Teams that have survived the gauntlet thus far in the 2013 NBA playoffs depend upon their star players to lead the charge, but underrated players on each team are just as integral.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Zach Randolph are stepping up as usual, but the unsung heroes on each surviving playoff team deserve credit as well.
On the road to an NBA championship, when every single possession could mean the difference between a win and a loss, the performance of the team as a whole is most important. Every player in a coach’s rotation must step up and prove why he’s out on the court on the biggest stage.
The best players will always receive the most praise for their numbers in the box score, but fans should not forget to credit the performances of underrated contributors.
As a rookie, Draymond Green hasn’t received big minutes for the Golden State Warriors. Even though he averaged just 16.7 minutes per game in Round 1, the 23-year-old out of Michigan State has provided the Dubs with a big lift off the bench.
Mark Jackson needed big time contributions after David Lee was sidelined due to a torn hip flexor. Carl Landry, who has been in a similar position before when he played for the New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans), has provided a nice spark. However, the fearlessness shown by Green as a rookie is truly admirable.
Green struggled mightily during the regular season for Golden State. He shot just 32.7 percent from the field and a woeful 20.9 percent from three-point range. Despite a rough season, Green hasn’t shied away from the big stage.
In the Game 4 win against the Denver Nuggets, Green played 25 minutes, scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting (including 2-of-4 from long range). He also chipped in six rebounds, four steals, two assists and a blocked shot.
In a closeout win for the Warriors in Game 6, Green scored 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field (again, 2-of-4 from downtown) to go with 10 rebounds.
Not only that, but Green was frequently waving his arms and calling for the ball when the Nuggets trapped and double-teamed Curry. That takes a great deal of confidence from a rookie who shot 32.7 percent from the field during the regular season.
Some players drafted prior to Green in the 2012 NBA draft include Austin Rivers, Fab Melo and Miles Plumlee.
You could make a case for Kirk Hinrich in this spot, but considering that he’s played great defense on Deron Williams and that the Chicago Bulls have truly struggled without him, it’s hard to deem him “underrated.”
Due to that, 15-year veteran Nazr Mohammed earns the title of most underrated for the Bulls. The 35-year-old center has played an essential role for Tom Thibodeau by providing rest for the hobbled Joakim Noah. Mohammed was huge in the Game 4 triple-overtime thriller, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds as Noah and Taj Gibson both fouled out.
For the most part, Mohammed has had an underwhelming career. However, his clutch plays down the stretch as a valued role player in Chicago have been a big bright spot for him this postseason.
The Memphis Grizzlies core of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley has led the way by averaging a lofty 55.4 points per game combined. Quincy Pondexter, meanwhile, is finally gaining recognition for his contributions in the playing rotation.
Pondexter was selected 26th overall in the 2010 NBA draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. It took him a few years to find a niche, but it appears he’s finally done so with Memphis.
The lengthy forward played solid perimeter defense against the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1. He even had stints guarding the league’s best point guard, Chris Paul. With the aid of his teammates, Pondexter’s length and size made life difficult for CP3. Paul will now be watching the remainder of the playoffs from his couch.
Pondexter’s D has been a key focal point, but he’s also managed to hit big shots down the stretch. His 33 percent shooting from beyond the arc isn’t fantastic (in fact, it’s lower than his regular season mark of 39.5 percent), but he’s consistently knocked down shots when they matter.
Sure the “Superman” routine after he buries threes is a bit much, but at least the 25-year-old is seizing the moment.
How can Brook Lopez be the Brooklyn Nets’ most underrated player? He’s their best player right now and he’s the only reason the Nets aren’t planning summer vacation. Well, that’s precisely my point.
The Nets bench production in the postseason has been shoddy at best. Andray Blatche has been good (not great), while C.J. Watson is shooting a dreadful 26.7 percent from three. Not to mention that the once-promising MarShon Brooks has been a complete non-factor.
Even though Lopez is receiving praise for keeping Brooklyn afloat while facing a 3-1 series deficit, it’s easy to argue that the big man deserves more credit for his efforts.
Aside from his shooting percentage, Lopez’s postseason numbers have increased across the board when compared with his regular season averages. He’s posting 22.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game while cashing in on 87.8 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Deron Williams, meanwhile, is shooting 41.6 percent from the floor. Most notably, he had an ugly 1-of-9 shooting night in the Game 2 loss against Chicago at home.
Even as the Nets lone All-Star who is expected to play well, Lopez is outplaying his regular season averages and keeping Brooklyn alive.
There’s a reason why Gregg Popovich once called George Hill his “favorite player” (via Arash Markazi of Sports Illustrated).
The 27-year-old IUPUI product is one of the most underrated cogs in the Indiana Pacers’ elite defense. He’s a stingy perimeter defender who can pester opponents and handle defensive switches with relative ease.
When you throw in the added bonus of 15.2 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting, it’s easy to see that the Pacers’ point guard has been electric in Round 1.
Hill did struggle quite a bit in Indy’s two road losses against the Atlanta Hawks. But then again, who didn’t stumble in those two road games for Indiana?
Hill finished 0-of-9 from three-point range and 5-of-23 from the field in the two ugly losses. Other than that road-block, he’s been very efficient.
He swiped nine steals in five games after Indy took a 1-0 series lead, and he dished out 10 assists in the Game 5 win (tying a season-high).
Hill will need to be aggressive on offense against the New York Knicks in Round 2, because Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton will have trouble defending his quickness off the dribble.
Considering that 40-year-old veteran Jason Kidd has lost nearly all of his athletic ability, it’s a curiosity that he’s still notching more minutes per game than Pablo Prigioni.
In the playoffs, Kidd is 3-of-11 from downtown (3-of-17 overall), while Prigioni has drained 8-of-19 from beyond the arc (42.1 percent).
Kidd still has quick hands to disrupt passing lanes, but Prigioni has been the pickpocket for New York. He's averaging 2.2 steals per game. He had five steals in Game 3 and four steals in Game 4.
Even as an NBA rookie, the 36-year-old point guard has provided a huge spark for Mike Woodson.
I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get rewarded with more than 22.4 minutes per game moving forward. Prigioni may, in fact, be underrated by his own coach.
For the majority of the regular season, Nando de Colo was slotted as Gregg Popovich’s backup point guard to Tony Parker. Now that the playoffs are here, Cory Joseph has hijacked de Colo’s spot in the rotation.
That’s far from a knock on de Colo, because he played quite well for the San Antonio Spurs this season. Joseph, however, adds a valuable combo of athleticism and defense.
The 21-year-old guard out of Texas isn’t getting huge minutes as Parker’s backup, but he has been rock-solid in limited time.
Joseph is shooting a highly efficient 52.9 percent from the floor, and in four games he’s recorded 12 assists versus just three turnovers. As a 21-year-old NBA sophomore, he hasn’t been fazed by the big stage.
Don’t be surprised if Joseph has a breakout game before the postseason comes to an end.
Nick Collison has spent his entire nine-year NBA career with the Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle Supersonics and has proven to be a valuable asset during that time.
Here’s an interesting player comparison for the 2013 playoffs:
Player A: 6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.8 fouls per game.
Player B: 2.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 blocks and 3.5 fouls per game.
Collison is Player A, while Player B is OKC’s starting center, Kendrick Perkins. (Worth noting: Collison averages 15 minutes per game, while Perk averages 15.5 minutes per game. So the comparison is even more poignant).
Although some consider Collison to be overpaid by his total contract, his $2.9 million salary this year is a bargain compared to starting center Kendrick Perkins, who makes $7.8 million this year.
Collison has outplayed Perkins in every respect during the playoffs thus far. Perhaps Scott Brooks will finally take notice of that moving forward.
Including playoffs, the Miami Heat are 43-3 when Chris Andersen plays.
Just wrap your head around that for a second. That’s a winning percentage of 93.5 percent. No matter how you slice it, the Birdman has become an incredibly integral piece to the Heat’s overall success.
In just 14.8 minutes per game in the playoffs so far, Andersen is averaging 8.3 points on a sky-high 81.3 percent shooting from the field to go with 5.3 rebounds per game.
Perhaps his tattoos are filled with some mystical winning ink, because all the Heat do is win when Andersen gets court time (be it 27 minutes or four minutes).