The Most Underrated Player on Every NBA Team Entering 2013-14 Season
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
There are some players who just do not get the respect that they deserve, and it's hard to understand why. After all, those players could end up playing pivotal roles in how far their team goes.
We all know about the superstars, the MVP candidates, the All-NBAers. Those guys get their just due every day. What the average NBA fan fails to acknowledge are the role players who help prevent their ballclubs from coming unglued when things like foul trouble, injuries and plain old underperformance strike.
Entering the 2013-14 campaign, many of these types of players have changed addresses, so it may be time to enlighten you as to who these guys are.
Some of them are familiar faces, others are players whom get mentioned as many times as you have fingers on your hands.
The point is, they are important, regardless of how little attention they receive.
Atlanta Hawks: Jeff Teague
Jeff Teague does not get enough credit for being a solid point guard.
The 25-year-old quietly enjoyed a very nice 2012-13 campaign, averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 assists a game. He also shot 45.1 percent from the floor and hit on a robust 88.1 percent of his free-throw attempts.
Not bad numbers at all, right?
Teague was rewarded for his steady improvement this summer, as the Atlanta Hawks matched a four-year, $32 million offer proposed to the floor general by the Milwaukee Bucks (per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlantic Journal-Constitution).
The Hawks actually had themselves a nice offseason, and retaining Teague was a big part of it. Look for him to continue to cultivate as his career moves forward.
Boston Celtics: Brandon Bass
Brandon Bass has taken a whole lot of flak from Boston Celtics fans, and a lot of that flak is undeserved.
Bass has proven that he plays his best basketball under the big lights. The 6'9" forward stepped his game up significantly during the two postseasons he has played in with the Celtics.
This past year, Bass didn't do much scoring during Boston's lone playoff series against the New York Knicks, but he did a remarkable job defending Carmelo Anthony and has become someone the C's can occasionally stick on their opponent's best wing scorer. He has the size, strength and athleticism to hang with the Carmelos and LeBrons of the world, and he has shown it.
Not only that, but Bass has averaged .122 win shares per 48 minutes over the course of his career, well above the approximate league average of .100. To put the cherry on top, he has shot a very respectable 49.2 percent from the floor.
So, he can defend, he has a great mid-range jumper and he elevates his game on the big stage? Not too shabby.
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Garnett
You're probably asking, how could one of the greatest players to ever set foot on a basketball court be classified as underrated?
Well, that's exactly what Kevin Garnett is, and you don't have to look any further than the fact that he didn't register a single vote for Defensive Player of the Year or for any of the All-Defense teams this past season (um, what?) to see that.
Despite being 38 years old, Garnett remains one of the game's best defenders, completely altering the complexion of his team's defense when he is on the floor.
At the 2013 All-Star break, CelticsBlog wrote a great piece on KG's defense, citing how Garnett was the league leader in defensive regularized adjusted plus-minus.
The fact that KG couldn't muster as much as a sliver of recognition for his defensive prowess is laughable.
Now, he'll likely transform the Brooklyn Nets into an elite defense, and everyone will still forget about him when it comes time to hand out awards. Not that Garnett actually cares.
Charlotte Bobcats: Josh McRoberts
Josh McRoberts has bounced around the league quite a bit, but he may have found a nice niche with the Charlotte Bobcats.
In 26 games after being traded from the Orlando Magic during the middle of last season, McRoberts averaged a solid 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 50.5 percent from the floor.
The thing with McRoberts is that he had never gotten enough minutes to prove himself until arriving in Charlotte. Over the course of his career, the Duke product has posted 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and has averaged .109 win shares per 48. Not bad at all.
McRoberts is athletic, is capable of stretching the floor and is a very good passer for a big man.
Still only 26 years old, there is plenty of time for McRoberts to continue improving.
Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler began to get some recognition for all of those 48-minute games he was playing during the postseason, but he still doesn't get his due respect.
Butler is a kid who was producing long before the 2013 playoffs. As a matter of fact, during his rookie campaign in 2011-12, the Marquette product tallied .144 win shares per 48 minutes.
Now, he is ascending the ranks among the better perimeter defenders in the NBA, and his offensive game is developing along with that. Butler shot 46.7 percent from the field in 2012-13, hitting on 38.1 percent of his three-point tries. Plus, he shot 80.1 percent from the charity stripe.
Butler may never be an All-Star, but there is no doubt that he will be a very valuable piece to the Chicago Bulls moving forward.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson
Bet you didn't know that Tristan Thompson averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game last season, and if you did, then you probably already understand just how underrated the 22-year-old is.
Given that he plays with Kyrie Irving, it's no secret that Thompson gets overlooked when discussing the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, you have to wonder how long that will last, as the 6'9" forward is already making significant strides in augmenting his game.
After shooting just 43.9 percent during his rookie campaign, Thompson shot the ball at a 48.8 percent clip in 2012-13. Perhaps even more impressive, Thompson compiled 3.2 offensive win shares this past season as opposed to the 0.3 he posted in 2011-12.
One final little nugget of information: only Zach Randolph finished with more offensive boards than Thompson during 2012-13.
Dallas Mavericks: Samuel Dalembert
For whatever reason, Samuel Dalembert has always been criminally underrated. He is a true center who rebounds, plays defense and makes a high percentage of his shots, so what's the problem?
Never once has Dalembert recorded less than double-digits in rebounds per 36 minutes, and overall, Dalembert has averaged 8.1 boards for his career. He also boasts a lifetime mark of 1.8 blocks per game and is a career 52 percent shooter.
During both of the past two seasons, Dalembert posted .137 win shares per 48 minutes, better than his career number of .114. Yet, he struggled to find consistent playing time both years. It really is rather difficult to comprehend why.
Now, Dalembert is with the Dallas Mavericks, a team that will likely give him the minutes he deserves.
Denver Nuggets: JaVale McGee
JaVale McGee's seemingly endless appearances on Shaqtin' a Fool have resulted in many severely underestimating just how effective the big man is.
Say whatever you want about his basketball IQ (and yes; it could certainly stand to improve), but when McGee is on the floor, he produces. He recorded .163 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13, averaging 18 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per 36. McGee also shot a very impressive 57.5 percent from the field.
Even better, McGee posted a true shooting percentage of 58.9 percent and an effective field goal percentage of 57.5 percent.
The 25-year-old McGee is talented enough to become one of the best centers in the game, and he is definitely getting better as time goes on.
Detroit Pistons: Jonas Jerebko
While he isn't anything more than a nice piece off the bench, Jonas Jerebko is a pretty underrated player.
The 26-year-old has been very consistent throughout his first three years in the league, and his numbers aren't half-bad. Jerebko owns lifetime averages of 8.7 points and five rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game, and he is a career 46.9 shooter.
The 6'10" Jerebko possesses the ability to play both forward positions, providing new Detroit Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks with some flexibility. With the Pistons' addition of Josh Smith, Jerebko will represent some very nice depth off the pine.
Jerebko fell out of favor a bit with Lawrence Frank, but perhaps Cheeks will find better ways to utilize him.
Golden State Warriors: Marreese Speights
Marreese Speights is another one of those highly underrated big men who have bounced around the league.
The 25-year-old has averaged 17 points and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes throughout his five-year career, shooting a decent 47.2 percent from the floor.
Speights has the ability to stretch the floor, and he is also outstanding on the offensive glass which leads to easy buckets inside.
With the amount of depth the Golden State Warriors have, Speights probably won't play big minutes, but he will almost surely produce in whatever burn he does get.
Houston Rockets: Greg Smith
Now that the Houston Rockets have the likes of Dwight Howard and Omer Asik patrolling their frontcourt, 22-year-old Greg Smith has largely been forgotten.
Smith played his first full season in 2012-13, and boy was he impressive. The big man averaged six points and 4.6 rebounds in just 15.9 minutes per game, and over 36 minutes, those stats come out to 13.7 and 10.4. He also shot an incredible 62 percent from the floor, posting a true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent and an effective field goal percentage of 62 percent.
The 6'10" Smith also recorded .172 win shares per 48 minutes.
Even with Howard now in tow, the Rockets would be crazy not to give Smith his fair share of playing time. At the very least, he could end up being great trade bait.
Indiana Pacers: George Hill
Many feel that the Indiana Pacers need a more traditional point guard, and that may be true. However, there is no need to belittle the job that George Hill has done for this ballclub.
While he may not be a "pure" point guard, Hill has been very solid for the Pacers. During the 2012-13 campaign, he averaged .177 win shares per 48 minutes. Considering that Hill is a good two-way player, that's not much of a surprise.
Because Hill plays with the likes of Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George, his perimeter defense tends to fly under the radar, but he is very good out there. Look no further than the 3.8 defensive win shares he put up this past season to see that.
Would it be nice if Hill averaged more than 4.7 assists per game? Sure, but that doesn't diminish what he does in other areas.
Los Angeles Clippers: Matt Barnes
Perhaps it's the fact that people let his off-the-court issues cloud their judgment, but many fail to recognize just how good of a player Matt Barnes has become.
Over the past four seasons, Barnes has posted .135, .142, .142, and .146 win shares per 48 minutes, respectively. He has also been an outstanding rebounder at his position over the course of his career, tallying 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Barnes is the kind of guy that every team would love to have. He is tough, physical and does a great job of getting into his opponents' heads. He is a very good defender, and his offensive game has always been overlooked.
The Los Angeles Clippers made a very wise decision in retaining Barnes this summer.
Los Angeles Lakers: Jordan Hill
Jordan Hill missed most of this past season with a hip injury, but in the 29 games that he did play, he was very productive.
The 26-year-old averaged 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 15.8 minutes a night, and translated over 36 minutes, those numbers become a very impressive 15.2 points and 13 rebounds. His career per 36 minute marks of 13.5 points and 10.9 boards are pretty darn good, as well.
Hill also shoots a good percentage from the floor, boasting a lifetime mark of 49.4 percent. In 2012-13, he was even better, shooting the ball at a 49.7 percent clip.
The big man tallied .147 win shares per 48 minutes this past year, too.
Say what you want about Hill, but the guy is a pretty solid player.
Memphis Grizzlies: Quincy Pondexter
Due to the fact that he is a teammate of Tony Allen's, Quincy Pondexter does not get his just due as one of the league's better perimeter defenders.
Pondexter is not strictly a defensive specialist, either. The wing shot 39.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2012-13, representing one of the only outside shooting threats that the Memphis Grizzlies had.
Still only 25 years old, Pondexter has plenty of time to continue improving upon his offensive repertoire. You can absolutely tell that he made a concerted effort to work on his outside shot coming into the 2012-13 campaign, as he attempted more triples (152) than he did during his other two seasons in the league combined (123).
Pondexter's advanced shooting statistics also looked pretty good this past year, as he recorded a true shooting percentage of 56.5 percent and an effective field goal percentage of 52.8 percent. Both of those marks were career-highs.
Miami Heat: Joel Anthony
Whenever Joel Anthony is on the floor, it seems like he does something positive.
The good thing about Anthony is that he knows his limitations. He doesn't try to do too much offensively, and his solid career field-goal percentage of 50.9 percent reflects that. Also, while he isn't exactly the greatest rebounder, he often comes up with key offensive boards to extend possessions.
Of course, where Anthony truly makes his mark is on the defensive end. He has a nice basketball IQ on that side of the floor, and he is also a good rim-protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes throughout his career.
Finally, Anthony owns a lifetime average of .102 win shares per 48 minutes. Definitely not terrible.
Milwaukee Bucks: John Henson
When discussing the best members of the 2012 draft class, not many people mention John Henson. Of course, the fact that he plays with the rather obscure Milwaukee Bucks may have a lot to do with that, but it is still unjust, regardless.
Henson posted six points and 4.7 rebounds in 13.1 minutes a contest during his rookie campaign. Per 36 minutes, those numbers would be 16.5 points and 12.9 boards.
As a matter of fact, during 21.1 minutes per game in April, Henson tallied 9.2 points and 8.9 rebounds. On top of that, he shot 50.7 percent from the floor.
This kid is going to be good. Don't be surprised if he sneaks into an All-Star game at some point during his career. Henson may also be a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate heading into 2013-14.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Dante Cunningham
Dante Cunningham has been in the league for four years, and he has already spent time with four different teams.
The 26-year-old enjoyed what was probably the most productive season of his career in 2012-13, averaging 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in a reserve role for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Villanova product is one of those "glue" guys, a hustle player who gives 100 percent on every single possession. He also has a fairly nice mid-range jumper that he can knock down on occasion.
While you may not want Cunningham playing 25 minutes on a nightly basis like he did in 2012-13, he is the kind of guy who can really spark a team in spot minutes.
New Orleans Pelicans: Al-Farouq Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu was very disappointing in his first two seasons, but during his third year, he showed signs of life.
Aminu finished the 2012-13 campaign with averages of 7.3 points and 7.7 rebounds. Obviously, those rebound numbers are incredibly impressive for a small forward, especially one who only played 27.2 minutes a night. It speaks volumes to just how athletic Aminu really is.
The 22-year-old also shot 47.5 percent from the floor this past season, and in the month of April, he shot the ball at a 55 percent clip. That eight-game sample size is a small one, but it's still impressive, nonetheless.
Most importantly, after being miserable offensively during his first two seasons (he posted negative offensive win shares in his rookie and sophomore campaigns), Aminu showed signs of competence in 2012-13, recording 0.7 offensive win shares to go along with his solid defense.
The New Orleans Pelicans may have something in the former Wake Forest standout.
New York Knicks: Pablo Prigioni
Despite the fact that he was playing out of position for much of the year, Pablo Prigioni enjoyed a very impressive "rookie" campaign with the New York Knicks.
The 6'3" Argentinian averaged just 3.5 points and three assists a game, but he played feisty defense and demonstrated a very high basketball IQ (although he did pass up way too many open three-pointers).
Where Prigioni really shines stats-wise is in advanced numbers. He posted .123 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13, registering a true shooting percentage of 59.5 percent and an effective field goal percentage of 57.5 percent.
Prigioni provides Mike Woodson with a very capable backup behind Raymond Felton.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Nick Collison
You would never think that a guy like Nick Collison would be able to stick with one team throughout his entire career, but thus far, that is exactly what the 32-year-old Collison has done.
Collison is one of those players who does the dirty work, playing stout low-post defense and simply making the "right" decisions on both ends of the floor.
Collison, a career 54.1 percent shooter, shot an incredibly efficient 59.5 percent from the field in 2012-13, averaging .158 win shares per 48 minutes to boot.
Overall, the big man tallied 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, but his impact goes far beyond traditional statistics.
Orlando Magic: Andrew Nicholson
When talking about the Orlando Magic's young talent, you generally hear names like Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris, and now, Victor Oladipo. Very rarely will anyone bring up Andrew Nicholson.
Nicholson put together what was a very solid rookie campaign in 2012-13, averaging 7.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 16.7 minutes a contest while shooting a robust 52.7 percent.
What you have to like about the 23-year-old is his feel for the game offensively. He is good in the post and has a soft touch on his jumper, making up for his overall lack of athleticism. He could stand to improve defensively and on the glass, but fortunately for the Magic, they have Vucevic to handle the more blue-collar tasks.
Nicholson will never be a star, but he can certainly be a very valuable role player on a playoff team.
Philadelphia 76ers: Thaddeus Young
If Thaddeus Young were on a better ballclub, he'd probably get much more recognition than he currently receives.
The 25-year-old forward put forth a very impressive performance in 2012-13, averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor. The Georgia Tech product has always been very efficient, as he can lay claim to a lifetime mark of 51.2 percent shooting.
The best thing about Young is his ability to have an effect in every area of the game. He is solid offensively, good defensively and is very strong on the boards for someone of his size.
With Jrue Holiday now playing elsewhere, Young will likely see an increased role within the Philadelphia 76ers' system in 2013-14. Expect him to look for his own offense more and to take on a leadership role.
One criticism about Young, though: the 20 percent drop he experienced in free-throw shooting this past season is something he needs to figure out.
Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic
With their offseason acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, it seems that even the Phoenix Suns are underrating Goran Dragic.
While Dragic is not an elite point guard, he is certainly solid. The 27-year-old tallied 14.7 points and 7.4 assists a night in 2012-13, throwing in 1.6 steals to fill up the stat sheet even more.
Dragic is also rather adept at getting to the charity stripe, as the Lithuanian averaged 4.2 free throws a game.
With Bledsoe now in tow and Kendall Marshall also on the Suns' roster, Phoenix may look to trade Dragic at some point this season. If that does occur, whichever team acquires him is going to be getting itself a solid, underrated floor general.
Portland Trail Blazers: Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews has been extremely consistent throughout his four-year career, and his contributions have gone largely unnoticed.
A nice all-around offensive player, Matthews is also a very tough perimeter defender, and he possesses the perfect blend of size and athleticism to give opposing wings fits.
Matthews enjoyed a satisfactory 2012-13 campaign, posting a true shooting percentage of 57.4 percent and an effective field goal percentage of 54 percent. Both marks were better than his career averages. He also recorded 14.8 points per game and hit on 39.8 percent of his three-point tries.
Matthews now has some extra motivation to better himself as a player, too, as C.J. McCollum is now on board in Portland to provide him with some competition at the 2-guard spot.
Sacramento Kings: Greivis Vasquez
If you are a casual fan of the NBA, chances are, you don't know how gaudy Greivis Vasquez' stat-line looked in 2012-13. Actually, even if you follow the NBA religiously, you may not know.
The 26-year-old point guard averaged 13.9 points and nine assists per game, and keep in mind that those assist numbers came on a pretty bad New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) team.
Vasquez now finds himself with the Sacramento Kings, a ballclub that looks to be on the rise with DeMarcus Cousins and rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore. This may end up being a very good spot for the floor general out of Maryland.
Vasquez has shown outstanding improvement since his rookie year, going from recording -0.1 offensive win shares in 2010-11 to three on the dot in 2012-13.
Look for Vasquez to keep ameliorating his level of play in his new home.
San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter
Tiago Splitter didn't become underrated until his poor showing during the NBA Finals. Now, a large faction of individuals think Splitter stinks when, in reality, he is a pretty good player.
Did you know that Splitter averaged .197 win shares per 48 minutes in each of the past two seasons, numbers superior to Tim Duncan? Obviously, Splitter is nowhere close to Duncan as a player, but this just demonstrates how he is miles better than he is being portrayed at the moment.
The San Antonio Spurs' front office nary makes a mistake, so the four-year, $36 million contract they awarded Splitter with this summer (per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports) is further evidence that the guy isn't so bad. Did they overpay? Probably, but we should also probably trust the Spurs' front office more than NBA fans, right?
The lesson here? Get off Splitter's back and stop living in the moment. He is a nice player.
Toronto Raptors: Amir Johnson
Amir Johnson was the last player to ever jump straight from high school to the NBA, and he has forged a pretty successful professional career.
After toiling away as a backup on the Detroit Pistons for four years, Johnson has become a fixture on the Toronto Raptors since the 2009-10 campaign.
One of the game's best defenders that you don't know about, Johnson has been remarkably consistent during his four-year tenure with the Raptors. He is efficient, boasting a lifetime shooting percentage of 57.5 percent. He is also a capable free-throw shooter, owning a career percentage of 71.2 percent from the stripe.
Still just 26 years of age, Johnson cracked double-digits in points per game for the first time in 2012-13. He also put together several monster games, including an 18-point, 18-rebound effort against the Miami Heat just two nights after dropping 12 and 21 on the Charlotte Bobcats in March.
Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward
You'd figure more people would be monitoring Gordon Hayward's progress considering he nearly put in what would have been the greatest shot in NCAA Basketball history in 2010, but, nevertheless, he still goes virtually unnoticed.
It's a shame, because Hayward has become a very fine player, and he is still developing.
What you really have to love about Hayward is his versatility. Not only is he capable of scoring 20-25 points, but he is also a very good playmaking forward. Plus, he is no slouch on the defensive end, either. No one will confuse him for Tony Allen, but Hayward is a perfectly adequate on-ball defender.
It would definitely behoove Hayward to improve his rebounding, as the 6'8" forward has the length to be averaging more than the 3.1 boards he posted in 2012-13, but he is very capable in all other aspects of the game.
Now that Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are out of Utah, Hayward will step into a much more prominent role in 2013-14. It should be interesting to see how he responds.
Washington Wizards: Trevor Booker
Trevor Booker was bothered by injuries throughout the 2012-13 campaign, but when he was out there, he did his job.
Booker averaged 10.4 points and 9.7 rebounds (four offensive) per 36 minutes this past season, shooting 49.1 percent from the field. His athleticism allows him to be a force on the glass despite being only 6'7", and that same athleticism results in some rim-rocking jams from the Clemson product. Booker is a decent shot-blocker, as well, owning a career mark of 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes.
If Booker can stay healthy for 2013-14, he could end up being an integral part of a potential playoff push by the Washington Wizards, especially given Nene's propensity for getting hurt.