Dirk Nowitzki and the Most Underappreciated Player in Each Team's History

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2011

Dirk Nowitzki and the Most Underappreciated Player in Each Team's History

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots a free throw while taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 21, 2011 in Okla
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks are on their way back to the NBA Finals after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

    Dirk has been the best player in this postseason and is somehow just now starting to gain the kind of recognition that he's deserved for years.

    Millions did not appreciate how incredible of a player he is until these past few weeks.

    With that in mind, let's take a look at the most under-appreciated player in each organization's history...


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Atlanta Hawks: Kevin Willis

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    SEATTLE - NOVEMBER 5:  Kevin Willis #42 of the Atlanta Hawks is on the court during the game against the Seattle Sonics at Key Arena on November 5, 2004 in Seattle, Washington.  The Sonics won 106-85.    NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Most people know Kevin Willis as the journeyman who played for several different teams and well into his 40s.

    For the first nine seasons of his career, he was a staple in the Atlanta Hawks frontcourt, where he had some incredible seasons.

    He averaged a double-double during five of those years, including 18.3 points and 15.5 rebounds a game in 1991-92.

    For his career, Willis averaged over 16 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Boston Celtics: Tom Heinsohn

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    When you think of legendary Celtics, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and several others come to mind.

    One player who was an integral part of the first Boston dynasty but gets very little attention or appreciation for his work is Tom Heinsohn.

    He played nine seasons in the NBA and won eight titles during that span.  He averaged 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds during his career.

Charlotte Bobcats: Brevin Knight

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    BOSTON - NOVEMBER 08:  Brevin Knight #22 of the Charlotte Bobcats celebrates as he and his teammates force an overtime period against the Boston Celtics on November 8, 2006 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeated the Bobc
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Brevin Knight played all over the map for most of his career and didn't find a team he could thrive on until he landed with the Bobcats at the age of 29.

    During his three seasons in Charlotte, Knight played like a true point guard and averaged right around 10 points and eight assists a game.

Chicago Bulls: Dennis Rodman

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    1 Nov 1997:  Dennis Rodman #91 of the Chicago Bulls in action during the Bulls 94-74 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.   Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen deservedly get most of the credit for the Bulls last three championships.  But let's not forget how important Dennis Rodman was to those teams.

    During his three years with Chicago, Rodman averaged 15.3 rebounds a game.  As we all know, a possession isn't over until someone grabs a defensive rebound.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Larry Nance

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    Larry Nance played the second half of his NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he was a fantastic defender and a solid option around the rim on offense as well.

    During six-and-a-half seasons with the Cavs, he averaged 16.8 points and 2.5 blocks per game.

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki

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    OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 21:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts in the second quarter while taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 21, 201
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Everyone knows Dirk is the best player in Mavericks history, but he's underappreciated in a league-wide sense.

    His whole career, he's been overly criticized for being "soft" and not being able to perform in the clutch.  Both labels are completely wrong, and people are only now starting to realize that.

    During the playoffs, when the game is most physical, Nowitzki has averaged 25.9 points and 10.4 rebounds over 118 games.

Denver Nuggets: Dan Issel

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    1985:  Dan Issel of the Denver Nuggets lays the ball up during the Nuggets match against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart  /Allsport
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Dan Issel had some fantastic years with the Denver Nuggets.  In nine seasons with the team, he averaged 20.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game.

    His Player Efficiency Rating of 21.1 ranks him second in Nuggets history behind Larry Jones who played three seasons with the Denver Rockets.

Detroit Pistons: Grant Hill

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    12 Nov 1997: Forward Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons dribbles the ball down the court during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Pistons won the game 102-71.
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Before injuries derailed his career, Grant Hill was on his way to becoming one of the absolute best players in NBA history.

    He played for the Pistons for the first six years of his career and averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists a game.

Golden State Warriors: Nate Thurmond

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    Nate Thurmond isn't just underappreciated in Warriors lore.  He's one of the most underrated players in NBA history.

    He averaged 19 points and 17 rebounds a game as a Warrior.

Houston Rockets: Rudy Tomjanovich

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    Rudy Tomjanovich is appreciated as a head coach who won two titles with Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

    He was also an incredible player with the Rockets and doesn't get much credit for that.  From 1972 to 1979, he made five All-Star teams and averaged 19.9 points and 9.1 rebounds a game.

Indiana Pacers: Mel Daniels

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    Mel Daniels had some huge seasons as a member of the ABA's Indiana Pacers.  He averaged 19.4 points and 16 rebounds a game with Indiana.

    He was a staple at the ABA All-Star game in the 70s, landing on seven All-Star teams.  He also won three ABA titles.

Los Angeles Clippers: Ron Harper

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    1990-1991:  Guard Ron Harper of the Los Angeles Clippers in action. Mandatory Credit: Ken Levine  /Allsport
    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    For many, Ron Harper's career is defined by his years with the Bulls and Lakers when he ran the point in Phil Jackson's triangle offense.

    The five-time NBA champion was an elite wing player prior to joining Michael Jordan in Chicago.  He averaged 19.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals a game as a member of the Clippers.

Los Angeles Lakers: Happy Hairston

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    A lot like the Celtics, the Lakers have a long list of legendary players.  One who is often ignored is Happy Hairston.

    As a member of the Lakers, he averaged 15.2 points and 12.4 rebounds a game and won an NBA championship in 1972.

Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Bibby

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    10 Feb 2000:  Mike Bibby #10 of the Vancouver Grizzlies moves with the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Grizzlies defeated the Clippers 112-90.   Mandatory Credit: Jeff Gross  /Allspor
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Not a whole lot to choose from with this young franchise.  Mike Bibby is considered one of the best players in Grizzlies history, but his performance in Vancouver is probably still a bit undersold.

    He's seventh in franchise history in scoring at 14.7 points and first in assists at 7.8 a game.

Miami Heat: Glen Rice

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Glen Rice had his best seasons as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, but his work with the Heat is what's underappreciated.

    He spent his first six seasons in Miami where he averaged 19 points and five rebounds a game and hit 39 percent of his three-point attempts.

Milwaukee Bucks: Marques Johnson

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    During his seven seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marques Johnson made five All-Star teams and averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists a game.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05:  Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves against the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on March 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this P
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Last season, people were constantly suggesting that Kevin Love is actually overrated.  I completely disagree with those who feel that way.

    Love is already first in franchise history in rebounds per game despite playing less than 30 minutes a game for his career.

    He averaged 20.2 points and 15.2 rebounds a game last season and shot 42 percent from three-point range.

    I can't think of another rebounder who was this dominant and also had the ability to knock down threes consistently.

New Jersey Nets: Buck Williams

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    Buck Williams is the Nets franchise leader in both rebounds and rebounds per game.

    In eight seasons with New Jersey, Williams averaged 16.4 points and 11.9 rebounds a game.

New Orleans Hornets: Muggsy Bogues

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    1989-1990:  Guard Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues of the Charlotte Hornets in action with the ball. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn  /Allsport
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    What Muggsy Bogues accomplished in the NBA at his height is truly remarkable.  At 5'3", he was a full foot shorter than the prototypical point guard.

    He started 501 games for the Hornets and averaged 8.8 points, 8.8 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals a game with the organization.

    During the 1989-90 season, Bogues averaged 10.7 assists a game and in '93-'94 he averaged a double-double.

New York Knicks: Dave DeBusschere

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    Dave DeBusschere won two titles with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973.  The guys who get the most credit for those championships are Walt Frazier and Willis Reed.

    DeBusschere was a huge part of New York's success back then.  He averaged 16 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists a game over five-and-a-half seasons with the Knicks.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Brent Barry

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    2 Dec 2001:  Brent Barry #31of the Seattle SuperSonics dribbles the ball down the court during the game against the Indiana Pacers the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. The Sonics defeated the Pacers 99-88.  TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Brent Barry was significantly more talented than his numbers suggest.

    He was the kind of player who could have posted a lot more points and assists but willingly took on a lesser role to keep big-headed players like Gary Payton happy.

    He averaged 11.3 points, 4.6 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game and hit 43 percent of his three-pointers as a member of the Seattle Supersonics.

Orlando Magic: Scott Skiles

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    1990:  Guard Scott Skiles of the Orlando Magic lays up the ball as center Vlade Divac of the Los Angeles Lakers tries to block him during a game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.   Mandatory Credit: Ken Levine  /Allsport
    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    Scott Skiles is Orlando's franchise leader in free-throw percentage and assists per game.  In five seasons with the Magic, he averaged 12.9 points and 7.2 assists a game.

    On December 30, 1990, Skiles dished out 30 assists in one game.  30.

Philadelphia 76ers: George McGinnis

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    George McGinnis is best known for his days in the ABA with the Indiana Pacers, but he was very productive in the NBA as well.

    He averaged 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds a game with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Phoenix Suns: Jeff Hornacek

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - 1988:  Jeff Hornacek #14 of the Phoenix Suns shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during the game at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Jeff Hornacek spent his first two years in the NBA toiling on Phoenix's bench and learning the NBA game.  When they finally made him a starter for the 1988-89 season, he proved he was an elite combo guard.

    Over the next four years, Hornacek averaged 17 points, 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds a game.  He shot 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range over that period.

    He and Kevin Johnson made up the best backcourt combo in Suns history (yes, better than Nash and any shooting guard he's played with).

Portland Trail Blazers: Arvydas Sabonis

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    24 Feb 1999:  Arvydas Sabonis #11 of the Portland Trailblazers dribbles the ball during the game against the New Jersey Nets at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Trailblazers defeated the Nets 94-85.  Mandatory Credit: Al
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Arvydas Sabonis is third in Blazers history in Player Efficiency Rating behind Hall of Famers Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler.

    The 7'3" Lithuanian big man is considered by many to be one of the most underrated players in basketball history.

    He utterly dominated European professional basketball before coming to the NBA at the age of 31. He was an essential part of the Blazers success in the late 90s.

    Sabonis averaged 13 points and eight rebounds a game during his first six seasons with Portland.

Sacramento Kings: Mitch Richmond

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    26 Oct 1996:  Guard Mitch Richmond of the Sacramento Kings stands on the court during a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Ilinois.  The Bulls won the game 97-91. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Mitch Richmond spent the majority of his career in Sacramento where he was one of the league's best shooting guards for seven seasons.

    He averaged 23.3 points while shooting 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range with the Kings.  He also averaged 4.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game during that stretch.

San Antonio Spurs: David Robinson

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    2 Dec 1994:  Center David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs sinks the ball during a game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon.  The Spurs won the game, 95-91. Mandatory Credit: ALLSPORT USA  /Allsport Mandatory Credit:
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Tim Duncan is widely regarded as the best player in Spurs history.  That alone makes David Robinson underappreciated.

    I'm not saying Robinson is the better player, but it's a lot closer than most people think.  His athleticism as a 7'1" player was incredible, and that made him one of the most dynamic centers of all-time.

    He's second in Spurs history in points per game behind George Gerving, and that's even with the reduced role he took on after Duncan arrived.

    Consider his numbers prior to the 1997-98 season (Duncan's rookie year).  From 1989 to 1996, Robinson averaged 25.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 blocks, 3.1 assists and 1.7 steals a game.

Toronto Raptors: Jose Calderon

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    DENVER, CO - MARCH 21:  Jose Calderon #8 of the Toronto Raptors drives to the basket against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on March 21, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Raptors 123-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Jose Calderon is one of the most underrated distributors in the NBA today and the most underappreciated player in Raptors history.

    For his career (all with Toronto), he averages nine assists per 36 minutes.

    Plus, he holds the NBA/ABA record for the best free-throw percentage in an entire season.  He made 151 out of 154 attempts during the 2008-09 season (98.1 percent).

Utah Jazz: Mark Eaton

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    Center Mark Eaton of the Utah Jazz plays defense during a game.
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Mark Eaton spent his entire career where he was one of the best shot-blockers of all-time.  He led the league in four out of five years from 1984 to 1988.

    During that stretch, he averaged 8.9 rebounds, 7.7 points and 4.4 blocks per game.  During the  1984-85 season, he averaged 5.6 blocks a game.

Washington Wizards: Gus Johnson

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    Gus Johnson went to five All-Star games and averaged 17.4 points and 12.9 rebounds as a member of the Baltimore Bullets .

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    You can follow Andy Bailey on Twitter   @_Andy_Bailey