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Ranking NBA's Most Overshadowed Sidekicks

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 5, 2013

Ranking NBA's Most Overshadowed Sidekicks

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    Chris Bosh, Paul Millsap, Larry Sanders and the rest of the NBA's most overlooked sidekicks are everywhere, but because of the bright lights that follow their more popular teammates around, they've been spending a little too much time in the shade.

    An appreciative nod from a slideshow probably won't change that. But hey, it couldn't hurt.

    The criteria here are simple: The player must work alongside a teammate (or two) that garners a hefty portion of the spotlight. Whether said star's notoriety is deserved or not is beside the point; we're not concerned with dragging down undeserving big names.

    We're interested in building up the players who aren't getting the shine they're owed.

    These sidekicks earn points by proving that they've got the ability to help their teams in meaningful ways. And there'll be extra credit if they've stepped up in the absence of their club's marquee talents.

    It's time to sing the praises of the league's heretofore unsung heroes.

10. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Ricky Rubio handles the highlights and Kevin Love (when healthy) snags the headlines, but Andrei Kirilenko has been the Minnesota Timberwolves' most valuable player this season.

    And while it isn't a requirement that an "overshadowed sidekick" rates as the biggest positive contributor on his club, it sure doesn't hurt.

    According to 82games.com, Kirilenko has made the Wolves about four points per 100 possessions better when he's been on the floor this year, which is the best figure of any Minnesota player who has logged as many minutes as the Russian import.

    With averages of 12.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, AK-47 has continued his Swiss-army-knife ways, albeit in just 32.1 minutes per game.

    Too bad nobody has noticed.

9. Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    In his second NBA season, Tristan Thompson has given the Cleveland Cavaliers 11.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.

    Some dicey defense (Cleveland is actually a better defensive team when he's off the floor) has kept Thompson from impacting the game as a legitimate two-way threat. But with his offensive game looking like a nice fit alongside Kyrie Irving's drive-and-dish style and plenty of room to grow, Thompson appears to be a star in the making.

    But as long as he's on the same court as Irving, he'll always be second best.

    There's no shame in playing a supporting role to one of the most skilled young players the league has seen in years, though.

8. Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies boast a defensive rating of 98 points allowed per 100 possessions, which is good for second-best in the NBA.

    And Mike Conley has plenty to do with that impressive stopping power.

    Sure, Marc Gasol might be the NBA's very best defensive player. And yes, Tony Allen does more than his fair share of perimeter harassment. But Conley's steady offensive play and pesky defensive effort is a big key to the Grizzlies' success.

    It seems as though casual NBA fans are only just now coming around to Gasol's brilliance, so it's no surprise that Conley hasn't yet gotten the acknowledgement he deserves. If Conley continues to serve so effectively as Memphis' tempo-setter and floor leader, his time will definitely come.

7. Ersan Ilyasova, SF, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Since the All-Star break, Ersan Ilyasova has averaged 19.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He's also shot the ball extremely well: just a hair under 50 percent from the field and 46 percent from three-point range.

    But you've probably read 10 headlines about Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis for every one you've seen with the fifth-year forward's name in it.

    A true floor-stretching big who's also an absolute beast on the offensive glass, Ilyasova is a perfect offensive player for today's spread-heavy, corner-three shooting attacks.

    It remains to be seen if he's capable of being a No. 1 option on anything more than a lottery team, but Ilyasova may get his chance if the Bucks cut ties with Jennings and watch Ellis opt out of his contract this summer.

    If nothing else, the potential future absence of Milwaukee's pair of ball-dominant guards will give NBA fans an opportunity to watch an extended cut of one of the league's truly unappreciated talents.

6. Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls

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    Joakim Noah rightfully gets a lot of attention as the Chicago Bulls' anchor in the absence of Derrick Rose. That's fair—Noah has been a defensive dynamo all season and his intensity has been a hallmark of a gritty Bulls team that has overachieved without its former MVP in the lineup.

    But Jimmy Butler deserves a little recognition, too.

    Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer all have the All-Star berths on their resumes to steal that spotlight from the Bulls' young wing, which means Butler hasn't really entered the national consciousness just yet.

    The individual numbers aren't mind-blowing: Butler averages just 7.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. But his positive effect on the Bulls' overall play is robust.

    According to 82games.com, when Butler is on the court, the Bulls are better on both ends. His presence in the lineup cuts Chicago's points allowed per 100 possessions by about a half-point and improves their offense by more than six points per 100 possessions.

    As advanced stats continue to go mainstream, Butler will continue to develop. The combination of those two factors means Butler won't be overshadowed for much longer.

5. Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets

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    Chandler Parsons might still be the NBA's biggest bargain if he were a mere fringe rotation player. But because he's proved to be a perfect fit in the Houston Rockets' high-powered starting lineup, he has turned out to be an absolute steal.

    Parsons is a gifted slasher whose off-ball cutting instincts mirror those of the L.A. Clippers' Matt Barnes. That's high praise for an obscure ability, so perhaps a review of Parsons' shooting numbers will be a bit more accessible.

    From long range, the second-year forward shoots at a 38-percent clip. Overall, he knocks down 48 percent of his shots. If you're not into precision off-ball cuts, those figures sound pretty good, too, right?

    Parsons makes under $1 million a year and he plays along James Harden and the immensely popular Jeremy Lin, so he's not exactly getting the appreciation his game warrants.

    Until now.

4. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs

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    Admittedly, lumping Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green onto one slide is cheating, but the unheralded duo has been so overshadowed by the San Antonio Spurs' veteran trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker that it seemed like they might feel comfortable sharing the No. 4 spot.

    After all, they understand each other.

    Leonard is a high-efficiency hustle player whose finer skills are showing real signs of development in his second year. His 37-percent three-point stroke goes nicely with an aggressive, attacking style around the basket.

    And Green is a perfect "Three and D" wing, combining 44-percent shooting from long range with dogged defense against the opposing teams' best perimeter scorers.

    The Spurs' tenured stars deserve all of the praise they get. After all, they've got the championship rings to prove they're worthy of the spotlight.

    But Leonard and Green are hugely important to what the Spurs are trying to achieve this season and probably even more critical to the team's future.

3. Paul Millsap, PF, Utah Jazz

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    Both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are primed to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, and if the current disparity in notoriety is any indication of their financial futures, the latter is going to cash in much more substantially than the former.

    And that's just not right.

    Jefferson is a gifted one-on-one scorer in the post, but his inherently selfish (and I mean that in the technical sense) game effectively stops the ball and turns his teammates into spectators. And defensively, Jefferson is about as poor a pick-and-roll stopper as there is in the league.

    In contrast, Millsap gets his work done without many plays being called for him. His defense isn't spectacular, but it's a sight better than Jefferson's is.

    Looking at the numbers, it's clear that Millsap is a superior player on both ends.

    The Utah Jazz have an offensive rating of 104.6 points per 100 possessions when Jefferson is on the floor. Millsap's is 106.2.

    On defense, Jefferson's shoddy work causes the Jazz to surrender 108.1 points per 100 possessions. They're nearly two full points stingier when Millsap is on the floor.

    Wake up, everyone! Jefferson simply isn't the Utah forward who should be getting all the attention.

2. Larry Sanders, C, Milwaukee Bucks

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    It might seem hard for one of the NBA's most dynamic defensive stars (and leading shot-blockers) to be relegated to a sidekick role, but the nightly exploits of Ellis and Jennings tends to have that effect.

    Larry Sanders is the second Buck on our list because his elite, game-changing interior defense simply doesn't get the appreciation it's owed—thanks to the highlight-generating, but ultimately not-so-helpful individual scoring of the undersized backcourt duo with which he plays.

    You can watch the linked video above for a more thorough explanation, but here's the gist of why Sanders is so criminally overshadowed by his less-valuable teammates:

    The spot of the floor with the highest expected offensive yield is the restricted area right beneath the basket. Because Sanders has the largest negative effect on opponents' efficiency in that prized real estate, there's a strong argument to be made that he's the most valuable defensive player in the league.

    The 2.9 blocks and 9.5 rebounds per game are nice, but it's Sanders' devastating effect on the other team's efficiency in the paint that makes him so wrongfully overshadowed.

    For all that, though, Sanders still doesn't top our list.

    Is the suspense killing you yet?

1. Chris Bosh, C, Miami Heat

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    You had to see this one coming, right?

    Bosh was an alpha dog during his days as a Toronto Raptor, scoring at least 22 points per game for five straight seasons before coming to the Miami Heat in 2010.

    Playing behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade has its way of making most players seem like secondary pieces, though.

    But on March 31 against the Spurs, Bosh morphed back into the No. 1 option he used to be.

    James and Wade sat out with injuries, leaving Bosh to lead the team by himself. With 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks, determined leadership and a game-winning three-point shot, Miami's third wheel rolled over San Antonio all on his own.

    That game was a reminder that Bosh is a much better player than his 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game indicate. But because he has willingly taken a backseat to a pair of future Hall of Fame players, we rarely get to see him prove it.

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