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Eastern Conference All-Underrated Team

A close look at some of the players in the Eastern Conference who haven’t gotten the respect that they deserve this season.

John Zitzler



The Eastern Conference may have been down this year, but there was still a nice crop of players outside of the usual suspects that had impressive seasons. These All-Underrated players were chosen based off their team’s overall success, their total contribution to that success and their personal performance throughout the regular season. While some of the players listed may be known commodities around the league, they still may not be receiving all the credit they deserve when measured against the impact they had for their teams.

Guard – Jeff Teague

Over the past couple years Teague has quietly developed into one the better young guards in the East. Teague, who nearly ended up in Milwaukee this past off-season after signing an offer sheet with the Bucks, has really come into his own recently. The Hawks wisely chose to retain Teague. Keeping Teague in Atlanta paid immediate dividends, as he has played a crucial role in getting the team back to the playoffs and now, along with Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and a cast of very solid role players have the Hawks poised to pull off a huge first round upset.

Statistically Teague’s numbers resemble one of the more highly regarded guards in the league, Russell Westbrook. Westbrook does a better job rebounding the ball and tends to get up more shots, which leads to a slightly higher scoring average, but there certainly are some similarities. Teague averaged 16.5 points, shooting from 43.8% from the field; Westbrook averaged 21.8 points, shooting 43.7%. Teague’s shooting percentage from three was 32.9%; Westbrook’s was 31.8%. Teague dished out 6.7 assists a game compared to Westbrook’s 6.9 assists per game. Both guys do a good job getting to the stripe, Teague shooting an average of 4.8 free throws a night and Westbrook an impressive 6.4 attempts a game. There is no doubt Westbrook is the superior player but Teague does share some similar traits with the explosive Thunder guard. Teague may not be underrated for long, as a series win over the heavily favored Pacers would go a long way in terms of Teague gaining the recognition he deserves.

Guard – Kyle Lowry

Lowry may not be as underrated as he was coming into this season, but he still tends to fly under the radar in comparison to some of the other big time guards in the East (as evidenced by his All-Star snub). When the discussion of the top point guards is brought up, Kyrie Irving and John Wall are more than likely to be the first names mentioned. Both Wall and Irving are terrific players but Lowry has more than proven this season that he deserves to be in that conversation as well.

Lowry has had the best season of his career, averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Lowry flirted with his first career All-Star appearance this season, but in the end was passed over by the coaches and his teammate DeMar DeRozan was selected. He has asserted himself as a veteran leader for the Raptors and has continued to step up in big moments. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Raptors and if the team has aspirations of a deep playoff run, Lowry’s play will be key.

Forward – Trevor Ariza

When you think of the Wizards the first player that comes to mind is John Wall and deservedly so, but he hasn’t been the only reason why the Wizards have become a threat in the East. Contributions from Nene, Marcin Gortat, Bradley Beal and Ariza have all been very important in the team’s success. Ariza, in particular, is having one of the best seasons of his long career. He is third on the Wizards in scoring at 14.4 points per game, second in rebounding (6.2 per game) and steals (1.6 per game) and is shooting 45.6% from the field.

The veteran forward has thrived in a starting role and proven that he can still be a valuable piece on a playoff team. Ariza provides a little a bit of everything for the Wizards. He has done a great job hitting the three ball this season, putting up career best numbers from downtown. Defensively his length and athleticism make him a tough matchup and gives the Wizards versatility on that end of the floor. Ariza started every game he played this year (77) and played the most minutes in a single season of his career. He has continued to play well in the playoffs and looks to carry his strong play into the second round.

Forward – Amir Johnson

One name that often goes overlooked when discussing the better big men in the East is Johnson. Johnson may not be as skilled as a guy like Chris Bosh or David West but his work ethic and toughness have made him one the more steady contributors at the four spot in the East. Playing just over 28 minutes per game, Johnson averaged 10.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

He developed into a reliable and consistent option that has been able to provide the Raptors with good production. Johnson paired with Jonas Valanciunas have developed into one of the more formidable frontcourts in the East and a have been major factor in the Raptors’ playoff run.

Center – Andre Drummond

Drummond has been a monster this year but playing for the lowly Pistons, he still does not get the attention he deserves. He is a star in the making and may be one the best rebounders in the league for years to come. His elite combination of size, strength and athleticism makes him a nightmare for opposing big men trying to keep him off the glass. Many NBA followers are familiar with him but need a closer look to realize just how dominant he has been on the offensive glass. At age 20, Drummond led the league in offensive rebounding with 440 total, second was DeAndre Jordan with 331, a whopping difference of 109 rebounds from the second place finisher. To give even more perspective, Drummond had more than twice as many total offensive rebounds as DeMarcus Cousins (218) and Roy Hibbert (202).

Drummond finished the year averaging a double-double, 13.5 points per game and 13.2 rebounds per game. He is undoubtedly the most important player on the Pistons’ roster going forward. Right now most of Drummond’s offense comes off put backs or easy dunks; his ability to haul in offensive boards gives him a number chances at right at the rim every game. However, Drummond must work to improve his low post scoring ability, as right now he is not a guy you can throw the ball down to and let him work. He has the ability to overpower smaller defenders but when faced with a physical equal (not that there are many) he can struggle to score. Pistons fans should be drooling just thinking about just how special of player Drummond can become.

Sixth Man – Kemba Walker

The electric point guard played a major role in the Bobcats securing a playoff berth. Unfortunately for them, they were faced with task of taking on the defending champion Miami HEAT. The team fought hard, but just didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the talent laden HEAT.

Despite the lack of success in the playoffs, Walker still deserves to be commended for his performance this season. He led the Bobcats in assists (6.1) and steals (1.2) while finishing second in scoring (17.7). He has shown a nice scoring touch in his three years in the league, having averaged over 16 points per 36 minutes every season as a pro. Walker was one of the few players on the Bobcats with the ability to create off the dribble, putting a lot of pressure on him in late shot clock situations that may have taken a toll on his field goal percentage as he shot 39.3%. Walker along with big Al Jefferson will give the team some nice punch going into next season and should give Bobcats Hornets fans hope for the future.


Honorable Mention


Brandon Knight

The Bucks acquired Knight this past offseason as part of the Brandon Jennings trade with the expectation that he would be a big time contributor from day one. While the Bucks’ season may have been a long one filled with loss after loss, Knight continued to plug away and make the most of his extended minutes. Knight was the most the consistent player on the Bucks throughout the season, averaging 17.9 points per game, 4.9 assists per game, had a PER of 16.5, while shooting 42.2% from the field.

Knight still very young, only 22 years old – the same age as Sixers rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams – and continued to make strides forward this season. He improved his scoring, assists, rebounding and field goal percentage from last year with the Pistons. If he can continue to improve as a creator, he will be a nice piece for the Bucks as they rebuild.

Anderson Varejao

The veteran Cavalier continued to produce even in a season filled with disappointment for the team. Varejao has been one of the most effective rebounders in the game during his career and that trend continued this season as he averaged 9.7 rebounds per game in just less than 28 minutes a night. His activity and motor make it a challenge to keep him off the glass. He is not known as a great scorer but certainly must be respected; he has the ability to put up 12-15 points on a given night. It would be great to see Varejao find his way onto a contender as he enters the later stages of his career; his ability to rebound the ball could significantly bolster a frontcourt lacking in that department.

Arron Afflalo

Afflalo put in one of the better seasons of his career this year with the Magic, averaging 18 points per game while shooting a very respectable 45.9% from the field. He was able to knock down threes with regularity, hitting just under two per game. Afflalo was the most consistent option on the offensive end night in and night out for the up and coming Magic. He is under contract with the team through next season with a player option available for the following year; it will be interesting to see what the Magic decide to do with Afflalo as they try to develop the youth on their roster.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.


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NBA Standout Player Watch – Jan. 26

Basketball Insiders releases its first standout player watch of the year for the Eastern Conference. Tristan Tucker highlights some of the players that have shown out but are still vastly underrated.

Tristan Tucker



This season, the All-Star game will not be played, though players will still be able to receive the honor and go down in the record books all the same. While players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and many more are surefire All-Stars, Basketball Insiders wants to give credit to some of the players that are being overlooked around the league.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Basketball Insiders’ first edition of its standout player watch from the Eastern Conference, in no particular order.

Jerami Grant

When the Detroit Pistons signed Grant, someone that averages 9.8 points across his career, to a three year, $60 million deal in the offseason, everyone around the NBA raised their eyebrows. It was then reported that the Denver Nuggets offered the same deal to try and keep Grant, but he took on a role that would see him be the feature offensive piece in Detroit.

That move has completely paid off and Grant is having a year that almost no one, other than himself, could have expected. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and .9 steals per game, all career highs.

Grant is also having his most efficient season beyond the arc, shooting 38.2 percent from deep on 6.9 attempts per game, a fairly high number.

The Pistons are bad, there’s no way to sugarcoat that, but Grant alongside other pleasant surprises in Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Saddiq Bey have made the team enjoyable to watch. Grant is playing like a legitimate superstar and should be named to the All-Star team this year, in whatever form that may take.

Zach LaVine

Over the last three seasons, LaVine has continued to improve and this season is no different. Despite averaging 23.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 45.3 percent shooting from the floor and 37.4 percent from deep across his Chicago Bulls career, LaVine has yet to make an All-Star team.

Perhaps that will all change this season, as LaVine is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, plus close to a 50/40/90 split. The Bulls are decent this season, currently at 7-9, but for LaVine to be an All-Star lock, they’ll likely need to be in playoff position at the time of All-Star selections.

Jaylen Brown

Brown appeared on Basketball Insiders’ week one MVP ladder, and that was no mistake. There’s a reason Brown was never included in any potential James Harden trade chatter, no matter how much the Houston Rockets may have wanted him – and that’s because he’s the real deal.

This season, Brown is the seventh-leading scorer in the league and is putting up an astounding 27.3 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals, shooting 43 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game.

The Boston Celtics haven’t been at full strength for much of the season, without Jayson Tatum as he deals with a case of COVID-19, but Brown has his franchise among the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference nonetheless.

Julius Randle

Randle had a season to forget last year after signing with the New York Knicks on a three-year, $62 million contract in the summer of 2019, as he took a dip in scoring and efficiency across the board from his breakout season the year before with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Something changed in the 6-foot-8 power forward over the offseason, as he is having a career year with the Knicks and has the team firmly in the playoff picture with an 8-10 record. The main difference in Randle’s game has been his shift in playstyle, transitioning to a playmaking big instead of someone that’s primarily an undersized low post threat.

Randle is averaging career highs in multiple statistical categories, up to 22.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic is criminally underrated year after year and this season is more of the same. One of the only reasons the Orlando Magic is able to remain competitive in the face of huge injuries to key players like Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu is the play of Vucevic.

Vucevic has been giving it his all this season, putting up a career-high in points per game with 23.2 and has put in the work necessary to improve his long-range game. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from three on 6.4 attempts per game, by far and away the best deep shooting performance of his career.

While Vucevic has been named to an All-Star team before, his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the best bigs in the league, a narrative that he’s doing his all to change.

Domantas Sabonis/Malcolm Brogdon/Myles Turner

So many players have been playing stellar ball for the Indiana Pacers that it was impossible to narrow this selection down to just one.

Sabonis has downright played his way into the MVP conversation, notching a double-double in every single game he’s appeared in this season. Sabonis was an All-Star last year, and his play has continued to improve as he’s averaging 20.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.

Brogdon has also played his way into the MVP race, having been included in Basketball Reference’s ladder in the first month alongside Sabonis. It’s not hard to see why as he’s averaging what is by far a career-high 21.9 points with 7.1 assists on 39.5 percent shooting from deep on 7.1 attempts per game. Brogdon has also improved his on-ball defense, averaging 1.6 steals per game, a career-high.

Meanwhile, Turner may just be the most overlooked of them all, as he’s the heart and soul of this Indiana defense. Turner should be firmly in the lead for the Defensive Player of the Year award, as he’s holding opponents to shoot below league average and has averaged a whopping 4.1 blocks per game.

Honorable mentions: De’Andre Hunter, Gordon Hayward

It was hard to narrow this list down in the first place, with so many notable performances coming out of the Eastern Conference on a nightly basis. OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher are showing out for the Toronto Raptors and are helping that team back into the playoff picture, Shake Milton looks like one of the best guards in the conference while Tobias Harris is revitalizing his career under Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers.

However, our honorable mentions this week are De’Andre Hunter and Gordon Hayward, both of whom are playing at a near All-Star level.

Hunter made the jump into a lead wing for the Atlanta Hawks after a promising first season and is up to 17.4 points per game, upping his efficiency across the board and fresh off a 33-point performance versus the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Charlotte Hornets’ signing of Hayward to a huge deal was widely panned across the league but the Hornets were always going to have to empty their pockets to get a player of his caliber. Hayward is averaging 24.1 points per game and is eerily close to a 50/40/90 shooting split. Hayward, alongside teammate Terry Rozier, have the Hornets in contention for a playoff spot, with both players playing at extremely high levels.

With so many outstanding players in the league, this list will be sure to change on a weekly basis. Be sure to check back at Basketball Insiders to see which players continue to shine!

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What We Learned: Eastern Conference Week 4

What did we learn about the Eastern Conference this week? Jonathon Gryniewicz takes a look in the most recent edition of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.

Jonathon Gryniewicz



It’s not even a month into the NBA season, but the 2020-21 Eastern Conference has already looked super competitive, with 14 teams within six games of each other. There’s bound to be some separation in the coming weeks, don’t expect any team to go down easy.

But which have paced the East? Who’s flopped? Let’s take a look.

The New Look Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the newly acquired James Harden recently played their first game together against the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The back-and-forth game ended in a double-overtime, 147-135 Nets loss. The three of them had plenty of time on the court together and divvied up the scoring; Durant scored 38 points on 25 shots in 50 minutes; Irving 37 points on 28 shots in 37 minutes; and Harden 21 points on 14 shots in 51 minutes.

But, outside of the box score, what did we learn about this team from their first performance?

You never want to jump to conclusions, but it’s easy to see that their offense could be dominant. When those three were on the court together, Harden served as the de facto point guard while Irving and Durant took their turns in isolation situations. Of course, in such an iso-based offense, there wasn’t much player movement beyond the trio, but they are so good at taking their own man off the dribble they can always get a good shot. What should make them even harder to guard is the fact that they’re all prolific three-point shooters; two can space at the three point line, while the other can use that extra space to either score themselves or collapse the defense and kick it outside.

Of course, there’s some work to be done. Harden and Irving combined for nine of the team’s 16 turnovers, while each of the three took their fair share of shots maybe just a bit too early in the shot clock. Defensively, Brooklyn is a major work-in-progress. Their closing lineup of Harden, Durant, Irving, Jeff Green and Joe Harris would appear to be solid but doesn’t offer much in terms of switchability and consistent rim protection. Beyond that, there isn’t much to be excited about.

Depth could also be an issue. They recently added Norvel Pelle to compete with two-way rookie Reggie Perry for backup center minutes. The team may have to look into an addition on the wing, too; while they currently roster Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, the three are young and, so far this season, have proven inconsistent at best. A veteran that could provide some bench stability should be the priority.

Kendrick Nunn is Emerging for the Miami HEAT

In recent days, Kendrick Nunn has played his best basketball in nearly a year.

The 2020 Rookie of the Year runner-up, Nunn struggled in the Orlando Bubble last season as he saw a continually diminished role in Miami’s run to the NBA Finals. He started this season on a similar note, as he averaged only 5.5 points and played in just six of the HEAT’s first 12 games.

But, with Jimmy Butler and other key players dealing with injury, Nunn has seen a resurgence. In Miami’s last six games, not only has he played heavy minutes, but Nunn has flourished to the tune of 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s also shot 37.8 percent from three and 50 percent from the floor.

Of course, there’s the question of the competition. Nunn’s success has come against the Nets aforementioned suspect defense, as well as the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, two teams that have struggled mightily to start the year. Still, the spark he’s shown should help him maintain a role going forward, even after Butler and the rest return to the court.

If he can maintain hold down a role, or at least a bit of that spark, Nunn could prove a massive boon for Miami, whose offense has been pretty mediocre in the early going.

The Indiana Pacers Injury Woes 

Under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers’ 2020-21 season has seen a terrific start. Through 12 games, Indiana is  8-4 and have played a fun, up-tempo brand of basketball.

That said, they’ve had to deal with a lot on the injury front. After they netted Caris LeVert in the four-team blockbuster that sent Harden to Brooklyn, a mass was found on one of LeVert’s kidneys and he has since been ruled out indefinitely.

Myles Turner, meanwhile, just returned from a two-game absence due to an avulsion fracture in his right hand. In his absence, the Pacers’ defense just didn’t look the same, giving up 129 and 124 points to the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The team started the season without Jeremy Lamb and has since lost T.J. Warren to a foot injury that is expected to hold him out for most of the season as well.

No team can lose two starters and expect to continue playing at the same level. If they can’t get healthy, expect it to play a major role in their standing and playoff position at the end of the season.

It will be interesting to watch the East over the next month to see which teams can separate themselves. Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.

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Miami’s Struggles About More than One Player

Drew Maresca assesses the Miami HEAT’s early-season struggles and their statistical slide from the 2019-20 campaign.

Drew Maresca



The Miami HEAT appeared to successfully turn the corner on a quick rebuild, having advanced to the bubble’s 2020 NBA Finals. It looked as though Miami took a short cut even, rebounding from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh era incredibly quickly. Ultimately, they did so through smart drafting – including the selections of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro – plus, a little luck, like the signing of Jimmy Butler and smartly sticking with Duncan Robinson.

But despite the fact that they should have improved from last season, the tide may have turned again in South Beach.

Through 15 games, the HEAT are an underwhelming 6-9 with losses in each of their last two games. Miami is also scoring fewer points per game than last season – 109.3 versus 112  – while giving up more – 113.1 against 109.1.

Miami has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the NBA, and there are some embarrassing and noteworthy loses thus far. They lost by a resounding 47 points to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, with extra harsh defeats of 20 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons and the mediocre Toronto Raptors.

What’s to blame for Miami’s woes? Unfortunately for the HEAT, it’s a number of things.

First of all, they need more from a few of their stars – and it starts at the very top. Jimmy Butler was Miami’s leading scorer in 2019-20, posting 19.9 points per game. But this season, Butler is scoring just 15.8 points per game on a sub-par 44.2 percent shooting. While Butler shot poorly from three-point range last season, too (24.4 percent), he hasn’t connected on a single three-pointer yet in 2020-21. This, coming from a guy who shot 34.7 percent from deep in 2018-19 and 35 percent in 2017-18.

But it’s not just his lack of scoring that’s hurting. Butler is also collecting fewer assists and rebounds as well. He’s averaging only 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, down from 6.7 ad 6.0 last season.

However, Butler’s main struggle this season has nothing to do with any statistic or slump. Butler has missed seven straight games due to COVID-19 protocols. Although to go-scorer wasn’t playing particularly well prior to isolating from the team – scoring in single digits twice – the HEAT are always in better shape if their leader takes the floor with them.

It’s not just Butler either. Tyler Herro also needs to regain his bubble form, at least as far as shooting is concerned. After connecting on 38.9 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts in 2019-20, he’s sinking only 30.2 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per game this season.

While Herro is scoring more – 17.2 points per game this season – and doing so more efficiently, he’s doesn’t pose the same threat from deep this season. So while he’s sure to pick it up sooner than later, he must do so to put more pressure on opposing defense.

It’s fair to assume Herro will solve his long-distance shooting woes, but the fact that he’s also struggling from the free throw line is concerning because it speaks more to his form. Herro is still well above the league average, connecting on 76.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, but he shot a scorching 87 percent on free throw attempts last season.

So what’s behind the slump? More importantly, which Herro can the HEAT count on for the remainder of 2020-21? As much as Herro is on track to grow into an incredible player, Miami needs his efficiency to return to last season’s form if they expect to compete. But like Butler, a major part of Herro’s struggles are off the court.

Herro is currently dealing with an injury, having missed the last five games with neck spasms. Coach Erik Spoelstra noted that giving the injured Herro so many minutes before his big layoff likely exacerbated his injuries.

“There’s no telling for sure if this is why Tyler missed these games,” Spoelstra told the South Florida SunSentinel. “But it definitely didn’t help that he had to play and play that many minutes. We didn’t have anybody else at that point. If he didn’t play, then we would have had seven.”

But the HEAT’s struggles are about more than any one player – and that’s a big part of what makes Miami, Miami.

Still, their team stats are equally puzzling, like that the Miami HEAT currently ranks 20th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. In 2019-20, they were 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Obviously, something isn’t translating from last year, but what is it that’s missing?

Firstly, the HEAT are only the 18th best three-point shooting in terms of percentage. Last season, Miami was 2nd by shooting 37.9 percent. Herro returning to his old self should help quite a bit, and Butler making at least a few threes should improve spacing, too.

But it’s not just three-point shooting as the HEAT ranked last in field goal attempts last season, tallying just 84.4 attempts per game. And while they’re last again this season, they’ve managed to average even fewer attempts per game (81.7) despite maintaining nearly all of their roster.

The HEAT are also last in offensive rebounding, which translates to fewer field goal attempts and fewer points. And while Miami was 29th in offensive rebounds last season, they’re corralling 2.1 fewer rebounds this season (6.4) than in  2019-20 (8.5). What’s more, Miami is now last in total rebounds with only 40.9 per game. A number that also represents a fairly significant change as the HEAT were 17th a season ago with 44.4 per game – whew!

Lastly, Miami is turning the ball over more often than nearly any other team – sorry, Chicago – in 2020-21. During the prior campaign, the HEAT were barely middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.9 times per game, a mark that left them 18th-best in the league. This season, they’re 29th and turning the ball over 17.7 times per game – dead last in terms of turnovers per 100 possessions.

It’s not all bad news for the HEAT, though. Bam Adebayo looks great so far, posting 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Second-year stud Kendrick Nunn is averaging 21.5 points on 56 percent shooting through the past four games; while Duncan Robinson is still a flame thrower, shooting 44.4 percent on 8.4 three-point attempts per game.

The HEAT’s upside is still considerable, but it’s easy to wonder if they captured magic in a bottle last season.

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