Connect with us

NBA

The Underrated Players: Southeast Division

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ newest series by looking at who has flown under the radar in the Southeast Division.

Matt John

Published

on

This week, Basketball Insiders is taking a look at the league’s most underrated players division-by-division. Drew Maresca took a look at the Atlantic Division. Then, Benny Nadeau kept up the momentum with the Northwest Division. Today we’re taking a look at the Southeast Division.

In recent years, the Southeast Division has been often critiqued for being one of, if not, the weakest division in the entire league. Last year, it really wasn’t pretty. Only one team made it to the playoffs that season – the seventh-seeded Orlando Magic – and they ousted pretty easily by Toronto. The year before that, there were two – Miami and Washington – but they were two of the three lower seeds who had a similar fate in the postseason.

When you stop to think about it, it’s been a downward trajectory for the whole division since the HEAT disbanded in 2014.

Things have been better, but not by leaps and bounds. Miami’s having its best season since LeBron James left, although they look like a team that’s a piece or two away from being a contender. Orlando was more-likely-than-not making the playoffs. Still, they have more-or-less remained the same as where they were last year: League average – and that might be giving them too much credit.

As for the rest of the division, it’s not pretty. Washington and Charlotte are pegged right at below-average currently. They’re definitely not the worst teams in the league, but pending any late-season miracles, they’re not making the playoffs. Oddly enough, the worst team in the division, Atlanta, happens to be the one team everyone’s most excited about long-term.

When you put all of that into consideration, it may seem hard to find underrated players in a division when the majority of it isn’t really that good. However, good individual performances can get overshadowed because not much team success has come from it.

Goran Dragic, Miami HEAT

When analysts discuss Miami’s major steps forward this season, they talk about Jimmy Butler’s acclamation as the team’s top dog. Bam Adebayo’s evolution into one of the league’s best young centers. Their suddenly-exciting rookie class spearheaded by Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn. The one plot thread that doesn’t get enough credit is Goran Dragic’s seamless transition from starting point guard to sixth man.

Being mere weeks from turning 34, it’s clear Dragic doesn’t have the same footwork he did when he bent defenses to his will in his heyday. With him on the downside of his career, some adjustments had to be made on his part. Unlike his role in past years, he had to learn to lead the second unit.

It’s true that Dragic had that role back in his early days in Phoenix, but a lot has changed for him since then. Having to relearn a modified role such as this is much easier said than done. But in doing so, Dragic has actually had quite a resilient year compared to his injury-plagued 2018-19 season. In fewer minutes than he’s used to, Dragic has averaged 16 points and five assists on 44/38/77 splits, and it’s led to Miami owning one of the more offensively potent benches in the league.

When the Sixth Man of the Year discussion comes up, the first names that come to mind are Lou Williams, Montrezl Harell, or Dennis Schroder. Dragic’s case is simple: He thrived when confronted with the task of going from lead dog to bench spark on a team that won’t be messing around in the playoffs. For that, he deserves consideration and to be on this list.

Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards

Over the past several years, we’ve come to see JJ Redick and Kyle Korver prove how potent they can be in an offense if they are used to the fullest of their capabilities. If you have somebody so consistently money from three that the other team must gameplan to ensure that he won’t have a sliver of daylight, you’ve got a weapon at your behest.

Not that we didn’t know he could stroke it from deep before, but now, we have our newest iteration of the sharpshooter – Davis Bertans. There hasn’t been much to cheer about in regards to the basketball team that resides in the nation’s capital, but Bertans’ ascent into a three-point flamethrower has certainly been a sight to behold.

Bertans’ floor-stretching abilities have breathed new life into the Wizards’ offense. When he’s on the court, their offensive rating is 113.6, which matches the Los Angeles Clippers’ third-rated offensive rating. 77 percent of his shots have been from distance this season, which has led to him having his best season yet as a professional. His scoring numbers have nearly doubled, and he has the second-highest net rating among Wizards who have played at least 1,000 minutes.

Another reason why Bertans gets a mention here: Most of the sharpshooters in the league are either guards, wings, or a hybrid of both. Bertans is a big. He’s mainly a power forward, but Washington played him at center for 16 percent of his minutes. There are other stretch bigs in the league who share around the same three-point percentage as Bertans – Kelly Olynyk at 43.2 and Nemanja Bjelica at 42.4. The difference is, they’ve attempted eight more threes than Bertans combined. That’s how you know how dangerous Bertans is compared to them at the three-point line.

There was a reason why the price for Bertans at the trade deadline – even on an expiring contract – was two first-round picks. If Washington really is committed to getting back to what they were three years ago or even better, having Bertans stick around should absolutely be a priority.

Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic

12.1 points. 5.2 assists. 3.3 rebounds. 47/25/72 splits. 28.3 minutes a game. For any starting point guard in the NBA, those should be seen as pedestrian numbers. For Markelle Fultz, these numbers should be seen as a step in the right direction.

Fultz’s hurdles, both mental and physical, have been well-documented since he entered the league. Now that he seemingly has gotten past them, he’s making leaps toward reaching his potential as a prospect. He’s still got a long, long way to go, but at least he’s consistently on the court.

At 21 years old, Fultz is at least shown both aggression and vision when taking the court. He has good touch around the basket – shooting 65 percent from inside zero to three feet – and he played well enough to usurp DJ Augustin as the team’s starting point guard. That’s… something! Sadly, he hasn’t been getting a whole lot of attention because Orlando is a mid-tier team that may have peaked with the squad they have. Still, they should be encouraged by Fultz’s progress in his first full year with the team.

There’s still plenty of time for Fultz to improve his mechanics. In Orlando, he’s had some breathing room and, so far, he hasn’t taken the league by storm, but he has shown that he still breeds intrigue.

At the end of the day, Fultz’s numbers won’t blow you away when you factor in him getting picked number one in his draft, but we can still look at it and wonder if the best is yet to come.

Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando Magic

Speaking of players whose careers could have been in jeopardy, it’s so nice to see that Michael Carter-Williams may have found a home in Orlando. The guy was a late-season pickup last year after Houston barely used him. Now, he’s a rotation player on a playoff team.

There’s a lot about Williams that would turn teams off. That pretty much starts and ends with his jumper. It’s not ugly by any means, it’s just not very reliable. His percentages throughout his career from pretty much everywhere have been bad. Before this season, you could look anywhere he’s shot from the court outside of zero to three feet and would not come to any conclusion beyond saying uh-oh.

Yet there’s so much to like about him. He’s a 6-foot-5 point guard with long limbs, decent passing vision and the ability to be a menace defensively. Carter-Williams has picked up his efficiency from around the floor – 43/29/83 splits is a definite win for him – and has, for the most part, stuck to what he’s good at.

The only problem is, again, Orlando’s not really making much headway. No matter what direction they decide to go in, at least Carter-Williams can rest easy knowing he proves that he belongs in the NBA. Even if his stats aren’t nearly as good as they were early on in his career, Carter-Williams has found his niche.

Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets

OK, fair, we know what you might be thinking, but wait: Rozier’s performance for the Hornets is underrated for several reasons.

1. Charlotte hasn’t been good this season, that was something we all were anticipating. The difference between this year and last is that there seems to be some semblance of promise in this team. Devonte Graham, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and even Malik Monk seems to have made some nice progress.

Their record doesn’t necessarily reflect an improvement from last season, but their ability to stay at the same production after losing Kemba Walker is impressive. Rozier has had a lot to do with both the youth movement and Charlotte’s perseverance.

2. He’s been outshined by Graham. Graham has come back to earth after an electrifying start, but his unexpected jump overshadowed that this has been Rozier’s best season as a professional.

3. He’s given Charlotte their money’s worth, unlike somebody like Nicolas Batum, Rozier has at least given the Hornets good production for the contract they gave him. 18 points and 4.1 assists on 42/41/87 splits is strong at $19 million a year is, ultimately, not a deal-breaker. Especially when you compare him to some of their other poor contracts.

Rozier hasn’t necessarily surpassed expectations, but he hasn’t been a disappointment when many thought that he would do just that. Many have dismissed Charlotte for their front office’s mishandlings over the last several years. Perhaps the fact that Rozier has turned out better than most of their recent additions could signal a turning point.

Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks

We had to include Carter on this list, we just had to. A player with his reputation and his impact on the game of basketball deserves a shoutout as he rides off into the sunset.

We don’t have to dive into his stats because they don’t accurately reflect on what he’s done. In case it’s not clear, Carter didn’t have to choose this path to end his career. He could have ridden on James or Curry’s coattails to a ring and nobody would have blamed him. Is there a feeling more rewarding than winning a championship to finish your career? To end it all on a high note?

As it turns out, yes. Carter didn’t want his legacy at the end of his time to be defined by if he won or not. He wanted it to be defined by how he influenced the NBA of tomorrow. We know his impact on the Sacramento Kings. Not too long from now, we’ll see the kind of effect it’ll have on the Atlanta Hawks. They may not be good now, but we know the sort of ceiling they have on their hands with Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and the aforementioned Collins.

If they reach it, don’t be shocked if they give credit to Carter for how they did.

Many NBA legends have talked about the veterans who influenced them when they were young – Vince Carter believed that was what was most important. In short, making sure that these young players are on the right path from the start and not take anything for granted. Carter made a lasting impact on the NBA, and that impact should last for generations.

This list goes to show that there’s no correct way to be underrated. You can be underrated because you embraced a new lesser role. You can be underrated because you thrived in a bigger role and didn’t get noticed. You can be underrated because you made progress that no one saw coming. You can be underrated because your impact in the locker room greatly exceeds that on the court. And so on and so forth. . .

We’re still some ways from seeing this NBA season resolve, if at all, but, when it does, we’ll see these underrated players continue to shine.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

NBA Daily: Jonas Valanciunas Spearheading Grizzlies’ Growth

Jaren Jackson Jr. made his debut last night after missing the first 56 games of the season. Still, the Memphis Grizzlies have stockpiled wins without their second-best player, thanks in large part to the strong play of Jonas Valanciunas.

Chad Smith

Published

on

With less than a month remaining in the regular season, the playoff races are heating up. The new play-in tournament will allow more teams into the thick of things as the season winds down. One team looking to make a return to postseason play is the Memphis Grizzlies, led by dynamic point guard Ja Morant. Memphis currently owns the eighth spot in the Western Conference, thanks to excellent team basketball.

Morant may be the face of the franchise, but he has had a minor sophomore slump this season. His shooting percentages are down across the board, which include 74 percent from the free-throw line and 27 percent from behind the three-point line. Like most everyone in the league this year, he has missed a handful of games that have prevented him from getting into the type of rhythm that he would like.

Memphis is the true definition of the word “team” as they have collected wins with a well-balanced attack. They don’t have one or two superstar players that carry them on a nightly basis. They don’t rely on that which either, which makes things difficult for the opponent as they prepare their defensive strategies. The Grizzlies are difficult to game plan for, which is a credit to their unselfish play.

Contributions have come from everyone on the roster, from top to bottom. Kyle Anderson has been a perfect fit in Memphis. Dillon Brooks is seemingly unstoppable when he gets going. Brandon Clarke continues to impress and Grayson Allen has been a revelation for this team. It doesn’t stop there either. De’Anthony Melton, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman have been excellent additions by the front office and the continued development of Tyus Jones has been crucial to lessening the load on Morant.

The real surprise has come at the center position. Memphis was supposed to be a two-headed monster with the young duo of Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. The fourth-overall pick in the 2018 draft finally made his season debut last night against the Los Angeles Clippers, which makes what Memphis is doing even more impressive.

With Jackson sidelined for essentially the entire season, the only other center on the roster is Jonas Valanciunas. Memphis was concerned about having the veteran big man shoulder too much of the load, but he has delivered on a nightly basis. The nine-year vet is having a career year in Memphis. Unfortunately, the team announced on Sunday that he would miss some time due to a concussion.

Not only has the Lithuanian produced some incredible numbers so far this season, but he has also been a key cog to the Grizzlies’ winning ways. Valanciunas has a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 24.13 which ranks 18th in the league among all players. That is a remarkable accomplishment for a center in today’s game.

The rebounding numbers alone are quite impressive. Valanciunas has essentially led the team in that department each game and has done it by a wide margin. He currently ranks third in the league in rebounds, behind only Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert.

Valanciunas has 40 double-doubles this season in his 50 games played. As of last week, the only players with more double-doubles this season were MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook.

Valanciunas has been getting better as the season progresses. He averaged 15.0 rebounds per game in March. His numbers in April are a reflection of how well Memphis has been playing. He is averaging 20.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game this month. He is shooting 68 percent from the floor, 46 percent from three-point range and 86.2 percent from the free-throw line. His best game this month came against the Indiana Pacers when he poured in 34 points and grabbed 22 rebounds.

Before Valanciunas went out with a concussion, the Grizzlies had won seven of their last ten games. They are now 0-2 without him but the losses weren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. They came up short in an overtime game against a red-hot New York Knicks team, then lost to the Dallas Mavericks on a ridiculous floating three-pointer by Luka Doncic. On Monday they fell two points short in a double-overtime thriller in Denver against the Nuggets. Without JV on the floor, Jokic erupted with 47 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists.

Sharing the ball has been a constant theme for this young Memphis team. Only the Golden State Warriors average more assists per game as a team. The Grizzlies also lead the league in steals per game, which is a testament to their effort on the defensive end of the floor.

Taylor Jenkins deserves much of the credit in Memphis, though he doesn’t want the spotlight. The second-year head coach has the Grizzlies playing elite defense despite being one of the faster teams in terms of pace of play. Their defensive rating ranks seventh in the league while also boasting the 11th best net rating. The road ahead doesn’t get much easier for them though.

Memphis is in the middle of a brutal seven-game road trip. It started well for them, with wins over the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. After the double-overtime loss in Denver, they beat the Clippers in Jackson’s season debut and now head to Portland for two games against the Trail Blazers. Their road trip wraps up with another visit to Denver before facing Portland for the third time in six days.

The last time Memphis made the playoffs was during the 2016-17 season. Along with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, that roster included players like Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Chandler Parsons, Brandan Wright and Zach Randolph. This Grizzlies team may not have the same level of veterans, but their talent runs extremely deep.

Adding Jackson back into the fold should give Memphis a potent punch heading into the postseason. With Valanciunas now missing games, Jackson should have the opportunity to shake off the rust. While they aren’t heading to the NBA Finals this season, this is a scary Grizzlies team that can derail the hopes of a championship contender in the West.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: Is Stephen Curry the MVP?

Given the prolific season Stephen Curry is having, despite the Golden State Warriors being ninth in the Western Conference, does his impact make him the Most Valuable Player in the NBA this season?

Bobby Krivitsky

Published

on

In the aftermath of Klay Thompson suffering an Achilles tear that ended his season before it began, no one would have blamed Stephen Curry for prioritizing his preservation through the 2020-21 campaign.

Instead, despite the Golden State Warriors lacking the necessary talent to become a title contender, Curry’s doing everything in his power to get them into the playoffs.

The two-time league MVP is on pace to win the scoring title for the second time in his career. In a recent road loss against the Boston Celtics, Curry put up 47 points, becoming the second player in Warriors history to score 30 or more points in 10-straight games, joining Wilt Chamberlain. 

In his last 11 contests, Curry’s averaging 40 points on shooting splits that aren’t supposed to be possible at the game’s highest level. Even though he’s hoisting 14.3 attempts from beyond the arc per game, he’s making them at a 49.7 percent clip. He’s taking 23.4 shots from the field but still seeing the ball go through the hoop 54.1 percent of the time.

The context of how Curry’s producing those prodigious numbers makes them even more impressive. He is the only scoring threat on Golden State who defenses need to concern themselves with — stop Curry, win the game; it’s that simple, at least in theory it is.

 

Another layer of what makes Curry’s prolific scoring so impressive is the energy he’s exerting to do so. According to NBA.com’s tracking data, Curry’s running 1.43 miles per game on offense, which is the sixth-most league-wide. And what that figure doesn’t fully capture is that while Curry has a lightning-quick release and is masterful at creating the sliver of daylight he needs to get his shot off, it takes a significant amount of energy to do that once, let alone throughout a game.

Even though Curry’s already the greatest shooter of all time, he’s taken the most lethal part of his game to new heights. From 2015 when the Warriors won their first NBA championship to 2019, a stretch in which they reached the finals every year, step-back threes accounted for just eight percent of Curry’s shooting profile from beyond the arc. But this season, Curry knew it would be more challenging to create shots for himself, which is why he’s doubled that figure to 16 percent and he’s knocking down 51.5 percent of his step-back threes, per NBA.com.

Curry’s also putting more pressure on opponents from further away from the hoop than he has in years past. According to NBA.com, from 2015 through 2019, five percent of his threes came from 30 to 40 feet. This season, shots from that distance account for 10 percent of his three-point attempts. Just like when defenses double team him out of a pick-and-roll, Curry forcing teams to defend him from further out is another way for him to create 4-3 opportunities for his teammates.

 

After that loss against the Celtics, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Curry’s “at the peak of his powers.” Though he’s not just putting his talents towards individual production, he is the primary reason Golden State’s firmly in the play-in tournament. The Warriors currently reside ninth in the Western Conference. They’re one game behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and two back of the seventh-ranked Dallas Mavericks. 

As impressive an individual season as Curry’s having and as vital as he’s been to his team’s success this season, the reality is the Warriors haven’t won at a high enough level for him to win Most Valuable Player honors for the third time in his career. Currently, Nikola Jokic is the leading MVP candidate. While it’s fair to point out the Denver Nuggets aren’t even in the top three in the Western Conference, Jokic ranks first in player efficiency rating, win shares, box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He’s averaging 26.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game. 

If Jokic misses enough of Denver’s remaining games, someone could usurp him for the right to win MVP. In that scenario, Curry would have a chance to become the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for a third time, but he’d have to sway voters from giving it to Joel Embiid. Embiid’s in the midst of a career season, ranking second in player efficiency rating, eighth in win shares and fourth in box plus/minus. He’s averaging 29.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while leading the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Curry ranks sixth in player efficiency rating, seventh in win shares and is second in both box plus/minus and value over replacement player. He has a case for MVP, but Jokic and Embiid are capping off career seasons while leading their respective teams to a higher level of success. Yes, their teams are more talented and there probably isn’t enough weight put on how valuable an individual is to his team, but the reality is the MVP typically goes to the best player on a top team. Furthermore, that argument also applies to Jokic, who’s the lone All-Star on a team with a better record.

Not naming Curry this season’s Most Valuable Player doesn’t mean his prolific production isn’t appreciated. Nor should it get taken as a sign elevating his team, somehow finding ways to become a more dangerous shooter and investing as much energy as he has into a season that won’t end with a championship isn’t garnering respect from the NBA community. That includes fans whose favorite team doesn’t reside in the Bay Area.

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Path Back to the NBA Finals

In the wake of Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Bobby Krivitsky examines the Los Angeles Lakers’ path back to the NBA Finals.

Bobby Krivitsky

Published

on

It’s been 15 games since a high ankle sprain sidelined LeBron James. 

With the Western Conference standings congested and Anthony Davis already out due to a right calf strain and a re-aggravation of his right Achilles tendinosis, the Los Angeles Lakers faced the threat of a fall that would require their participation in the play-in tournament.

However, the Lakers have fought admirably in the absence of their two stars, going seven and eight. As a result, their fall in the standings has been painless, going from third at the time of James’ injury to now occupying fifth place in the West.

The primary reason the Lakers have been able to tread water without their two stars is they’ve remained stingy on defense. Since James’ injury, they have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. That’s despite facing four teams who rank in the top five in offensive rating and six of the categories’ top-10 members.

Right now, the Lakers are 2.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, with a 4.5-game cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks, who are seventh in the conference. That should be a large enough gap to keep Los Angeles out of the play-in tournament, but the two teams are going to converge for a two-game series starting Thursday. For the Lakers, getting swept would re-open the possibility of having to compete in the play-in tournament.

Fortunately for them, even splitting that series would make it unlikely the Mavericks finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings. And help might be on the way for the Lakers: Davis may soon rejoin the lineup, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning there’s a distinct possibility he’s active for at least one of those two matchups. As for James, he’s on track to return in three weeks.

While Los Angeles’ stars are getting closer to making their returns, the Denver Nuggets got dealt a more severe blow when Jamal Murray tore his ACL in a recent game against the Golden State Warriors. Denver is 10-2 since acquiring Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline and looked the part of a legitimate title contender prior to Murray’s injury. 

Denver is fourth in the West, 1.5 games ahead of Los Angeles. But even if the Nuggets have home-court advantage, they’re the preferable opening-round opponent, not just for Los Angeles, but any team with a legitimate chance at the fourth or fifth seed.

Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s the place in the Western Conference pecking order where they’re most likely to finish this season. So long as the Nuggets don’t freefall in Murray’s absence, Los Angeles will likely start the playoffs against an opponent that’s gone from having the potential to present the greatest challenge to the defending champions’ quest to get back to the Finals to becoming a desirable first-round matchup.

After that, the Lakers may have to get past the Utah Jazz and or the Los Angeles Clippers to make a return trip to the NBA Finals. The former has the best record in the league this season, but locking horns with the defending champions in a best of seven series is a far more challenging and potentially rewarding proving ground.

The Jazz have a deep, reliable rotation, they have the best net rating in the NBA, they’re in the top five in points for and against per 100 possessions, and they’re attempting the most threes per game, but also rank in the top five in three-point shooting percentage. However, the Lakers would have the two best players in a series against Utah. Usually, an opponent doesn’t overcome that disadvantage.  

As for the Clippers, Rajon Rondo has quickly proven to be an impactful acquisition. Los Angeles is seven and one with him in the lineup, generating the highest net rating in the league during that span. Last season, the Lakers saw first-hand how impactful playoff Rondo can be. Now, the Clippers are hoping he can bring structure to their offense, something they sorely lacked last postseason and was at the forefront of them blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Doing so would go a long way towards maximizing the production of a team that has the talent to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

If this is the year the battle of LA takes place in the postseason, it figures to be a slugfest. Still, the Clippers have their doubters after last year’s meltdown in the playoffs. There’s also a large contingency who are skeptical about how far the Jazz can go in the postseason, given their lack of a top-tier superstar. Despite the validity of those concerns, both teams can beat the Lakers in a best of seven series. That no longer appears to be the case for the Nuggets, which is a shame for them and people who want to see the best possible matchups in the playoffs. But Murray’s injury, as unfortunate an occurrence as it is, makes it easier for the Lakers to get through the gauntlet that is the Western Conference and have a chance to claim an 18th championship, which would break their tie with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in NBA history.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

ZigZagSport - Best Online Sportsbook & Casino

Advertisement
American Casino Guide
NJ Casino
NJ Casino

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

Bet on NBA at BetNow Sportsbook

CloseUp360

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now