Kyle Lowry – If there were a way to measure “heart”, Lowry would be amongst the league leaders every year. He has a real “feel” for the game. He seems to innately know when his team needs him to attack and when they need him to facilitate. Lowry is strong with the basketball and finishes well in traffic despite his size. He has a good jump shot, but the strength of his game is getting into the paint and using his low center of gravity to immobilize defenders who are caught on his hip. Lowry scored 17.9 points per game and averaged 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds in every contest last year. Only Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Ty Lawson, John Wall, and Kyle Lowry averaged at least 17 points and 7 assists per game last season.
Mike Conley – Conley is one of the most efficient players in the National Basketball Association. There is not a lot of fluff in his game. When a play can be made by the point guard, then he makes it. When there is no play, then he defers. Conley has an extremely explosive first step off the dribble and a reliable jumper. He has good vision and understands what play needs to be run. More importantly, he understands his role and his talent level. Mike Conley always plays within himself and gets the ball to the players who can make plays in the crucial moments. On top of his feel for the game, Conley also averaged 17 points and 6 assists per game on a contender in the West.
Jamal Crawford – Only one man has scored 50 points for three separate teams. It was not Moses Malone. It was not Michael Jordan. It was not Wilt Chamberlain. Jamal Crawford is the only man to score 50 points for 3 different franchises. He is possibly the most skilled two guard in the NBA and also one of the most underrated. Defenders are at his mercy in one-on-one situations. In 13 seasons, Crawford only averaged under double digits in his first two seasons. Since then, he has averaged 15.6 points per game in his career putting over 17 points per game in seven of those years. He has playground skills, a long frame, and a silky jumper. When he is on, Jamal Crawford can score with anyone in the league.
Bradley Beal – Bradley Beal scored 17.1 points per game on a Washington Wizards team that reached the second round of the playoffs last year, and most basketball fans do not know that he exists. He hit 40.2% of his three point attempts and anchored a backcourt that many consider to be the best in the National Basketball Association. Beal has a deadly jump shot, a quick first step, and can be explosive around the rim. If his shooting percentage on two point field goals improves at all, he could be one of the most efficient players in the league.
Wes Mathews – Wes Mathews is one of the most underrated players in the league. He averages 16.4 points per game and only 3.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, but he is nearly as important to the Portland Trailblazers as Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. Mathews is charged with defending the other team’s best player regardless of position. He can guard 3-4 positions on the floor in addition to the 16 points that he is expected to score every night. And though his stats do not reflect how well he plays defense (less than a block or a steal per game), he is as close to a shut down wing as there is in the league besides Tony Allen.
Lance Stephenson – Though Paul George was the best player on the Pacers last year, Lance Stephenson was the heart of the team. When the Indiana Pacers played like contenders it was because Stephenson took over the offense and facilitated for George and Hibbert. He averaged 13.8 points per game, 4.6 assists per game, and 7.4 boards per game on a contender last year. Half of the starting point guards in the NBA averaged fewer assists than Stephenson.
Taj Gibson – Taj Gibson has been one of the most underrated players in the league for the last three years. Though he does not dominate at any one thing, he contributes in every facet of the game and helps his team win. Gibson gets a block or two every game and a steal. He can score from 15 feet out on the floor with jumpers or with his footwork in the post. In a game where position is becoming less important, Gibson plays like the prototypical power forward and is an asset because of it.
Nene Hilario – Nene has one of the most complete low post games in the pros. He has polished footwork, effective counters, and a good foundation of basic moves around the basket. He plays a brutish game in the paint, but regularly uses finesse to finish plays when he is contested. And, Hilario has enough range on his shot to keep defenses honest. Though he does not score 20 ppg. or pull down 10 boards a game, his averages of 17.4 ppg. and 6.8 rebounds per game is part of a balanced attack in Washington that has put the team in the playoffs.
Andre Drummond – Andre Drummond was one of the most efficient players in the NBA last season. And, if his free throw percentage of 41.2% was any higher, he could have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team last year. Drummond brought averages of 13.5 points and 13.2 rebounds per game on 62.3% field goal percentage to the Detroit Pistons. He was a bully under the rim and explosive in the air in 2013-2014. With more touches this season, he could become a star in the NBA.
DeMarcus Cousins – DeMarcus Cousins is quietly posting All-Star numbers in Sacramento. He averaged 22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per game in the 2013-2014 season. But more importantly, he served as a quintessential building block of an organization that has been in upheaval for a decade. Cousins plays physical basketball and uses strength and leverage more than explosive leaping. He has a low center of gravity and uses his lower body to get positioning and to knock defenders off balance in the post. With more consistency and a little more maturity, DeMarcus could be a force in the league for the next decade.