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Western Conference All-Underrated Team

There’s no shortage of love for guys like Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge out West, so we take a look at the conference’s most underrated players.

Jesse Blancarte profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the stars of the NBA are covered in depth and their accomplishments are micro-analyzed. This unfortunately leaves many other players under appreciated and unrecognized. Here are a few players in the Western Conference that have had a great season, but haven’t received the recognition they deserve. These players have been chosen for their overall impact, the amount of credit they receive relative to their team’s overall success and their value against the size of their contracts.

Guard- Mike Conley

There are so many good point guards in the NBA that players like Mike Conley often get overlooked. After seven seasons in the league, Conley has firmly established himself as a top-10 point guard and deserves more recognition as such. Conley averaged 17.2 points per game, along with 6 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals. This has been one of Conley’s most efficient seasons, and continues the upward trend in his production that he has displayed over his seven year career. In the playoffs, Conley is scoring the most points in the league on drives to the rim per game at nine, on 64 percent shooting. However, when people talk about the Memphis Grizzlies, they often talk about the impact of big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, or the elite perimeter defense of Tony Allen. But Conley is the engine that makes the Grizzlies go, and it has come through years of hard work and self-improvement. Basketball Insiders’ Jessica Camerato wrote about how Conley has gone from an out-of-control player to one that sees the finer nuances of the game and sets up his teammates as well as anyone.

Beyond his improved stats and play-making ability, Conley is also an underrated defender. In the past playoff series against the Clippers, Conley spent a lot of time guarding Chris Paul, in spite of the fact that Allen was available for the job. Former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins trusted Conley with the assignment, and in return Conley made life difficult for Paul throughout those series. At age 26 Conley still has a lot of room to improve, but fans shouldn’t overlook just how complete of a player he has become and how important he is to his team right now.

Guard- Gerald Green

It’s easy to lose sight of just how good Phoenix guard Gerald Green was this season. This is a result of playing alongside the Most Improved Player in the league, Goran Dragic, as well as Eric Bledsoe, the Morris twins, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee, all of whom had career years. If asked to name the five players who made the most three pointers this season, most fans would say names like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, and maybe some others like Kevin Durant, Kyle Korver, James Harden or Kevin Love. Not many would answer Green though. Yet Green made the fourth most three pointers in the league with 204 on 40 percent shooting. This put him behind only Curry, Thompson and Lillard, and right ahead of Wesley Matthews.

In fact, Matthews is a good comparison to show just how good Green was this season. Green contributed 15.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, shot almost 85 percent from the free throw line and added at least one highlight play per game. Matthews in comparison put in 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and shot almost 84 percent from the free throw line. The numbers are very similar, but Matthews made $6,875,480 this season, whereas Green made $3,500,000. At this salary Green is a steal and provides exactly the type of offensive production that offensively-challenged teams like the Indiana Pacers (who traded him to Phoenix) need.

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Forward- Draymond Green

Green only averaged 6.2 points, 5 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.9 assists a game in the regular season. Make no mistake though, Green is one of those rare players who makes a positive impact for his team without putting up big stats. Green is a crowd favorite amongst Warriors fans as he plays with grit and determination. Green’s name is often overlooked among bigger names like Andre Iguodala and David Lee, but Green has done the little things that often go unnoticed on winning teams.

In the Warriors series against the Clippers, with Andew Bogut sidelined, Green has been moved into the starting lineup to guard Blake Griffin and set solid screens for Stephen Curry to get him separation from Chris Paul. Green was the difference in Game 4 as Curry finally got the daylight he needed to get hot from deep, and the Warriors buried the Clippers by 21 on Sunday. Green delivered the grit, intensity and versatility that the Warriors need in this series without the injured Andrew Bogut. If the Warriors manage to advance past the Clippers, it will be in large part because of Green, which is incredible considering  that Green is set to make just $875,500 this season.

Forward- P.J. Tucker

After spending several years playing in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany, P.J. Tucker finally found a home in Phoenix last season. This season Tucker averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.4 steals per game and shot 38.7 percent from three point range. Tucker is another player like Draymond Green that doesn’t put up huge numbers, but almost always makes a positive impact for his team. Tucker is somewhat undersized but often guards opposing teams’ best scoring threat. Sometimes this can be a wing player like Kevin Durant or LeBron James, other times it can be a big man like Blake Griffin. Tucker simply does whatever the Suns need him to do. He can play shooting guard, small forward, or power forward and adds versatility to a Suns team that plays at a fast pace. He also helped space the floor, shooting 41.2 percent on corner three pointers, a shot that is often open with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic often driving to the lane and kicking out to shooters on the perimeter.

Tucker, like Gerald Green, can get lost in the long list of young players that had big seasons in Phoenix this year. Tucker was an even bigger bargain than Gerald Green, as he made only $884,293 this season. The Suns are rumored to be interested in small forward Luol Deng, but should do everything they can to bring Tucker back next season.

Center- Robin Lopez

Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, and DeAndre Jordan are often mentioned as three of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Each player gets the credit they deserve as each anchors a strong defensive team. However, it is surprising (except for maybe Portland Trailblazer fans) to hear that during the regular season Robin Lopez was statistically near the top of the league in terms of rim protection. According to the NBA’s SportVU player tracking system, opponents attempted 10.3 field goal attempts at the rim per game against Lopez, who held opponents to only 42.5 percent shooting. To get a sense of what that means, DeAndre Jordan guarded against 10.3 shots at the rim per game, and allowed opponents to shoot 49.4 percent. Roy Hibbert guarded against 9.8 shots at the rim per game and allowed opponents to shoot 41.4 percent. Joakim Noah guarded against 7.8 shots at the rim per game, and allowed opponents to make 46.8 percent of those attempts.

Lopez was in the mix with Noah, who won Defensive Player of the Year, and the two runner-ups in Hibbert and Jordan. However, Lopez was rarely, if ever mentioned as an elite defensive big man. This is probably because the Trailblazers are not a top-10 defensive team. But without Lopez, the Blazers would likely be far worse off. In fact, the Blazers shot up to from the 26th best defensive team last year to 16th best this year in Lopez’s first season with the team. With the Blazers up 3-1 against the Houston Rockets, Lopez is now getting some of the attention he deserves. Lopez had a tremendous season and at $5,904,261 is one of the best bargains at the center position in the league.

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Sixth-Man: Ty Lawson

Much like Mike Conley, Ty Lawson often gets overlooked among the best point guards in the NBA. However, Lawson has been one of the best point guards statistically this season, averaging 17.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 8.8 assists a game. Lawson in fact is second in the league in assists per game behind only Chris Paul.

Lawson is one of the quickest players in the league and uses his speed to get to the rim. Lawson leads the league with 10.6 drives to the rim per game, according to the NBA’s SportVu cameras, and shoots 50.7 percent on these drives. By attacking the rim Lawson often puts pressure on teams to rotate defensively, which allows him to find teammates wide open. One of the beneficiaries of this is Kenneth Faried, who often lurks under, or around the basket waiting to gather offensive rebounds.

Lawson went largely unnoticed this season as the Denver Nuggets were decimated by injuries and missed the playoffs. However, if the Nuggets can get players like Danilo Gallinari back next year from injury they will be a competitive team in the Western Conference and Lawson, as the leader of the team, should get more recognition as a top point guard than he received this season.

Honorable Mentions:

Tony Allen-

Tony Allen receives a lot of credit for his perimeter defense. However, it still probably is not enough. He is simply tenacious on the ball and makes the Grizzlies a threat against any team. He doesn’t always shut down his opponents, but he always makes things difficult, including for Kevin Durant in round 1 of the Playoffs.

Darren Collison-

Darren Collison signed with the Clippers this season for just $1,900,000. The signing has been huge for the Clippers as Collison did a great job filling in for Chris Paul when he separated his shoulder earlier this season. Collison also filled in at shooting guard when J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford were injured. He has been versatile and as big of a signing as any for the Clippers this season.

Vince Carter-

At age 37 Carter continues to be a productive player by becoming an elite three point shooter, hitting 39.4 percent from beyond the arc this season. This was on display recently as he hit a game winning three pointer against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 3 on Saturday.

Patty Mills-

Tony Parker missed several games this season because of various injuries. Each time Mills stepped in and provided surprisingly good production. One example was against the Los Angeles Clippers in February, where Mills scored 25 points, 16 in the fourth quarter. At $1,133,950, Mills is great insurance for when Parker goes down with an injury.

Each year players like these fly under the radar. They are often the players that make all the difference on winning teams but are overshadowed by bigger names. Players like Robin Lopez, Draymond Green and Vince Carter are making significant contributions for their teams in the playoffs so far, but were making similar contributions throughout the regular season as well.

Who makes your Western Conference All-Underrated team? If you think someone was left off this list, let us know in the comment section below!

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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