As it goes with just about everything in life, someone or something doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often as they should and are often viewed as underrated or under looked. In the music scene, for example, certain artists or bands are viewed as more talented than maybe their record sales show or which awards they lose out on at the Grammy’s.
In the NBA, there are plenty of capable players at each position and more often than not there are only a certain number of players being talked about. When it comes to the point guard position, it seems like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are among the names that are mentioned most often. While those players have earned the right to dominate those conversations, there are a number of other point guards that should be receiving more praise than they are.
Here are five point guards (in no particular order) that are often overlooked and deserve to be talked about more:
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies – Conley has been climbing the ranks in the NBA ever since he began his career seven seasons ago. Conley has had steady improvement in points per game and field goal percentage in just about each of his seven seasons in the league and remains a big part of the Grizzlies’ success. Conley’s improvement is the result of relentless work watching game film and a better understanding of what it takes to win and to play well.
Conley showed last season the ability to become a great player on the both sides of the ball as he increased his points per game from 14.6 points per game two seasons ago to 17.2 points per game last season. A big part of that increase was due to Conley shooting a career-high 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range. The improvement on the offensive side of the ball complements his ability to play on the other end of the court. Conley has long been known as a defensive-minded point guard as he earned a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team two seasons while averaging 2.18 steals per game.
It was Conley’s Grizzlies that nearly pulled off an improbable upset of the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in last season’s playoffs. Conley averaged nearly 16 points and eight assists in that series, including a near triple-double of 19 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in Game 2. Conley will be entering next season coming off of another great showing during the playoffs.
Jose Calderon, New York Knicks – With Calderon in New York City now, the Knicks may very well be a much improved team just by adding his services. The Knicks have long missed a point guard that can run the show and Calderon adds superb passing, shooting and a veteran presence. Calderon is a career 48 percent shooter from the field, including 46 percent last season in Dallas. He finished second among qualified point guards in three-point shooting by shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc. Perhaps one of the most important stats that stands out is Calderon’s 3.66 assists per turnover, which was third in the league last season behind only Chris Paul and Pablo Prigioni.
Sharing the court with Carmelo Anthony this season may have an effect on his numbers, but Calderon shared the court with Monta Ellis last season in Dallas and still managed to remain effective. Knicks head coach Derek Fisher will be able to get Calderon plenty of open looks in the triangle offense from behind the arc and his play could even mimic that of Fisher. Calderon isn’t a player that will light it up with a ton of points, but he is a player that consistently remains one of the most effective in the league and could be one of the Knicks’ unsung heroes by the end of the season.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets – It’s hard to imagine a player with averages of 17.6 points, 8.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game getting overlooked much, but that’s exactly what has happened to Lawson. With so much of the conversation focused on Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, it’s easy to see how Lawson is overlooked. Much like Mike Conley, Lawson has shown steady improvement in each year in the league. Lawson’s 17.6 points per game was good for 10th-best in the league and his 8.8 assists per game were tied for second-most in the league with Kendall Marshall and John Wall.
When Lawson has been healthy he has proven to be a top-10 point guard. The problem has been that he has battled injuries throughout his career and hasn’t completed a full season in his five seasons in the league, but he still hasn’t missed more than 21 games in a season. With Kenneth Faried having a great summer playing with Team USA and the Nuggets bringing Arron Afflalo back, the Nuggets should begin the season healthy and have the opportunity to compete for a playoff spot which will help Lawson’s chances of entering the conversation among the league’s best point guards.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs – Of course no underrated point guard list is complete without listing Parker. The 13-year veteran is still dropping 16.7 points on nearly 50 percent shooting (best in the league among point guards) and 5.7 assists on a nightly basis and is just two seasons removed from averaging 20.3 points and 7.6 assists per game. At this point in Parker’s career, there should be no reason that he is being overlooked among the league’s best point guards. Parker has led the Spurs to four titles during his 13 seasons and has made the playoffs in each of those 13 seasons. In comparison, Chris Paul has yet to advance past the second-round of the playoffs and Paul is widely considered the best point guard in the league.
Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns – The Suns were under no pressure last season to make the playoffs, but nearly locked in a playoff spot largely in part to Dragic’s season. The Most Improved Player of the Year increased his scoring from 14.7 to 20.3 points per game, which was the result of shooting 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range. The most impressive thing with Dragic’s improvement last season is that his role mostly remained the same with the Suns. His minutes only increased on average by two per game from the previous season but he still made significant jumps in key statistical areas. It’ll be tough to predict whether or not Dragic is in store for another season like that with Eric Bledsoe remaining on the team (for now) and the arrival of Isaiah Thomas, but teams will surely be watching Dragic whenever he’s on the floor.
Last season proved that there are point guards capable of being effective without having to score 20-25 points per game like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving. These players have proven that the top point guard conversations should be expanded to include 8-10 players, rather than the same four or five players.
Which point guards do you think should be included as most underrated in the NBA? Let us know below!
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.