next few seasons.
Although he's had some significant injury problems, he's also been remarkable consistent during his first four seasons, including a remarkable 87 percent from the free-throw line.
The young forward is one of the up-and-comers in this league, and Denver has to be happy about him, Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson and potentially JaVale McGee anchoring their team for years to come.
8. Shawn Marion
"The Matrix" doesn't soar to the basket and shoot threes the way he did as a Sun, but he's developed quite a reputation for being a defensive stopper during his time with the Dallas Mavericks.
For a guy who has never won a Defensive Player of the Year award and never been on the first or second teams All-Defense, that assertion would seem like a farce.
However, Marion takes Dallas' toughest defensive assignment from the 1-3 positions, guarding players ranging from Jeremy Lin to LeBron James. He's now the face of the defensive initiative that Tyson Chandler left behind.
If the Mavericks want to defend their crown, Marion will likely be in the middle of it on both offense and defense.
Don't let his 33-year-old frame fool you. Marion comes to compete every single night, whether he wins a defensive award or celebrates the success of his team quietly in the shadows.
7. Andre Iguodala
The "AI" that took over for Allen Iverson in Philadelphia has done a great job of transitioning the team from the high-scoring days of "The Answer" to the defensive-minded Doug Collins team we now see as a perennial playoff contender for years to come.
Iguodala is a player that doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but does a little bit of everything well above average. His 12.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists show he's a player that gets his teammates involved and also does well on the defensive end for a small forward.
Much like Marion, he also takes some of the team's most difficult defensive assignments. It seems with the emergence of players like Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young that Iggy is being phased out with the 76ers.
Don't sleep on his role on this team, however. While the infusion of this young talent has helped turn Philly's fortunes around, they also crave the leadership and intangibles that Iggy brings to the table.
He helps teams win, and that sometimes goes unnoticed.
6. DeMarcus Cousins
When you strip away all the pesky character issues and off-the-court problems Cousins seems to be a magnet for (he got his coach fired, basically), he's actually one of the rising stars in this league.
The second-year pro from Kentucky is averaging 17.7 points and 11.2 rebounds, and he's giving fans in Sacramento reason to hang around the stadium. Playing in a tough market and for a team that's not very good, Cousins brings the pain every night, not backing down from anyone.
He also leads the league in offensive rebounding, showing a desire to get to the glass and get second opportunities, which is huge in today's free-flowing NBA game.
Cousins could be the next big center in the NBA not named Bynum or Howard, and this time next year it might be time to remove this underrated tag altogether.
5. Steve Nash
What Steve Nash is doing at age 38 can't be ignored. He's putting together numbers as good as anyone to ever play the game this late in their career, and doing it with a team that has no realistic shot to make any kind of postseason noise.
Is it as alarming to the general public as it is to me that Nash is considering joining up with the Miami Heat next season?
Add his 12.9 points and 11.2 assists to a team without a true point guard, and what are the results going to look like? I can see Nash spotting up on each wing waiting for passes from LeBron and Dwayne Wade and running the pick-and-roll with Chris Bosh pretty well.
His hunger for a title lives on, and that is part of the reason Nash has maintained the kind of excellence both professionally and off the court that makes him one of the game's best and most underrated.
4. Tony Parker
Parker is only 29 years old. He's a three-time NBA champion and the floor general of one of the NBA's most versatile teams. Not to mention the city of San Antonio loves him, whether Eva Longoria is attached to his hip or not.
But San Antonio's best-kept secret puts up impressive numbers whether he's in the national spotlight or not. He's had seven games of 30-plus points, including a 42-point output against the Oklahoma City Thunder early this season.
He's even climbing the MVP consideration ladder, but not fast enough to move him down this list. Parker is one of the best, if not the sole best, point guard in the history of the franchise, yet you only hear about him during the national TV broadcasts.
Look for Parker to lead the Spurs now that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both are dealing with age and fatigue during this lockout-shortened season. He might just do something you don't expect.
3. Tony Allen
Some people may not have made this connection, but Tony Allen has been part of a winning franchise since he was a member of the Boston Celtics championship squad in 2007-2008.
He then left in free agency last summer to join the Memphis Grizzlies, and proceeded to help them to a first-round playoff series win over the San Antonio Spurs and a second-round loss, where his Grizzlies gave the Oklahoma City Thunder all they could handle.
Allen was the defensive stopper on both the Celtics during their heyday and currently for the upstart Grizz. But he's also increased his offensive output over the past two seasons, including a higher point total and a better free-throw percentage.
Tony Allen is one of those guys who makes your team better. He gives all-out effort and has a desire to play every game like it's his last. That kind of blue-collar work ethic often goes unnoticed on the big stage, but not to those looking for winners to join their team.
2. Greg Monroe
Does anyone else feel like Detroit is like the NBA's Lost City of Atlantis? Since they traded Chauncey Billups, signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and had a Rip Hamilton coaching feud, they've faded into NBA obscurity.
It doesn't help that they aren't playing great basketball. But a bright spot in all that negativity is second-year center Greg Monroe, who is turning into one of the better draft picks in recent memory for the Pistons.
Monroe is in the top 10 in offensive rebounding, field-goal percentage and rebounds per game. He's putting in nearly a double-double with 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.
The 21-year-old from Georgetown has a chance to blossom into a quality player, no matter if it's in Detroit or a new city. It's safe to say that he'll be a hot commodity if he ever reaches the free-agent market, but until then, you won't here anything escaping the reaches of Detroit about good basketball anytime soon.
1. LaMarcus Aldridge
Aldridge has taken his game to new heights in the past two seasons. He was an obvious All-Star snub last season, but finally made it this year alongside fellow power forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love.
Yet, his 21.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 51 percent field-goal percentage doesn't get much love. Blame it on the stacked position, the small market or the lack of success from the Portland Trail Blazers this season, but those kind of numbers should give Aldridge more respect and coverage than he currently receives.
He's got a very unique game, built around jump shooting like Nowitzki, but he also shows the ability to post up on the block like Love and get the job done.
Ridding themselves of Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby at the deadline this year didn't make it any easier on Aldridge. Wallace added versatility to the lineup and Camby has long been one of the better defensive centers in basketball.
But the top-five pick they have this year in the Nets trade, a very promising player in J.J. Hickson (who looked great against the Clippers) and a slew of other young players to build around Aldridge should leave Portland in decent shape going forward.
Next time you get a chance, watch Aldridge on the tube. You'll catch some of the sweeter offensive moves in the game, maybe some you didn't even know existed.
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