Some NBA players could be showing their wares if they were playing elsewhere, but are presently being restricted by the teams they play in the roles they currently occupy.
In some cases this is because depth on their current team prevents them from getting legitimate opportunities. In others it's because they aren't being used the way they should. Still others suffer from a simple lack of appreciation of what skills they do have.
Here are these underappreciated players, ranked according to how much value they could have if given the chance on a team that could allow them to stretch their wings and fly.
Speaking of flying, Denver has so many wings that Jordan Hamilton can't fly.
Denver is a smartly assembled team. They are a high-altitude city. They run at the second-fastest pace in the league. They are plum full of wings. They have a human dart for a point guard in Ty Lawson. Even their bigs run well.
They're used to the altitude and pace, and their opponents are not. Not surprisingly they're one of the best fast-break teams in the NBA.
The problem is they are stocked with wings. They have Andre Iguodala, Corey Brewer, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. That leaves Evan Fournier and Jordan Hamilton competing for scraps of playing time.
Hamilton has genuine talent, and his per 36 numbers show that with a chance to play he could be proving himself. In fact, his adjusted scoring of 18.9 points is the second best on the roster. His PER of 16.8 is acceptable at worst.
Hamilton right now might be the best player in the NBA getting fewer than 11 minutes per game.
Marshon Brooks was positively flowing (see what I did there!) at the beginning of his rookie year. He averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists, in 30.4 minutes, but he tapered off after that, averaging just 11.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists for the duration of the season.
This year, on a per-minute basis, he's actually playing well, but he's not getting the minutes. He's scoring 16.7 points, grabbing 3.8 boards and dishing 2.8 assists per 36 minutes, but he's only getting 11.4 minutes per game.
Things haven't changed much for him with the coaching transition. He's only getting 11.7 minutes per game in the P.J. Carlesimo era. Keith Bogans gets most of the minutes Joe Johnson doesn't use.
The most Brooks might offer the Brooklyn Nets right now is his better than decent value as a trade chip.
Darren Collison is one of those players who exemplify the saying, "you never appreciate what you've got until it's gone." Just ask the Indiana Pacers, whose offense has sputtered without him. Not that it was great with him, but a lot more blame was placed on him than was deserving.
Collison is a middle-tier point guard, somewhere between 11th and 20th on the pecking order. That's not bad. But the Mavericks keep trying to improve on their young point guard by replacing him at the start or finish of games with geriatric veterans.
First it was Derek Fisher to start, and now it's Mike James to finish.
On the season Collison has led the Mavericks in assists and is their third-leading scorer. Even on a per-minute basis he has the best production of any point the Mavs have.
Yes, his game is up and down, but that's to be expected when you're getting yanked in and out of the lineup while learning a new system—especially when the whole lineup is also learning the system.
The Mavericks need to just simmer down and let Collison learn on the job.
Gordon Hayward is a pretty good small forward. He's a barely passable shooting guard.
It's very interesting when you look at his net rating numbers at both positions (via 82games).
As a small forward he has a Player Efficiency Rating of 17.8 while keeping his opponents to just 13.6. That's an admirable plus-4.2. As a shooting guard, his PER is 14.6, which is below average. His opponents are a 15.0, about average. His net rating is a minus-0.4.
So why is Hayward filling 60 percent of his time at shooting guard?
Let the small forward play small forward. Square pegs go in square holes.
Mario Chalmers has been chided for his assertion that he's a top-10 point guard, and to be perfectly honest, he deserves it. He's not a top-10 point guard, regardless of how confident he is in himself.
Having said that, he's not far off. He just has an impediment in Miami. It's called "opportunity."
Last year when James was on the bench and Chalmers was on the court, the latter averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 assists per 36 minutes. That indicates Chalmers is more capable than his relatively anemic numbers of 7.7 points and 3.4 assists suggests.
Given a team where he is actually the primary ball-handler (as most point guards are), Chalmers would have much better numbers. But when he's the fourth option, that opportunity doesn't happen.
He probably ranks somewhere between No. 11 and No. 15 among NBA point guards, but it's hard to measure because we haven't seen him in the right system.
Would you scoff if I told you that Jose Calderon is on the same level as Rajon Rondo, at least as a facilitator? Look at their per 36-minute numbers from basketball-reference side by side before laughing yourself into a body cast.
Not so funny now is it? Especially when you consider that Calderon doesn't have the same talent around him that Rondo does.
This is not Rondo bashing, it's Calderon loving. For reasons beyond me the Raptors keep trying to replace the strongest part of their team.
NOTE: Calderon was traded during the writing of this article and now he gets to go to another bad team, the Detroit Pistons, where he can be underappreciated. Too bad. It would have been interesting to see h im play for a playoff team.
Pau Gasol has begrudgingly reserved himself to be a backup. The Lakers are making sense in doing what they're doing because Gasol and Howard don't work that well together, and it's Gasol who really suffers.
According to NBA.com, when the two are on the court at the same time, Howard actually scores a smidgen more per 36 minutes, 17.3 to 16.9 points. He also shoots five percent better, 60 percent to 56 percent.
Gasol on the other hand is on a completely different level when he plays without Howard. He averages 16.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes without Howard, compared to a relatively paltry 12.5 points and 8.1 rebounds with Howard.
The real brilliance of this move isn't so much that it gets more out of Gasol, as it is that Gasol is showing he has something left in the tank, meaning that there might be a chance L.A. finds a taker in trade talks.
There's little question that $19 million is an awful lot to play to a bench player, especially when you're paying the tax.
Rudy Gay was traded, literally while I was writing this article.
Needless to say he'll get his opportunity in Toronto. Memphis has an entire offensive system which stifles the kind of athleticism Gay has to display.
Toronto has been trying to install a more open offense, and Gay should prosper there. He'll be the go-to guy rather having to just be a role player in the offense.
I say "should" because there are all kids of cautionary flags with Gay. He has the athleticism, but there are multiple reasons for Toronto fans to be concerned with his all-around play.
His Player Efficiency Rating is a below-average 14.3. His Synergy numbers, .85 points per play on offense and .92 points per play on defense, are below par. His opponent's Player Efficiency Rating is nice, but you can't help but wonder how much of that is an issue of playing on one of the NBA's best defenses.
So are all those less-than-elite numbers a byproduct of the system? There actually is a good chance that they are. One thing is for certain: We'll know soon.