The NBA as a league has a large fan base in the U.S. and the World. This leads to some of the best NBA players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James being recognized by many people all over the globe as celebrities. Other players, however, those whose play either doesn’t come up much in the highlights, or play for teams that have small markets or teams that miss the playoffs, don’t get proper recognition in respect to their iconic competitors. These players have been very good, though, in an unnoticed fashion.
PG – Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio, admittedly, was overrated before even playing in an NBA game. He was the 5th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, which was higher than Stephen Curry, DeMar Derozan, Jeff Teague and many other great players. Rubio was being hyped as possibly the next “Pistol” Pete Maravich for his play on the Spanish National Team as a teenager.
Unfortunately for Rubio, his entrance into the league was mediocre in a strong draft. Curry was already becoming an offensive force, Blake Griffin was playing all-star level basketball, and Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, DeMar Derozan, Brandon Jennings, and James Harden were all playing very high level basketball in roles with high minutes by the time Rubio entered the league in 2011-2012. His first season, he suffered injuries that caused him to miss half the season, and he only averaged 10.6 points per game in 34.2 minutes per game on lackluster 35.7% shooting.
Rubio, however, has since improved. His field goal shooting is still a below average 38.3%, but he is playing winning basketball even though the Timberwolves are not. Rubio has offensive and defensive ratings of 112 and 107, he is getting .129 win shares per 48 minutes, and the Timberwolves are 11.1 points per 100 possessions better with Rubio on the court. Rubio has done a great job of setting up the Timberwolves offense, and this is shown by his league-5th best 8.8 assists per game. He is also 1st in the NBA in steal percentage and 4th in steals per game. Rubio’s reputation will seemingly be forever tainted by his high draft selection, but that is no reason to overlook his success.
SG – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope went 8th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft Class, which is looking more and more like the worst draft class in a while. There are, however, some gems in this rough draft class, and Caldwell-Pope is one of them.
Caldwell-Pope has gotten lost among the guards of the NBA while playing with a troubled Detroit Pistons franchise that, only this season, appears to be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Caldwell-Pope has struggled through the Pistons horribly spaced offense as well as their lacking defense since 2013, but the team is experiencing a renaissance this season, and Caldwell-Pope is a large factor in the revival of Detroit Basketball.
He is averaging a very respectable 14.8 points per game. That is an above average figure for a 4th option offensively (behind Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, and Tobias Harris.) Caldwell-Pope is also 4th in the league in minutes per game with 36.7. Caldwell-Pope’s large amount of playing time shows the confidence held in him by a very respected head coach in Stan Van Gundy. It also makes the fact that he is number one in turnover percentage in the NBA (5.4%) more impressive, as well as the fact that the Pistons are 8.1 points per 100 possessions better with Caldwell-Pope on the court. It is more impressive because he is achieving success in statistics that favor limited minute players as one of the league leaders in minutes per game.
SF – Jae Crowder
Jae Crowder was not heavily recruited at any point in his basketball career; he was not among the top 100 recruits in high school, he was only a second round pick after a successful two years at Marquette, and he was in and out of the D-League before finally being traded to the Boston Celtics in the Rajon Rondo deal.
Crowder, however, has turned out to quietly be the best player involved in the trade. Rajon Rondo flamed out with Dallas, Dwight Powell has played well for Dallas, but not as well or in as big a role as Crowder plays for Boston, and Jameer Nelson and Brandan Wright were traded again to Denver and Phoenix respectively following their trade to Boston. Crowder has been a catalyst in the return of playoff basketball to Boston, and why they now have a 43-31 record: the best since the 2011-2012 season.
Crowder is third on the team in both offensive and defensive ratings with 114 and 102 respectively. That is also the second highest net rating on the team behind Amir Johnson (116 and 102.) Crowder is second on Boston in win shares (6.9,) and win shares per 48 minutes (.158.) The Celtics are 4.8 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder on the court. Crowder has provided a critical three point shooting ability, and tenacious perimeter defense that make them such a dangerous team, and one that can compete without a true superstar. Crowder’s impact is star-like, though. He has more win shares than all-stars and former all-stars such as Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall, and Tony Parker.
PF – Marvin Williams
Here is why Williams is not only the NBA’s most underrated power forward, but the most underrated player in the NBA
C – Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic’s arrival to the NBA was not one that made much news, but now it seems that Jokic has quietly become on of the NBA’s best young centers, and one of the best Denver Nuggets. Jokic was a 2nd round pick (41st overall) in a draft that was dubbed as potentially the best since 2003 before any of its players took the NBA court. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, and Doug McDermott were all very hyped players, and Jokic’s selection was one that wasn’t very important to the media.
Jokic, though, has shown a lot as a 20 year old rookie. He has good size (6’10” and 250 pounds) for a big man, and he is already playing very efficiently on both sides of the ball. Jokic’s 9.9 points per game and 6.6 rebounds don’t scream production, but he only does this in 20.9 minutes per game.
Jokic is averaging 17.0 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per 36 minutes. He is shooting 50.5% from the field, and has a PER of 21.4 (2nd on Denver.) Jokic also has the best net rating (116 offensive and 104 defensive,) the 2nd most win shares (5.7,) the most win shares per 48 minutes (.178,) and the Nuggets were 9.1 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the court. He has been super efficient on both ends of the court in a season when the Nuggets were relatively inefficient (below average offensive and defensive ratings, 31-44 record.) The fact that he is doing all of this as a rookie is all the more impressive.