There will always be players that are underappreciated in the NBA. Players that deserve more love for their caliber of play than they receive. Sometimes the spotlight isn’t large enough for them to share with the current superstars. Other times it may be their style of play isn’t dazzling or charming enough to grab the people’s attention regardless of how much of an important piece they are to their team’s success. There are great players in the NBA that deserve All-Star selections or some type of accolade that lets them know their hard work is not for nothing and regardless of lack of exposure, their name should be mentioned with the best in the game today. Here is my list of the top 5 most underrated players in today’s NBA:
Honorable Mentions: Jrue Holiday, Kevin Love, Nikola Jokic, Marcus Smart, Otto Porter.
5. Bradley Beal
Beal may be receiving more love nowadays than he’s used to although he’s still one of the more underrated player’s in today’s league. Beal had a career year this past season averaging new career highs in points, assists, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. Beal is an effective and efficient scorer that is only getting better by the year. He improved his scoring from 17ppg in 2015-2016 to 23ppg in 2016-17 while shooting 48.2% from the field (40.4% from 3). In fact, he tied John Wall for the highest scoring average on the team while averaging one less shot per game. That just shows his With a player like John Wall controlling the ball and facilitating for the Wizards, Beal doesn’t have to create his own shot too much, but don’t let his lack of creating fool you as he is more than capable of finding his shot anywhere from 5 feet to 25 feet from the rim. His shot off the dribble is just as good as it is off the catch with a shooting percentage of 44.2% off the catch and 45% off the dribble. On top of his excellent offensive resume, Beal is also a decent defender averaging 1.1spg with good lateral movement along the perimeter. Bradley’s stats only tell half of his story though. His importance to the Wizards’ success is more than a lot will ever know but hopefully this can help that realization arrive at a quicker pace. Beal has always been a player that could be a great scorer in the league but until this previous year it was hard to tell if he would live up to the hype due to a plethora of small injuries throughout his career so far. Since he was drafted in 2012 Beal has still yet to play a full 82-game season; in fact this previous season he played a career-high in a single season 77 games and the Wizards (49-33 record for 2016-17) have not won this many games nor have they ranked this high in the Eastern Conference since the 1978-79 when they were known as the Washington Bullets. As long as Beal remains healthy in the future, he will continue to improve and be the All-Star some already know he is.
4. Mike Conley
To be honest, if Mike didn’t receive the ginormous payday he received, I would have him listed at the top of this list. But with that payday, it’s obvious (and great) that if nobody else believes Conley is one of the best point guards in the league, the owner Robert Pera and President of Basketball Ops. Jason Wexler do. The 10-year veteran point guard has never made an All-Star team and only has one accolade to his name; a spot on the All-Defensive Team for the 2012-13 season. Even after the best year of his career yet offensively, it was hard to look at him in a Western Conference that is completely stacked with elite point guards. The west is so stacked with guards, another Western Conference point guard will appear on this list. For at least the past 5 years now, Conley has helped lead the Grizzlies to the playoffs in a constantly tough Western Conference. This previous season, Conley led the Grizzlies in points (20.5ppg) and assists (6.3apg) per game and ranked 2nd in shot attempts per game behind center Marc Gasol. Conley has the intangibles to operate an offense to its full potential and has great control with the pick n roll with his craftiness as he can pull up from 3 if the defender goes under the screen or if the defender chases him over it, Mike can attack the basket and finish with a smooth floater over the defender’s help. His defense is still very solid and he is one of the better defenders in the league at his position. The Grizzlies know all of these things about Mike but the rest of the league (including fans of other teams) don’t always see the capabilities within Mike Conley although as long as he continues to improve the way he has throughout his career, his shine will be inevitable. He’s still one of the league’s best point guards and one of the most underrated players that the NBA has to offer today.
3. Hassan Whiteside
Hassan Whiteside has endured quite the journey to get where he’s at now. From being drafted 33rd overall by the Kings who later released him after 2 seasons causing him to play in the then D-League as well as overseas, to becoming a max-contract player with the Miami Heat. Whiteside is one of the best actual centers in the NBA today. Doesn’t seem so underrated right? Well, in a league where small ball is becoming more dominant and purebred centers are becoming extinct, there’s an explanation to the un-appreciation towards Whiteside. The 7-footer is not the type of big man to stretch the floor past the perimeter like players such as Nikola Jokic or Demarcus Cousins can but his post game with his back to the basket gives a nostalgic feeling from when big men ruled the game of basketball. Hassan averaged 17ppg on 55% shooting from the field but his focus mainly lies on the defensive end where he averaged 2.1 blocks per game on 11.1 shot contests. Whiteside continuously improves his game each year and this year he led the Heat in player efficiency during a season they we’re expected to be a lottery caliber team yet they we’re only 1 win away from sneaking into the playoffs. He also led the league in rebounds with 14.1 per game this previous season along with multiple games with 20+ points and 20+ rebounds (1 game with 30+ points and 20+ rebounds), he was snubbed of an All-Star selection simply because he was a center. Not a single center in the Eastern Conference made the All-Star Game meanwhile 2 from the Western Conference made it as bench players. That alone speaks volumes about the direction that the league is heading in as far as being position-less but while we have players like Whiteside in the league, there is still hope for the big man to make a comeback in the league.
2. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard has been an underrated player since before his college days. I won’t go into detail that far back, but know Damian has lived and thrived under that type of pressure. It seems as if no matter what he does, he still cannot crack that top-tier of point guards within the Western Conference and get that respect he does as one of the best guards in the world. It won’t be long until he does though, each year he continuously improves his game and finds a way to lead his team alongside CJ McCollum to the playoffs. In the midst of a career year, Damian was snubbed once again from an All-Star selection. In fact, he was 6th in votes despite averaging a league’s 6th best 27ppg on a career high 44% shooting with 5.9apg and 4.9rpg. It could be possible that Lillard is as underrated as he is due to the small market he is currently playing in that is Portland. Players on teams in small markets tend to receive a lot less attentions regardless of how well their team is doing or how well they’re doing individually. For example, as well as the Hall Of Famer Tim Duncan did during his career, he was never really in the spotlight unintentionally hogging attention and that is because he was a quiet person playing in San Antonio which holds a pretty small market in comparison to a player like Kobe Bryant who played in Los Angeles for arguably the largest market in the league. Both endured remarkable careers and regardless of Tim accomplishing more throughout his career, he was overshadowed by the career of Kobe’s while it was occurring. Now that his career is over, people are beginning to appreciate the value of Tim Duncan. The reason I make this point is because I fear the same will happen to Damian Lillard. His career will be overshadowed by Steph Currys and Kyrie Irvings of the league regardless of the achievements he may obtain throughout his career in Portland. Only time will tell…
1. Kemba Walker
What a stellar season for Kemba Walker…at least individually. While the Hornets did not have the season, Kemba had his best yet setting career-highs in points per game, 3-point percentage and overall field-goal percentage while shooting a career-high 18.3 shots per game helping him earn his first All-Star appearance in his 6-year career. Regardless, it’s still more than safe to say Kemba is underrated. At this point in his career after two back-to-back breakout seasons, he should be ranked within the 6-8 range within people’s top 10 point guards in the NBA yet a lot of people either leave him out of their top-10 list or at best they may have him at number 10. He is the only player on his roster currently with star-power (no I do not consider Dwight Howard a star of any caliber at this point) and he is consistent with his scoring abilities, especially in clutch situations. Within the final 5 minutes “Cardiac Kemba” shoots over 52% from the field including 47.5% from behind the perimeter. But in team sports, it can take more than a 6 foot speedster with great scoring ability to win as his team ultimately did not reach the expectations set forth for them throughout the season. Kemba also plays in one of the smaller NBA markets that is Charlotte which not only affects his notoriety but also the possibility of persuading another star player in the league to join forces with him in Charlotte (Even the great Michael Jordan as the owner struggles to attract superstars to join) and add more playoff appearances if not more to the franchise’s resume. Hopefully Malik Monk can be that guy to provide help on the offensive end for Walker and co. Even Allen Iverson would agree Kemba Walker needs more assistance if Charlotte expects to be included with the best teams in the league.