The NBA is full of ridiculously talented players. Some of them have fought their way to an elite superstar status, and some of them wait in the shadows of the players ahead of them in the depth chart. Of the latter group, which of those underrated players are the most deserving of more responsibility?
Being a bench player really doesn’t qualify anyone as underrated. James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder is technically a bench player, and yet he played 31.4 minutes per game (MPG) last season.
I’m going to go over the five players currently playing in the NBA that should be starting—or at least have a much more significant role on their team.
Despite averaging a very stellar 11.2 points and 4.5 assists in just 23.4 MPG last season with the Golden State Warriors, Nate Robinson will be just an explosive combo guard who will be coming off the bench for his team this season.
Robinson has always been known as a scorer—his production in putting points on the board remains unquestioned.
This season however, Robinson is going to be little more than an extra body for the Chicago Bulls at point guard. With Derrick Rose expected to miss most of the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL, the Bulls were forced to acquire players to help take his place.
They drafted a point guard, signed free-agent point guard Kirk Hinrich and still have Derrick Rose returning hopefully in March.
All of that combined means that Nate Robinson is going to see very minimal action—definitely not an ideal setting for a cowboy like Robinson.
Still though, he’s going to have several months before Derrick Rose comes back. He should have the nod over rookie Marquis Teague, so however long it may be, he’ll still have the opportunity to help the team out.
In his 12 seasons with the NBA, Jamal Crawford has always been a major offensive threat. In the 26.9 MPG that he averaged last season, Crawford totaled 14 points and 3.2 assists per game.
Over the offseason, Crawford was acquired by the Los Angeles Clippers. He will likely be backing up Chauncey Billups when he returns from injury.
Chauncey Billups is currently one of the best combo guards in the NBA. His leadership and capacity for clutch performances, combined with his talent and knowledge of the game, make him very valuable to the Clippers at shooting guard.
Coming off a torn Achilles tendon from last season, Chauncey Billups hopes to return by the start of the 2012-13 season. When he does, Jamal Crawford will be forced to watch from the sidelines.
That doesn’t take away from how important Jamal Crawford will be to the Clippers' success this season though, but it does mean that Crawford will be forced to play minimal time.
MarShon Brooks has only been in the NBA for one season, but he’s already left an idea of what his future as an elite scorer might be.
In his rookie season with the New Jersey Nets, Brooks averaged 12.6 PPG. While that number isn’t entirely spectacular, he showed flashes of brilliance and earned comparisons to superstar scorers like Kobe Bryant.
Despite the potential that MarShon Brooks brought to the table, the Nets decided to acquire veteran All-Star Joe Johnson as a free agent in the offseason—and given how talented Joe Johnson is, it appears the role that Brooks will play with the Nets isn’t going to be a substantial one. He’ll likely be limited to being just a scorer off the bench.
While the hype surrounding Brooks has yet to proven, he’ll have this season to really cement his place in the NBA—even if it is just as a sixth man for now. I would hope that Brooks is able to expand on his potential as a scorer this season.
Players with the ability to score are a hot commodity in the NBA. He may not start with the Nets, but plenty of other teams need a high-caliber scorer.
In the last seven years that he’s spent with the Philadelphia 76ers, Lou Williams has always been a consistent offensive threat, averaging almost 15 points per game (PPG) in just 26.3 minutes last season.
Whether it’s his jump shot or his ability to get to the rim, Williams is one of the better—and underrated—bench players in the NBA.
Unfortunately for him, now that he is playing with the Atlanta Hawks, the chances of him getting major playing time just went down.
Devin Harris and Jeff Teague already fill up the point guard slots, and the shooting guard position has been taken care of with the addition of rookie sharpshooter John Jenkins.
If Williams gets opportunities to play, it will likely be just when the Hawks need offensive production quickly.
While it’s not the best situation for him, he’s only 25 years old. He still has plenty of time to make his mark in the NBA.
Taj Gibson was one of the few bright spots for Chicago in the fiasco that was the 2012 playoffs. Not only did he almost manage to single-handedly will the team to make a comeback, but he did so with a sprained ankle and without two of the Bulls best players.
Unfortunately for him and Bulls fans alike, he’s stuck behind Carlos Boozer.
The Chicago Bulls made a mistake when they acquired Carlos Boozer two years ago. Not only has he failed to live up to his massive contract, but he’s also managed to keep Taj Gibson from starting.
Last season, Gibson was only able to play 20.4 minutes per game. Most of that time was spent in the fourth quarter, since the Bulls needed his lockdown defense.
That pattern will likely continue this season, as Carlos Boozer remains on the depth chart ahead of him.
If anything good has come from his time spent behind Carlos Boozer, it’s that his offensive arsenal has expanded. When his time to start finally does come, his defensive game won’t be his only defining aspect.