Throughout the history of the NBA, players who’ve been second fiddle to the team’s franchise star have been just as significant to the team’s success as the big name. Scottie Pippin would’ve been a superstar on any other team had he not played in the Jordan’s shadow throughout his prime. The same can be said of Chris Mullin playing behind Reggie Miller and Joe Dumars to Isaiah Thomas. Every guy has that friend who seems to get lucky more often than he, but we soldiered on like great wingmen. Your time will come, my friends – but this post is dedicated to the NBA’s most underrated and unsung heroes over the last decade.
There are 2 ways to determine if a player is underrated.
- Salary vs. Performance
- Performance vs. Fan Reception & Media Coverage
Without further adieu, may I present the most underrated players in the NBA over the last decade.
2000/2001 SEASON: Aaron McKie
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 31.6 | POINTS: 11.6 | ASSISTS: 5.0 | REBOUNDS: 4.1 | STEALS: 1.0
McKie played the season in the shadow of one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers ever, Allen Iverson. Iverson got an immense amount of attention due to his high scoring numbers, flashy play, and sponsorships with some of the world’s biggest brands. McKie, who won the 6th Man of the Year Award, was also a very strong candidate for the Most Improved Player Award. While the spotlight solely belonged to Iverson, McKie put up numbers that are a few points per game away from Brandon Roy in 2008-2009, when Roy was considered a dark-horse in the MVP race. Even with those very respectable numbers, he did this playing just over 30 minutes.
2001-02 SEASON: Andre Miller
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 37.3 | POINTS: 16.5 | ASSISTS: 10.9 | REBOUNDS: 4.0 | STEALS: 1.6
You may know Andre Miller as a solid player for Portland right now. You may also remember him as the point guard who helped Carmelo Anthony come in to the NBA with guns blazing and then being the key player who was traded for NBA superstar Allen Iverson. Before all of that, Andre Miller played on the Cleveland Cavaliers who were horrendous before drafting LeBron James. While in Cleveland, Andre Miller put up phenomenal numbers for a point-guard, but was still never talked about and not even considered a contender for any awards. Take a nice look at his numbers and compare them to the NBA’s last point-guard to win back-to-back MVP Awards, Steve Nash (’05/06: 20.4 PPG, 10.2 APG, 3.7 RPG, .6 SPG). Not so far apart, are they?
2002-03 SEASON: Gilbert Arenas
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 37.6 | POINTS: 18.3 | ASSISTS: 6.3 | REBOUNDS: 4.7 | STEALS: 1.5
Before Agent Zero became an overpaid superstar for Washington, he was a 2nd round pick in the 2001 NBA draft. What’s more shocking than Arenas being drafted in the 2nd round was that he actually used to be a humble guy and even won the Sportsmanship Award. Arenas quickly went from underrated to overrated after getting into some trouble off of the court and facing some injury issues. To me, the turning point of his career turning him into a falling star came in the playoffs when he used to be humble and a team player. While attempting to make game-tying free-throws, LeBron walked up to him and had something discouraging to say that led Arenas to miss both free-throws and eventually become an arrogant and selfish NBA player.
2003-04 SEASON: Chauncey Billups
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 37.6 | POINTS: 16.9 | ASSISTS: 5.7 | REBOUNDS: 3.5 | STEALS: 1.1
Of this entire list, Chauncey Billups’ emergence was the most shocking. Before the big 3 in Boston and the Heatles, was the Lakers’ dynasty of Kobe Bryant and Shaq. The formidable duo seemed so unbeatable that veterans who wanted to obtain a title all flocked to LA to end their career with a ring including Gary Payton and Karl Malone. To the shock of the NBA world, the Chauncey Billups led Pistons defeated the highly favored Los Angeles Lakers. “Big shot” Billups remained a very clutch and highly coveted player. His recent presence and leadership with the Denver Nuggest almost defeated the new LA tandem of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol a year and a half ago.
2004-05 SEASON: Dwight Howard
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 32.6 | POINTS: 12.0 | REBOUNDS: 10.0 | STEALS: 1.19 | BLOCKS: 1.7
As the top pick on the draft, some questioned the choice of the Orlando Magic taking Dwight Howard over UConn standout Emeka Okafor. In fact, Dwight Howard didn’t even come close to winning rookie of the year against Emeka Okafor. Fast forward to now and 32 out of 32 GMs would take Dwight Howard over any other center.
2005-06 SEASON: Boris Diaw
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 35.5 | POINTS: 13.3 | REBOUNDS: 6.9 | ASSISTS: 6.2 | BLOCKS: 1.0
Whether it was the D’Antoni offense or the Steve Nash effect, Diaw’s all-around game was on-point and led him to winning the Most Improved Player Award. He is also the last player in the NBA to have played all 5 positions at some point throughout the season – talk about versatility. Diaw was the perfect role-player and a formidable complement to the Nash and Amar’e tandem.
2006-07 SEASON: Stephen Jackson
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 35.5 | POINTS: 14.0 | REBOUNDS: 2.6 | ASSISTS: 3.1 | BLOCKS: 1.0
I feel like Stephen Jackson has been underrated throughout his career, but his off the court antics have also decreased his value. Nonetheless, let me take you back to the 2007 playoffs where Avery Johnson coached the Dallas Mavericks to a phenomenal 70 win season behind league MVP Dirk Nowitzki. What do they have to show for it? A first-round exit at the hands of their former coach and the clutch performances of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson & Co. Jackson has been a solid all-around player who was always a threat with the ball in his hands. Think of him as the poor-mans Joe Johnson with a gun in his pants.
2007-08 SEASON: Kevin Durant
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 34.6 | POINTS: 20.3 | REBOUNDS: 4.4 | ASSISTS: 2.4 | BLOCKS: .9
In my opinion, Kevin Durant is the best player to have on an NBA team today. Not only is he the most talented scorer right now, but his skill set isn’t built on depreciating athleticism the way that Iverson was built on speed and Shaq was built on strength. Durant has pure skill and a lanky body, which will not depreciate with experience. People knew that Durant would be a solid pro, but had no idea that it would be to the magnitude that it is. In fact, he was heckled for not being able to bench 180 lbs. at the NBA combine. Durant had a great one-year career in college, but was not the most coveted star in the draft. Instead, he played second fiddle to Greg Oden. Oden, much like Yao Ming, is more of a player you reminisce about rather than talking about his future – if there even is one after his injury plagued career
2008-09 SEASON: Hedo Turkoglu
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 34.6 | POINTS: 16.8 | REBOUNDS: 5.3 | ASSISTS: 4.9 | BLOCKS: .8
Turkoglu’s career year set the tone for Orlando’s future with Dwight Howard. Turkoglu is a solid defender with a great 3 point stroke and also has play maker abilities that are rare in a swingman. After Orlando’s strong play in 2009 (smashing the LeBron led Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals), Orlando was more aggressive in surrounding Dwight Howard with stellar 3 point shooters that would camp out beyond the arc and wait for Dwight to get double teamed in the paint, leaving one of them wide open for 3.
2009-10 SEASON: Deron Williams
PER GAME NUMBERS: MINUTES: 34.6 | POINTS: 18.7 | REBOUNDS: 4.0 | ASSISTS: 10.5 | STEALS: 1.3
Today, Deron Williams in considered to be one of the best point guards in the league. You can argue that between he, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Chris Paul that the league’s best point guard changes every 2 weeks. Last season, there was more hype about Chris Paul than I have seen or heard for a point guard since Jason Kidd’s tenure in New Jersey. Experts were projecting Chris Paul to dominate the league and instead he got hurt. Even with Chris Paul hurt, talks about point guards discussed the sophomore year of Derrick Rose and rookie stand-outs Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry. Deron Williams took it all in stride and put up monster numbers. The NBA has high hopes of Williams and Rose leading there teams to a championship in the future, reviving the Utah Jazz and Chicago Bulls rivalry from the 90s that was dominated by his royal airness.
2010-11 SEASON: TBD
While writing this post, I kept switching back and forth between a few players and came to the realization that it is simply too early to say. Kevin Love has been putting up amazing numbers, but he is starting to get more attention for it and is getting recognized (which means he won’t necessarily be underrated). Then I take a look at Lamar Odom who has carried the Lakers much more than many people realize, but with the return of Andrew Bynum, Lamar’s numbers may take a plunge.
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