Waxing poetic about Anthony Davis has come naturally in his second season. As for the rest of his New Orleans Pelicans teammates, compliments have been few and far between.
Outside of the rare exception like Davis, it's hard to get overly thrilled about anyone playing on a team that sits at fifth place in their division. The Pelicans have underwhelmed due to a combination of ill-fitting parts and injury woes, giving little reason for casual fans to care outside of AD's ascent.
A more studious viewer will find that there are a few hidden gems on the Pelicans roster, or perhaps some players who deserve more praise than they have gotten.
Quantifying what is underrated is difficult when the internet gives everyone with a WiFi connection the ability to praise, but New Orleans is so far off the radar that most of the team is in play at this point. It's a relative term, so saying that a bench scorer is underrated doesn't mean they're of equal stature to a starter with the same quality.
Let's take a look at a couple players who are under-appreciated by the general public on different levels and see if we can figure out the answer to this burning question.
Anthony Morrow: Elite Shooter
Morrow was trapped in purgatory last season, good enough to warrant inclusion on a roster but not a major part of anyone's plans. When he signed for just over a million dollars per year in the offseason, it was fair to wonder if he was nearing the end of his rope in the NBA.
His first—and perhaps only—season in New Orleans has given him new life and a chance to opt out of his deal for more money this summer.
After seeing his three-point percentage fall dramatically in 2012 and 2013, Morrow is back to his old tricks, shooting 46 percent from deep on the year. That's good for third in the league, trailing only Pablo Prigioni and Kyle Korver.
What's behind the return to form? Consistent opportunities is the obvious answer. After mustering just 9.3 minutes per game between stints in Atlanta and Dallas last year, Morrow is averaging a shade under 18 per game this year.
He is also one of the few players who has survived the injury plague that derailed the Pelicans' playoff chances. With Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon all missing time due to injury, Morrow has played in the most games of any guard on the roster, appearing in 70 contests for the Pels.
Being able to stay in a rhythm is important for a shooter like Morrow, and doing so has allowed him to show off the range he put on display during his first three years in the league.
The thing is, few outside of New Orleans are talking about Morrow. He's not a featured player in New Orleans, and shooters generally aren't paid much attention unless they're on an important team.
Take for example the aforementioned Korver. Atlanta's assassin had to hit threes in 127 straight games and set an NBA record to garner some attention this season. Compare that to Vernon "Mad Max" Maxwell, a significantly inferior shooter who has his name in history for helping Houston win titles during the '90s.
Morrow is fairly one-dimensional, which keeps his perception in check as well. We marvel at do-it-all stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant and turn our noses up at the specialists around the league. But owning a defining skill instead of being average in many is what separates valuable role players from perennial benchwarmers.
Dell Demps would be wise to keep Morrow around. Money is tight with the contracts that have been doled out to the Pelicans' core, and an Anthony Davis extension will come sooner than you think. That doesn't mean he should cheap out on Morrow. 45 percent shooters don't grow on trees.
Ryan Anderson: Offensive Powerhouse
In comparison to Morrow, Anderson is positively beloved by the basketball world at large. But do we give him enough credit for his impact on opposing defenses?
Prior to going down with a neck/back injury, Anderson was lighting the world on fire from downtown. Keeping up his prolific shooting from last season, he was firing 7.5 attempts from deep per game, shooting 40.9 percent from downtown. That's a slight uptick from last year's mark of 38.2, but not an unreasonable one.
It's worth mentioning that few players have ever shot that well over a full season while putting up that many shots. Even if we account for a drop back to last season's percentage, these are the only players who have managed it:
|From Deep: Seasons of 38 percent or better on 7.5+ 3PA/G|
Anderson is certainly thought of as a stretch 4, but if a conversation about the league's best shooters were taking place, he probably wouldn't be one of the first people who popped into your head. By virtue of the company he keeps, that needs to change, and quickly.
He's far from a one-dimensional threat, however. According to MySynergySports.com, Anderson scored 0.98 points per possession on post-up opportunities this season, ranking 22nd (subscription required) in the league in that category before going down.
Having a big man who can put stress on opposing teams inside and out can bend, even break defenses. In a December game against the Nuggets, Anderson's threat was so great that Randy Foye left Eric Gordon to send a second wave of help at the top of the key... before Anderson even had the ball.
This allows Anderson to make a quick step-through move and find his open teammate on the wing.
Anderson's shooting ability was enough for a player to leave a career 37 percent three-point shooter (39.1 for 2013-14) wide open on the wing. That's a powerful threat.
What holds his perception back is his work on the defensive end. His pairing with Davis is iffy defensively, as both players struggle to mix it up with bruisers in the paint. This is why you've seen centers like DeMarcus Cousins eat the Pelicans alive this season.
Factoring in his flaws, he's still a brilliant player in his own right.
Morrow is underrated for sure, but Anderson being under-appreciated despite having such a large role on the Pelicans seems more noteworthy.
Anderson has been missing from the lineup for so long that it feels like many have forgotten about him. Jrue Holiday's absence has been discussed plenty in the recent weeks, perhaps because the news of his season ending is still fresh in everyone's minds.
But losing Anderson was the true turning point for the Pelicans' season. His contributions to the Pelicans go beyond just being an elite shooter, and that ability makes life easier for the rest of his team.
Davis' range is well beyond where many thought it could be at this point, but his floor stretching still doesn't open things up the way Anderson's could. Driving lanes and open shots that were once there are harder to come by these days.
Pelicans fans should hope for a quick, successful recovery for Anderson, because one of the league's top weapons has been missing from their arsenal for far too long.