NBA Free Agents 2011: 3 Most Underrated Players at Each Position
The 2011 free agency class does not contain the type of talent that the 2010 one boasted, but there are still some players within the pool capable of making significant contributions to numerous teams, and not just the top guys on the market.
Athletes like Jamal Crawford and David West headline this year's list of free agents, and are set to receive substantial paydays, but what about those players who sometimes go overlooked because of names like the former?
There are a number of free agents this summer who may not necessarily get all the credit they deserve, have an unrealized potential or have abilities that go relatively unnoticed. These are not players like Kenyon Martin, who is a long shot to resurrect his career, but players like Arron Afflalo or Mario Chalmers, who may not top, or even make an appearance, on a team's wish list.
Each position in this year's class has its share of unheralded players who deserve a little more attention than they typically receive.
Let's try to change this by taking a look at the three most underrated free agents at each position.
Point Guard: Patrick Mills
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Drafted late in the second round over two years ago, Patrick Mills has already exceeded expectations by getting any playing time, yet his worth and potential remain underrated.
In 64 games last season, Mills averaged 5.5 points and 1.7 assists in just over 12 minutes per night. His court vision is solid, as are his ball-handling skills and ability to protect the ball. He has struggled directing the offense in terms of leadership, but he has only been in the league for two seasons, and such things take some time.
Even by exceeding expectations, Mills is not peaking. As he progresses, he will learn how to attack the basket by using that quickness of his, as well as what it takes to draw the defense away from his teammates on the perimeter.
Additionally, Mills has a solid outside shot to go along with a quick release, which should allow him to excel at the pull-up jumper. His athleticism also makes him a competent defender, though his aptitude for keeping his adversaries out of the paint should increase as his knowledge of the game does.
Mills is young, and the fact that he was drafted so low may serve as a red flag for some teams or possibly serve as a barrier that keeps him from being noticed. Opposing teams are nowhere near the point of accounting for his talents in their game plan, but one day, they will have to be.
Will Mills ever be a starter? Probably not, but he seems poised to become a valuable role player. His resourcefulness and understanding of the game are only going to evolve.
While he may be a smart investment, not many are aware of his potential, which is why currently, he is underrated, outplaying a non-existent reputation.
Point Guard: Anthony Carter
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Forget that Anthony Carter is 36. Forget that he only averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 assists per game last season. Forget all that, and look at the intangibles he brings to the table in terms of leadership and experience and you will see why he is underrated.
Carter is not known for his offensive abilities, but he has improved his jump shot and added some range to his game over the course of time. He has a great basketball IQ and protects the ball like no one else.
Let's not forget about his defense either. He was pivotal in any kind of defensive success the New York Knicks had during the last half of the season. His ability to lock down top-tier scorers like Dwyane Wade is something that went overlooked by the Denver Nuggets and nearly went unnoticed in New York had he not spoken on his own behalf.
Carter is still agile for his age, and his never-say-die attitude makes him a top-notch defender—something a team can never have a surplus of. Furthermore, while his offense is not what makes him most valuable, he does make good decisions with the ball in his hands.
If a team is looking for an intelligent and capable role player at point guard, who brings veteran experience, leadership and a great attitude to the table, Carter, despite his age, would be a great fit.
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers
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The 25-year-old Mario Chalmers is one of the most underrated players on the market in general because the “big three” overshadow his talents.
Chalmers averaged 6.4 points, 2.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game last season. These are not very impressive numbers, but if we delve deeper, and go beyond the surface of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, we see that he is a more than capable player.
Chalmers is a streaky shooter, and he has the confidence to knock down big shots—he just doesn’t get the opportunity to do so. He also has quick hands, which allow him to get plenty of steals when he is on the floor. His defense is also more than passable.
Is Chalmers a starting-caliber point guard on another team? That’s debatable, but he rarely gets the credit he deserves in Miami. He is promising young player who may be better served playing out of the enormous shadows that James and Wade cast over him.
Shooting Guard: Shannon Brown
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Shannon Brown may never be a star, but he is a great role player who just hasn’t had the opportunity to emerge with the Los Angeles Lakers—a risk one runs playing behind Kobe Bryant.
That being said, Brown is actually capable of running the point, yet the Lakers saw it best to utilize the aging Derek Fisher.
Last season, he put up 8.7 points and 1.9 rebounds in less than 20 minutes per game. He is extremely athletic and has some serious hops to his game. He is also incredibly aggressive and has improved his outside game tremendously. His versatility would serve any number of other teams well.
Brown’s abilities are not unknown nor a foreign concept, but playing in Los Angeles for the last few years has hindered his development, as well as his opportunity to build a stronger reputation.
At only 25 though, we cannot discount his potential. He may just have to look elsewhere before we are able to fully realize it.
Shooting Guard: Nick Young
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Nick Young averaged 17.4 points per game last season, yet it’s a rarity that he receives any recognition for his offensive prowess.
Additionally, he is a restricted free agent this summer who doesn’t seem to be peaking many teams’ interest. This is simply puzzling because he can score with the best of them.
In addition to being a strong three-point shooter, Young has a lights-out mid-range game and a decent inside game. The fall-away jumper has also become a specialty of his.
Furthermore, his first step is incredible and he has an extremely quick release, making him extremely dangerous off the dribble.
Criticism that has followed Young throughout his career thus far is his devotion to defense and rebounding, but if you look closely, he has improved his defense. He tends to actually play defense with his feet now instead of merely just his hands.
Is there room for Young to improve? Of course, but he provides the type of instant offense Jason Richardson did in his prime, which is crucial and can be a part of any successful team concept. Young will never become Kobe Bryant, and that's okay, but currently, Jimmer Fredette receives more attention for his scoring abilities than Young, and he has yet to step foot on the court as an NBA player.
Young's production, specifically in terms of scoring, seems to suggest that he has a reputation as a prolific offensive athlete, yet defenses never seem to consider him a serious threat. He is rarely double-teamed and is left open all-too-often for the opposition's own good.
Points come in bunches for Young, but unfortunately, respect does not.
Shooting Guard: Arron Afflalo
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You would be hard-pressed to find a player on the market this summer, and perhaps the entire league, who is more underrated than Arron Afflalo.
Afflalo averaged 12.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for the Denver Nuggets, coming up especially big once Carmelo Anthony was shipped to New York. He is a consistent shooter who can also take the ball to the rack, though he needs to be more aggressive in doing so. His ability to move without the ball is also very impressive.
At only 25, Affalo has a lot left in him as well as a lot of untapped potential. His deadly shooting coupled with his work ethic make him one of the best role players in the league. And did I forget to mention his defense? He is a superb one-on-one defender and rolls over screens with the utmost of ease.
Maybe it's the fact that Afflalo has not played for a relevant team in a bigger market thus far. Maybe it's the fact that he has been on teams with a bona fide superstar who commands all the attention. Maybe it's the fact that no one takes him seriously just yet.
Whatever it is, his play cannot be kept a secret or go unnoticed for much longer; Afflalo will not be one of the most underrated players in the NBA for long. Great basketball is headed his way, and it would be wise if teams in need of a shooting guard got on his bandwagon.
Small Forward: Shawne Williams
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To the surprise of New York Knicks fans, and the general basketball population, Shawne Williams became an integral part of the team's rotation, establishing himself as a dependable player who was always ready to play.
Williams averaged 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game during a season he was hardly expected to taste. He also shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc, a more than impressive statistic that ranked him among the best in the league. After a while, it was puzzling why opposing defenses allowed him to stay open so much. Once he got in a rhythm, he was unstoppable from the outside.
Everyone thought Williams' NBA days were over, but he proved the majority wrong. He matured, came back and worked hard until he cracked the Knicks' regular rotation. He has good size for his position and a great mid-range game to go along with his outside shooting that caught Mike D'Antoni's attention early on.
Additionally, Williams' defense is one of the most underrated aspects of his game. He is not known for being especially athletic, but he plays tough, physical defense that has proved effective against a lot of bigs in the league.
Before last season, Williams was an afterthought—just another athlete gone tragically wrong. Now though, he has shed the tragic failure label and proved that he is continuously improving and capable of making major contributions.
It seems that most have not realized it yet, though.
Small Forward: Shane Battier
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After 10 years in the NBA, it is hard to believe that the 33-year-old Shane Battier has remained as underrated as he has.
Battier was never the best of players, but his work ethic combined with his basketball IQ made him a force to be reckoned with on the court. Over his career, he has proven to be a phenomenal defender, solid rebounder, capable scorer and tremendous leader.
Last season, Battier averaged 7.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and one block per game, numbers that won't dominate headlines, but solid nonetheless. He is not especially known for his offense, but he has a decent post-up game and can be lethal from beyond the arc—specifically from the corner.
A defensive mindset though, is what has built Battier a reputation for being a workhorse. That being said, his reputation is completely underrated; the completeness of his game is not mentioned nearly enough.
Though Battier is now 33, he will still prove to be valuable to any number of interested teams. He is a player who thrives under pressure yet commands no spotlight.
That's what makes him unique, yet is also why he is rarely given the credit he deserves.
Small Forward: Thaddeus Young
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Possibly because Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand command so much attention, Thaddeus Young has gone relatively unheralded during his four years thus far in the NBA.
Last season, Young averaged 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds, right in line with his career numbers. He has an impressive wingspan to go along with incredible athleticism and strength, and this makes him very dangerous.
Though his three-point shooting was subpar last season, he does have some range to his repertoire, but it is his inside game that he will ride to eventual fame. His ball-handling skills are great for someone his size, and this combined with his strength allow him to penetrate traffic and get to the basket consistently.
It is unlikely the Philadelphia 76ers let the restricted free agent walk, especially given that Iguodala's and Brand's futures are so uncertain, but also because they have a bird's eye view of what a lot of people have failed to notice: Young's star potential.
Will he ever be an All-Star? We do not know for sure, but at only 23, he is still developing and has the potential to be; Young is versatile enough to make some serious noise in the league one day.
For now though, his name remains understated and his game underrated.
Power Forward: Josh McRoberts
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As we move ahead to the power forward position, we must take a look at the 24-year-old Josh McRoberts.
McRoberts averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in barely 20 minutes per game last season for the Indiana Pacers. He is a very athletic big man whose ball-handling skills are incredibly surprising. His low-post game is also solid as he uses that impressive wingspan of his to find a way to put the ball in the basket.
While McRoberts must be a lot more consistent on the defensive end, he is a very good shot-blocker and rebounder. Young players like him do not always generate a lot of hype, but his defensive efforts have generated very little, and he deserves at least some.
McRoberts has the tools to become a very successful forward in the league and is certainly a player we should keep our eye on moving forward. That being said, it is unclear whether or not he will ever get the amount of attention he so rightly deserves.
His lack of exposure, though, could prove to be another team's gain this offseason.
Power Forward: Kris Humphries
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Kris Humphries sure gets a lot of attention off the court now that he is married to Kim Kardashian, but his on-the-court efforts are rarely so heralded—not for lack of entitlement.
Humphries averaged 10 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for the New Jersey Nets last season. He has a strong body that he effectively uses to box out opposing players in order to grab a board, especially on the offensive end off of botched shots.
Additionally, Humphries is an overall solid defender. He can block shots and uses his strength to keep other bigs further out from the basket.
When it comes to offense, Humphries is no star, but he has a passable low-post game and is good for 10 or more points a night. Some may feel his stats were bolstered on a lowly Nets team, but the reality is that the 26-year-old is only just beginning.
As his career progresses, expect for the power forward to routinely average a double-double, grinding out rebounds in the paint and preventing opposing big men from walking all over his respective team.
Though his ability to be an impact player is clearly there, it is unclear whether or not he will ever get the credit his talent deserves. He is the type of player, the type of workhorse, albeit unfortunately, who may be apt to make a list like this for seasons to come.
Power Forward: Carl Landry
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Carl Landry spent time in the shadows of two prolific power forwards last season in DeMarcus Cousins and David West, but managed to quietly have himself a solid season all the same.
Landry averaged 11.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, making an impact the way he always does. He is slightly undersized for his position at 6'9", but that does not prevent him from getting his share of points in the paint. However, should that fail, he has a nice mid-range game in his arsenal.
Defensively, Landry is somewhat restricted, but it is more due to his lack of size rather than lack of effort. That being said, he is still a decent rebounder and is not afraid to get physical down low.
Landry is a fierce competitor with an anything but fierce reputation, standing as a true representation of what can happen to role players. He is by no means lost in the shuffle, but his versatility and hard work do not generate nearly as much buzz as one would expect.
Teams that are searching for a capable inside player to provide a spark off the bench, or even to round out a starting lineup, would be doing themselves a great disservice should they fail to take a look at Landry.
As far as this year's free agency class is concerned, Landry's talents are severely undervalued.
Center: Alexis Ajinca
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Alexis Ajinca hasn't really made much of a name for himself in his three seasons in the NBA, yet at only 23 and standing at 7'2", he can be quite the impact player.
Ajinca only appeared in 34 games last season, averaging 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game during this limited action. He is not so much underrated in his production, but his potential. He is a very good shot-blocker, and while he played only 10 minutes per game last season, he averaged over a half a block per night.
Also, he is a ferocious rebounder, as someone his size should be, but his willingness to crash the glass in limited playing time is admirable. Furthermore, even for his size, he has an incredible wingspan, which should aid him an every facet of the game.
If Ajinca packs on some muscle, he could become the player that Andrew Bynum is thought to be but has yet to emerge as. The similarities between the two go beyond height. Like Bynum, Ajinca has a soft shooting touch, but possesses substantial power—he just has to learn how to combine the two. And like Bynum, he is a superb defender.
The main difference between the two is that Ajinca has not really had the opportunity to showcase his talents. He has spent a large part of his career buried on teams that have centers by the names of Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani. It's tough to get some burn with proven players like that leading the way.
Ajinca may be unproven, but he has the tools to make a serious contribution on the court, and his numbers just cannot do him justice, which is probably why he has not created a better reputation for himself in terms of potential.
Big men tend to boast overrated reputations, but Ajinca has to be one of the tallest understatements the league has seen.
Center: Kurt Thomas
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The 38-year-old Kurt Thomas has spent 16 seasons in the NBA and he rarely receives the credit for being the versatile workhorse that he is.
Thomas averaged 4.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game last season. He moves up and down the court very well for someone his age, and his mid-range corner jump shot is still money to this day.
Thomas gets the most recognition for his defense, but even that is understated. He is undersized for his position, but he is as aggressive as anyone. His fearlessness has allowed him to defend even the biggest, most dominant low-post players over the years (just ask Shaquille O'Neal). His rebounding is also another reason to give him a second look.
For an athlete who has spent the last 16 years getting banged up down low, Thomas has proved to be relatively durable. Sure, his best days are behind him, but he is still more than capable of making a serious impact—especially on defense.
Thomas has been underrated his entire career, and at this point that will never change, but he may prefer it that way. He has gained the respect of reputable players without the flashy demeanor. Despite this respect from fellow athletes though, critics always tended to consider him soft, but in reality, he is anything but a pushover.
Thomas is an extremely combative athlete who will grind out every rebound and every loose ball that comes his way. Don't underestimate his capacity to continue to give a team quality minutes.
Because at this point, most already have.
Center: Spencer Hawes
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Spencer Hawes is probably the most underrated starting center in the entire NBA.
Last season, he averaged 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, numbers that don't exactly stand out, but he barely averaged 20 minutes of playing time per night, even though he started 81 games for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hawes is a very skilled offensive player, with ball-handling skills unlike any other player who is listed at 7'1". His post-up game could use some tweaking, but as previously mentioned, his above average ball-handling skills allow him to create for himself when facing the basket.
Additionally, Hawes is a stellar defender. Given quality minutes, he could be good for at least 1.5 blocks per game. His rebounding is also sound, and even though he has drawn criticism for shying away from contact, he could easily average 10 boards per game with more playing time.
At only 23, Hawes is entering his fifth season in the NBA, and you better believe we haven't heard the last of him. Well, given how underrated he is, you may not have heard of him at all. But that will eventually change.
For now, Hawes remains one of the most underrated centers in the game, but for those who have watched him play and seen what he is capable of, this is a label that is not going to stick.
Follow Dan Favale on Twitter here @DannyFavs2033.