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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.

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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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