NBA Power Rankings: The 10 Most Underrated Players in the Association
Scottie Pippen, one of the best basketball players to ever grace the NBA hardwood, said it best once when he claimed that "sometimes a player's greatest challenge is coming to grips with his role on the team."
I couldn't have said it any better myself, Scottie. There's always a place for the divas of the NBA, the All-Stars, and then there are those who just don't have a place in the spotlight. Whether they are good enough varies, of course, but there are players who just quietly get the job done, simple as that.
These players are what I like to call underrated or unnoticed. Pippen himself was largely underrated, and there are more just like him who are either overshadowed or just plain ignored.
With that in mind, here are the 10 most underrated players in the game right now.
Joseph Fafinski is a Featured Columnist for the NBA and the Minnesota Timberwolves. If you enjoyed his ramblings, you'll enjoy more third-person speak on his Twitter @JosephFafinski.
10. Kevin Martin
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What do LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Monta Ellis have in common? They're the only ones to average more points per game than Kevin Martin over the last five years (remember, Durant has only been in the league for four seasons).
That's a crazy statistic when you think about it.
It's a shame that we actually have to click "Kevin Martin (basketball)" on Wikipedia instead of being redirected to his page. It just doesn't make sense when you're dealing with a guy who is routinely a member of the league's points leaderboard.
He is one of the best pure scorers in the game hands down. His 38 percent career clip from downtown doesn't hurt his case, either.
9. Wesley Matthews
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My older brother Robert, who is currently serving our nation in Afghanistan via the United States Marine Corps, was a year ahead of Wesley Matthews academically at Marquette University. In 2005, Matthews, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal were a rising trio for the Golden Eagles.
Rob called me up one wintry day to talk Marquette basketball. Being the socially awkward sports geek, I of course was gushing over the crew's talents as a whole.
Rob, on the other hand, said something along the lines of "Wesley Matthews will become a star one day in the NBA, you just watch." I laughed and claimed it would be McNeal if anybody, and I hung up thinking he had just uttered the dumbest statement since Bill Clinton "did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Who's laughing now?
Anyways, the 24-year-old Matthews is a talented ballplayer on both sides of the hardwood. His defense, which is often overlooked, was spotlighted several times during the Blazers' postseason stay.
After LaMarcus Aldridge, who really is the most important player on Portland's roster?
Pundits everywhere might say Brandon Roy or Gerald Wallace. I'll take Matthews.
8. Luol Deng
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Other than LeBron, Durant and 'Melo, it's tough to try to name small forwards whose skills supersede that of Luol Deng's.
He's essentially a solid all-around player who doesn't get the attention he deserves.
He's a mortal lock to average 14 points and six boards over the course of a season. He hustles and gives 100 percent all the time. He plays world-class defense (in fact, while we're on the subject, Deng deserved the All-Defense Second Team selection over his Bulls teammate Joakim Noah). He's a solid ballplayer; there's really no way around it.
The 26-year-old Deng has been in the starting three in Chicago for seven years now. It's time to appreciate his hard work.
7. LaMarcus Aldridge
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I know, I know. You've read this slide about 20 times, haven't you?
Heck, if we were living in 2010, he'd be number one hands down. However, since there's been shiploads of talk regarding this subject, he'll have to settle at number eight.
And as if you've never heard the reason, here it is—LaMarcus Aldridge is the best all-around power forward in the league. He might not be the top dog of the position, but he does everything well so he has to be considered that title.
While he does need a little work crashing the boards, he can defend, score inside, reject Spaldings and lead like few out there. What's there not to like?
You take Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Amar'e Stoudemire; I'll take LaMarcus Aldridge. At least the word "defense" exists in LA's dictionary.
Try naming 15 players in the league better than Aldridge. You simply can't.
6. T.J. Ford
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Let me start off by saying this: T.J. Ford deserves a starting position in this league.
Uh-oh, I can see the angry mob on the horizon. This is like something straight out of A Bug's Life.
When given a chance in this league, Ford has routinely put up Tony Parker-esque numbers (14, three and six). If Ford cheated on his significant other, though, would ESPN be blowing up with headlines? No, sir.
I think it's about time someone gives this guy another chance to start in this league. It's not like he did anything to lose his original chances. I think Miami would be a perfect spot for him because he's comparable to incumbent Mario Chalmers. They're both solid defenders who can put up similar numbers.
The only difference? T.J.'s wasting away on the bench up in Indy while Chalmers starts in the NBA Finals. That's just unfair.
It's time to give T.J. Ford what he deserves.
You may now lower your pitchforks.
5. Gerald Wallace
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Gerald Wallace has been playing in the NBA for a decade and has made one All-Star appearance. Now that's a bigger joke than the O.J. Simpson murder verdict.
That number just doesn't do justice to what "Crash" has done during his time in the association. He has long been one of the league's most underrated players.
Wallace was the best player on the Charlotte Bobcats for the majority of his seven-year tenure, averaging better than 15 points and six rebounds each and every season post-'05. During his second campaign in the Queen City, Wallace bested two blocks and steals per game. That's just incredible. Scottie Pippen would be proud.
I guess he had to average double digits in boards just to get a look from the All-Star committee.
4. Ryan Anderson
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Ryan Anderson first got a chance to prove he was a vital member of the Magic back in November of '09 when Rashard Lewis was suspended. Unfortunately, he did not prevail.
Fast forward to a year later. In upping his playing time, the Magic got a taste of what could be for the future. The 23-year-old Anderson shot a prolific 39 percent beyond the arc while averaging 10.6 points per game and just under 16 per 36.
On a team that has the most vicious rebounding force since Tim Duncan, Anderson still managed to snag 5.5 boards in just under 23 minutes per game.
2011-12 will be a breakout season for Anderson if he gets more playing time. You can count on it.
3. Wilson Chandler
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To be completely honest, if I were a New York Knicks fan I'd be both devastated and livid with the outcome of the Carmelo Anthony trade.
In acquiring the flashy 'Melo, the Knickerbockers relinquished the talents of many, among them the very versatile Wilson Chandler.
There's not much to say about Chandler. He's fairly quiet but he gets the job done in all aspects. When the Nuggets faced the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, there were times when opposing superstar Kevin Durant was visually rattled by Chandler's stingy and effective defense. That's what the DePaul product is about, in a nutshell.
Toss in the fact that he's a solid offensive player and you've got yourself a player who has the potential to become a top-tier star in this league. It's just that nobody except Chandler (and I, of course) know this.
Denver needs to re-sign this free agent when the dreadful lockout comes to a close.
2. Tony Allen
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No ifs, ands or buts about it—Tony Allen was the league's best defensive shooting guard last season. I don't care if the plaque says Kobe Bryant was (and I am by no means a Kobe hater, I just hate dishonesty). Allen deserved that spot.
In just 20 minutes of playing time per game last season with the Grizz, the 6'4" Allen averaged 1.8 steals per game. That's a jaw-dropping stat when you realize he'd average nearly five per game if he played from start to finish.
He might only average just under nine points per game, but Allen's forte lies within the defensive aspect, as well as the hustle. Isn't the picture on the left a great enough connotation?
1. Arron Afflalo
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Arron Afflalo is the best player on the Denver Nuggets' roster. There, I said it.
He's one of the best on-ball defenders in the game, a hard-worker and a solid shooter.
And yet, for reasons unbeknownst to me, no one seems to care or notice.
February 10th, 2011 is a perfect defining moment for Afflalo's dominance. The Nuggets were down by 13 in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks. Afflalo simply made the final period his own, scoring 19 and capping the terrific comeback with a fade-away game-winning 20-footer at the buzzer. Nuggets 120, Mavericks 119.
Like Kevin Harlan said shortly afterward, "Arron Afflalo is an assassin!" Can we coin this term?
Arron "the Assassin" Afflalo? That's genius. It's a perfect nickname for a guy who deserves some respect as the most underrated player in the game.