NBA Players Flying Under the Radar Every Fan Should Watch
For every popular NBA superstar ruling the headlines, there's a crucial performer flying under the radar.
There are a handful of small-market players who are excelling early in the 2013-14 campaign but haven't received much attention yet.
Get on board, because these competitors are worth watching.
An Eastern Conference shooting guard is closing in on a highly esteemed record, while a couple Western Conference forwards are thriving on both ends of the floor. A couple second-year post players are also making a big on-court impact without much fanfare.
It's time to start tuning into these dark-horse ballers as they tear through the season.
*Individual statistics accurate as of 11/14/13. Advanced metrics accurate as of 11/13/13.
Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns PF
Why You Should Watch Him: Because he has a breakout year brewing.
Not only has Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris become a more productive per-minute player in 2013-14, he's also dramatically improved his shooting efficiency (60 percent shooting) and defensive skills (1.9 steals per game).
The third-year pro out of Kansas is finally flexing some of the prowess that made him a lottery selection in 2011. His 28-point, 10-rebound outing against the Denver Nuggets reminded us of his college dominance, and he followed that up with a 23-point effort against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Inside-out scoring and solid rebounding aren't his only strong suits. Morris' terrific court awareness and active hands enable him to serve as a key passer in the Suns attack and snatch a handful of steals. He's already racked up five multi-steal games during the first couple weeks of the season.
Eric Bledsoe and Miles Plumlee's breakout seasons have garnered most of the attention in the Valley of the Sun, but Morris' arrival as a standout shouldn't be overlooked.
Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks SG
Why You Should Watch Him: He's a master at his craft and is chasing the record books.
If you've been following the NBA for a while, you're probably familiar with Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
Yet, somehow, his work often flies under the radar because he's not an All-Star or dynamic playmaker.
If foes give him any breathing room, he burns them from long range. He's shooting 51 percent from distance so far, and he's better than ever when it comes to moving without the ball and finding space to catch and shoot. According to Synergy Sports, Korver is connecting on 71 percent of his spot-up treys.
The crafty sniper has splashed at least one three-pointer in 81 straight games, and he's only eight off Dana Barros' record of 89. Unfortunately, his monumental accomplishment and ongoing streak haven't garnered much attention outside of Atlanta.
Tune in to as much Hawks action as possible to watch Korver working for those long-range buckets.
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic PF
Why You Should Watch Him: Opponents can't stop his mid-range game and low-post footwork.
If you're going to tune in to Orlando Magic games to see athletes like Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic, you might as well keep an eye out for Andrew Nicholson.
He's not flashy, and he doesn't really have a choice due to his below-average athleticism. The 6'9" second-year pro relies instead on well-calculated footwork, excellent timing and a velvety shooting touch. Nicholson can score from anywhere on the floor, as his post repertoire and mid-range shooting are now complemented by three-point capability.
I don't know how Nicholson would handle playing 30-plus minutes, but he sure is productive during his modest 22 minutes per game. His per-36 numbers are robust: 18.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.
Nicholson's lack of explosiveness makes him a liability in certain matchups, but he makes up for it with a tremendous feel for the game and a knack for finding high-percentage looks. According to 82games.com, the Magic score 107.9 points per 100 possessions while he's playing, compared to 98.5 while he's sidelined.
John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks PF
Why You Should Watch Him: He's one of the bright spots on an otherwise-underwhelming team.
Larry Drew's Milwaukee Bucks have gotten off to a rough start, struggling to score consistently en route to a 2-5 record. Larry Sanders' thumb injury and surgery won't make the next stretch of the season any easier.
The silver lining, however, is that sophomore power forward John Henson could see an increased role and build on his already-promising campaign.
He's getting a respectable 26.4 minutes per game so far this season and delivering 11.7 points on 60 percent shooting. If his playing time increases even more, it could greatly benefit Milwaukee and Henson in the long run.
Henson has a great nose for the rim and is a massive asset to the Bucks offense. A regular dose of substantial playing time would help him refine his low-post and mid-range game, and it would help make Milwaukee stronger in the future.
Speaking of developing for the future, his expanded role will also be a prime opportunity to improve his low-post defense.
Keep an eye on Henson's performance as he tries to make the most of Sanders' absence.
Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves SF
Why You Should Watch Him: He's one of the best end-to-end players in the NBA.
The exploits of star leaders Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin have dominated the headlines for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
That triumvirate deserves every bit of praise it's getting. Just make sure you don't sleep on forward Corey Brewer, who's posting a career-best scoring rate of 14.9 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the field.
In addition to playing stellar defense against a variety of offensive styles, Brewer serves as a dangerous transition weapon who can run rim to rim in a hurry or sink perimeter shots.
His 27-point performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers was a terrific example of his two-way impact. Brewer hounded the Cavs guards and swingmen, forcing them into less-than-ideal shot opportunities. Meanwhile, he sank five three-pointers and also found a slew of favorable close-range scores.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings SG
Why You Should Watch Him: No rookie has his mix of athleticism and shooting.
Sacramento Kings newbie Ben McLemore is a must-watch, even if he isn't posting big numbers like fellow rookies Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo.
A glut of guards and wings has created playing-time constraints and rotational puzzles for coach Mike Malone, so McLemore doesn't always get adequate opportunities to showcase his skills.
He's far from a finished product, but we already know he's a top-tier shooter and possesses ample athleticism to thrive in the open floor.
McLemore is quickly learning how to find his shooting chances, as he moves pretty well off the ball for a 20-year-old with only one year of college hoops under his belt.
And when he does get open, his picturesque shooting stroke does the rest.
Everyone on the San Antonio Spurs
Why You Should Watch Them: They're the most cohesive collection of basketball players on the planet.
As usual, the San Antonio Spurs are on a roll and almost no one is talking about it.
The 2013 NBA runners-up are 8-1, and they've put together a six-game win streak as they enter the second half of November. This shouldn't come as a shocker: Their victories are fueled by offensive balance, copious ball movement and defensive execution.
Five different players average between 10 and 18 points per contest, and nine players score at least seven per night. San Antonio's 24.3 assists per game lead to countless open shots, and its defensive discipline has held opponents under 95 points seven times.
If you don't like to watch the Spurs, or don't want to watch them, you're missing a chance to watch basketball played the way it's supposed to be played.
The Big Three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have ingrained Gregg Popovich's unselfish, no-nonsense culture into the youngsters, so the squad is strong for all 48 minutes.
For more NBA analysis, follow Dan O'Brien on Twitter: @DanielO_BR
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