Feb 10, 2017; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) moves against Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) in the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
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As the NBA All-Star break approaches once again, it’s the perfect time to hand out love to a few of the players out there that continue to fall short of such achievement.
These players have played at an NBA All-Star level, but haven’t received the recognition they deserve.
We look at the 10 most underrated players in the NBA, and why they deserve praise.
1.Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
For about four or five years now, Mike Conley has been “underrated”. He has never made an NBA All-Star game, and this year he was more deserving than ever. I know he got the biggest contract ever this offseason, but to me he is still underrated. Mike Conley has been the rock for the Grizzlies for years, leading them to the playoffs year after year.
This year him and Marc Gasol are leading the Grizzlies to a 33-23 record and the sixth seed in the West. Without those two, this team would be picking in the top five of the draft. Conley is averaging a career high 19.1 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists. He is also shooting a career high 40 percent, a previous weakness of his.
His game has approved all around, averaging a career high 4.9 free throw attempts a game, and 86 percent from the charity stripe. Defensively he is still solid as ever, and is averaging a career high 3.6 rebounds per game.
Overall his player efficiency rating (PER) is 21.9, which is 8th among point guards. So how has a player in his tenth season taken his game to new heights? First it’s his three-point shooting, he has gone from good to really good. Defenders still dare to go under screens on him and Conley will simply step into a three at the top of the key and drill it. Go over the screen and he will quickly penetrate into the lane and finish with a beautiful floater over a big.
He may have the best floater in the game, it is very Tony Parker like. Smooth would be the word I would use to describe Conley’s game. He is in complete control of the offense and is always calm. He boasts a 2.7 assist to turnover percentage, which is incredible for a player who has the ball as much as he does. Conley knows when he has to score, and he knows when to get his teammates involved. This guy is what a point guard should be. Someone please get this guy to an all-star game one day.
Dec 28, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Nikola Jokic (15) spins towards the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Gorgui Dieng (5) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Wow and Wow! Nikola Jokic has played out of his mind since he entered Denver’s starting lineup. It’s amazing to think that this guy didn’t even start for the first quarter of the season.
Since becoming a starter, he has become Denver’s best player and one of the best centers in the league. In the month of January alone he averaged 23.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists. These are all-pro numbers. Jokic has a complete game, and has become the focal point of the Nuggets offense. His PER is 26.37, which is 10th in the league.
This is remarkable for a person who came off the bench the first 20 games of the year. Jokic has a nice low post game, and out of the high post he can pick teams apart with his pin point passing. He also shoots a respectable 34 percent from three! This man can do it all, I have even see him lead a few fast breaks.
The Nuggets would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, and that’s mainly because of Jokic. This team doesn’t have much else, but Jokic has raised his play and has raised the play of his teammates. This is only his second year; he’s only going to get better. He didn’t make the all-star game this year, but this guy is going to be a perennial all-star for years to come.
Oct 12, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) rubs his throat after he gets hit in the neck during the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
The Stifle Tower! Rudy Gobert is massive at 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, and the longest arms in the history of the NBA. He is an absolute force in the paint, and the best rim protector in the league. In his fourth season, he is averaging a career high 13 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.5 blocks. He is also shooting a career high 64 percent from the field.
Gobert is first in the league in blocks, fifth in rebounds and 2nd in FG%. Rudy deserves to be an all-star, he is better than Deandre Jordan. The main edge he has over Jordan is that he can actually shoot free throws at a respectable 66 percent. Most bigs who block shots also struggle with fouling a lot; not Gobert. He is fourth in the league at blocks per foul rate. Overall he has a 22.16 PER, good for 26th in the league. Utah boast the third best defence in the league, and Gobert is the anchor of their defense. The Jazz play at an extremely slow pace and make you earn everything.
If you are able to penetrate Gobert is there to block your shot, or alter it. His offense is what improved the most though. He has become a devastating pick and roll threat, as a player who runs to the rims to catch lobs and finish. Think of a young Tyson Chandler. Utah may get home court in the playoffs and are going to be a tough out, for whoever they play. Gobert brings Utah their toughness, because no one protects the rim better than him. Like Jokic, this guys should have lots of all-star games in his future.
Jan 26, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson (L) talks to Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 127-120. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
4. Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
Our first player on the list who has no chance of making the playoffs. Even though Eric Bledsoe plays on the lottery bound Phoenix Suns; don’t blame him. Bledsoe has played at a border line all-star level this year. Beside Devin Booker, this team literally has no weapons, so Bledose has to do most of the heavy lifting, and he has risen to the challenge. Averaging a career high 21.2 points, to go along with 6.1 assists and 5 rebounds a game; he is a complete point guard.
Bledsoe is still not a great shooter from three, but he makes up for it by relentlessly driving to the basket. Think of mini Westbrook, when you think of Bledsoe. He is ridiculously strong and super athletic. His strength is pushing the ball in transition and finishing around the basket. Not only will he finish with contact, he will straight up dunk on you. The paint is where Bledsoe lives, averaging a career high 6.9 FTA a game, and he shoots 84 percent from the stripe.
Bledsoe is also learning the little things of the game, he know defenders will go under screens because he’s not a great shooter. He has adjusted, by having his defender re screen, and then using his quickness to get a full head of steam towards the rim. This is where he can use his strength, athleticism and touch to put immense pressure on a defense.
On defense he is a bull-dog, he has the strength to guard 1’s and 2’s. He is great on ball defender, who is capable of suffocating other ball handlers without fouling or gambling for a steal. Bledsoe has become a complete player averaging a career high 21.09 PER. Phoenix is one of the worst teams in the league, so its right that Bledsoe didn’t make the all-star team, but that doesn’t mean he’s not playing like an all-star.
Jan 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) and guard Jordan Clarkson (6) react during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers (Super 6th Man)
Lou Williams is still getting buckets off the bench in year 12 of his career. This year though he has taken his game to new heights. Averaging a career high 18.3 points and shooting a career high 37 percent from three. While his three-point percentage has improved, he is still the master of the mid range game, and the pick and roll.
Williams excels at drawing a defender in and then darting the opposite way of the screen with a nasty cross over. He can then get into the lane where has a great floater, and a money pull up jumper. If the help defender steps up too soon, he will simply scurry around him and finish at the basket. His long arms help him draw fouls at an extremely high rate. Whatever defense you throw at Williams he has a counter. Williams has done this for years, but this year he has been better than ever, which is pretty remarkable considering it’s his 12th season.
Lou is comfortable playing with or without the ball, and at times carries the Lakers offense by himself. He is extremely efficient by mixing up threes, free throws and in rhythm mid range jumpers. The bad shots that used to haunt him are long gone, and you are seeing the results. His 23.41 PER is 21st in the league, and 3rd for players who come off the bench. Lou deserves sixth man of the year this year.
Nov 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The Solid and Steady Point Guards
1.George Hill, Utah Jazz
The Utah’s Jazz record when George Hill Plays is 22-8, without him it is 12-13. I already wrote about Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz have a legit all-star in Gordon Hayward, but George Hill is the most important player to this team. That’s because Hill runs the show, he has extensive playoff experience from his time in San Antonio and Indiana, and there is nothing he hasn’t seen before.
You can see it in his game, he boasts a solid 2.8 assist to turnover ratio and rarely makes a mistake. He is shooting 40 percent from three and is just as good shooting off the dribble as he is in catch and shoot situations. His 17.7 points per game are a career high. He has become more of an efficient scorer, by becoming a better three-point shooter and getting more aggressive in getting to the lane to draw contact.
His 4.2 FTA per game are a career high. Gordon Hayward is the Jazz’s primary option on offense, but George Hill is an excellent number two. While he’s not a great passer, he is really good, but he’s actually better as a scorer.
This is why the Jazz were such a great fit for him, as they were starving for a secondary scorer. As I mentioned earlier the Jazz have the third best defense in the league, and Gobert is the anchor. Hill is the head of the snake, at 6’3 with long arms he can harass opposing point guards, and can even guard a lot of 2’s. Solid, consistent and efficient are the three words that describe Hill. Utah is thinking big this year, and Hill is a big reason.
Feb 12, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) on a fast break after a turnover against Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) during the first quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
2. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
A once promising young point guard, Jrue Holidays career was getting derailed by injuries and a trade that was part of the process. Holiday is back and looking better than ever. Like Hill he is key to his team’s success. The Pelicans are 18-21 when Jrue Holiday plays, without him they are 2-13.
Holiday has given the Pelicans a much-needed number two option to Anthony Davis. Holiday is as efficient as ever shooting a career high 39 percent from three, and 45 percent overall from the field. 16 points and 7 assists is what Holiday is good for every night. The Holiday, Anthony Davis pick and roll has become one of the deadliest in the league.
Defense’s pay so much attention to Davis, that Holiday is able to pull up for threes, or slither in the paint for easy layups and floaters. His long arms and tremendous straight line speed still make him a nightmare in transition. Now Holiday is able to combine his speed with savvy.
He is still a tenacious defender, who is able to pressure the ball with great quickness and anticipation. Holiday was an amazing athlete when he first came to league, and injuries robbed him of that. Now he has adjusted to become more well-rounded, and the numbers are proving it. At the end of the year he will be a free agent, and it would be wise for the Pelicans to pay him, because without him they are a mess.
Mar 29, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) in action against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Charlotte Hornets won 100-85. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Under Appreciated Bigs
1.Cody Zeller, Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker has got all the buzz in Charlotte and rightfully so, he deserves to be an all-star. However, Cody Zeller may be the second most important player for Charlotte. In his fourth season, Zeller is averaging career highs across the board. Averaging 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and shooting a very efficient 58 percent from the field.
Zeller has struggled with some injuries this year, and the Hornets have struggled mightily without him. When Zeller plays the Hornets are a solid 22-17, and without him they are a horrible 2-13. Cody is an important part of the Hornets offense. He is an excellent screener, he will come in hard one way and then at the last second flip his body to set the screen on the opposite side. Him and Batum have developed some nice pick and roll chemistry, that’s usually the secondary option after Kemba.
He is an underrated athlete who can finish above the rim. Not only is he a great roll threat, he has a nice midrange jumper, so he can be used in pick and pop as well. His PER is 17.7, which speaks to his impact. Cody doesn’t do one thing very well, but he does everything pretty well. He has become a solid rim protector, and enough of a threat on offense. Zeller is the glue guy for the Hornets, and they need him healthy if they want to make the playoffs.
Nov 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Clint Capela (15) dribbles the ball against the Orlando Magic during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
2. Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
The Rockets were so ready to let Dwight Howard go, in part because they believed in Cappella. In his third year he has rewarded Houston. Averaging a career high 12 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, he is having a tremendous breakout season. Shooting 64% from the field, Capela is a dunk machine. An extraordinary athlete, Capela has become one of the most dangerous lob threats in the league.
He is a perfect pick and roll partner for Harden. These two are becoming Chris Paul and Deandre Jordan, with their lob connection. Cappella runs to the rim hard on every possession, and is there for early duck ins or putbacks. As an athletic big who can run, he has been a perfect fit for D’Antoni’s run and gun system.
Defensively he is a force, a true rim protector, who blocks a ton of shots and alters dozens more. His PER is 20.9, for a third year player that is excellent. He still needs to improve his free throw percentage, but he’s getting better and better. For Houston to make a deep run in the playoffs they need Capela at best, and he’s more than capable.
May 11, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) goes to the basket against the Golden State Warriors during game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers 125-121. Mandatory Credit: John G. Mabanglo-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
3. Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
(Editor’s Note: Mason Plumlee was traded to the Denver Nuggets after this was written)
Portland is having a bit of a disappoint seasons, but don’t blame Mason. Plumlee brings it every night, which I can’t say about everyone on the Blazers. He is enjoying a career year averaging 11.1 points, 8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 4 assists.
You read that right Plumlee is averaging four assists as a 6-foot-11 center. Terry Stotts has even begun to run offense through him. You will often see him in the high post dissecting the defense, by finding open shooters and cutters. He is one of the best passing bigs in the league, and he has become a great weapon for Portland. Plumlee is also a great pick and roll threat. Like Capela he is an above the rim athlete who can finish at the rim with authority.
Plumlee really has no holes in his game, and is solid as they come. Posting an 18.8 PER, Plumlee is efficient and versatile. He is only getting better, and if Portland makes the playoffs this year, he will be a big reason.