Four of the NBA's Most Under-Appreciated Stars

Moke Hamilton@@MokeHamiltonCorrespondent IIJanuary 7, 2013

Four of the NBA's Most Under-Appreciated Stars

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    Let’s take a look at four of the NBA’s most under-appreciated stars and yes, that’s a bit different from being underrated.

    Essentially, we are cognizant of the greatness of someone who is under-appreciated, and that can’t be said of someone who is underrated.

    Someone who is under-appreciated, though, doesn’t get the respect that their accomplishments warrant and there are tons of those guys around the NBA.

    Here’s a brief look at four…         

4. David Lee (PF, Golden State Warriors)

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    Very quietly, David Lee has become one of the NBA’s more efficient power forwards. The main reason why, to this point, he has been under-appreciated is because after seven years in the league, Lee has yet to play in a playoff game.

    That, though, isn’t his fault.

    After spending the first five years of his career as a member of the New York Knicks, the club executed a sign-and-trade deal with the Golden State Warriors. Lee received a six-year deal worth about $80 million and the price tag did seem hefty at the time.

    The main reason the Knicks executed that trade, though, was because the club thought that giving Amar’e Stoudemire a five-year deal worth $100 million was a wiser investment.

    Maybe it was, but there’s no denying that Lee has become one of the more productive forwards in the league.

    Known mostly for his rebounding prowess (he averages 10.9 rebounds per game for his career), Lee is adept at finishing around the basket with either hand, has developed a very good array of low-post moves and doesn’t receive nearly the credit he deserves for his rare ability—as a big man—to accurately pass off the dribble.

    Entering play on Jan. 7 at 22-11, the Warriors are one of the league’s early-season surprises. If things continue like this, Lee may make his second All-Star appearance and finally end his hunt for a postseason berth.

    But even if not, he’s one of the NBA’s more under-appreciated players. All around, he’s solid and has been for a few years now. 

3. Josh Smith (PF, Atlanta Hawks)

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    Josh Smith has become the poster child of All-Star snubs, still looking to make his first All-Star team despite playing nine very solid years in the league and being a mainstay for the Atlanta Hawks during that time.

    The Hawks have made five straight playoff appearances and, this season, look to be headed to the postseason for the sixth consecutive year.

    Each of the past five seasons, though, it has been Joe Johnson—not Smith—who has represented the Hawks at All-Star Weekend.

    Now, Johnson is a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Smith is turning in another solid season, and the Hawks are surprisingly one of the top teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

    Entering play on Jan. 7, the Hawks are 20-12 and are just three games behind the Miami Heat for the top seed out East.

    With 16.8 points per game, Smith is the team’s leading scorer, so he’s a shoo-in to make the team this year. But it really should not have taken this long, especially since his numbers were better last season and he was instrumental in the Hawks turning in a very respectable 40-26 record.

    Smith was the youngest player in NBA history to block 500 and 1,000 shots and averages a healthy 2.2 blocks per game over his career.

    That he has been named to an NBA All-Defensive Team just once is all the evidence you need of his being under-appreciated.

2. Zach Randolph (PF. Memphis Grizzlies)

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    Zach Randolph has come a long way since he began his career as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.

    By his third season, Randolph was believed to be the Blazers’ future. That year, Randolph averaged an amazing 20.1 points per game along with 10.5 rebounds per game.

    The Trail Blazers rewarded his productivity with a six-year maximum extension worth about $84 million and his productivity was a part of the reason why the club decided to trade Rasheed Wallace to the Atlanta Hawks.

    But shortly thereafter, Randolph was traded three times in three salary dumps.

    The Blazers traded Randolph to the New York Knicks for the expiring contract of Steve Francis, the Knicks traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers for the expiring contracts of Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas and the Clippers traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies for the expiring contract of Quentin Richardson.

    Before arriving in Memphis, Randolph developed a reputation of being a selfish ball hog that did not play defense and he had a lot of legal trouble off the court.

    Because of his checkered past, Randolph has not been fairly credited for turning his career around. It was Randolph that led the Grizzlies to the franchise’s first playoff victory back in 2011 when it upset the San Antonio Spurs and since then, the Grizzlies have become one of the league’s better teams.

    Randolph has improved every facet of his game and is no longer afraid to get after it defensively. Randolph has also become much more adept at moving the basketball out of double teams and has arisen as one of the team’s leaders.

    He, along with Marc Gasol, are the primary reasons why the Grizzlies are considering trading Rudy Gay.

    In the three full seasons since Randolph arrived, the Grizzlies are 127-103 (.552) and that’s the franchise’s second best three year stint since 2003-06, when it went 144-102 (.585) behind Marc’ older brother, Pau Gasol.

    Randolph helped turn the franchise around, but he’s still struggling to get his due respect.

1. Tony Parker (PG, San Antonio Spurs)

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    The point guard position in the NBA is so deep, it’s been easy for Parker to fly under the radar.

    Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are each point guards that are likely to draw the distinction of being dubbed the “best point guard in the league” than Parker.

    Even after helping the Spurs win the first of three titles with him as the starter, the Spurs put the full-court press on Jason Kidd, who was a free agent back in July 2003.

    The thought was that Parker was great, but he was not Jason Kidd. The Spurs nearly got Kidd, but Kidd ultimately decided to re-sign with the New Jersey Nets.

    It’s amazing to imagine how different Parker’s career may have been if Kidd decided to sign with the Spurs.

    That the Spurs pursued Kidd after Parker helped the franchise win a title was a sign of what the future held for Parker, as two championships and one Bill Russell Finals MVP award later, he’s still not mentioned amongst the other top point guards in the league.

    In the NBA’s annual general managers poll released back in October, only one of the league’s 30 general managers voted Parker as the best point guard in the league.

    Paul, Rose and Rondo each received more votes than Parker and while that’s not a surprise, it just underscores where Parker lives in the NBA’s hierarchy of point guards.

    Unlike most of his peers, Parker is a three-time NBA champion, having helped the San Antonio Spurs to titles in 2003, 2005 and 2007. And last season, he was the major reason why the Spurs were able to go 50-16, despite Manu Ginobili missing 32 games and Tim Duncan playing a career-low 28.2 minutes per game.

    Last season, Andy Roth of The Sports Network made a case for Parker receiving MVP consideration. If you think the idea of that is ridiculous, well, you may have just proven the point.

    Of all NBA players, Parker can reasonably claim to be the one that is most under-appreciated.