We recently looked at some overrated All-Stars over the course of NBA history, and now it’s time to look at some underrated players. These are the guys who usually operate under the media’s radar. They often don’t put up spectacular numbers and are seldom seen on highlight shows, yet they still have an enormous impact on their respective team’s destinies. If they’re not franchise players who are capable of transforming losing or mediocre teams into champions, they have the stuff to turn also-rans into serious contenders.
UDONIS HASLEM may be past his prime as he approaches his 36th birthday, but he can still be a bothersome defender for 6-to-8 minutes stretches and can reliably knock down mid-range jumpers. A proven winner, Haslem is a valuable spot player.
NICK COLLISON makes up for his relative lack of talent by playing extra hard on every play, which encourages his teammates to do the same. He can even hit an occasional jumper.
GUS JOHNSON was a ferocious defender, a superior athlete and a powerhouse presence from baseline to baseline. His playoff battles with Dave DeBusschere were legendary, and although he’s been rightfully enshrined in the Hall of Fame, had he played in New York, Johnson would’ve been universally heralded as one of the best power forwards who ever played.
MATT BARNES hustles, plays aggressive mean-spirited defense, is a three-point threat and routinely antagonizes opponents. If he’s on your team, you love him. If he’s not, you hate him. That’s one of the best endorsements any player can have.
CHUCK HAYES always gives away several inches and several pounds to literally every opponent, but plays dynamic, hard-scrabbling defense and isn’t afraid of anybody.
STEVEN ADAMS can score in the low-post, out-tough any opposing number and is an inspirational high-energy player off the bench. Trouble is, with OKC’s high-volume scorers, Adams doesn’t get the touches to demonstrate his full capabilities.
BORIS DIAW used to play point guard, so his passing ability when he receives the ball near the high post has been one of the unsung factors in San Antonio’s recent successes. Moreover, of all the returning Spurs (including Tim Duncan), Diaw was the team’s most potent low-post scorer.
TONY ALLEN can’t shoot himself in the foot, but he plays ornery defense and goes to the basket like gangbusters.
WILLIE GREEN defends, can knock down face-up mid-range jumpers, drops an occasional trey, never stops hustling and is rarely out of position. Watch how well he plays off the ball.
SIDNEY MONCRIEF was the best two-way guard of his generation. Besides being a stopper at the shooting-guard position, Moncrief averaged 20-plus points per game from 1982-1985. Why isn’t this guy in the Hall of Fame?
ROBIN LOPEZ defends the high screen/roll as well as any big man in the league. Defense is the focus of his game plan, but he’s a more than adequate point-maker in the low post, an accomplished passer, sets sturdy screens and can bury mid-range jumpers. If there were few leftover shots for him in Portland, look for Lopez to be more involved in the Knicks’ offense.
JOSE JUAN BAREA is generously listed as being six-feet tall, but he’s rawhide tough and quick as a wish. A pesky defender, in certain matchups, JJ’s offense — consisting of pull-up shots, floaters and stand-still jumpers — can change the course of a ball game.
KYRIE IRVING is a bona fide All-Star, so what’s he doing on this list? Simply because he’s a better defender than LeBron James and accomplishes with his quick jitterbug moves what LBJ accomplishes with power. Yes, he’s an All-Star, but he has the goods to be an All-NBA First Teamer.
If (with the notable exception of Irving), none of the current players are capable of transforming losing or mediocre teams into champions, they have the stuff to turn also-rans into serious contenders. They’re guys who never take a game off, whom coaches love to coach, and with whom other players love to play.