These are the best kept secrets of the NBA -- the players whose precious value is known to some and soon will be known by many.
Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY SportJennifer Stewart
Jonathon Simmons, SG, Spurs
He’s one of the best stories in the NBA – making it to professional basketball's main stage coming from an extremely poor family to paying his way into a D-League tryout to starring at the NBA’s Summer League to signing a multi-million dollar contract with the San Antonio Spurs. Simmons’ rise to the NBA has been nothing short of a fairytale. Don’t let his humble nature fool you: This man is a killer on the court, and everything about him suggests he has the potential to be the second coming of Kawhi Leonard.
Bobby Portis, F, Chicago Bulls
Buried on Fred Hoiberg’s bench, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement saw a glimmer of light at the end of the 2015-16 season as the Bulls faded out of playoff contention. Fast forward to November 2016, and the Bulls’ best young prospect is once again trapped behind multiple mediocre rotation players (I’m looking at you Nikola Mirotic) with no chance of seeing starters minutes as long as Hoiberg is at the helm. After lighting up the NBA Summer League in 2015, Portis -- along with Doug McDermott -- was supposed to be the next generation of Bulls home-grown star talent. Though that may remain true, and Portis remains an animal on both ends of the floor, Hoiberg sure has an odd way of developing him.
T.J. Warren, F, Phoenix Suns
The best player you didn’t know played in the NBA. In his third season as a pro, all Warren is doing is averaging 21.7 points during a team-high 36.9 minutes per game played, an incredibly-impressive 20.7 PER, and a +7 net rating on a Suns team that has given up the most points in the NBA to date. Yes, he takes shots that make you go “Oh no” even before they’re released … however, he’s making them … consistently. His sudden surge onto the NBA darkhorse scene is no fluke — his production has doubled year-over-year (almost across the board) since entering the league, and his absolutely ludicrous athleticism enables him to create “WTF was that?” scoring opportunities that are unprecedented in today’s game unless your name is Giannis Antetokounmpo or Anthony Davis. He won’t get the publicity he deserves as long as the Suns remain irrelevant, but, remember this name for future use…
Marquese Chriss, F, Phoenix Suns
The super-versatile southpaw may be averaging only 13.1 minutes at the moment, but anyone who’s watched this man play knows it’s only a matter of time until he cracks the starting lineup permanently. Versatility, athleticism, finishing ability – Chriss has it all, and will be a household name in the desert before long.
Mario Hezonja, SG, Orlando Magic
(Everyone in Orlando nods heads in unison as they continue to watch his limitless talent get buried on the bench behind mediocre veterans.)
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Ish Smith, PG, Detroit Pistons
He’s played for 10 different teams since entering the league in 2010 for a reason: He’s never quite found “it,” but there may not be a faster guard with the ball in the world, (yes, including Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard). The problem is, when you can’t shoot, it’s impossible to blow by someone when they’re giving you 4 feet of space and disrespecting your jumper. Ish and his insanely quick first step is, and will always be, one of the NBA’s biggest what-ifs …”
Justin Anderson, G/F, Dallas Mavericks
Anderson is the most promising young prospect on a decaying Dallas Mavericks roster and is getting better every time he touches the floor. When he’s not flying through the air throwing down a vicious dunk, you can find him always in the right place at the right time. Every loose ball just happens to find Anderson – and it’s not a coincidence. Being lucky is one thing, creating your own luck is another. And that’s exactly what Anderson excels at.
Jerome MironJerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Dario Saric, F, Philadelphia 76ers
The rookie can do it all – post game, protect the rim, shoot threes, set up the offense, create off-the-dribble. Saric’s game has no ceiling. Though it will certainly take the Croatian youngster some time to get accustomed to the speed and intensity of the NBA game, he is already good enough that he could start right now on a majority of the teams in the league.
Kyle Anderson, SF, San Antonio Spurs
His sneaky, smooth, sometimes lazy game is one-of-a-kind. They don’t call him Slow-mo for nothing – and though his shot selection can be a head-scratcher, fans consistently find themselves pleasantly surprised with his production. Along with Jonathon Simmons, expect Anderson to be the face of the Spurs’ “reload” plan after Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker retire.
Kris Dunn, G, Minnesota Timberwolves
There’s a reason he was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft – on top of being ridiculously talented, he’s a basketball assassin. If there was an official NBA “All-War Trench” team -- five NBA players you want fighting next to you in a in hope of not only surviving but winning the battle – Dunn is on the list. Every game, every shot, every dribble is life-or-death for the Providence Friars combo guard, and his combination of play and positive attitude is nothing short of contagious.
USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets
While it’s certainly been a slow start to the season for the Denver Nuggets’ Serbian-born big man, expectations are through the roof. There is not a single hole in his game, and if he ever figures how to put it all together consistently over the course of an 82-game season, it’s not farfetched to say that Jokic will, at some point in the next three years, be selected to the NBA All-Star team.
Larry Nance Jr., PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Between D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, the Los Angeles Lakers are stacked with young talent. Though Russell is certainly the preconceived foundation of the Lakers’ future because he was selected second overall, Nance might just be the Lakers’ most promising prospect. When he’s not trying to dunk on your entire team, Nance parlays his unique talent set with his pro basketball lineage into an incredibly impressive basketball IQ. It’s no coincidence that Nance is always in the right place at the right time doing the right thing -- and just because his performance doesn’t always translate to comparable box score statistics that doesn’t mean he’s not worthy of this recognition. His 20.2 PER (Player Efficiency Rating) didn’t create itself.
Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns
The popular pick for the NBA’s most improved player might not be sufficient to describe just how good this recently turned 20-year-old is. Armed with arguably one of the most lethal jumpers in the entire league, Booker is far from just a shooter – he can put the ball on the floor, run the offense, play away from the ball and without a doubt be the crunch-time go-to scoring option on a good team. The only thing we don’t know yet about Booker is if he’s going to be Klay Thompson Jr. or Klay Thompson 2.0. Only time will tell.
Rodney Hood, SG, Utah Jazz
Speaking of Most Improved Player contenders, say hello to Hood – the best scorer on a legitimate championship-contending Western Conference team. When he came into the league from Duke, you would have thought that Hood’s right hand was prosthetic – as the ball rarely, if ever, touched it during games. Fast forward three seasons, and Hood’s game has progressed year over year – Going from 12.3 to 14.1 to 18.3 in PER rating. Also, there’s no way to minimize this: Hood gets buckets. And he gets them when the Jazz need them most. His 17.6-point average isn’t by mistake, and with his God-given ability to get to the rim and now a jump shot defenders must respect that he didn’t have as a rookie there is no limit to how good this young prospect can be.