The end of the NBA regular season is approaching, which means award season is in full swing and it's time for strangers to tell other people who and what to appreciate in the game of basketball.
Most of these exchanges will be over this year's MVP race and the escalating debate over whether Russell Westbrook or James Harden is the more deserving alien for the award.
What won't get talked about are the guys we're here to discuss today — the facilitators and quiet difference-makers in who continue to be slept upon or discounted due to the abundance of shiny objects in the world that catch our attention first.
These are the 15 most under-appreciated players in the NBA right now.
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Draymond Green, PF, Warriors
The Draymond Heel Turn, if there was ever such a turn and we haven’t all just hated him from Day 1, has reached the point where we’ve begun once again to take for granted the true anomaly that is the Warriors 6-foot-7 power forward’s unique skill set.
Green’s averaging 10 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game in 2017. He's eighth in the league in assists, behind only LeBron James among non-point guards.
The next closest non point-guard in assists per game is Nicolas Batum, who’s averaging 5.9.
Thomas SheaThomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Kemba Walker, PG, Hornets
Everyone likes Kemba, but they also forget about him the moment he’s not draining stepbacks directly in their field of vision.
But Walker is doing the damn thing, as usual. He’s shooting 40.2 percent from three-point range (up from his 35 percent career average) and sitting seventh among all point guards in points.
Dan HamiltonDan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Avery Bradley, SG, Celtics
I feel like every NBA sportscaster’s job when calling a Celtics game is to mention Bradley and his well-rounded game early and then wipe him from all thought forever.
Which, at this point, is just Avery Bradley’s cross to bear. The dude is shooting 47.1 percent from the field — third best among NBA shooting guards, putting him behind CJ McCollum and Bradley Beal and ahead of Klay Thompson.
He’s also averaging a career high in points this season (16.7) and has — get this — somehow doubled his average rebounding marks in 2017. Bradley is out here snagging 6.1 rebounds per game, compared to his career average of 3.0.
David Butler IIDavid Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Love, PF, Cavaliers
Love is the mineshaft canary of the Cavaliers, meaning his play is generally a good first indicator/bellwether for how the team as a whole will fare in a given game.
If Love comes out flat and can’t hit a bear in the butt with a scoop shovel, the rest of the team is likely to brick it up for the duration. I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be more true than it isn't, and the result is Love is the point everyone traces back to when dissecting Cleveland’s crappy nights.
But the truth is Love is having one of his best seasons in recent memory almost across the board despite another injury-pinged year. He’s averaging a double-double and shooting 37.7 from deep (his best average since 2011 with the Timberwolves). And while his 19.3 points per game is a far cry from his Timberwolves zenith, it’s his best scoring year since coming to Cleveland by nearly a three-point margin.
Soobum ImSoobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic, C, Magic
Perhaps the most unsung case of “Really good on a really garbage team.”
Kim KlementKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Khris Middleton, SG, Bucks
Khris Middleton … or as I like to call him, "Venti Avery Bradley."
That’s definitely oversimplifying it, but Middleton is another Bradley-esque, all-round player who gets lost in the shuffle in a league adrift with ridiculous scoring numbers.
But Middleton’s return to the Bucks has been more than welcome for a team that’s threatening to become super scary for the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Steve DykesSteve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Beverley, PG, Rockets
A solid role player whose value on the court continues to increase as his three-point shot begins to fall with regularity.
Beverley was already a world class irritant in short stretches on defense, and if he can keep providing some offensive value he’ll continue to have a place on the Rockets and in the greater NBA ecosphere as an elite Curry triggerer.
Enes Kanter, C, Thunder
He’s dogged endlessly (and rightfully) for his world-famous muscle confusion on the defensive end of the floor, but Kanter is 14th in the league in PER and the only person on the Thunder outside of Russell Westbrook who can put the ball in the basket with any reliability.
It’s easy to gloss over his pros when he’s breaking his hand on chairs and missing block attempts with startling regularity, but he’s averaging career numbers (14.5 points, 6.8 rebounds) and has the second-highest PER (24.4) of all centers in the league behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
Kanter is good, guys. Just trust me on this.
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Marc Gasol, C, Grizzlies
List of healthy players who as if this writing have made fewer three-pointers than Marc Gasol (96 made) this season:
- Marco Belinelli (95)
- Manu Ginobili (80)
- Jimmy Butler (78)
- John Wall (78)
- Deron Williams (74)
- Darren Collison (72)
- Doug McDermott (72)
- Harrison Barnes (70)
- Richard Jefferson (59)
The more you know.
Jeffrey SwingerJeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Mason Plumlee, C, Nuggets
Jusef Nurkic and his post-trade glow up in Portland have garnered all the headlines, but make no mistake, there was another player involved in his coming to the Trail Blazers. His name is Mason Plumlee, and as with most Plumlees, he is extremely useful and impossible to give a damn about.
This is the Plumlee way. You work hard, plant beans and leave every acre of forehead you got out there on the floor. Mason does that, and continues to do so with the Nuggets as Mike Malone tinkers with lineups trying to find the best way to deploy him.
He’s gone from target to punchline to admirable and tragic warrior and now, finally, Austin Rivers appears on the cusp of maturity.
Rivers has seen increased minutes in 2017 and has responded with bumps across the board in points, field-goal shooting and assists. He is, however, turning the ball over more as a result, because he is still Austin Rivers and some things are immutable.
This is a testament to the Heat organization, which signed Johnson when he was basically just King Ranch Wilson Chandler and triple-distilled him for smoothness.
Steve MitchellSteve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steph Curry, PG, Warriors
It's been a down year for Steph Curry. The halfcourt shots aren't falling, he's averaging career lows in Biblical miracles, and his team has been taken over by a ring-chasing war ostrich.
It's been tough to watch at times, but I'm going to go on the record in saying that I think we came into this season expecting a little too much and appreciating little too little.
Soobum ImSoobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
John Wall, PG, Wizards
When it's all said and done, Wall might retire as the new cast-iron mold of NBA superstars whose greatness is acknowledged often but only in the most brief and superfacial manner.
Which makes sense, in a way. Any time Washington looks to be putting it all together, Bradley Beal eats an unfilling salad, the balance is disrupted and by halftime all crime is legal within the Verizon Center.
Which sucks for John Wall, who is a singular quantity in the NBA and a Westbrookian monster on the court on the odd times he so chooses.
Harrison Barnes, SF, Mavericks
He’s not dead. I promise this.
Harrison Barnes did not in fact perish when LeBron James dunked his sullen oboe face into hot ectoplasm during the NBA Finals last year. He survived his banishment, formed whole again and moved south to Dallas — a destination Mark Cuban is quickly transforming into a Mos Eisley cantina of castoffs, transient trade bait and misfit toys.
And he’s doing pretty good! All things considered!
Barnes' three-point shot is still in the can and may remain there forever, but he's shooting close to a career-high from the field and averaging 19.5 points (up from a high of 11.7 at Golden State) in just five more minutes of average playing time per game.