The Post Up: Timely Basketball Commentary
The Most Underrated Players in the NBA
Maybe you care about basketball, maybe you don’t. Either way, I am going to attempt to make this as interesting as I can (shoutout to Shea Serrano). In this article I’m going to talk about one thing: players who don’t get chattered about enough.
Let’s start off: who gets to count as underrated? First off, these are going to be players that don’t show up in the news very often, not current stars or all-stars. There are stars which are underrated in the scale of stardom — but I’m not worried about Dame Lillard not getting his due or shit like that. (He is underrated, though. Don’t forget he was fourth in all star voting at the end of the 2017–18 season.) Team playoff standing doesn’t matter either; hell, it could be a player for the Warriors if any of them were underrated (they’re not.)
Secondly, they have to be players who are critical to their team’s success. Thirdly, I will only choose one player per position, point guard through center.
So, if a player is not currently talked about, is not a star, and has been critical to their team’s success, then they are underrated by my measure. That’ll be a good enough criteria for now. And again I’ve chosen players such that, hypothetically, they could be a starting five for some team. Put ‘em in Phoenix. Maybe some general manager will see this and give me a job for my work here (unlikely).
Before I get into revealing my selections and justifying each of these players’ spots, I want to shout out some honorable mentions. I’d like to thank Monté Morris for participating, who, with only five starts in 63 games played so far this season, has averaged 10 points and 3.7 assists. Not bad for a second or third string player on a Nuggets team where every player has potential to contribute on the offensive end.
The second and final person I’d like to give a shout-out to in the honorable mentions is Jerami Grant. Grant has been key to the Thunder’s success this year, having hit multiple clutch shots and made game-changing defensive plays. What his player efficiency rating won’t show you (the average is 15; his is 14.1) is the absolute hustle he puts in on both ends of the floor, which make him absolutely essential to a Thunder team competing for a third seed in the Western Conference.
As a third mention, there are a few players on the Orlando Magic that didn’t make the cut for this article, but are still looking pretty good at this point in the season (*cough* Jonathan Isaac *cough*).
Alright, now for the five most underrated players in the NBA. Let’s get started with one of my personal favorites in the NBA right now: Jrue Holiday (aka “JHolla” or “The Jruth”). Holiday is a New Orleans Pelicans combo guard — playing both point guard and shooting guard — former all-star (2012–13 NBA season), and first team all defensive selection (2017–18).
With all those accolades one might ask, “Uuuuh why is he underrated?” Let me give you an example. In a video posted to Twitter by and of Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s “The Jump” on December 13, 2018, Nichols said something no less than blasphemy: “Can someone please get Anthony Davis some help? Please? And, this is not a knock on Jrue Holiday who is an elite defender... ”
Just for the record I generally appreciate what Nichols has to say, except this Jrue Holiday SLANDER. The perception that Jrue Holiday contributes mostly as a defensive specialist — shoutout to Andre Roberson, get well soon — is downright incorrect and is exactly the reason I included him on this list. Though it is the Jruth, he is an elite defender: he’s averaged 1.6 steals per game this season, which has him tied with a couple others for averaging the seventh most steals this season.
As of the all-star break in February, he had BLOCKED THE MOST THREE POINT SHOTS in the league at 12 for the season, followed only by Ben Simmons with 11 and Mitchell Robinson with 9. (Thanks to Chris Herring, senior sports writer for FiveThirtyEight, for these stats). I realize that none of these are advanced metrics, but my editor told me this article was already getting too long [Editor’s note: I did].
But he is more than his defense: so far this season Holiday has been averaging 21.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Holiday is averaging more points than he ever has in his career, while maintaining his elite defense and playing more minutes than any other player thus far this season. He’s currently racked up 2370, followed by Bradley Beal with 2356 and Tobias Harris with 2261. To wrap it all up, the New Orleans Pelicans, led by Holiday with 27 points and 7 assists and without all-star Anthony Davis (amid Davis’s trade controversy), sent a LeBron James Lakers team packing in a must-win-to-make-the-playoffs scenario.
Alright, congratulations, the most ranty and definitely the densest part of the article is behind you. Next up is the Milwaukee Bucks’ third year combo guard, former 2016–17 Rookie of the Year, and best free throw shooter in the NBA right now: Malcolm Brogdon (aka “Humble Moses,” “The President,” or “Uncle Malcolm”).
If you didn’t already know, Brogdon was the first NBA second round draft pick to win the Rookie of the Year award since 1966. He’s averaging 16.1 points so far this season and in January, he was the only player in the league this year making 50 percent of two point attempts, 40 percent of his three point attempts, and 90 percent of his free throws. As of now he’s shooting 51.1 percent, 43.8 percent, and 93.2 percent in each of the previous categories, respectively.
If he finishes the year with those percentages, he’ll join the likes of Mark Price, Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, Kevin Durant, Steve Nash, and Steph Curry. If things go well this year, he could very well put a championship on his shelf of achievements. At the very least he’s got the potential to be one of the greatest second round picks of all time. Quick endnote: the two runners up to Brogdon’s free throw shooting are Steph Curry and Damian Lillard.
The third player on the list was also a second round draft pick, and currently is the starting swingman — playing both shooting guard and small forward — for the Miami Heat: Josh Richardson (aka “JRich,” “Slim,” or “JR”). On a Heat team struggling to find the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, he is averaging an essential 17.4 points for the season. He’s also averaging double the number of assists he ever has in his past three NBA seasons with 4.0 assists per game.
Admittedly, JRich is probably the weakest selection to the underrated squad, but he plays above average defense and has made 37.1 percent of his three point attempts this season while also making 85.6 percent of his free throws. He’s also in the top-20 for three point shots made this year. And, his season high came in a 2-point loss to the Golden State Warriors where he scored 37 points with only 2 turnovers.
Second to last, we’ve got a little bit of NBA nepotism. Son of the notable hall of famer Arvydas Sabonis (former Portland Trail Blazer) and current Indiana Pacer, we’re talking here about Domantas Sabonis (aka “Domas”). I know this has been a trickle since Jrue Holiday, but I’m still going to keep this one short and sweet. Domantas Sabonis might be about as close you can get to coming off the bench and also being an all-star (besides Lou Williams).
It’s a good thing that this is an entertainment piece, because I’m going to tell you that Sabonis has a higher player efficiency rating than Al Horford, Chris Paul, Marc Gasol, and teammate Myles Turner — and all without explaining what the rating entails. He also shows up in the top 20 for Box Plus/Minus, Win Shares per 48 minutes, Defensive Rating, Offensive Rebound Percentage, Total Rebound Percentage, and Player Efficiency Rating. Which is all to say that, when he’s on the floor, he’s making a more-than-recognized impact.
Speaking of impact, the final player on this team of underrated players has had a relatively quiet season. Former Portland Trail Blazer and current Brooklyn Net big man (plays both power forward and center) Ed Davis. Now Davis hasn’t had the chance to get the stats like other players on this list, but his Player Efficiency Rating is nicely above average.
Additionally, he’s top three in Defensive, Offensive, and overall Rebound Percentage, fourteenth in total offensive rebounds, and eighteenth in total rebounds. Davis’s creation of second chance opportunities is elite, and offensively he’s got 62 percent two point field goal percentage this year as well.
Alright, at this point you’re probably shaking your head and talking to the page about how Myles Turner is actually the best center and Sabonis ain’t shit or how Richardson isn’t consistent enough to be underrated. Well, the page can’t hear ya’ and you’re wrong.
So there, that is THE most underrated player team for 2018–19: Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Brogdon, Josh Richardson, Domantas Sabonis, and Ed Davis. Now, when it comes to any team in the NBA, there is only one question to really care about, at least until the end ot this season: can they beat the Warriors? No. No, they cannot. But hey, they could probably beat the Lakers.
All statistics and nicknames are from basketball-reference.com unless otherwise attributed in the article.