The 10 Best NBA Players the Average Fan Has Never Heard of
The start of the NBA season is less than one week away, and with all the talk around the league centered around which superstar will lead his team to the promised land, let's instead use this as an opportunity to appreciate the under appreciated. To recognize the unrecognizable. To value the undervalued.
Here is a look inside into the 10 best NBA players that only the seasoned basketball fan is familiar with.
(10): Maurice Evans SF Atlanta Hawks
Maurice Evans might be the Hawks' most underrated and undervalued player.
He can beat his defender off the dribble, has a good mid-range game, an improving stroke from long distance, and is an excellent defender on the perimeter.
His strength allows him to match up against bigger players, creating more flexible and favorable matchups for his teammates when he is on the floor.
He has all the tools to be a shutdown defender in the NBA, and enough athleticism and ability to be a threat on the offensive end of the floor.
His has been a journeyman since 2001 when he entered the league as an undrafted free agent, but it looks like he has found a good home in Atlanta where he will share time with Marvin Williams at the small-forward spot.
He should be good for about 14 points and 6 boards a night.
(9): Ryan Gomes PF Minnesota Timberwolves
Gomes is not the most freakishly gifted athlete in the league. He is not fast. He is not a lock-down defender. He does not play above the rim. But for what he lacks in physical ability, Gomes makes up for in basketball IQ and ridiculous consistency.
Gomes will get the start at small forward more often than not this year. His individual stats and his team will both benefit from it.
Last year, Gomes averaged a career high 13.3 points per game and also led the team in three-point accuracy, shooting 37.2 percent from beyond the arc.
He has developed a good mid-range game and is quickly becoming an excellent spot up shooter.
Gomes is a very good defender, and has enough quickness to guard smaller wing players on the perimeter and enough strength to bang inside with the bigs.
He is not a great rebounder, but he can be counted on for about five to six boards per game from the three spot.
Gomes is one of those players that every team in the league would love to have. He is a good player and an equally good teammate.
Count on him to have another consistent and solid year.
(8): Amir Johnson PF Toronto Raptors
Known as the last player ever to be drafted out of high school into the NBA, Johnson is a freakishly gifted athlete, whose talent is very raw and underdeveloped.
In Detroit, Johnson was stuck behind Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Maxiell, and Kwame Brown, and was limited in his playing time.
In the offseason, Johnson was moved to Toronto, where his talent should be able to develop and shine. While still behind Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani in the rotation, he will see the court more often and he will be relied on more for some much needed athleticism.
Johnson has all the skills to become a rebounding and shot blocking machine. His offensive game is limited, but he has a motor that does not quit and he gets to loose balls and offensive rebounds that most players either can not or lack the desire to.
If he can avoid letting his energy get him into foul trouble and can take better care of the basketball, Johnson will thrive in the Raptor system and will not remain an unknown talent for long.
(7): Julian Wright SF New Orleans Hornets
Wright is an athletic marvel, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound.
The question surrounding Wright has always been whether he can harness his raw abilities and become a consistent NBA player.
Wright is tall, lanky, capable of defending multiple positions, and has a good touch from mid-range, making him a nightmare to defend.
Byron Scott has handed him the keys to the small forward position this year and they are completely his to lose.
Wright has worked diligently in the offseason to improve his offensive game and he appears poised to have a breakout season.
Despite the lack of support in his first two seasons, his per-36 minute averages are 11.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 0.8 blocks per game.
Wright should easily be able to improve upon these numbers now that he will be the team's starter.
(6): Carl Landry PF Houston Rockets
Landry came into the league as nothing more than another second-round long shot.
He has since developed into a key contributor on a good team that gave the Lakers all they could handle in last year's playoffs.
With Yao Ming injured and out for the year, Landry has the opportunity to really let his talent shine.
Last year Landry had flashes of brilliance and despite some inconsistency, made some good progress from his rookie season.
His per-36 minute averages in 2008—2009 were 16.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks.
Landry has developed a nice 15—18 foot shooting touch and has an uncanny ability to beat his man off the dribble.
His defense leaves something to be desired, but he did show some signs of improvement over the course of the season.
He is very nimble for a big man and has great athleticism for a power forward.
Expect Landry to really step up big this year and bring his actual averages close to where his per-36 minute averages were last season.
(5): Brandon Rush SG Indiana Pacers
Toward the end of his rookie season, Rush displayed flashes of the type of player he can become.
While inconsistent for most of the year, in the last month Rush was nothing short of outstanding in averaging about 17 points per game.
He is an excellent slasher, has good range on his shot, has the strength and versatility to play some small forward, and is an efficient rebounder.
Landing the starting 2 guard job this year will allow Rush to get the touches he needs to put his talent on display.
He is a far better scorer than Dahntay Jones, the competition for the starting spot, but lacks the killer defensive instinct right now.
Rush will be one to watch this season. He should be good for at least 15 points a night.
(4): Jeff Green PF Oklahoma City Thunder
Green is one of the most valuable players on an up-and-coming team.
Not as heralded as Kevin Durant or even Russell Westbrook, his contribution is arguably just as important.
Green has the natural ability to drive to the basket, has an impressive outside touch for someone his size, (38.9 percent from three-point range last year), can play three different positions with success, and is a decent rebounder.
He is not a great interior defender at this point but is continually improving in this respect.
I see Green being a 16 PTS 9 REB 1.5 BLK per game type of player this year, and will only improve on these numbers in the upcoming seasons.
At 23, he still has time to reach his potential, which has to make Thunder fans optimistic about his future on this team.
He will always be in the shadow of Durant, but he has all the ability to grow into a Scottie Pippen type of player with an indispensable role on this team.
(3): Wilson Chandler SG New York Knicks
Chandler declared himself eligible for the 2007 NBA Draft after enjoying only a modest amount of success at De Paul.
The Knicks took him with the 23rd overall pick and he began to receive regular playing time late into his first season.
Since that point, Chandler has slowly been emerging as a potential All-Star and a cornerstone for the future of the Knicks' franchise.
Perhaps his greatest strength as a player is his impressive versatility.
Chandler is capable of doing almost anything on the basketball court. He is a good rebounder and defender. He is an above average passer and has the ability to score from long distance as well as inside the paint. His game has been compared to Shawn Marion’s and I can understand why.
He has struggled with his consistency, giving a lackluster effort one night and exploding for a superstar performance the next. With his surrounding cast slowly improving around him, I expect to see that consistency to improve along with his teammates.
Last year he put up decent numbers, (14.4 PTS, 5.4 REB, 2.1 AST, .97 BLK) but as he continues to find his way on the basketball court, expect those numbers to increase dramatically.
He will be good for 18-20 points a night this season, and I don’t expect him to remain unknown for long.
(2): Anthony Morrow SG Golden State Warriors
Morrow came out of nowhere last year as an undrafted free agent, and now might actually be the most potent scoring threat on a team full of scorers.
He is a lights—out shooter and last season he connected on a league leading 46.7 percent from three—point range. He also holds the NBA record for most points scored in their first NBA game, dropping 37 against the Clippers last year.
Morrow has been flat out going off in the preseason, leading the Warriors in scoring, shooting 55.7 percent from the field and 53.5 percent from downtown.
He will continue to light it up this season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up his average to 20 points a night. Keep an eye on this guy. He could be special.
(1): Marreese Speights C Philadelphia 76ers
Speights is emerging as the most talented big man on the 76ers roster.
He has an exceptionally soft shooting touch for his size to go along with good back-to-the-basket skills and impressive athletic ability.
Speights had a good rookie season with limited playing time, putting up 7.7 points, grabbing 3.7 rebounds, and blocking .71 shots per game.
If you project those numbers out to a per-36 minute average, his line would be around 17 PTS, 8 REB, and 1.5 BLK per contest. Not bad at all.
He will see much more playing time this season, and as a result will see his numbers improve significantly.
If Samuel Dalembert struggles again, and with the 76ers looking to go smaller this season, don’t be surprised if Speights jumps into the starting lineup next to Brand.
I see Speights capable of approaching a double-double average this season.