The NBA is usually good at getting the best players in the game of basketball their fair share of attention and fame. Sometimes, however, very good players lose out on some of the spotlight due to playing for a small market team, thriving in a role that doesn’t involve high volume scoring, or having a teammate on the roster who is capturing attention. Each of the players below is having a fantastic season in a different way. Here is the line-up of the NBA’s most underrated players:
PG – Darren Collison
“Collison is not a long term answer at point guard.” Darren Collison has been criticized by NBA fans and journalists ever since becoming the starting point guard for the Indiana Pacers way back in 2010. After losing his starting spot to George Hill in 2012, Collison has been labeled as a player with back-up level talent. Collison has started 409 of 594 career games, however, and is an exceptional talent at the position today.
Collison is currently helping lead an Indiana Pacers team without Paul George that is shocking the NBA. Indiana owns the East’s 5th best record largely behind the play of the back-court with Collison and Victor Oladipo. While Oladipo has begun to be recognized as a star in the league, Collison has received little to no recognition. This is despite the fact that there are only two other players currently with an offensive rating of 122, 47% from the field, 40% from three, and three win shares this season: Chris Paul and LeBron James. That’s not bad company for a player most people think shouldn’t be starting.
SG – Tyreke Evans
The one redeeming player for the Memphis Grizzlies god-awful 2017-18 season. Evans was signed to a tiny one year, 3.3 million dollar deal this off-season, and he has panned out very well. The former Memphis Tiger is averaging 18.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.1 assists on 46.7% shooting and 40.3% from three. Even if the Grizzlies have not followed suit with winning basketball, Evans has 2.8 individual win shares on the season.
Evans also has done this having to adjust to a few different roles. He’s seen minutes at every position on the perimeter this season, and had to run the point for many minutes while Mike Conley was hurt. The only other player to have 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with Evans’ efficiency shooting the ball has been LeBron James.
SF – Khris Middleton
Middleton is terribly underrated just about every season, but this one in particular stands out. Milwaukee now owns the 4th best record in the Eastern Conference at 17-13, and all of the credit has gone to the Greek Freak. While Giannis Antetokounmpo has done nothing short of MVP-level basketball, winning in the NBA takes a team, and Middleton has been the highly competent 2nd fiddle with 20.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game on 47.1% from the field, 35.3% from three, and 89.7% at the line.
The Bucks are plus 2.7 points per 100 possessions with Middleton on the court compared to -8.0 with Middleton off the court. Middleton is one of five players to have 20.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game on 47% shooting. The others are LeBron James, Giannis Antetokoumnpo, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins.
The Nets have found a long term player in Hollis-Jefferson. He’s about 10% on his perimeter shooting away from having the shooting accumen to be one of the best three and D players in the league. Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 14.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game on 49.0% shooting, and he has 2.4 win shares on the season.
Hollis-Jefferson has showed up in big games too. Against New York he put up 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks on 10/16 shooting while holding superstar Kristaps Porzingis to just 13 points. RHJ also had 21 and 11 in a big 25 point win against a conference powerhouse Washington Wizards team. Only four other players have 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game with an offensive rating of 115 and a +1.0 defensive box plus/minus: LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Nikola Jokic.
C – Clint Capela
Here are Basketball Reference’s MVP probabilities:
There are nine perennial all-stars on that list, and then there is Clint Capela. How could an otherwise fool proof formula for calculating MVP probability give Capela, a glorified role player, the eighth highest odds to win in the NBA? He has been that good.
Capela has been averaging 14.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on an NBA-leading 69.4% from the field. Capela is also 3rd in the league with 51 blocks, 6th with a PER of 27.3, 2nd in both offensive (130) and defensive (100) rating, 2nd in block percentage (6.1), 3rd in defensive box plus/minus (+3.4), and 4th in win shares per 48 minutes (.276).
No player in recorded NBA history has matched Capela with his offensive and defensive ratings before with .276 win shares per 48 minutes. In fact, .276 win shares per 48 minutes alone is 38th in single-season history. It places right in between .277 from Kawhi Leonard in 2015-16 and .275 from Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66. The shocking thing is, Capela will likely not make the all-star game in a loaded Western Conference, even if he has been crucial to his team’s dominance to begin the season.