3 Most Underrated NBA Players at Each Position

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2012

3 Most Underrated NBA Players at Each Position

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    The 2012 Olympic Games showcased some of the NBA's elite talent, yet there are a number of players who were absent from the games that continue to impress at the professional level.

    Due to the dichotomy between large and small-market NBA teams, not enough of the league's premier talent is showcased on a nightly basis to a national audience, but after all, that's the nature of the sport.

    Sure, some of these small-market teams may not be very intriguing, but they possess players that fans should keep an eye on, especially as the season begins to draw closer.

    Here are the three most underrated NBA players at each position.

Point Guard: Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns)

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    The Phoenix Suns wasted no time finding a replacement for All-Star point guard Steve Nash this offseason.

    After dealing Nash to the Lakers, the Suns went out and signed Goran Dragic to a four-year deal worth roughly $34 million. Dragic will return to Phoenix where he played from 2008-11.

    Despite battling with Kyle Lowry for playing time in Houston last season, Dragic started 28 games and averaged a career-high 26.5 minutes per night.

    With the boost in minutes came an obvious increase in both points (11.7 per night), assists (5.3) and steals (1.3 per game).

    Dragic brings international flair to a Suns team that is somewhat in flux, having lost their poster child in Nash.

    Alongside Michael Beasley, Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown and former Rockets teammate Luis Scola, Dragic should see his numbers jump quite a bit during the 2012-13 campaign.

    He is also good mentor for rookie point guard Kendall Marshall. Expect big things from Dragic in his return to Phoenix.

Point Guard: Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies)

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    A key piece to the revitalization of the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley has been a steady presence at point guard over the last four seasons.

    Having missed just four games since the start of the 2008-09 season, Conley has helped the Grizzlies emerge as one of the Western Conference's brightest young squads.

    Conley has shown that he's a proficient mid-range shooter who has extended his range, but he's really at his best when he's attacking the rim.

    In the condensed 2011-12 season, Conley averaged 12.7 points per game, but more importantly, he facilitated the offense, dishing out 6.5 assists a night.

    Turning 25 years old in October, Conley has the ability to establish himself as one of the Western Conference's most complete point guards should Memphis continue to thrive.

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)

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    As the NBA continues to churn out point guards who look to shoot first and pass second, Kyle Lowry is quickly establishing himself as one of the league's rising stars at the position.

    A product out of Villanova University, Lowry didn't have a concrete role with the Memphis Grizzlies, and only began to flourish once he landed with the Houston Rockets.

    Lowry managed to drop a career-high 14.3 points last season, and showed that not only does he have impressive range, but his ability to get to the basket has improved immensely.

    In addition to his improving offensive game, Lowry is one of the stingiest defenders at the point guard position in the NBA.

    Most recently, Lowry was traded to the Toronto Raptors, and despite the presence of veteran point guard Jose Calderon, figures to be the team's starter when the season opens in just a few months.

    While Calderon may be a more pure point guard in terms of distributing the ball, Lowry has far more upside to offer a Raptors team in search of an identity.

Shooting Guard: Andre Iguodala (Denver Nuggets)

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    A first-time All-star and Olympic gold medalist in 2012, Andre Iguodala will have to adjust to life in Denver after being dealt in the highly-anticipated Dwight Howard blockbuster.

    Unfortunately, Iguodala was never the answer in Philadelphia because he was playing in a lose-lose situation.

    After the departure of Allen Iverson it was expected that Iguodala would be the 76ers' next great weapon, but if fans had appraised the situation correctly, they would have seen that they miscast Iguodala from the start.

    For too long Iguodala played the role of the scapegoat in Philadelphia, as he was blamed for the team's poor offensive productivity. Even when the team flourished, it was considered over-achievement.

    However, despite fan's misjudgments, Iguodala crafted himself into one of the league's elite perimeter defenders, shutting down opposing superstars night after night.

    It's clear that Iguodala, who averaged 12.5 points, 5.5 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game last season, is one of the league's most underrated players because he does everything well, and doesn't excel in one statistical category.

    Iguodala's value is difficult to quantify, and despite being left off the NBA's All-Defensive Team in 2011-12, he will have a profound impact on a young and athletic Denver Nuggets team.

Shooting Guard: Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzlies)

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    Like Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen is a defensive specialist who deserves more recognition for his efforts.

    Allen has never been one to stuff the stat sheet on a nightly basis, but he's quickly found a home in Memphis where his abilities have been cherished by head coach Lionel Hollins.

    Since arriving in Memphis, Allen has been smothering the Western Conference's most potent scorers, even frustrating the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

    Allen grabbed a career-high four rebounds per game last season, and tied a a career-high in steals, swiping 1.8 per contest.

    Allen's contributions won't dominate highlight reels or even show up in box scores, but it's his uncanny ability to frustrate the opposition that has made him one of the league's best wing defenders.

Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs)

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    Despite winning three NBA championships, the league's Sixth Man of the Year Award and being selected as an NBA All-star, Manu Ginobili continues to fly under the national radar.

    Perhaps Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have overshadowed Ginobili's stellar play, but even so, there's no doubting that the Argentinian guard is a captivating figure in the Spurs' backcourt.

    Ginobili brings his unique international game to a Spurs team that is filled with a diverse cast of characters, and has been the perfect complement to Parker, as the two boast a unique chemistry that's the envy of many of their contemporaries.

    Ginobili has never been one to shoulder the scoring load, as he's one of the most unselfish players you'll ever watch. This past season, Ginobili averaged his fewest attempts per game (8.4) since his rookie season, and ended up shooting 52.6 percent from the field, while scoring just under 13 points per game.

    Hustle, awareness and selflessness are the name of the game for Ginobili, and even at age 35, he should continue to help lead the Spurs to postseason success.

Small Forward: Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks)

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    To say Josh Smith was great last season would be a massive understatement.

    With Al Horford sidelined for most of the 2011-12 campaign, Smith shouldered the load, carrying the Hawks to a playoff berth, although they would ultimately fall to the Boston Celtics in the first round.

    Smith's career-year consisted of a number of personal bests, most notably in points and rebounds. Smith fell just short of averaging a double-double as he dropped 18.8 points per game while pulling down 9.6 rebounds.

    Smith also flashed his trademark athleticism through his stellar defensive play, as he averaged 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game. The guy does it all, and that's putting it lightly.

    Now, with just one year remaining on his current deal, Smith's contract should be a hot topic of conversation as we approach February's trade deadline.

    If the Hawks struggle and Smith grows upset with the state of a team that underwent a massive transformation this offseason, he could force his way out of Atlanta.

    Even if Smith isn't dealt at the deadline, there's the chance he could walk into free agency as one of the hottest commodities in the summer of 2013.

    Playing for a big contract, expect Smith to have yet another strong season.

Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets)

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    A sharpshooter acquired in the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster in February of 2011, Danilo Gallinari stands to benefit from the Denver Nuggets' addition of Andre Iguodala.

    With Iguodala now slotted in as the team's starting two guard, Gallinari will benefit from an offense that figures to be even more spread out on the perimeter.

    In addition, Iguodala's selfless nature combined with the departure of former shooting guard Aaron Afflalo should open up the floor more for Gallinari.

    In 43 games last season, Gallinari averaged 14.6 points per game, shooting just over 41 percent from the field.

    There's no doubt that there's room for improvement in Gallinari's game, and the new-look roster that the Nuggets have assembled bodes well for his future production.

    On a roster loaded with athletes, Gallinari figures to be one of the Nuggets' primary scorers this season.

Small Forward: Jeff Green (Boston Celtics)

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    Nearly recovered from heart surgery that forced him to sit out the entirety of the 2011-12 season, forward Jeff Green recently re-signed with the Boston Celtics in a move that will give Doc Rivers' bunch some depth behind Paul Pierce.

    Acquired in a trade that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, Green averaged nearly 10 points per game during his one half-season with the Celtics.

    Now on the mend, Green figures to play a much bigger role in 2012 than he did at the end of the 2011 season.

    When in Oklahoma City, Green took on a starting role, averaging somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to16 points per game in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

    As Pierce continues to age, Green should see a bump in minutes, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him work his way into the starting lineup at some point.

    A candidate to win the league's Most Improved Player Award, expect Green to bounce back from his surgery in a big way.

Power Forward: David Lee (Golden State Warriors)

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    One of the forgotten names in the loaded free-agent class of 2010, David Lee has been a consistent presence in the frontcourt since landing with the Golden State Warriors.

    A 6'10'' power forward with a great inside-out game and soft touch, Lee has been steady for the Warriors, flourishing last season in Mark Jackson's offense.

    Lee averaged 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game last season, knocking down more than 50 percent of his shots.

    On a budding Golden State squad that boasts sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Lee feels like one of the more under-appreciated players in the NBA.

    In a league where frontcourt play is being considered more of a privilege and less of a necessity, the Warriors have themselves a sure thing in Lee.

    Expect a few All-Star selections for Lee as his career continues to blossom in Golden State.

Power Forward: Paul Millsap (Utah Jazz)

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    At 6'8'' and 253 pounds, Paul Millsap is an absolute load to handle. Pair him up with Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors in the Utah Jazz frontcourt, and he becomes an even bigger problem for the opposition.

    Millsap is constantly being mentioned as one of the league's most underrated players, but his team's inability to emerge as a contender in the Western Conference has hindered his exposure.

    A player whose game continues to evolve, the 27-year-old Millsap averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season.

    With those numbers, would anyone really be surprised if Millsap averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds this season? I can't say I would be.

    Millsap also posted an impressive 21.85 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) last season, which is well above the league average of 15.

Power Forward: Thaddeus Young (Philadelphia 76ers)

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    Thaddeus Young's length, athleticism and versatility have been lauded for good reason.

    Young has been a big part of a Sixers bench that underwent a major facelift this offseason, and now, with Andrew Bynum in the fold, Young could be poised for a move to the starting lineup.

    Head coach Doug Collins had made it a point to bring Young off of the bench over the past two seasons, ultimately helping the Sixers finish fourth overall in bench scoring in 2011-12.

    Now, with some new depth in the frontcourt in Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown, Young could be primed for some time in the spotlight.

    The fear was always that Young and Hawes would be too soft up front, but now, with Bynum in the middle, the Sixers have afforded themselves some flexibility.

    Yes, Young may be undersized at 6'8'' and 220 pounds, but Bynum's polished post game and Young's athleticism could create a dynamic frontcourt.

Center: Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota Timberwolves)

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    Nikola Pekovic was more than a pleasant surprise in his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    In a league that's fairly thin at center, Pekovic emerged as a consistent scorer and rebounder. However, when you're 6'11'' and 290 pounds, not many people can battle you on the glass.

    Pekovic averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, and playing in a contract year in 2012-13, he should be motivated to improve upon those numbers.

    Paired up with Kevin Love, the Timberwolves have a young, intimidating frontcourt that should have opponents scared.

    Pekovic and Love should continue to dominate the boards again this season, en route to a much-deserved playoff berth.

Center: Greg Monroe (Detroit Pistons)

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    The Detroit Pistons haven't had many bright days since the core of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace departed, but Greg Monroe has a chance to be the centerpiece of the franchise for the foreseeable future.

    Selected No. 7 overall in the 2010 NBA draft, Monroe had a nice rookie season, averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

    Entering the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, it wouldn't have been fair to expect much improvement in Monroe's game, but he improved plenty, to the tune of 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.

    Monroe has become a double-double threat on a nightly basis, and is primed to make his first All-Star team in 2013. With a PER of 22.09 and a diverse skill set, Monroe is quickly becoming one of the league's most polished young centers.

Center: Andrea Bargnani (Toronto Raptors)

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    Playing in the Atlantic Division, Toronto Raptors' center Andrea Bargnani will be matched up against some of the NBA's best big men this season.

    While Andrew Bynum, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett are all in situations more conducive to winning, Bargnani has been able to post impressive numbers in six otherwise disappointing years with the Raptors.

    The No. 1 overall selection of the 2006 NBA draft, Bargnani actually had a down year in 2011-12, playing in just 31 games due to a nagging calf injury.

    However, if you go back two seasons, the 7'0'' center averaged a career-high 21.4 points per game, pulling down 5.2 rebounds per game.

    Bargnani's calling card is his ability to stretch the floor and create matchup problems for the opposition, and now that he's surrounded by Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, he should be more effective in his seventh NBA season.