Pondering the Meaning of the Word "Underrated" in the NBA
tr.v. un·der·rat·ed, un·der·rat·ing, un·der·rates
by the Free Online Dictionary
I went ahead and wrote this article for two main reasons: 1) I enjoy writing basketball articles that pertain to the history of the sport and 2) not many people thoroughly comprehend the definition of the word, "underrated."
"Underrated" is a word that is used in basketball discussion a lot, just like the word, "potential."
But unlike the word, "potential," the word "underrated" is always incorrectly defined by many people who engage in basketball discussion. And while I know they mean well, their arguments are usually taken with a grain of salt.
Somebody like Brandon Roy is not underrated, because the casual NBA fan knows how good he is.
On the contrary, however, somebody like Kevin Martin is underrated because the casual NBA fan does not know how good he is, as he plays for the worst team in basketball.
Since flipping pages back in the history of the NBA is what I love to do, here's a decent list of former players who proved to be excellent at their craft yet undervalued by many.
Despite being a journeyman during his time in the professional ranks of basketball, Rod Strickland (inset) was one of the best point guards of the '90s (that decade featured other point guards the likes of John Stockton and Gary Payton, mind you).
Strickland had his best season in 1997-98 with the newly renamed Washington Wizards, when he held career-best averages of 17.8 points per game and a league leading 10.5 assists per game. During that year, Strickland also became only the 25th player in NBA history to record 10,000 points and 5,000 assists.
He never won an NBA championship and was never selected to an NBA All-Star roster; not to mention his troubles off the court were highly documented during his stays in Washington, Portland and Minnesota.
But he was mentioned in the song "Triumph" by one of the greatest rap groups ever in the Wu-Tang Clan, if that counts for anything: "Guaranteed, made 'em jump like Rod Strickland."
On a Utah Jazz team that featured John Stockton and Karl Malone, you could say that Jeff Hornacek was the forgotten man.
But as one of the best perimeter shooters of his era, Hornacek left a lasting impact on the game and on his natural position, which was shooting guard.
His shooting mechanics proved to be extremely beneficial in Jerry Sloan's offense, as the Jazz made NBA title runs in 1997 and 1998, only to be brought back down to Earth by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in consecutive seasons.
Hornacek was an instrumental part of Utah's success, as him and John Stockton formed one of the best backcourts in the entire league. The best part about Hornacek's game was that he moved very well without the ball, something essential for a shooting guard.
On November 23, 1994, he set a then-NBA record with eight consecutive three-pointers in a single game without a miss against the Seattle SuperSonics. He also won the NBA three-point competition twice, and holds a career free throw percentage of 87.7, 12th highest in NBA history.
In the 1980s, stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving and Isiah Thomas overtook the league with their sheer talent and will to win.
And then there was a guy named Alex English, who quietly registered nine straight seasons of averaging over 23 points per game, from 1980 to 1989.
After being under-utilized by the Milwaukee Bucks and the Indiana Pacers during his first four years in the league, English became the most explosive member of a high-powered Denver Nuggets team that consistently ranked among the league's top-scoring clubs.
The lanky, 6'7" forward became the first player ever to string together eight straight 2,000-point seasons. And he led the Nuggets in scoring seven times en route to becoming the franchise's all-time top scorer.
English was a guy who always let his play do the talking. He never needed to intimidate his opponents through trash talk, because his God-given basketball skills got the job done instead.
"I'm not so flashy, not so boisterous. I'm low-key. My job is to do the job I'm supposed to do," English once said. "There are people who don't see it. But they aren't paying attention."
Sidney Moncrief was never about individual accolades. He never finished in the top 10 in scoring or the top five in assists or rebounds. His team never won it all.
But ask any offensive-minded player from the 1980s, and they'll describe how painful it was to go up against Sidney Moncrief.
Moncrief was simply versatile. During his time with the Milwaukee Bucks, he was a great all-around player, both an offensive threat and a tenacious defender. He could weave his way into the lane for a score, shoot from the outside, post up bigger defenders, crash the boards, distribute the ball and make the key stop on defense.
He admirably led the Bucks in the '80s, who had the third best winning percentage for the decade behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.
Deservedly, he was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in the 1982-1983 and 1983-1984 seasons. He also made the All-Star team for five consecutive years and was named to the All-NBA First Team for the 1982-83 season.
Michael Jordan once described what it was like going up against Moncrief: "When you play against Moncrief, you're in for a night of all-around basketball. He'll hound you everywhere you go, both ends of the court. You just expect it."
Clifford "Uncle Cliffy" Robinson was one of only two players drafted from the 1980s still active in the NBA in 2007, the other one being Kevin Willis.
Robinson was drafted in 1989, and he played until he was 40 years old.
That alone should get him the props he deserves, but he was a very good player in his own right. His most successful stint was with the Portland Trailblazers, where he played for them in his first eight seasons in the league. Portland made the playoffs each year Robinson was on the team, and competed in the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992.
Robinson won the 1992-1993 Sixth Man of the Year Award after averaging 19.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and a career-best 1.99 blocks per game. He was named to his first All-Star Game a year later.
As a Phoenix Sun, Robinson became the oldest player at 33 years of age and two months to register his first 50-point game on January 16th, 2000.
If there's a word to sum up Robinson's NBA career, "longevity" would be the perfect fit. His 1,330 games played are the 8th most all time in the NBA, and he played in the NBA Playoffs in 17 of his 18 seasons in the league.
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