The NBA's Most Underrated Players of the Last 10 Years

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 29, 2022

The NBA's Most Underrated Players of the Last 10 Years

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

    There's no objective way to determine whether an NBA player is underrated, let alone a way to put them on a scale of underratedness.

    Lack of accolades or appreciation for their production certainly contributes. General sentiment of fans and media toward the player has to be considered, too. But again, determinations on all of those fronts is subjective.

    To find the most underrated players of the last 10 years (2012-13 through 2021-22), we sorted a list of every player from the decade to log at least 5,000 minutes by box plus/minus. Those who made significant contributions to winning teams without much fanfare were culled from the rest.

    Plenty of other players have arguments to be included here, but it's hard to imagine many stronger cases than the 10 below.

Enes Freedom

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    Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

    Much of the chatter on Enes Freedom's game has understandably revolved around his defense over the years. On that end of the floor, he's often looked slow-footed and struggled with more agile players on the perimeter.

    As is often the case with NBA discourse, overanalyzing one aspect of a player can cause people to lose sight of a lot of good. That's exactly what happened with Freedom.

    In the right role—a relentless post player and rebounder off the bench, like he was with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers—Freedom can be dominant for stretches.

    Over the last 10 years, he's averaged 19.9 points and 13.7 rebounds per 75 possessions. No one else in the league matched or exceeded both of those marks over the same stretch. He's also among the top 10 in NBA history in both career rebounding and offensive rebounding percentage.

    For all of the talk about his negative impact on defense, Freedom's general awareness on that end seems to be catching up to his ability to control the boards. Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, his teams were plus-6.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and only plus-2.6 with him off.

Danilo Gallinari

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    Giuseppe Cottini/Getty Images

    Danilo Gallinari missed all of the 2013-14 season with a torn ACL and struggled to look like his old self the next season while he shook off some rust. Since then, he has quietly performed like one of the league's best moneyball offensive players.

    Over the past 10 years, Gallinari ranked among the top 50 leaguewide in box plus/minus, ahead of All-Stars like Jrue Holiday and Pascal Siakam. When you narrow the timeframe down to his five-year peak (2015-16 to 2019-20), he averaged 18.8 points, 5.4 made free throws and 2.2 threes per game while shooting 39.6 percent from deep and 89.3 percent from the line.

    That was never good enough to earn Gallinari an All-Star nod or avoid criticism of his defense, but he generally had a positive impact. Over the last decade, his teams were plus-2.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and minus-1.0 when he was off.

    Gallinari had something of a Paul Pierce-like scoring arsenal that allowed him to somehow get to his spots without always being quicker than his matchup. He didn't waste a lot of time in the mid-range, and his ability to get threes up and draw trips to the free-throw line has kept his true shooting percentage above average in all but one season in his career.

    All of that has contributed to Gallinari being in the top 80 all-time in career offensive box plus/minus.

Rudy Gay

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    Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

    We'll briefly travel outside the bounds of the exercise for Rudy Gay, whose longevity has been underrated for years.

    Only seven players in league history match or exceed all of Gay's career totals for points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and threes (regular and postseason). He's been a consistent source of raw production for the past decade-and-a-half, even if his scoring wasn't terribly efficient.

    What's interesting about the last 10 years specifically is Gay's improvement as a multipositional defender who affects the bottom line for his teams.

    From 2006-07 through 2011-12, Gay's teams were minus-2.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. They were slightly better when he wasn't.

    From 2012-13 until now, the swing is dramatically different. During that stretch, his teams were plus-1.4 when he played and minus-1.8 when he didn't.

    Embracing life as a de facto 4, committing more fully to defense and shooting well enough from three to force opposing bigs away from the paint made Gay a distinctly positive player who's quite a bit different than he was early in his career.

Danny Green

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    Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    Danny Green is one of the NBA's best examples of raw numbers failing to tell the entire story.

    Since 2012-13, Green is tied for 254th in points per game, tied for 236th in rebounds per game and tied for 238th in assists per game. That's hardly "most underrated" material.

    But Green's game has always been about so much more than basic box-score numbers.

    Throughout the past decade, he's been one of the league's best perimeter and transition defenders. He worked in switch-heavy schemes or as a dedicated option to take on an opponent's top option.

    Unlike some other defensive aces from his era—think Tony Allen or Andre Roberson—Green was far from a minus on offense. He averaged 2.0 threes per game and hit 39.8 percent of his long-range attempts since 2012-13.

    Green is the epitome of the three-and-D archetype. No one in league history matches or exceeds both of his career marks for threes per game and defensive box plus/minus.

    It's a big part of why Green has three championships with three different organizations and why his teams have outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor over the past decade.

George Hill

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    Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

    From one player who cut his teeth with the San Antonio Spurs to another, George Hill's career didn't really blossom until he moved on from being Tony Parker's backup.

    Hill took over as the full-time starter for the Indiana Pacers in 2012-13. Over the next four seasons, the Pacers were ninth leaguewide in winning percentage.

    Like other players listed here, Hill's numbers don't leap off the screen. In those four years, he averaged only 12.8 points, 4.1 assists and 1.6 threes while shooting 37.7 percent from three. But his impact was undeniable.

    Indiana was plus-5.9 points per 100 possessions when Hill played across those four years and minus-0.4 when he didn't. He established himself as an ideal floor general for a team with a ball-dominant wing like Paul George.

    Hill didn't score a ton, but he didn't have to. Instead, he was willing to defer to George and David West, space the floor and play solid point-of-attack defense.

    In the 2016 offseason, Hill went to the Utah Jazz, where he upped his volume a bit and averaged a career-high 16.9 points per game while shooting 40.3 percent from deep. He's been a journeyman ever since.

    While Hill hasn't averaged double-figures since 2017-18, he remains a comfortably positive contributor everywhere he goes. In fact, he hasn't had a negative net rating swing since his second NBA season in 2009-10.

Joe Ingles

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    Jason Miller

    Allow me to introduce you to the Joe Ingles Club.

    Throughout his career, Ingles has a 59.9 true shooting percentage, a 21.2 assist percentage and a 1.8 steal percentage. The only other players to match or exceed all three marks with a minimum of 100 three-point attempts are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Magic Johnson, Nikola Jokic and John Stockton.

    The average Hall of Fame probability for the non-Ingles members of the club is 88.5 percent. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

    In all seriousness, Ingles leveraged all of the threes, assists and steals that led to those advanced numbers to great success with the Utah Jazz.

    During Ingles' eight seasons in Utah, the Jazz were seventh leaguewide in winning percentage. Their point differential was better when he was on the floor.

    At his peak, Ingles was good enough defensively to frustrate a star as good as Paul George. He showed an ability to run an offense as a primary playmaker. And he's in the top 25 all-time in career three-point percentage.

    Coming off an ACL tear, the 34-year-old is unlikely to secure any individual accolades for the rest of his career, but he's clearly had a high-level impact on winning since he entered the league.

James Johnson

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    Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

    James Johnson has never been a high-volume three-point shooter, but he produced with a different kind of Swiss Army knife-like versatility. He combined defense, playmaking and slashing in a way few others have during his career.

    Vlade Divac, Julius Erving and Kevin Garnett are the only players in league history who match or exceed all of Johnson's career marks for points (14.3), rebounds (6.6), assists (3.9), blocks (1.6) and steals (1.4) per 75 possessions.

    With his size (6'7" and 240 pounds) and athleticism, Johnson has been able to deploy that well-rounded production from either forward spot. He's even played a handful of possessions at the 5 in recent years.

    Johnson's ability to initiate offense, particularly when he was with the Miami Heat, helped make up for his struggles as a jump-shooter. Backing up highlight-reel finishing ability with those ancillary traits made him one of the league's most underrated role players.

Patty Mills

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    To be 13th in San Antonio Spurs history in win shares is no small feat. That's exactly where Patty Mills is on their franchise leaderboard.

    Much of that position was staked out from beyond the three-point line, where Mills hit 38.9 percent of his attempts as a Spur, but that's far from all he provides.

    Over the last 10 seasons, Mills has been one of the league's steadiest reserves, with averages of 9.6 points, 2.4 assists and 1.9 threes in only 21.8 minutes per game. His teams were plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions when he played and only plus-2.6 when he didn't during that stretch.

    Though Mills stands only 6'1", you can always count on him to at least compete on defense. If he didn't, he never would've become a staple of the Gregg Popovich-led Spurs.

Paul Millsap

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    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Paul Millsap spent much of the early portion of his career with the Utah Jazz as a rebounder and garbage man. His development from that to a big with point forward skills and the ability to guard three or four positions is one of the league's more underappreciated stories.

    Once he honed that game, he became a four-time All-Star for the Atlanta Hawks.

    To call a player with that many individual honors underrated may seem like a stretch, but Millsap's last 10 years were better than most realize.

    Over that span, Millsap totaled 8,958 points, 4,435 rebounds, 1,629 assists, 825 steals, 605 blocks and 523 threes. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen are the only other players in league history to amass those totals across any 10-year stretch, and Millsap was limited to only 140 appearances over the last three years.

    He truly did a little bit of everything for the Hawks and Denver Nuggets. He could post-up, create a little from the perimeter, hit threes, rebound and defend all over the floor.

    Those things weren't always flashy (though he did have some absurd dunks), but they were awfully helpful. Over the last 10 years, Millsap's teams were plus-4.1 points per 100 possessions when he played and minus-0.4 when he didn't.

Otto Porter Jr.

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    We'll round this out with another player who represents the three-and-D archetype well: recently crowned champion Otto Porter Jr.

    Injuries limited Porter to only 42 games across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns, but he showed he still has the defensive versatility and three-point range that made him a key rotation member during his 2022 title run with the Golden State Warriors.

    That combination secures him a spot here.

    Since entering the league in 2013-14, Porter has averaged 10.6 points, 1.3 threes and 1.1 steals in only 26.0 minutes per game. His career 39.8 three-point percentage is right outside of the top 50 all-time.

    While those numbers may not blow you away, they represent exactly the kind of gap-filling game that teams with high-volume guards like John Wall, Bradley Beal, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson need.

    Regardless of who he's played for, Porter has almost always moved the needle in the right direction. His teams are plus-2.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor compared to minus-1.9 when he's off.

    Unless noted otherwise, all stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead, PBP Stats or Cleaning the Glass.

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