Power Ranking Every NBA Team's Most Underrated Player
Every NBA team has an underrated player; one who doesn't draw enough attention and whose skills go vastly underappreciated by the average basketball fan. Yes, this even applies to the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, despite the amount of media attention they draw.
Sometimes these players are just overlooked. Other times they've been stuck in bad situations during the past and are ready to live up to their potential, either once more or for the first time.
Not only does this article pick out the most underrated player for each of the 30 teams in the Association, but it also ranks them. The rankings aren't from least underrated to most underrated, though.
Instead, it ranks the players in terms of overall talent, throwing the underrated-ness out the window. Let's begin.
30. Houston Rockets: Donatas Motiejunas
The current makeup of the Houston Rockets roster has resulted in far too many people just looking past Donatas Motiejunas.
Thanks to the presence of a large, new class of rookies led by Jeremy Lamb and Royce White, the No. 20 pick from the 2011 NBA draft isn't even discussed anymore.
Motiejunas has plenty of work to do on his defense and rebounding skills, but the true seven-footer is an offensive explosion waiting to happen. He has plenty of athleticism to dazzle Rockets fans with during his rookie season.
29. Charlotte Bobcats: Byron Mullens
Byron Mullens must have loved the move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Charlotte Bobcats, even if he went from playing for a contender to the worst team in NBA history.
When he started for the Bobcats, the big man averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, impressive numbers for a 23-year-old with plenty of unrealized potential. He labored away in obscurity and put up plenty of empty numbers while playing for a squad that was simply doomed to lose, but he still played well.
Mullens isn't ever going to be a superstar, but he's more than capable of being a quality contributor for any team.
28. Indiana Pacers: Ian Mahinmi
Ian Mahinmi was one of the most important offseason acquisitions for the Indiana Pacers during the summer of 2012. He might not be a household name, but he's going to be a valuable backup to Roy Hibbert throughout his time in yellow and blue.
The athletic big man is an efficient player on offense who draws fouls seemingly at command. Of course, he commits fouls at a sky-high rate, but no backup is ever going to be perfect.
Mahinmi's defensive contributions and work on the boards aren't typically recognized, but they deserve to be.
27. Philadelphia 76ers: Lavoy Allen
Lavoy Allen became a defensive specialist for the Philadelphia 76ers down the stretch in the 2011-12 campaign, and he looks to be a crucial part of the rotation going forward.
The big man from Temple is a physical presence who plays far bigger than his 6'9" frame would indicate. He has the strength necessary to push offensive players out of the paint and still has the length that is so vital to contest shots at an elite rate.
Allen needs to develop more offensive skills than his go-to mid-range jumper, but his defensive contributions are quite underrated.
26. Toronto Raptors: Ed Davis
Ed Davis didn't take the step forward that many expected during the 2011-12 season with the Toronto Raptors, but he remains a high-upside player who can line up at either power forward or center.
And remember, Davis is still only 23 years old and possesses the same elite athleticism that once made him a popular breakout candidate.
Davis does everything around the rim at an elite level. He can block shots, finish on offense and rebound with the best of them on a per-minute basis. Now he needs to add strength and range to his game.
25. Miami Heat: Rashard Lewis
Finding an underrated player on the Miami Heat is a bit like finding a hole in Mike Trout's baseball abilities. You have to dig really deep to do so.
If anyone is going to qualify as underrated on the reigning champion's roster, it would be newly acquired Rashard Lewis.
Fresh off his disastrous tenure with the Washington Wizards, Lewis doesn't have any expectations associated with him. Ray Allen is the newcomer who has generated all the hype.
Lewis still has some skill left to show off before he calls it a career. He'll be motivated to perform well on the Heat after all, and anything could happen once that motivation is present.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder: Eric Maynor
A lot of people have forgotten that Eric Maynor even exists. They'll regret that once he proves to be one of the more valuable backup point guards in the NBA during the 2012-13 season.
Maynor played in only nine games before tearing his ACL during the lockout-shortened season, making his third year out of VCU far too short.
The former Ram isn't a tremendous athlete, which will work in his favor now that he's returning from an ACL injury. His game has never been based upon his hops, so he won't be set back far at all.
Maynor is a solid all-around floor general. He can score, pass and defend at an above-average level when given the opportunity to do so.
23. Milwaukee Bucks: Ekpe Udoh
Ekpe Udoh is another per-minute stud who hasn't been given the minutes necessary to break into the collective consciousness of the basketball world.
He'll be able to play to his strengths perfectly in his first full season with the Milwaukee Bucks, following a midseason trade from the Golden State Warriors during the 2011-12 campaign. With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings lighting up the scoreboard from the outside, Udoh can focus all of his energy on defense.
It's there that he excels. Whether he's blocking shots or shutting down his man, Udoh is a defensive ace. He can't rebound, but he can create enough missed shots that he can't help but eventually pull down a board.
Teams have been noticeably better at preventing points when Udoh is on the court, and that's a trend that will continue as he grows.
22. New Orleans Hornets: Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez's success might be directly correlated to the length of his beard. He's been growing it out for a while now, and improving while he does so.
Now that his cheeks and chin are armed with masses of facial hair, Vasquez should be able to play well enough to carve out a significant role in the New Orleans Hornets' guard rotation, even with the addition of Austin Rivers.
Vasquez's passing skills and defense are what has improved the most during his two seasons at the NBA level. He can find cutters and make entry passes at an elite level, and he's learning to compensate for his lack of speed with intelligence on the defensive end.
The former Maryland Terrapin's ceiling isn't too high, but he's a quality player who will be beneficial to the Hornets' cause.
21. Washington Wizards: Trevor Booker
Even if Trevor Booker doesn't have the talent that many other NBA players do, he has more desire than just about all of them. If you've ever seen Booker give less than 100 percent when he's on the court, you were just confused about which player you were watching.
He may only be 6'8", but Booker is fully capable of making up for his lack of size with his tenacity.
If Booker was given enough minutes, he'd be a constant double-double threat.
20. Orlando Magic: Gustavo Ayon
Gustavo Ayon was the return that the Orlando Magic got for shipping Ryan Anderson off to the New Orleans Hornets, but fans haven't given him the necessary attention because of a certain Dwight Howard saga.
A smart player who went from obscurity in the Spanish League to having an underrated rookie season, Ayon deserves far more recognition for his play.
He posted a PER of 16.71 during his first NBA season, and that number doesn't even show the full impact he made on the game.
Ayon is a wonderful defensive player, both on the ball and playing help defense. He can block shots, steal the ball away, affect shots negatively and rebound effectively.
19. San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter
Tiago Splitter is yet another of those per-minute studs who tends to be underrated. He only averaged 19 minutes per game during his second year with the San Antonio Spurs, but his per-48-minute numbers look impressive.
Per 48 minutes, Splitter averaged 23.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, two blocks and 0.9 steals with a sensational 20.51 PER.
Expect him to get even more playing time this season as Tim Duncan's role with the Spurs continues to diminish little by little.
Splitter is a liability on defense right now, but even that might change now that he's entering a contract year.
18. Portland Trail Blazers: J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson's ranking and status as an underrated player hinge on his ability to be the player he was with the Portland Trail Blazers, and not the one he'd been with the Sacramento Kings or Cleveland Cavaliers.
During the 2011-12 campaign, Hickson averaged 4.7 points and five rebounds per game. Then he joined the Blazers, and his numbers skyrocketed to 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest.
Even though we're dealing with a 19-game sample size, Hickson looked like the real deal once he changed locations. Unfortunately, some people still think of him as the overrated player that he was before the move.
17. Boston Celtics: Jeff Green
Jeff Green was so underrated that 30 NBA writers and super fans, including myself, completely overlooked him in the official B/R NBA Re-Draft.
People have just forgotten that he exists after he sat out the entire 2011-12 season with an aortic aneurysm.
It'll be hard to forget about him once he's proved his value to the Boston Celtics by finally giving Rajon Rondo an athletic forward to finish alley-oops on fast breaks.
16. Los Angeles Lakers: Antawn Jamison
Antawn Jamison is going to be tasked with turning around a Los Angeles Lakers bench that was one of the worst units in the NBA during the 2011-12 season. It's a goal that he's fully capable of achieving.
The sharpshooting power forward's arrival in L.A. was largely overshadowed by the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. That was for good reason, but Jamison is going to be a crucial part of the Lakers' puzzle; one that may end up being a championship puzzle.
Even though he's 36 and doesn't understand what defense is, Jamison can still light up the scoreboard with his deadly jumper.
15. Phoenix Suns: Jared Dudley
Jared Dudley made a conscious effort to stop gambling for steals on the defensive end of the court during the 2011-12 season, and the result was fantastic. According to 82games.com, the swingman held opposing shooting guards to a 12.5 per and small forwards to a 12.6.
Despite his excellence on that end of the court and his above-average offensive contributions—mostly stemming from his long jumpers—Dudley hardly gets any recognition.
Unless you live in Phoenix, it's highly unlikely that you ever hear about this guy.
14. Utah Jazz: Mo Williams
Color me confused as to how this acquisition didn't get more recognition. Mo Williams' return to the Utah Jazz could be enough to push this team back into the playoff picture.
Williams isn't a great defender, but he's an offensive stalwart, even at the age of 29.
His mid-range shooting and three-point abilities will complement the Jazz's frontcourt prowess quite well, enabling Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to shine while he knocks down jumpers.
13. New York Knicks: Raymond Felton
Raymond Felton was sensational during his last stint with the New York Knicks. During the 2010-11 season, Felton averaged 17.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and nine assists per game for the Knicks.
Then he was traded to the Denver Nuggets and subsequently moved to the Portland Trail Blazers. Discontent and out of shape, Felton wasn't the same point guard.
He'll be motivated to stay healthy and at the top of his game now that he's back with the Knicks and playing in front of the Madison Square Garden crowd that used to adore him.
12. Sacramento Kings: Marcus Thornton
Of all the elite scorers in the NBA, Marcus Thornton is the one who generates the least recognition.
Despite playing in a crowded backcourt, Thornton has been able to establish himself as an offensive powerhouse, capable of lighting up the scoreboard on a nightly basis.
Averaging 18.7 points per game during his third year in the NBA, Thornton helped compensate for his low field-goal percentage by making three-pointers and shooting with pinpoint accuracy from the free-throw line.
Why hasn't he been lauded for his scoring ability? Well, do you see which team he plays for?
11. Los Angeles Clippers: Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom voluntarily chose to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, which puts him in a far different situation than he was in last year with the Dallas Mavericks.
The versatile power forward certainly wasn't so completely and utterly ineffective last year because he had lost all of his skill on the basketball court. His pure performance was largely due to his lack of desire to play for Mark Cuban's organization.
Now, the former Sixth Man of the Year and two-time NBA champion will help to shore up an already solid bench. Look for him to regain his pre-Dallas form and prove that he shouldn't be overlooked quite yet.
10. Dallas Mavericks: Shawn Marion
Even at 34 years old, Shawn Marion is still a versatile defender capable of shutting down an impressive variety of players on the hard court.
If you match him up against a quicker guard, he'll use his speed and lateral quickness to slow him down. If you put him against a big forward, then he'll use his wily veteran tricks to stop his man.
The Matrix does everything well, and he even manages to score some points with his ridiculous looking jumper. He uses that far less often than his layups, runners and dunks, but his jumper still does tend to find the bottom of the net.
Marion is about as unglamorous as it gets, which is a large part of why he's always been underrated. As his career continues to progress, he becomes even more drastically underrated.
9. Denver Nuggets: Wilson Chandler
After spending most of the 2011-12 season in China and then missing time with a hip injury, Wilson Chandler is flying so far under the radar that he's managed to go from an intriguing young player with potential to an underrated player with upside.
Chandler is ridiculously athletic and can finish around the rim at an elite level, but he'll have to stop settling for long jumpers if he's ever going to make good on his potential.
He suffered through a shooting slump during his eight games with the Denver Nuggets in his return from China, but that small sample size shouldn't completely define our perception of the swingman.
Chandler should be hyped as a breakout candidate and not forgotten about almost entirely, as is currently the case.
8. Brooklyn Nets: Kris Humphries
Believe it or not, Kris Humphries is more than just the guy who was once romantically involved with Kim Kardashian.
Humphries is actually a viable NBA starter, and he'll prove his worth with the Brooklyn Nets during the 2012-13 season.
While he's not a great defender and his offensive impact is sometimes limited to mid-range jumpers, Humphries is an absolute terror on the glass. Whether he's crashing the offensive or defensive boards, he's a constant threat to bring down the rebound.
Humphries is one of the best role players in the NBA, but he's entirely underrated because of his off-court personal life.
7. Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague
If Jeff Teague could start contributing on the boards, he'd be even more valuable for the Atlanta Hawks.
As it stands, he's a two-way player capable of winning games with his offense or his defense on any given night. Teague has a solid shot from the perimeter, but he's truly deadly when he's driving to the basket or shooting from the paint, which happens to be a rarity for guards.
His quick hands and tenacious efforts also result in great defensive play. Teague takes pride in his ability to swipe the ball away from the man he's guarding, often starting fast breaks by forcing turnovers.
The former Wake Forest floor general is a far cry from elite, but it's time he starts getting some recognition as a top-100 player.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic
Nikola Pekovic has my vote as the single most underrated player in the entire NBA.
Here's a quote from the B/R NBA Re-Draft, when I selected the Minnesota Timberwolves center for my team in the third round:
The single most underrated player in the league, Nikola Pekovic gives my team the rebounding and toughness it needs next to Millsap in the paint.
According to 82games.com, Pekovic posted a 21.9 PER while holding opposing centers to just 13.4.
Only seven centers produced a plus-21 PER last season while playing more than 25 minutes per game, and just Tim Duncan (22.8 for, 14.0 against), Andrew Bynum (23.5 for, 14.2 against), Dwight Howard (25.2 for, 14.0 against) and Pekovic also held their opponents below 15.
That's some pretty elite company to be in, but you'd never know it based on how much certain centers get discussed.
5. Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Allen
Tony Allen has only made the NBA All-Defensive team twice in his career, and the 2011-12 campaign was the first that resulted in him being selected to the first team.
The shooting guard is finally starting to get some credit as one of the league's perimeter defenders, but the fact that he isn't universally recognized as a top-two defender on the outside—LeBron James being the other—proves that he's still underrated.
Allen will never be a household name, because he doesn't score or put up highlights. Instead, he focuses his efforts on preventing other people from scoring and putting up highlights; a task at which he's quite effective.
4. Chicago Bulls: Carlos Boozer
With Carlos Boozer we've reached the tipping point. So many people are calling him overrated that he's now underrated again.
The Chicago Bulls didn't consider using the amnesty clause on this power forward because he's a terrible basketball payer. They were thinking about it because he's insanely expensive, and Taj Gibson is more than capable of filling his spot in the starting lineup.
Boozer actually had a solid campaign during the 2011-12 season. The 30-year-old posted a per of 19.79 while averaging 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
He's not a great defender, but he's a terrific second option on offense and remains a capable contributor, even as the cries for his head build in intensity.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao
Anderson Varejao's intense, flop-filled style of play has turned a lot of people off and made him an easy player for non-Cleveland Cavaliers fans to hate, but he's an effective big man.
After averaging a double-double during the 2011-12 season, it should be clear that the floppy-haired Brazilian is a valuable contributor, but there's still a large group of NBA fans who believe that he doesn't bring much to the table.
They're correct, provided that great energy, solid post defense and insane rebounding skills don't count as "much."
2. Golden State Warriors: Andrew Bogut
Contrary to popular belief, Andrew Bogut isn't actually one of those players who has earned the dreaded "injury-prone" label. Instead, he's had to deal with a few unfortunately timed fluke injuries.
Once his ankle is fully healed, Bogut will *gasp* make the Golden State Warriors into a solid defensive team. I know that's hard to fathom after we've been accustomed to treating the Dubs like a video-game team; one capable of scoring points in bundles while allowing just as many.
Bogut is one of the best shot-blocking and defensive big men in the game of basketball, and he'll have a chance to stay on the court and prove it during the 2012-13 season.
1. Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe
Keep in mind that Greg Monroe's placement in this set of rankings isn't saying that he's the most underrated player in the NBA. Instead, it's arguing that he's the best of these 30 underrated players in terms of overall basketball skill.
The former Georgetown Hoya has two main things working against him when it comes to being properly rated.
First, he plays for the Detroit Pistons, a team that nobody outside of the Motor City tries to watch.
Secondly, Monroe's style of basketball isn't exactly glamorous. He's not a fantastic scorer, but he's definitely above average in that respect. His true value comes from his ability to contribute to all facets of the game, especially with his passing out of the blocks and on outlets.
Monroe has spent only two seasons with the Pistons, but he's already playing at an All-Star level.