Note: This article also appears on Raptors Republic.
So after discussing who I thought was overrated in the NBA, up next is my underrated list.
Like the overrated list, there are a lot of people I left off. Here are some of them:
Stephen Curry: When Curry didn’t make the All Star team, the consensus was that he was probably the biggest omission. He averaged 22.9 ppg, with a .589 True Shooting percentage (5th among point guards), and his passing (6.9 apg) is very underrated. It’s hard to call him underrated now, though, especially after these playoffs have become his coming out party and there have been countless articles written about him being the best shooter in the game today.
Klay Thompson: I went back and forth on whether to include him in the underrated category. On one hand, his game actually regressed this season, statistically. Yes, his basic numbers were up (points per game, etc), but that was mainly because his minutes and shots increased. And after starting out hot against the Spurs in the first two games, they shut him down in the four games since, when he scored just 10.5 ppg and shot well under 40% from the field.
Ty Lawson: Lawson was probably the toughest omission because I think he’s probably still underrated, but I think people are realizing that he’s as close to a franchise player as they have.
If I wrote this list before the playoffs had started, players like Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson probably would have made the underrated list. Both Lawson and Curry have become their team’s franchise players and are will make the West’s All Star guard selection even more interesting next season¹.
Thaddeus Young: Thaddeus Young’s name never comes up in really any conversation, even when you’re talking about the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s an excellent defender, is a very efficient scorer, can play either forward position, despite being undersized, and really his only big weakness is his lack of three point shot. And for some reason, it’s gotten worse every season since his third.
His biggest problem is probably that the Sixers have never really known what to do with him. He’s kind of like a poor man’s Josh Smith, without the headaches. And he’s been played out of position for most of his career at power forward despite not having the height or the bulk to be an ideal size for that position.
Ersan Ilyasova: In a league that prizes stretch fours, Ilyasova is strangely underrated. Despite a poor start to the season, he finished 4th in the league in three point percentage, but also helped out on the boards enough to grab 7.1 in just 27 minutes per game.
Since the All Star break, Ilyasova averaged 17.2 ppg, while shooting .449 from three and even better inside the 3-point line, and grabbed 9 rebounds per game. Plus, while he’s not a stopper, he’s actually a pretty good defender.
TOP 5 UNDERRATED
When Bryan Colangelo re-signed Amir to his current contract, many NBA pundits and a lot of Raptor fans, figured this was just another example of Colangelo giving out bad contracts to underserving players. While Amir definitely had trouble staying on the court due to foul trouble, he was (and is) and young, athletic big man who defends, rebounds, scores efficiently and actually helps the team win.
Pat Riley once said that hustle is a skill, because not everyone can do it. Amir can and does.
Since he signed the contract, Amir has shed his penchant for fouling, having a career low last season, and was arguably the Raptors’ MVP last season while playing a career high 28 mpg. He has even added a jumpshot to prevent his defenders from cheating on him, and he’s shown himself to be a good passer, especially to big to big.
He’s got the 17th highest PER and the fourth highest True Shooting Percentage among power forwards in the league. He’s a coaches dream because he plays the same whether he comes off the bench or starts, plays hurt and does whatever the coach asks of him including playing center and defending bigger stronger players, all without complaining once.
In a perfect world he would be playing on a playoff team and more people would know just how good he is. Hopefully that will happen fairly soon.
Quick, name the 5 best true centers in the NBA this past season. Did you name Pekovic? If not, why not? Last season, in 31 minutes per game, Pekovic scored 16.3 ppg on 52% shooting, exhibiting one of the best post games in the league, grabbed 8.8 rebounds and set some of the hardest, most bone shattering picks in the league. Blake Griffin called him the most difficult player to play against in the NBA because he’s so strong and impossible to move. Plus, unlike a lot of centers in the game today, he can hit free throws (.744), so you can actually have him on the court at the end of close games.
Among all centers in the league, Pekovic was 5th in PER, 12th in True Shooting Percentage, 14th in free throw percentage, 14th in rebounding and 8th in points. And that includes faux centers like Bosh and Kevin Garnett.
While Kevin McHale might have done a poor job as GM for the Timberwolves, drafting Pekovic with the first pick in the second round showed he could do some things right. Of course, drafted just behind Pekovic were Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Omar Asik, Luc Mbah a Moute and Goran Dragic were all drafted after him in the second round, so you could almost pick prospects out of a hat and still come up with a decent players in the first half of the second round, in 2008. Still, Danny Ainge, selecting one spot ahead of McHale, picked J.R. Giddens, who played a total of 38 games. Sure, Ainge raped McHale for Garnett, but the T-Wolves got Pekovic right from under their noses.
Like Pekovic, Conley’s name doesn’t generally come up when naming the best point guards in the league, but it probably should.
Conley was drafted 4th overall in 2007 and it was believed he would immediately become Memphis’ answer at PG. He was the best player on his Ohio team that went all the way to the NCAA Finals, exhibiting the leadership, as well as passing and scoring ability to make most believe he’d make an easy transition to the NBA and possibly become a star.
He struggled in his first season, but Memphis believed in him and stuck with him, and every year he improved.
The biggest boost he got was probably when the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay and more responsibility fell to Conley. None of his numbers will jump out at anyone, but Memphis plays a slow-it-down game that isn’t good for showing off gaudy stats. Conley, though, has grown into a player with few weaknesses. He’s a very good floor general who can shoot from anywhere on the floor and is one of the best defenders at the point guard position.
His contract, which looked horrible when it was signed, now pretty much is in line with what he should be making.
I actually had Matthews on, at one point, but removed him. In today’s NBA, where shooting guards pretty much need to do two things well, shoot threes and defend, Matthews is the perfect role player. He’s just below Klay Thompson, in three point shooting percentage and is an underrated defender. His salary is manageable, as well.
On a bad team (Portland didn’t make the playoffs, but they have talent), he would be asked to do too much, but he’s the type of player that becomes more valuable the better his teammates are.
In the comments section, I stated that I’d rather have Wesley Matthews, at his salary, than DeMar DeRozan at his, next year. Many took this as a slight of DeRozan, but the fact is that while DeRozan is a more explosive athlete who is more exciting to watch, Matthews is the type of shooting guard you need in the league today. Anyone who has watched the playoffs, especially the Finals and Conference Finals, can see how valuable a wing player who can shoot the three and defend is, and how much of a liability a shooting guard who can’t do even one of those is.
Warning: This is a cut and paste job from my last Lessons Learned from the Playoffs column, which can be found here. I was going to write something different, but realized I said all I wanted then.
I spoke about this on PhDSteve’s podcast last week, but Tony Parker might be the most underrated player in the last decade. He’s been the Spurs leading scorer four of the last five years. In the four years he’s led the team in scoring, the team has an average winning percentage of .717. That’s an average of 59 wins, for an 82 game season (last year they only played 66 games). And the team reached the Conference Finals twice and the Finals once, during the years he lead the team in scoring.
He’s been on three All NBA teams, five All Star teams and has a Finals MVP.
This past season, he was 9th in the league in scoring, 6th in assists per game, had the 17th highest field goal percentage, which was the best among all guards, and for those that care about this, had the 10th highest PER.
Yet the Spurs have rarely been called Tony Parker‘s team, and when bringing up the top players in the league, his name is rarely mentioned.
He absolutely eviscerated the leagues best defense and made the league’s best perimeter defender look pedestrian, in the series against Memphis.
While I am a massive Tim Duncan fan, and think he deserves all the accolades he gets (and even deserves more), if the Spurs win the Championship this year, it will be because of Tony Parker, who will become one of only ten players in NBA history to win the Finals MVP more than once. Just to give you an idea of the company he would be in, that’s Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, TIm Duncan, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar andWillis Reed. Reed is probably the worst player in that list, and he finished 30th in Bill Simmons’ All Time Player Ranking in his Big Book of Basketball.
1. Even with Kobe’s injury and him out of the race, the West will still have Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker, all of whom made the All Star team last season. Then there’s Andre Iguodala, who probably deserved to make it.