5 Most Underrated NBA Players at Each Position
The NBA is a league that is driven by individual star power. But it's the guys behind the stars who really complete a team.
Look at the 2013 champion Miami Heat. LeBron James is clearly the best player, but where would they be without Chris Bosh's big offensive rebound and Ray Allen's game-tying three in Game 6 of the finals?
That moment was the climax for a season filled with unheralded contributions by both of those underrated players.
Such is the case for a handful of players in the NBA. Others have shown potential in very limited roles. Both can be found at every position and on almost every team in the league.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
5. Will Bynum, Detroit Pistons
Aside from the fact that Brandon Jennings is seven years younger, he might not be too much of an upgrade over Pistons holdover Will Bynum.
Before you call me crazy, just hear me out. Last season, Bynum had the better true shooting and effective field-goal percentages. He also posted a better player efficiency rating and assist percentage.
In a limited role, he was one of the most explosive scorers Detroit had—averaging 18.8 points per 36 minutes.
4. Luke Ridnour, Milwaukee Bucks
Luke Ridnour was the only member of the Minnesota Timberwolves to play in all 82 games last season—and he started every one, though sometimes as a shooting guard.
His willingness and ability to play different positions and roles has been a hallmark of Ridnour's career. He's been a pass-first distributor in Seattle and Milwaukee and a combo guard who can play both on and off the ball.
Last season, he was one of the best mid-range guards in the league. According to HoopData.com, the NBA's average field-goal percentage between 10 to 15 feet is 41.9. From 16 feet to the three-point line, it's 38.4 percent. Ridnour shot 62.3 percent from the former and 47.0 percent from the latter.
3. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Cracking Gregg Popovich's rotation in San Antonio is a tricky thing. Patty Mills hasn't been able to do it in two seasons with the Spurs, but he's been explosive in the limited minutes he has received.
The career 38.7 percent three-point shooter has averaged 18 points and four assists per 36 minutes in San Antonio and may be in line for a bigger role this year following the departure of Gary Neal.
2. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Because he plays for the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, it's probably fair that some discredit Kemba Walker's production.
But it may be time for us to start counting Walker among the class of point guards ushering in a new era in the NBA. Last season, his average of 17.7 points was 10th among players at his position and his two steals a game were good for fifth in the entire league.
And as far as distributing goes, Walker's assist numbers were solid last year in spite of a weak supporting cast. His assist percentage of 31.2 was good for 19th in the NBA, just ahead of Stephen Curry.
1. Jose Calderon, Dallas Mavericks
Kevin Durant received a lot of press for joining the fabled 50/40/90 club last season—and rightfully so. But with all the attention Durant received, an almost equally prolific shooting season went largely unnoticed.
In 2012-13, Jose Calderon shot 49.1 percent from the field, a league-leading 46.1 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line—less than one percent shy of 50/40/90.
Add to that the fact that Calderon is one of the best distributors in the NBA, and you start to realize how underrated this guy is. His career assist percentage of 39.6 is fifth among active players and eighth in NBA history.
Those who are automatically counting the Dallas Mavericks out this year may not be taking their upgrade at point guard seriously enough.
5. MarShon Brooks, Boston Celtics
MarShon Brooks' career started off with a tough break. After putting together a solid rookie year, in which he averaged 12.6 points in less than 30 minutes a game, Brooks lost his spot in the Nets rotation following the acquisition of Joe Johnson.
In his second season, Brooks averaged less than half the minutes he did as a rookie. Not because of a lack of skill, but for a drastic change in situation.
In spite of his productional decline from Year 1 to Year 2, Brooks still possesses the tools to be a solid NBA scorer. With an insane 7'1" wingspan and a 38.5-inch vertical, his physical abilities scream slasher. And he proved capable as such during his rookie campaign.
4. Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings
In spite of the fact that he's been generally maligned by the media and untrusted by his coaches, Jimmer Fredette has shown the ability to be a game-changing perimeter threat.
He was a 41.7 percent three-point shooter during the 2012-13 season, and he's been even more effective this preseason. According to RealGM.com, Fredette has averaged 10.5 points on 51.6 percent shooting in four preseason appearances. He's hit nine of 15 three-point attempts in those games.
Given the right situation, Fredette has the ability to be an impact player. Sacramento just isn't that situation.
3. Anthony Morrow, New Orleans Pelicans
Here's yet another player whose decline has more to do with situation than skill. As a rotation player for the Warriors and Nets, Anthony Morrow averaged 12.1 points as one of the best three-point specialists in the NBA.
Last season, he split time with the Hawks and Mavericks and didn't have a defined role with either team. As a result, he averaged just four points a game. Even still, his career three-point percentage of 42.4 is fifth among active players.
And it's that kind of accuracy that could help Morrow crack New Orleans' rotation in his first season with the team. In seven preseason games with the Pelicans, he's averaging 12.9 points and shooting 52.2 percent from three-point range.
2. Vince Carter, Dallas Mavericks
I haven't seen too many players make the transition from superstar to role player more effectively than Vince Carter. It's a credit to the maturity of a player who used to be ridiculed for a lack of the same.
Carter fully embraced coming off the bench for Dallas last year, doing so 78 times. And by transitioning to more of a three-point specialist, he actually increased his scoring average in spite of significantly fewer starts in 2012-13 than he had in 2011-12.
Last season, nearly half his attempts were threes, and he connected on 40.6 percent of them.
1. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers
I understand the attention those three get but don't get the lack of attention for Wesley Matthews. At 14.8 points a game, he was the Blazers third-leading scorer last season. His three-point percentage of 39.8 was the best on the team.
And on top of his scoring, Matthews is perhaps Portland's best perimeter defender—playing a physical game on that end that often frustrates opposing wings.
5. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks
Through 10 NBA seasons, Kyle Korver has made his way up to 29th in career threes made with 1,323. If he continues at the pace he's on, he should reach 2,000 in about five years. Currently, only Ray Allen and Reggie Miller are in that club. And Korver's three-point percentage is comfortably better than both.
His career mark of 41.9 is 12th all time and the 53.6 percent he shot from that range in 2009-10 is the highest mark for a single season in NBA history.
So while Korver's current compensation with the Hawks might show he's not underrated at all, ignoring the historical context of his shooting suggests he is.
4. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
It was just a few short years ago that Harrison Barnes was considered one of the top prospects in the country. Three solid but not spectacular seasons (two with North Carolina and one with Golden State) have tempered the hype.
But the 2013 playoffs gave us another glimpse at the raw talent Barnes possesses. As a small-ball 4, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 38.4 minutes a game (up from the 25.4 he averaged during the regular season).
Whether he starts opposite Andre Iguodala on the wing or comes off the bench as a sixth man, Barnes could emerge as one of the best combo forwards in the NBA this season.
3. Omri Casspi, Houston Rockets
Omri Casspi's production has declined in each of his first four seasons in the NBA. And I'm talking about everything—minutes, points, rebounds, assists, you name it.
But like a lot of the players on this slideshow, it looks like Casspi's numbers dipped because of where he played, not for lack of skill.
It looks like he may have found the right situation in Houston. In six preseason games, Casspi has averaged 13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 56.4 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three-point range.
There has been a lot of talk about the Rockets trading Omer Asik for a stretch 4, but the team may already have one in the 6'9" Casspi.
2. Thaddeus Young, Philadelphia 76ers
Though he often plays the 4, I included Thaddeus Young here because he's listed as a small forward on ESPN and has the ability to play either position.
His ability to slash to the rim makes Young a difficult matchup for opposing power forwards and his size does the same thing for him when he lines up as a 3.
Whatever spot he's playing, Young is an efficient scorer and a disruptive defender.
Let's start with the offense. Josh Smith should take a page out of Young's book. During his first three seasons, he averaged over 100 three-point attempt attempts a year and had a player efficiency rating of 15.2. He pretty much cut that shot out starting in 2010-11—as he's taken only 34 threes since the start of that season. His PER over that stretch? 18.4.
Where he's really underrated is on defense. In 2012-13, he finished ninth in the NBA in total steals and according to HoopData.com, 17th in defensive plays (the combination of blocks, steals and charges taken).
1. Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets
I may be one of the only people who believes the demise of the Denver Nuggets has been somewhat overstated. Yes, losing Andre Iguodala will hurt, but it won't be as everyone expects if Wilson Chandler gets the minutes he deserves.
Just look how the two stacked up last season on a per-36 minute basis.
|Per 36 Minutes||PTS||REB||FG%||3P%||PER|
All the mourning over the loss of Iguodala's defense might be overblown too. In 2012-13, Chandler's defensive rating (an estimate of the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) of 105 was the exact same as Iguodala's.
In a bigger role, Chandler should thrive.
5. Andray Blatche, Brooklyn Nets
Just a few short years ago, Andray Blatche was a featured part of the Washington Wizards starting five. In 2010-11, he averaged 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds a game.
Attitude problems ushered him out of DC and off the radars of most NBA fans. But Blatche has rather impressively redefined himself as a great bench player with the Nets.
In less than 20 minutes a game, he averaged 10.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting. That field-goal percentage was a career high. And when you extend the points out to a per-36 minute average, you get 19.5—another career high.
4. Reggie Evans, Brooklyn Nets
The fact that Brooklyn has two second-unit players here is a testament to how strong their bench is going to be this season.
While Blatche provides offense behind the starting frontline, Evans will come in to do one thing—rebound.
It's probably his only marketable skill, but he's arguably the best rebounder in the league. Last season, his total rebounding percentage of 26.7 was first in the NBA.
3. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers used the 2013 No. 1 overall pick on versatile power forward Anthony Bennett. Plenty of people are wondering why, given the emergence of Tristan Thompson.
After the All-Star break last season, Thompson averaged 12.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. Splitting minutes with another young forward could slow down Thompson's development.
2. Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks
As a stretch 4 who can also rebound, Ersan Ilyasova could be known as Kevin Love-lite. He averaged 17.2 points and nine rebounds a game while hitting 44.9 percent of his three-point attempts after the All-Star break last year.
His outside shooting ability will go a long way toward providing space for the other offensive options on the Bucks.
1. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
It's getting more difficult every year to understand why Carlos Boozer is starting over Taj Gibson in Chicago. Last season, the Bulls averaged 8.1 more points per 100 possessions when Gibson was on the floor and 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions when Boozer was.
The biggest reason for the difference is what Gibson provides as a defender, and the frontcourt combination of he and Joakim Noah was one of Chicago's best. The Bulls were 10.2 points better than their opponents when Noah and Gibson were together on the floor.
5. Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Lakers
As a member of the 2009-10 Los Angeles Clippers, Chris Kaman was named an All-Star and averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds.
Because of an injury and the arrival Blake Griffin, Kaman saw his minutes cut dramatically the following season. And he's been little more than a role player ever since.
But in the limited minutes he is on the floor, he's still very productive. Over the last three seasons, he's averaged 17.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.
If he doesn't start for the Lakers, Kaman might be the best backup center in the league.
4. Kosta Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies
Kosta Koufos quietly put together a very effective campaign as Denver's starting center last season. In 22.4 minutes a game, he averaged eight points and 6.9 rebounds.
Those numbers don't jump off the page because of the limited minutes, but advanced stats demonstrate how productive Koufos is.
3. Jason Smith, New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have a secret mid-range weapon named Jason Smith. Last season, he hit 49.7 percent of his field-gaol attempts from 16 feet to the three-point line. According to HoopData.com, the league average from there is 38.4 percent.
His range as a big man can pull opposing rim protectors out to the perimeter, opening up driving lanes for Tyreke Evans and space on the block for Anthony Davis.
2. Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
At this point, the only guy still holding out hope for Kendrick Perkins has to be Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. Nobody can offer me a logical explanation for Perkins being a starting NBA center.
Nick Collison is significantly better. His offensive rating of 123 is 29 points higher than Perkins' and his defensive rating is only two points worse.
And that doesn't take into account all the effort plays that Collison is known for—setting good screens, diving on loose balls, etc.
1. Samuel Dalembert, Dallas Mavericks
In case you weren't keeping count, this is now the third Mavericks player to make this slideshow. So I guess that makes Dallas my most underrated team this year. But that's a subject for another story.
We're concerned with the Mavericks' starting center here. And this Haitian sensation is a per-minute monster. Last season, he averaged 14.7 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes. For his career, those numbers are 11.4 and 11.5.
The last time Dalembert was given starter's minutes was the 2007-08 season, when he averaged 10.5 points and 10.4 rebounds for the 76ers.
He may not average a double-double for Dallas this year, but if he's given the opportunity to play 30 minutes a game, he'll at least come darn close.
For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
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