The Most Underappreciated Player on Every NBA Team This Season

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2015

The Most Underappreciated Player on Every NBA Team This Season

0 of 30

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    The stars may be in the commercials and leading the league in points, rebounds and assists, but it's often the underappreciated players who act as the engines for NBA teams.

    To find the guys who don't get the credit they deserve from national media and casual fans, looking at numbers that don't show up in traditional box scores is key.

    The major statistical outlets that track the NBA have different ways of measuring impact. has net rating and player impact estimate. ESPN has player efficiency rating and real plus-minus. And Basketball-Reference has win shares and value over replacement player.

    Each of those metrics has merit, but net rating was the primary measure in this piece because of its relative simplicity. It's the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions while an individual player is on the floor.

    It wasn't, however, the only stat used to decide the most underappreciated player on each NBA team. Some guys have a significant impact through just one or two well-developed skills. From three-point shooting and rebounding to defense and everywhere in between, there are numbers that can help us gauge it all.

Atlanta Hawks: Kyle Korver

1 of 30

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Kyle Korver made his first All-Star team (albeit as an injury replacement), and his quest for a 50-50-90 campaign is getting a decent amount of national attention.

    But how many people look at Korver as the single-most impactful player on the Atlanta Hawks? 

    MeasureKorver's Rank Among Hawks
    Net Rating2nd
    Real Plus-Minus1st
    Win Shares4th
    Value Over Replacement Player3rd

    Because he's shooting 49.2 percent from three-point range and is so good at moving without the ball, Korver manipulates opposing defenses in a way almost no one else can. His mere presence on the floor takes significant attention away from the other four Hawks, making their jobs easier.

    The overall impact presents in the fact that the Hawks average a team-high 110.7 points per 100 possessions when Korver plays and just 96.3 when he sits. The difference of 13.8 points is the largest spread of any Hawk.

Boston Celtics: Tyler Zeller

2 of 30

    Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    Thanks to a number of trades, the Boston Celtics have suited up 22 different players this season. Eleven different players have started games. 

    Some inconsistency was inevitable with that much roster turnover. So finding Boston's most underappreciated player had a lot to do with finding consistency in the midst of it.

    Tyler Zeller may not be the kind of rim protector a lot of teams want in the middle, but he's been a steady source of production for Boston in an unsteady season, leading the team with 4.5 win shares.

    Some may point to his dip in efficiency following the loss of Rajon Rondo (he shot 63.6 percent before the deal and is shooting 51 percent ever since), but he's still first in field-goal percentage among Celtics who appeared in at least 10 games in both of those time frames.

Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams

3 of 30

    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Deron Williams is having his worst season since his rookie campaign, averaging just 13.2 points and shooting a career-low 38.2 percent from the field.

    Given his lack of production and the size of his contract, Williams has been a scapegoat for the Nets' problems over the last two seasons.

    He's even placed the blame on himself. After a December loss to the Toronto Raptors, Williams said, via the New York Post's Tim Bontemps:

    I’m down every time we lose, and especially when I’m not making the plays we need to...

    I’ve just got to play better. That’s why I’m down. I’m not down because of anything about the team. I’m just down because I need to play better personally for my team to have a chance to win.

    Several numbers would suggest he's not Brooklyn's problem, though. 

    Among Nets who've played at least 1,000 minutes, Williams' net rating of minus-0.7 is best. And the offense scores 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions when he's on the bench.

Charlotte Hornets: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

4 of 30

    Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

    The Charlotte Hornets (then Bobcats) made a surprising run to the playoffs in 2013-14 that was largely credited to Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. But their turnaround was all about an improved defense that is significantly better when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is on the floor.

    Last season, his defensive rating of 98.8 was first among Bobcats who appeared in at least 30 games. This season, he's at 94.8, which is first without any qualifiers.

    At the Hive's Chris Barnewall believes Kidd-Gilchrist has been good enough to garner Defensive Player of the Year consideration:

    Kidd-Gilchrist might be 21 years old, but he's already the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and the anchor to a top 10 defense. His efforts alone have raised the Hornets from a bottom half defense, to the best defense in the NBA since January. He does just as much, if not more, than any big man, and it's time to recognize this.

    Even if Kidd-Gilchrist's box-score numbers of 10.8 points and 7.6 rebounds don't jump off the screen, his defensive impact (which is always less glamorous than the other side of the ball) makes him one of the Hornets' most important players. 

Chicago Bulls: Mike Dunleavy

5 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Much like Korver does for the Hawks, Mike Dunleavy has the ability to manipulate a defense with his mere presence on the floor. 

    In a lineup that generally features non-shooters in Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, Dunleavy's outside shooting forces defenses to be cognizant of the three-point line.

    The evidence of this is in his team-leading three-point percentage of 41.6 and the fact that his net rating of plus-3.9 is second only to Rose (plus-4.0) among Bulls starters.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Timofey Mozgov

6 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    It's no surprise that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are the Cleveland Cavaliers who get the bulk of the media's attention, but midseason acquisition Timofey Mozgov may be just as responsible for the team's surge from 19-20 to their current record of 40-25.

    He leads the Cavs in net rating at plus-14.3, over four points better than LeBron's 10.1. And Mozgov's defensive rating of 98.8 is over five points better than the team rating of 104.

    Chris Fedor of the Northeast Ohio Media Group wrote about Mozgov's defensive presence following a March 7 victory over the Phoenix Suns:

    He was also one of the main reasons the Cavs held Phoenix to 28 percent shooting through the first three quarters. Without a talented post presence, Mozgov was able to freelance on defense and camp near the rim. Each time Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe got near the basket they were forced to pass or attempt a difficult floater.

    It's his size and willingness to crowd the paint that have turned around Cleveland's defense, and by extension, its season.

Dallas Mavericks: Al-Farouq Aminu

7 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Every Dallas Maverick's pre-Rajon Rondo trade net rating is higher than their post-Rondo trade rating. The one player who seems to be making hay in a difficult situation is Al-Farouq Aminu.

    Granted, his net rating dropped from 9.0 to 7.9, but he's still first among Mavericks who've played at least 100 minutes since the deal.

    Aminu has survived the transition because the things he does best don't require the ball, which Rondo has dominated at times.

    The energy he brings defensively and on the boards provides a huge spark for the Mavs, so much so that Dirk Nowitzki has compared him to Shawn Marion, per's Bobby Karalla:

    I mean defensively, he’s almost like (Shawn Marion). He can guard one through five, really. He’s probably guarded every position so far. He’s long, he’s quick enough, he’s got unbelievable timing on his shot blocking, he’s a great rebounder for his size with his long arms. Just his activity is there.

    As Dallas continues to implement Rondo into its system, Aminu's one-size-fits-all game will help bridge the gap.

Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson

8 of 30

    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Ty Lawson is unquestionably the Denver Nuggets' best player, but he still may not be getting the credit he deserves as one of the league's best point guards.

    For starters, only two other players in the NBA average as many points and assists as Lawson:

     Per Game 
    Chris Paul10.12.318.511.3
    John Wall10.13.717.06.2
    Ty Lawson9.82.516.06.2
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Among those three players, Lawson's win shares constitute the highest percentage of his team's wins, at 28.1 percent.

    For him to have such a productive season, while everything around him has been crumbling for the better part of two months, is pretty impressive.

Detroit Pistons: Anthony Tolliver

9 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Stan Van Gundy's system with the Orlando Magic was predicated on surrounding Dwight Howard with four shooters, including both forwards. So it's little wonder the Detroit Pistons' forward rotation that included Josh Smith and Greg Monroe struggled for efficiency.

    The key may be Anthony Tolliver, who's fourth on the Pistons in net rating at plus-2.8 and first in true shooting percentage at 53.8.

    Tolliver's three-point percentage of 36.8 doesn't scream Magic-era Rashard Lewis, but it's still a significant improvement over the floor-spacing abilities of Monroe and Andre Drummond.

    Pairing him with either of those big men allows them better opportunities to face defenders one-on-one in the post.

Golden State Warriors: Harrison Barnes

10 of 30

    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Harrison Barnes is about as solid a fourth or fifth option as any in the league, shooting a ridiculous 42.9 percent from three-point range, good for fifth in the NBA.

     Per GameShooting
    Kyle Korver12.4.488.476.492
    Eric Gordon13.2.414.381.455
    Courtney Lee10.5.465.484.432
    Klay Thompson21.7.458.479.430
    Harrison Barnes10.3.490.520.429
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Warriors coach Steve Kerr's decision to deploy Barnes as a three-point specialist on offense has paid off, as Golden State scores 2.4 more points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.

    "This is exactly what I hoped for, and I can't say that with everybody," Kerr told reporters toward the end of February, per Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.

Houston Rockets: Terrence Jones

11 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    He's only appeared in 19 games, but Terrence Jones has the best net rating on the Houston Rockets. And it's really not close.

     Net RatingOffensive RatingDefensive Rating
    Terrence Jones10.6107.897.1
    Dwight Howard6.9104.397.4
    James Harden6.8107.1100.3
    Josh Smith5.8103.898.0
    Corey Brewer5.1104.099.0

    Weak-side shot blocking is one of the reasons Houston's defense is so solid when Jones is on the floor. His athletic ability allows him pick up guards who blow by James Harden or Patrick Beverley, or helps come out of nowhere to block a big man bogged down in the post with Donatas Motiejunas.

    He leads the Rockets in both blocks per game (2.0) and block percentage (5.5). Even Dwight Howard isn't close to him in the latter department.

Indiana Pacers: Lavoy Allen

12 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Thanks in part to the loss of starting wings Lance Stephenson and Paul George, the Indiana Pacers' offensive rating of 99.7 is tied for 25th in the NBA. But when Lavoy Allen plays, it's 102.7, a number that would rank in the top half of the league.

    The only Pacers with higher individual offensive ratings than Allen are Shayne Whittington and George Hill, who've played 19 and 23 games, respectively.

    Allen's ferocity on the offensive boards accounts for the increased efficiency, as Indiana is able to get two or three extra possessions each game due to that alone.

    His offensive rebounding percentage of 13.0 is first on the Pacers and has him tied for eighth in the NBA among players who qualify for Basketball-Reference's rebounding leaderboard.

Los Angeles Clippers: Matt Barnes

13 of 30

    Harry How/Getty Images

    Chris Paul and Blake Griffin may be the guys in all the national ad campaigns. DeAndre Jordan is who Doc Rivers wants to win Defensive Player of the Year. But the real hero of the Los Angeles Clippers might just be Matt Barnes.

    Among Clippers who have played at least 100 minutes, Barnes ranks first in net rating at plus-10.9. That's right, he's ahead of Paul, Griffin and Jordan.

    Now, a lot of that has to do with Barnes playing significant minutes with the starting five, but his combination of outside shooting and defense deserves praise.

    His defensive rating of 102.4 is tops among Clippers starters, and his three-point percentage of 36.9 is enough to make his defenders cautious of cheating off him to help with Paul drives or pick-and-rolls.

Los Angeles Lakers: Ed Davis

14 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Wrap your head around this if you can: Ed Davis leads the Los Angeles Lakers in player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, rebounding percentage, block percentage and win shares, yet he is seventh in minutes per game.

    1Ed Davis19.6.60416.84.313.95.1
    2Carlos Boozer17.2.52815.50.623.32.4
    3Jeremy Lin15.7.5435.41.321.02.3
    4Jordan Hill16.3.49915.92.422.32.0
    5Wesley Johnson11.6.5237.31.715.71.7
    6Wayne Ellington12.6.5267.
    7Nick Young14.3.5205.20.926.01.2
    8Jordan Clarkson15.2.5206.30.621.71.0
    9Robert Sacre11.1.44811.
    10Ronnie Price10.2.4553.80.313.30.7
    11Tarik Black13.4.57816.32.513.40.5
    12Kobe Bryant17.7.4779.00.534.80.2
    13Ryan Kelly6.4.4517.71.013.9-0.1
    14Xavier Henry4.9.4242.50.013.7-0.1
    15Julius Randle-7.5.2580.00.015.5-0.1
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Sure, playing against reserves and having a low usage rate lends itself to increased efficiency, but there's too much noise there to ignore.

    His effort and energy on the floor are, at times, a stark contrast to the rest of his Lakers teammates. That should earn him some extra appreciation and a decent payday in free agency this summer, as he has a player option for the 2015-16 season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Tony Allen

15 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Mike Conley is the one who shows up on lists of the league's most underrated players, Marc Gasol will be one of the hottest free agents on the market in the summer, and Zach Randolph is one of just 10 players in NBA history to average 16 points and 11 rebounds at age 33 or older.

    But the Memphis Grizzlies wouldn't have "Grit-n-Grind" without the Grindfather himself, Tony Allen, whose defense and overall energy is the engine of this team.

    With the exception of JaMychal Green, who's played a total of 21 minutes all season, Allen's net rating of plus-9.6 leads the Grizzlies. And the defense gives up 8.8 more points per 100 possessions when he sits on the bench.

    The reason for the disparity is Allen's tenacious on-ball defense, which can be sent at any team's top wing or guard. On the season, he's holding opponents to 36.6 percent shooting, or 7.8 percent below their average.

Miami Heat: Luol Deng

16 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Much like the Celtics, the Miami Heat have had a load of players see the floor this season—21, to be exact. One of the only constants has been small forward Luol Deng.

    Among Heat players who've been on the floor for at least 300 minutes, Deng's net rating of plus-1.8 trails only Hassan Whiteside, who would be a candidate for this distinction as well, if not for the "Hassanity" that has accompanied his play.

    Deng may not have a hashtag dedicated to him, but that hasn't impacted his dedication to the team. He's played in 54 games (only Mario Chalmers has suited up for more) and his defense has helped Miami stay in the playoff hunt.

    He's currently holding his opponents to 42.7 percent shooting, which is 2.3 percent below their average.

Milwaukee Bucks: John Henson

17 of 30

    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    After being picked in the lottery of the 2012 draft, John Henson's career has stalled a bit thanks to the dreaded "tweener" tag.

    Bucksketball's Nick Whalen wrote about the dilemma:

    Henson has been an enigma, of sorts, over his first two-and-a-half NBA seasons, with four different coaches attempting to answer the riddle of whether he’s a power forward or a center (and whether he’s left, right, both or neither-handed). As of late-February, we’re still without a definitive answer to the former, but the pendulum is beginning to swing heavily toward center.

    As positionless basketball continues to become vogue in the NBA, the designation of a tweener will be less important. What a player actually does should count for more.

    And with Henson, his elite ability to protect the rim deserves more credit and should be a vehicle to more consistent playing time.

    Among players who qualified for Basketball-Reference's blocks leaderboard, Henson's block percentage of 8.7 leads the NBA.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Martin

18 of 30

    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Much like Randolph, Kevin Martin is providing a level of production that's quite rare for a player of his age.

    Just 14 players in NBA history have been able to manage Martin's numbers—at least 20 points on 44 percent shooting and 38 percent from three—at age 31.

    Dirk Nowitzki20102014DAL3
    Larry Bird*19881992BOS2
    Karl Malone*19962001UTA2
    Mitch Richmond*19971998SAC2
    World B. Free19861986CLE1
    George Gervin*19841984SAS1
    Allan Houston20032003NYK1
    Dan Issel*19821982DEN1
    Michael Jordan*19961996CHI1
    Kevin Martin20152015MIN1
    Reggie Miller*19971997IND1
    Hakeem Olajuwon*19941994HOU1
    Paul Pierce20092009BOS1
    Ricky Pierce19911991TOT1
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Martin may not be a part of the Minnesota Timberwolves' future that includes Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng, but he's been one of the league's quietest but steadiest volume scorers for nearly a decade. His experience, in combination with Kevin Garnett's, could go a long way toward molding the younger players.

New Orleans Pelicans: Jimmer Fredette

19 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Ever since New Orleans Pelicans floor general Jrue Holiday went down with a stress reaction, the front office has scoured free agency and the waiver wire looking for someone to back up Holiday's replacement at the point, Tyreke Evans.

    They signed and released both Nate Wolters and Toney Douglas, and at the trade deadline, they acquired Norris Cole from the Miami Heat. All three instantly leap-frogged Jimmer Fredette on the depth chart the day they arrived in town.

    On the surface, that makes sense. Fredette is averaging just 3.7 points and is mired in an almost inexplicable shooting slump. The career 38.1-percent three-point shooter has made just 8-of-45 attempts this season (17.8 percent).

    But when you dig a little deeper, the decision to turn the backup point guard's spot into a revolving door of 10-day contracts and trade-deadline salary dumps is curious, at best.

    The only player who's taken time from Fredette this season and was more efficient was Toney Douglas. And his numbers are subject to sample-size criticism, given that he only played 66 minutes in New Orleans.

    PlayerAgePER ▾TS%AST%STL%TOV%
    Toney Douglas2817.0.51128.13.215.9
    Jimmer Fredette2510.5.48016.91.412.9
    Austin Rivers2210.1.47216.71.210.6
    Norris Cole268.8.47920.70.916.1
    Nate Wolters233.6.31614.81.527.1
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Further, you can argue that Fredette's slump may not be as pronounced as it is had he been given a consistent role and a chance to find a rhythm. In the five games in which he played over 20 minutes, he averaged 11.2 points and shot 54.1 percent from the field.

    And what about the old argument that playing Fredette instantly craters a defense? Well, that's not true either. His net rating of plus-3.9 is second on the team among players with at least 400 minutes. Only Anthony Davis is better. And his defensive rating of 103.3 is better than the team rating of 105.1.

New York Knicks: Lou Amundson

20 of 30

    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    If you have a better idea for this one, I'm all ears. In the meantime, here's Lou Amundson, who's somehow survived the complete roster teardown of the New York Knicks.

    How, you ask?

    Well, let Derek Fisher explain, per Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

    I appreciate and respect it very much having played against Lou for a long time and now having an opportunity to coach him. There’s a level of humility and integrity that makes everybody want to pull for Lou and want him to succeed, to be on as many teams as he’s been on and to continue not to accept no for an answer.

    Every time he gets a chance to put on a jersey, just goes all-in and he’s willing to go through a brick wall for himself and for his team. Things changed a lot since he’s been here. It’s great to have guys like that.

    That attitude toward the game has helped Amundson average 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds for the Knicks in just 23.0 minutes per game.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Mitch McGary

21 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Enes Kanter has gotten a lot of the attention since the trade deadline, but he may not be the Oklahoma City Thunder's best option at the 5.

    Of the three centers currently on the roster—Kanter, McGary and Steven Adams—Kanter's defensive rating of of 104.4 ranks third.

    McGary's defensive rating of 101.5 is just two-tenths of a point worse than Adams', and the rookie big man from Michigan has the edge over everyone in terms of available rebounds snagged while on the floor. His rebounding percentage of 18.0 leads OKC.

Orlando Magic: Tobias Harris

22 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    With the dynamic backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo and a budding star in Nikola Vucevic, the Orlando Magic have a lot of young, developing talent.

    But it may be the unsung "veteran" of the group who deserves a little more love. Twenty-two-year-old Tobias Harris is second on the Magic in rebounding at 6.4 per game and third in scoring at 16.8 points.

    He possesses the ability to stretch the floor as well, as he's shooting 36.9 percent from three-point range.

    At such a young age, Harris still has plenty of time to develop, making him an intriguing piece of the core Orlando has in place.

Philadelphia 76ers: Jerami Grant

23 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Thanks to his steadily improving play leading up to the trade deadline, Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jerami Grant may have inadvertently paved K.J. McDaniels' way out of town.

    After shooting just 21.4 percent from three-point range in December, Grant rebounded to connect on 44.3 percent of his attempts in January and February.

    The increase in efficiency, his athleticism on defense and the fact that he's locked into an extremely cap-friendly rookie contract (McDaniels wasn't), made Grant the more attractive option.

    He also had a higher net rating than McDaniels. In fact, among 76ers who've appeared in at least 10 games, Grant's net rating of minus-6.3 ranks second behind the much-appreciated Robert Covington.

Phoenix Suns: Markieff Morris

24 of 30

    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Considering all the publicity Phoenix's three-guard lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas received this season, it's a little surprising to discover Markieff Morris leads the team in net rating at plus-4.9. His defensive rating of 100.7 is also first among Suns who've played at least 100 minutes.

    Of course, these numbers are ultimately team stats that are largely dependent on who Morris shares the court with. But with nearly 2,000 minutes played, there's enough overlap to know that Morris's defense against opposing 4s is making an impact.

    On the other end, he is second among current Suns in scoring, averaging 15.2 points and playing something of a pseudo stretch-4 role. He may only be shooting 32.2 percent from three, but his shooting from the high post and short corners has been solid.

    FG% by Distance
    2P0-33-1010-1616 3P
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    With a point guard as explosive as Bledsoe, dragging a big man 15 feet from the rim may be all that's really needed.

Portland Trail Blazers: Robin Lopez

25 of 30

    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    The glamour of offense makes players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and even Wesley Matthews a little more exciting, but Robin Lopez holds the best net rating of any Portland Trail Blazers starter at plus-7.3.

    Lopez is the anchor of a defense that is tied for in the league and gives up just 99.7 points per 100 possessions. He leads the Blazers in block percentage at 4.0 and is more than willing to hold his boxouts against opposing bigs, freeing up Aldridge to grab rebounds that are often uncontested.

    Lopez is no slouch on offense either, as he shoots 61.5 percent within three feet of the rim and 52.0 percent overall.

Sacramento Kings: Darren Collison

26 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    The Sacramento Kings were tied to various trade rumors involving Deron Williams for much of the season, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, potentially looking for an "upgrade" over starter Darren Collison.

    As it turns out, he might not have been much of an upgrade.

    Darren Collison27.473.3733.25.616.1
    Deron Williams30.382.3583.16.213.2
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Collison is likely to miss the remainder of this season due to a hip flexor injury that required surgery, according to Yahoo's Marc J. Spears, but he was a pleasant surprise before going under the knife.

    If he can fully recover, Collison could see an even bigger uptick in production when he returns. George Karl, the Kings' new head coach, is deploying a fast-paced, point guard-friendly offense.

San Antonio Spurs: Manu Ginobili

27 of 30

    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    With Tony Parker having something of a down season, Manu Ginobili has quietly asserted himself as the San Antonio Spurs' primary playmaker.

    His 6.9 assists per 36 minutes leads all Spurs, and his team-leading assist percentage of 30.9 is a career high.

    For a player who's been known as a scoring slasher for most of his career, Ginobili has made a pretty seamless transition to distributor.

    So while Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard are rightfully getting a lot of the credit for San Antonio's success this season, Ginobili's passing deserves some praise, too.

Toronto Raptors: James Johnson

28 of 30

    Ron Turenne/Getty Images

    James Johnson may get a decent amount of attention and appreciation from Toronto Raptors fans, but he's doing things that anyone who follows the NBA should know about.

    For one, Johnson has been the most effective driver in the NBA this season. Utah Jazz play-by-play announcer David Locke tweeted, "#1 team pts per drive guy in the NBA - @Raptors James Johnson at 1.40 team pts per drive. Harden 2nd at 1.34 then Curry 1.33"

    For someone who's known mostly as a defensive specialist, that's quite a list to be leading.

    Johnson is athletic for his size, giving him the ability to blow by defenders on the perimeter and finish over size inside. Trusting that ability and being more selective with jump shots have led to a career-high field-goal percentage of 60.9.

    And to top it all off, his net rating of plus-7.6 is first among the nine Raptors who've played at least 1,000 minutes.

Utah Jazz: Dante Exum

29 of 30

    USA TODAY Sports

    Offensively, Dante Exum is having a nightmarish rookie season. He's averaging just 4.5 points and 2.3 assists while shooting 34.5 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from three-point range.

    His teammate, Gordon Hayward, thinks Exum's struggles have to do with his aggressiveness, per The Associated Press' Kareem Copeland (via

    He seems a little passive. That's pretty normal as a rookie. You're just out there playing not to mess up.

    So when he stops thinking and really starts attacking the basket, he's athletic, explosive, he's long and can really make plays around the rim for himself and others. When he does that, he'll be really good.

    Until Exum finds the confidence to do those things, he'll have to continue to rely on his defense to make an impact for the Jazz.

    When he's on the floor, the Jazz give up just 100.1 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, that number shoots up to 106.3

    Because his length and athleticism make him such a nuisance for opposing point guards,'s Kevin Pelton wrote, "...the early returns are positive enough that any bust talk is silly."

Washington Wizards: Nene

30 of 30

    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    With several solid big men on the roster, it's been difficult for coach Randy Wittman to find enough minutes for everyone. The biggest playing time casualty might be Nene.

    He has the best net rating on the Wizards at plus-8.4, more than two points better than the second-place ratings of Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal.

    His varied offensive game makes him a reliable target for John Wall, whether he's inside or spotting up in the mid-range.

    FG% by Distance
    Provided by View Original Table
    Generated 3/8/2015.

    Gortat and Kris Humphries have been similarly efficient on offense, but neither can match Nene's defensive rating of 97.0

    Unless otherwise noted, all stats and salary figures are courtesy of and and are current through games played on March 8, 2015.   

    Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.