10 Most Unheralded NBA Players Who Are Shining in 2012-13 Season

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2012

10 Most Unheralded NBA Players Who Are Shining in 2012-13 Season

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    The NBA is all about big names and big stats, but largely unheralded players are playing meaningful minutes across the league in the 2012-13 season. 

    Even on some of the title contenders, important players go unnoticed. Some provide quick, volume scoring, while others dominate the glass or another specific element of the game. 

    No matter what the individual skill, these 10 players are helping their teams more than we know.

    These are the men representing the best of the working class of the NBA. They don't make huge salaries, but are invaluable to the success of their respective teams. 

    This list could very well be in flux throughout the season, since unheralded players are rarely unheralded for very long. But out of the starting gate, these players are doing big things under the radar. 

O.J. Mayo

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 19.8 points per game, 51 percent three-point shooting

    The Dallas Mavericks are reaping the benefits of O.J. Mayo's struggles in Memphis. After a pair of down seasons with the Grizzlies, the Mavericks were able to gobble up Mayo for just $8.2 million over two years.

    The change of scenery has done Mayo well, as he has returned to his high-scoring ways in a starting role in Dallas. Playing in a Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs lineup, Mayo is posting a career-high 19.8 points per game while playing just 34.8 minutes a night.

    In his first couple of years with Memphis, Mayo averaged 18.0 points per game, but was seeing 38 minutes every night. Simply put, Mayo is taking smarter shots and his percentages show it. 

    He is shooting 47 percent on the season and a gaudy 51 percent from long range. His play has kept the 9-10 Mavericks afloat while Nowitzki works his way back. 

    While his 3.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game won't turn many heads, if Mayo continues scoring at this rate, he will remain one of the best values in the NBA. 

Nicolas Batum

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 16.8 points, 6.0 rebounds per game

    Nicolas Batum is emerging as a top-flight NBA player in 2012-13. 

    Playing in his fifth NBA season, we have started to see the 23-year-old truly mature and become a potent offensive weapon.

    Batum's game is becoming more and more well-rounded as well. He is contributing a career-high 16.8 points per game while also cresting with the best rebounding and playmaking season of his tenure.

    While the Portland Trail Blazers stand at 8-11 on the season, Batum's offensive ascent has allowed the team to stay afloat in a loaded Western Conference. 

    This is a very promising sign for the Trail Blazers, as they just re-signed Batum for big money in the offseason—$45 million over the next four seasons. 

    Right now, that looks like a very smart investment.

Kevin Martin

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 15.6 points per game, 48 percent three-point shooting

    There were legitimate concerns that Oklahoma City would struggle after dealing James Harden, but Kevin Martin has wasted no time endearing himself to Thunder fans. 

    After starting the season off on an absolute tear from behind the three-point line, Martin has cooled off, relatively speaking. Still, Martin has hit at least one three ball in 18-of-19 games, including six treys twice.

    His 15.6 points per game off the bench have largely replaced Harden's scoring output of the past couple seasons, and the Thunder appear no worse for wear. At 15-4, Oklahoma City is just a half game out of first place in the Western Conference. 

    Something he has to improve upon is his aggressiveness in bigger games. Martin struggled in losses to the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies, scoring 10 combined points in the two games.

    Still, if he can maintain his scoring rate with reasonable consistency, the Thunder will be right where they were a year ago. 

Jrue Holiday

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 18.2 points, 9.3 assists per game

    When it comes to players making a leap this season, Jrue Holiday's may be the greatest. 

    The fourth-year point guard has risen to another level in 2012 and is on the verge of entering elite company at his position. 

    Holiday is posting an array of career highs right now, the most notable of which has been his scoring jump. After averaging just 13.5 points per game in 2011-12, he has been notching more than 18 points a night this season. 

    The longer the Philadelphia 76ers go without Andrew Bynum, the more impressive Holiday's performance will be. His leadership has pushed the team to a 10-8 start and should be able to keep them in the playoff hunt until their star center returns. 

    Early in the 2012-13 season, Holiday may be the best story in the NBA.

Larry Sanders

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 7.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 blocks per game

    The inconsistencies are still there, and will continue to be, but Larry Sanders has become an absolute beast for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    Sanders showed signs of improvement with a pair of double-doubles in early November. Further proof of his rise came in a November 30th triple-double, a game in which he tallied 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. Sanders quickly followed that game with an 18-point, 16-rebound and five-block effort.

    Sanders has mixed in poor performances with good ones, a bit too often for Scott Skiles' liking. Foul trouble and passive offensive play have plagued him in these down games, but nonetheless, Sanders has been a centerpiece in Milwaukee's early success this season. 

    The Bucks are 8-9 and have notched some quality wins. All the credit and headlines are going to their elite backcourt, but right now, Larry Sanders is the most productive 22.7 minutes in basketball.

Raymond Felton

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 15.9 points, 6.9 assists per game.

    While Carmelo Anthony is getting all of the MVP attention for the Knicks, Raymond Felton has played a big role in getting New York to 14-4 and first place in the Eastern Conference.

    In a brief stint with the Knicks back in 2010-11, Felton played incredibly. In 54 games that season, he was posting averages of 17.1 points and nine assists on average. This season, he is once again posting gaudy numbers while playing on a much better team.

    Felton is the main ball-handler on the NBA's No. 4 scoring offense, and is currently the team's second-leading scorer and leading distributor.

    His 15.9 points and 6.9 assists aren't eye-popping stats, but when they have contributed to such a hot start to the season, they are sterling. 

    Will Felton's stats drop when Amar'e Stoudemire returns? Will the Knicks continue to be a top-two team in the Eastern Conference? These questions remain unanswered.

    What has been answered is whether or not Raymond Felton could have a comeback season. 

Mike Conley Jr.

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 15 points, 6.3 assists per game

    Mike Conley Jr. remains an underrated player on the NBA's best team. 

    His Memphis Grizzlies are 13-3, and while his stats don't appear impressive, he is the vocal leader on a team that ranks No. 3 in points allowed and No. 9 in scoring.

    Conley's defense holds down the perimeter better than most guards in the NBA, and his 2.5 steals per game rank him second in the league behind Chris Paul.

    Conley, like his team, is not flashy. However, his game-management skills play right into Memphis' on-court strategy. 

    One major thing of note is Conley's three-point shooting. His percentage from deep has skyrocketed to 46 percent and has allowed his scoring to experience a small uptick.

    That type of efficiency cannot be overstated. 

Jamal Crawford

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 17.8 points per game, 95 percent free-throw shooting 

    The Los Angeles Clippers are fighting to get their name into the title conversation.

    And while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are going to be the names to ultimately decide that, Jamal Crawford deserves a lot of credit. 

    Crawford is actually the leading scorer for the Clippers right now with 17.8 points per game. Coming off the bench to lead a team in scoring is unusual, but even more so when that team is ranked No. 6 in the league in scoring.

    Following a down season in Portland, not a lot was expected of Crawford. The Clippers picked him up for just $21.4 million over four years. 

    But Crawford appears rejuvenated playing with the point guard duo of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe. Their youth has helped rejuvenate his efficiency to the tune of 45 percent shooting and 40 percent from behind the arc.

    Crawford is also giving the Clippers a sure-thing at the end of close games. He has the ability to ice games from the line, connecting on 95 percent of his free throws.

Anderson Varejao

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 15 points, 15.4 rebounds per game

    While he won't be unheralded for much longer, Anderson Varejao has taken a huge step forward this season. He should be named to his first All-Star team in a few weeks, which will effectively remove him from this list, but for now he is very deserving of the top spot here. 

    Varejao has been a reliable NBA big man for a few years now and even averaged a double-double last season with 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

    That said, previous seasons don't hold a candle to what he is doing right now. He is leading the league in rebounding while scoring a career-high 15 points per game—over four more than his previous best.

    Partly because the Cleveland Cavaliers are toiling at 4-15, Varejao will spend much of the season playing out of the public eye. However, if trade whispers lead to a deal, he could quickly become a household name. 

Carl Landry

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    2012-13 Key Stats: 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds per game, 56 percent shooting

    When Andrew Bogut went down yet again with an injury, the Golden State Warriors were in trouble.

    Or so they thought.

    The Warriors now stand at 11-7 and are right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. A large reason for their surprising start is the play of Carl Landry. 

    Landry was one of the top second-tier free agents this past summer, and the Warriors picked him up for two years, $8 million. He has quickly become a force off the Golden State bench, averaging 26.6 productive minutes a night.

    He has come up big in some important games, posting a 23-point, 10-rebound night in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers and scored in double-digits in 12-of-18 games.

    His 56 percent field-goal shooting ranks No. 6 in the NBA, and he is getting to the line more than five times per game (78 percent).

    Thanks to the 11-7 start, Stephen Curry and David Lee are getting a lot of credit, and deservedly so. Still, Carl Landry may be Golden State's most important player right now.