May 16, 2014
Damian Lillard – The national public just got their first taste of Damian Lillard with his game and series clinching three pointer against the Houston Rockets, but he has been one of the most promising players in the league since he entered it a few years ago. Though he has averaged 20.7 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game, his true value is in his management of the game. He seems to know what his team needs in every moment, and is willing to shoot or defer when the occasion calls for either. Lillard is one of the few athletes who is not scared of taking and making big shots. He has four game winning shots on the season, including a Game 6, series-ending 3 pointer from 26 feet in his first playoff series.
Steph Curry – By the numbers, Steph Curry may be the best shooter in NBA history. Stephen Curry has averaged 20.3 points per game for his career, but he has also shot 46.7% on all field goals and 44.0% on threes. Those numbers are astounding for a guy who scores mostly by shooting jumpers. Curry is too small to post up defenders and not athletic enough to leap over centers at the rim. So, he blows by opponents with his quick first step to set up floaters and short jumpers, not to get all the way to the goal. Most of his shots are at least partially contested, but he shoots the basketball as well off the dribble as he does when he is open and set to catch and shoot. Steph Curry has been recognized as a star in the NBA, but how talented he is goes unnoticed in the circles of casual fans.
Klay Thompson – The sharp-shooting guard helped Golden State to its second straight 50 win season, and a seven game series against the Los Angeles Clippers despite their only good post being missing due to injury. Klay Thompson, son of the Lakers’ Mychal Thompson, teamed with Steph Curry (son of Dell Curry, another former NBA player), to form one of the best shooting tandems in NBA history. Though Curry starred as the team’s leader, Thompson quietly averaged 18.4 points per game to steady the backcourt.
Goran Dragic – Dragic has spent most of his years in the NBA as a journeyman, however he may have found a home in Phoenix during his second stint. Dragic has become one of the go-to scorers in the “Valley of the Sun.” He averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game last season in a “rebuilding year” that had the Suns competing for a playoff spot with a record of 48-34.
One might ask how a player who only averages 9.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game could be one of the most underrated players in the league. The answer is simple. The things that Anthony Allen brings to the basketball court can not be measured through statistics. Allen is the best on-ball defender in the NBA. He embodies the three F’s of defensive basketball. A great defensive player has to be fierce, frustrating, and play with (f)physicality. Tony Allen plays in the offensive player’s jersey. There is constant contact between him and the player that he is guarding. He denies them the basketball on every play, and when they catch the ball, he grabs and pushes them as much as the referees will allow without calling a foul. Allen moves his feet quickly laterally, uses leverage well, and keeps his hands busy on the ball. He is wildly underrated for his work against the stars of the league.
Kawhi Leonard – Kawhi Leonard may be the most important player to the San Antonio Spurs run at a championship this year. The best word to describe him is versatile. Though he is a big, solid swingman who plays well in the post, he is also quick enough on the floor to play from the top of the key. He can score without the ball, which is essential to the Spurs offense because Tony Parker and Tim Duncan get most of the touches, and he can play in isolation and score against most defenders. He can post and can hit open jumpers. He is quick enough to slash with the basketball and athletic enough to finish in traffic. And defensively, he can guard four positions. He slowed LeBron James last year during the NBA Finals and averaged 14.6 points and 11.1 rebounds, but he is asked to guard the best player from the other team whether it is a post or point guard. Leonard impacts the game on both sides of the ball. He is integral to the Spurs playoff success, and completely undervalued as a player.
Zach Randolph – Zach Randolph is a bully. He pushes grown men around in the paint and scores at will despite having the vertical leap of a wheelchair bound seven year old. Randolph scores because he understands that strength and leverage beats big verticals every time. He only scores 17 points and pulls down 10 boards per game, but his impact is much larger on the game than his averages. He plays physical and wears defenses down. Defenders foul him because he uses his hips and upper body strength to keep defenders off balance. Though he may never be rewarded for his play, Randolph could teach a clinic on post play.
LaMarcus Aldridge – Though he has averaged 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds for his career, LaMarcus Aldridge has been relatively unknown during his NBA career. But, the 2014 playoffs have been good to him. He scored 40+ points back to back in his first round series against the Houston Rockets, he and teammate Damian Lillard became the first two teammates to score 40 and 30 since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did it nearly twenty years ago, and he won his first playoff series. Aldridge has the sweetest stroke for a big man in the league, excluding Dirk Nowitzki. He can score across the floor, but he is efficient in the post. LaMarcus Aldridge probably will not be on the most underrated list for too long.
Al Jefferson – Al Jefferson dominates in the paint despite having average athleticism. He uses phenomenal footwork and a myriad of counter moves to score in the post. His acquisition by Rich Cho is the sole reason that the Bobcats reached the playoffs this year, and his injured Achilles tendon is the only reason that the Bobcats did not steal a game against the Heat in the first round of the playoffs. Jefferson plays hard, he rebounds, and he gets easy buckets for his team.
Anthony Davis – Davis could be a superstar in the National Basketball Association next year. This year he averaged 20.8, 2.8 blocks, 1.3 steals, and 10.0 rebounds per game as he lead the New Orleans Hornets to seven more wins than they had in 2013. In fact, Davis has led the Hornets to more wins in each of the two seasons that he has spent in the league. His tenacity on defense and his versatile offensive game show great promise. Davis has no back to the basket yet and he scoring 20 points per game. He is scoring on raw athleticism by facing the basket and blowing by or jumping over defenders. Once he polishes his footwork, and learns to score on easy buckets, he could be unstoppable.