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The Underrated Players: Northwest Division

In stop No. 2, Ben Nadeau examines the most underrated players in the Northwest Division.

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To grasp how one can be underrated, the definition for rated must be first observed, obviously.

Taking a page out of the apathetic/lazy/Jeff Winger best man speech how-to guide and textbook, Webster’s Dictionary states that rate (and its many tenses) is to “assign a standard or value to (something) according to a particular scale.” In which case, such an understanding makes rating a list of basketball players – perhaps the best 330 or so in the entire world, give or take – even harder.

What are the criteria to determine what is or isn’t properly rated? Would it be to find the best value compared to their draft position? To their current contract? To their existing or nonexistent league-wide popularity? To a team’s successes? As examples, look no further than ESPN’s The Last Dance to find how subjective and varied the question of being underrated can really become.

Scottie Pippen, universally hailed as one of the greatest players of all-time, was criminally underpaid compared to his statistical output during the Chicago Bulls’ six championship-winning seasons. In that sense, Pippen was underrated, but as a seven-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, can that label really be applied to him?

Or for Dennis Rodman, who wasn’t drafted until the second round in 1986, a rebounding machine and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, does an underrated tag belong on him too? And, as the second and third ponies alongside Jordan, the greatest of all-time for most, does that make them underrated even more?

In the cases of Pippen and Rodman, two extreme resumes, admittedly, the answer would be a resolute and resounding no.

So if there’s no true, foolproof way to determine eligibility for underratedness, then anything becomes fair game. Too often, the NBA’s biggest and brightest stars are viewed through a single, frustrating lens: Count the rinnnnnnnnnnnnngs, baby! And if you don’t have any championships, too bad, you might be a loser. Or worse, gasp, overrated. Yet, in 2020 and with so many wonderful vantage points, numbers and angles to pitch a story, almost anybody can be underrated if you put your mind to it.

With that in mind, here’s the Northeast Division’s most underrated contributors, all in their own particularly unique way.

Carmelo Anthony, Portland Trail Blazers

With Anthony, that first rule of thumb comes into play immediately: Forget the statistics.

Forget the numbers, percentages and whatever fancy-pants metrics support the inane task of taking down a future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Carmelo Anthony, today, is underrated.

Sure, he probably won’t hoist a trophy before he bids farewell, but so what? Hell, the chances of him even reaching the NBA Finals at this point appear to be a lost dream. But these recent (and strange) seasons have done years of irreversible damage to Anthony’s status in basketball history, for reasons that are often difficult to understand.

Anthony is a 10-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA team member, national champion, three-time Olympic gold medalist and likely would have finished the 2019-20 season as the 14th-highest scorer in NBA history. For 14 seasons in a row, Anthony tallied more than 20 points per game, topping out at a whopping 28.7 in 2012-13. Ultimately, his status as a basketball legend is not up for debate, yet many wonder if he should even make the Hall of Fame at all.

He’s slowed down today, of course, but Anthony remains underrated in the long-time NBA canon and will be lionized correctly years after his career ends, almost undoubtedly. So why wait?

Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and other superstars got emotional farewell tours, so where is Anthony’s? Those who fail to appreciate greatness while they still have it will be the first to unironically post a highlight reel with the smoke-from-nostril emoji on Twitter in 2030 asking for retweets to prove how underrated Anthony truly was.

Don’t be that person: Anthony is ready to be loved right here and now.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz

For all of his big-time shotmaking, out-of-nowhere explosions and general cold-bloodedness, where has that gotten Bojan Bogdanovic in terms of popularity? Honestly, outside of Brooklyn, Indiana and Utah, the answer is sadly very little.

Bogdanovic, a winner of championships in both Turkey and Croatia, came over to the NBA in 2014 and fast became a reliable source of buckets for the Nets. Although streaky, watching a red-hot Bogdanovic is an absolute treat, a flamethrower with reckless abandon and supreme confidence.

In 2016, the Croatian dropped 44 on the Philadelphia 76ers, a number that equaled the one on Drazen Petrovic’s jersey – the oft-go-to inspiration for many international basketball players. Three years later, in 2019-20, Bogdanovic was sporting a career-best 20.2 points and 4.1 rebounds, plus a ridiculous 3.0 three-pointers on 41.4 percent.

His defense comes up short in crucial moments, but when has that ever stopped a player from growing wildly in popularity? Perhaps always hidden in smaller markets or behind a bigger star, he has always played second fiddle. And at 31, his chance to ascend has come and gone – but the true ones know: Bojan Bogdanovic is one of the most underrated scorers in the NBA today.

Underappreciated, too, was Bogdanovic’s measure of self-worth and inherent ability to stay off the hellscape called Twitter for three consecutive seasons. On Mar. 27, the sharpshooter sent out a simple message: “I just realized I have Twitter account” and accompanied it with a playful emoji.

Gosh, the world would be a better place if we all had that kind of control.

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokic this. Jamal Murray that. (Sometimes) Gary Harris in between. But Will? Poor Barton is an afterthought in most conversations about the Nuggets’ team-wide and team-first spectacle. But with 15.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 45 percent shooting, Barton is playing better than ever before.

And at $12.7 million in 2019-20, he’s also a steal too.

He averages more points than Harrison Barnes ($24 million), Aaron Gordon ($19.8) and Al Horford ($28), while coming in just under Terry Rozier ($19.9), Goran Dragic ($19.2) and Tim Hardaway Jr. ($18.1). That’s value. Moreover, Barton leads Denver in minutes at 33 and brings down the second-most rebounds per game at just 6-foot-5. When Barton knocked down three or more attempts from deep this year, the Nuggets went 11-4.

With the added bonus of underrated nicknames aside – of note, the rhyming nickname scheme rules and collective sports society got worse when we moved onto ‘cooler’ processes like the uber-unique first initial + last initial + number method – Will ‘The Thrill’ fits most of our aforementioned criteria.

D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves

Thus far, we’ve tackled the sentiment of being underrated via overall career resume (Anthony), popularity (Bogdanovic) or even on his own roster (Barton) – so, next, how about underrated in the category of underappreciation?

All those years ago, Russell was a can’t-miss prospect. But after an improved sophomore season, he was pawned off so the Lakers could draft Lonzo Ball. Then, following his first-ever All-Star-worthy berth that pushed Brooklyn back into the playoffs for the first time in four years, he was jettisoned for Kyrie Irving. And when the Warriors acquired Russell in a sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant last July, the young sharpshooter lasted just half a season – one without Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for most of it – before Golden State shuffled him off for an Andrew Wiggins-sized lotto ticket.

So, for the love of all that is holy in our sport, the question is this: What must D’Angelo Russell do to earn your respect?

At 23, Russell has seen the world around and then some, bouncing between franchise cornerstone and trade chip so fast it would give onlookers second-hand whiplash. Through 12 games with Minnesota, his potential forever home, Russell was averaging 21.7 points and 6.6 assists on 41.2 percent from the floor. Adjusting to Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves’ No. 1 asset and Russell’s No. 1 BFFL, shouldn’t be difficult – but with his ceiling, it’s insane that such a talented player is on his fourth team already.

When the NBA flashes its cruel, business-sided approach to feelings, it’s hard not to ache for the player caught in the crosshairs. And through five years, Russell has been on the losing end of that deal three times already. Healthy and confident, the talented up-and-comer won’t be shopped again soon – hopefully, then, being properly rated is just around the corner for Russell as well.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

Rounding out the bunch is our annual Mr. Underrated In His Own Draft Class, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

In 2018, Gilgeous-Alexander was taken with the No. 11 overall pick and promptly swapped for Miles Bridges. Coming out of an illustrious Kentucky program wasn’t enough as he fell behind the well-deserved hype for Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., Deandre Ayton and Trae Young. Most of the draft class chatter remains loudest about a couple of those previously named – but sooner rather than later, Gilgeous-Alexander will own as big of a star.

After a promising rookie season, the guard was reluctantly included in the trade that landed Paul George (and, subsequently, Kawhi Leonard) and he’s since flourished with the Thunder. As a 21-year-old, Gilgeous-Alexander has doubled his points (19.3) and rebounds (6.1) while starting 63 games next to Chris Paul, the absolute perfect veteran to study. The once-All-Rookie First Team member finished 5,798,243 tallies behind Doncic in All-Star voting in 2019-20 – but was the gap really that large between the two second-year cornerstones?

Gilgeous-Alexander has caught the eye of writers everywhere and everybody is fawning over his electric potential, both as a scorer and a playmaker. In the end, he appears to be a more than formidable choice to take over as the franchise crown jewel from Russell Westbrook, which might say more about Gilgeous-Alexander than anything else in these paragraphs.

When the fearless court general scored 25 or more this year, Oklahoma City was a ridiculous 9-1, a record that includes wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz. For the Thunder, the budding star ranked first in minutes (35.1), first in points, fourth in field goal percentage (47.3 percent), second in rebounds, third in assists (3.3) and second in steals (1.1).

And if that weren’t enough, Gilgeous-Alexander had his new squad in fifth place in the Western Conference, a game out of fourth and in a dogfight with James Harden, Donovan Mitchell and the aforementioned Doncic for homecourt advantage in the first round. Not bad for a former No. 11 overall pick, and one that is leading a team that was supposed to tank out and rebuild six months ago.

Today, class, we’ve learned that the notion of being underrated is not a definitive, singular point of view – as it can often refer to one’s popularity amongst peers, legends, fellow draftees and even teammates. In Russell’s case, the classic bridesmaid-but-never-the-bride adage kicks in and it’s easy to imagine how the All-Star point guard might still be considered underrated as well.

While Basketball Insiders’ series continues on, keep putting these players through different frames of reference – you never know, it may just change everything.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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2021 NBA Draft Top 3 Picks & Top 10 First-Round Selection Odds

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The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, July 29. The draft will begin at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN platforms at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and it is the first time the draft is being televised on both ABC and ESPN. Free agency will also begin on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m. (EST). For NBA Draft betting, there are several available apps for placing bets, like from Bovada, MyBookie, Intertops, BetUS, BetOnline, BetNow, 5Dimes, and Sportsbetting.ag. DraftKings and FanDuel are other feasible options, in addition to the sites listed above.

Anyways, the Detroit Pistons have the first overall pick of the draft, followed by the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, etc. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the projected first overall pick. Jalen Green, the six-foot-five NBA G League player who forwent college basketball and attended San Joaquin Memorial High School, is expected to get drafted by the Pistons. The Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2021) winner, Evan Mobley, is projected to get picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, teams have been negotiating trades with one another, leading up to next week’s draft. Per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are expressing interest in trading with the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to move up to the No. 3 spot of the draft. In the second round, the Milwaukee Bucks have the 31st pick of the draft. There is a chance that these are just meaningless internal discussions, existing only to explore the values of specific players and to keep other general managers on their heels.

No. 1 Pick Odds

While Cade Cunningham has the best odds (-8000) of being selected first overall, there are a few other aforementioned players here that are at the top of the list, too. Jalen Green has +1500 odds, Evan Mobley has +2200 odds, and Jalen Suggs possesses +2500 odds. Needless to say, however, Cunningham will be selected first before everyone else. Here’s why. According to 247Sports, the six-foot-eight Big 12 Player of the Year (2021) and Consensus first-team All-American (2021) ranked No. 1 in the final rankings class of 2020. Heading into college, the native Texan was already an established top-ranked, talented recruit.

Green and Mobley were also highly touted stars coming out of high school, but hands down, Cunningham has the best résumé for NBA scouts and general managers. In 27 games played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ 2020-21 season, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, helping to lead his team to the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys lost 91-81 against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and then the team lost 80-70 versus the No. 12 Oregon State Beavers in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit Pistons need all the help they can get.

  • All table odds were retrieved from Bovada 

No. 2 Pick Odds

Jalen Green has the favored odds (-200) of being selected second overall in the 2021 draft, followed by Evan Mobley (+170), Jalen Suggs (+650), and Jonathan Kuminga (+2200). Regarding Green’s G League performance, in 15 games started, he averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The 19-year-old also played for an average of 32 minutes per game. Despite oddsmakers projecting the highest possible odds for Cunningham’s No. 1 selection, the No. 2 pick is not as clear.

In 33 games played for the USC Trojans, Evan Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Referencing the RSCI Top 100 rankings, the seven-foot tall forward/center was ranked third on the list. Below .500 NBA teams, such as the Magic and Raptors, could trade up to draft the big man. It all depends on the teams’ different needs and priorities.

 

No. 3 Pick Odds

Evan Mobley has the best odds (-200) of getting drafted third overall. In the 2020-21 USC Trojans’ season, they lost 72-70 in the Pac-12 Tournament against the No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes. Then, they proceeded to lose 85-66 in the NCAA tournament versus the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mobley had a team-high of 19 points and seven rebounds in that Elite Eight loss.

Though, if Jalen Green is still on the board at this point, it would not be out-of-the-blue if he was selected third ahead of Mobley, considering his odds are +150. For the other odds, Jalen Suggs is next (+250), followed by Jonathan Kuminga (+900), Scottie Barnes (+1200), Davion Mitchell (+6600), and Josh Giddey (+6600).

“To Be Drafted in the Top 10” Odds

With all eyes on the top three picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, there might be some folks speculating if players like Kai Jones and Josh Giddey have reasonable odds of at least making the top 10 in the draft. Jones’ odds are +275, whereas Giddey’s odds are +135. UConn shooting guard James Bouknight has -250 odds. Six-foot-nine, 19-year-old German basketball star Franz Wagner has -150 odds of being selected somewhere in the top 10 overall. Moreover, Jonathan Kuminga’s odds are -10000. The 18-year-old G League player is projected to land sixth in the draft.

Plus, according to several mock drafts, Davion Mitchell is expected to be picked by either the Golden States Warriors (seventh) or New Orleans Pelicans (tenth). His odds are -300. Keon Johnson is another one. Per NBA.com’s mock drafts, K. Johnson is projected to be taken No. 8 overall by the Orlando Magic, assuming this team does not pursue any potential trades to move up. Additionally, FSU’s Scottie Barnes has -10000 odds of getting selected in the top 10, and some mock draft beat writers also have Barnes going to the Magic.

 

 

Draft betting is much like player prop bets and NBA Finals betting. There are plenty of uncertainties and variables one must consider before placing bets, such as a specific team trading up or down during the night of the draft. Think about all the possible outcomes and scenarios before placing a bet, even if you choose to play it safe.

It is imperative for gamblers to search for any news articles or videos the same day of the draft, in order to keep up to date on important breaking news. Before placing bets on professional basketball, keep in mind that Bovada is the best betting site for NBA-related content and requested wagers.

 

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Raptors, Magic aim to obtain No. 3 pick from Cavaliers in 2021 NBA Draft

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The 2021 NBA Draft is the 75th edition of the draft, and it is scheduled to take place next Thursday, July 29. According to numerous 2021 NBA mock drafts, the Cleveland Cavaliers are projected to draft Evan Mobley, the seven-foot tall forward/center and Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) for the USC Trojans, with the third overall pick. Referencing NBA.com’s consensus mock drafts, there were six top players who appeared in all twelve of the mocks they surveyed: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Jonathan Kuminga. The Detroit Pistons are expected to take Cunningham with the first overall pick, followed by the Houston Rockets selecting Jalen Green with the second pick of the draft.

While the Toronto Raptors are currently set to pick fourth and the Orlando Magic are expected to pick fifth, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, both teams have made trade offers to the Cavs in order to move up to acquire the third spot. O’Connor stated, “League sources say the Cavaliers have received significant trade interest for this selection, and the Raptors and Magic Orlando—the next two teams up to pick—have made offers to move up. But Cleveland might just stay put.” Now, it is unknown what the Raptors and Magic are prepared to give up. Orlando has the advantage over Toronto, considering they also possess the No. 8 pick.

On Mar. 25, the Magic traded All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks. The two first-round picks were for 2021 and 2023, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This is why Orlando has extra leverage over Toronto. Some experts are speculating that Orlando will trade Mohamed Bamba, Gary Harris, and the fifth and eighth picks of the draft. To the fans, that right there sounds like a raw deal.

However, on the flip side, a team like the Raptors are in desperate need of a viable center. Last season, they finished 27-45 (.375), ranking 12th in the Eastern Conference. If not the Magic, the Raptors might be more than willing to give up the same, if not more. Toronto could trade Pascal Siakam and the No. 4 pick. In the previous offseason, a few of the notable departures for the Raptors were Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Both of these aforementioned players played important roles in helping the Raptors to win their first NBA championship in the 2018-19 season. Though, the Raptors would have to make it a top priority to re-sign Kyle Lowry as well. On Oct. 7, 2019, Lowry signed a one-year, $31 million contract with the organization.

Not to mention, the Magic already have Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Johnathan Isaac on their roster. Furthermore, after recovering from their injuries, Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be returning to the court this season. Maybe Magic general manager John Hammond is using a trial-and-error approach, hoping to keep the most talented, best center available on the roster. If one throws enough sludge at the wall, eventually something will stick.

Leading up to the draft, basketball enthusiasts can continue to speculate and ask questions, but none of these potential draft moves are carved in stone. The transactions will not occur until the night of the draft, so one person’s educated guess is as good as anyone’s right now. All too often, teams get fleeced every year during the draft because various coaches and general managers either underrate or overestimate a player’s value.

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Injury Update: Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu out 6 months after shoulder surgery

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After Atlanta Hawks‘ Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Wednesday night, the 20-year-old center will take the next six months off. Okongwu is a 6’8″ two-time California Mr. Basketball (2018, 2019), selected sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. After agreeing to a rookie contract, Atlanta signed him to their roster on November 24, 2020, and he made his NBA debut on January 15, 2021. The signed multi-year contract was worth a guaranteed $11.9 million over the course of two seasons.

According to a report first published by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dr. Neal ElAttrache operated on Okongwu in Los Angeles, California, and he suffered this shoulder injury earlier in May. He will likely be eligible to play as early as late February 2022. While the typical recovery time for a torn labrum after surgery is between three to six months, labral tears can negatively impact athletes in a sport like basketball, if they are not careful. It will not recover by itself without the proper care.

Yesterday, the Hawks organization released a statement: “Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery earlier tonight in Los Angeles to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dr. Neal ElAtrrache of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic performed the surgery. Okongwu will now enter a period of rest and rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in approximately six months.”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, in 50 games played, he averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. Over the course of the 2021 postseason, Okongwu played a total of 166 minutes, averaging 9.2 minutes played per game, in eighteen games for the Hawks. He scored five points in the first round series versus the New York Knicks, 19 points in the conference semifinals versus the Philadelphia 76ers, and 24 points in the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In his junior and senior seasons playing for the University of Southern California Trojans, he earned those aforementioned California Mr. Basketball awards. In 28 games played in college, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 total rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. His average field goal shooting percentage in college was also 61.6 percent. He will be turning 21-years-old this December.

Referencing his current contract negotiations via Basketball-Reference, Okongwu earned $5.8 million in this past 2020-21 season. Furthermore, he will earn $6.1 million in the 2021-22 season, $6.3 million in the 2022-23 season, and $8.1 million in the 2023-24 season. The 2022-23 and 2023-24 add-ons are team options.

Moreover, the upcoming free agency will begin on Aug. 1, 2021 and the regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 19, 2021. For betting purposes, the 2022 NBA Finals will air throughout June 2022. The NBA has transitioned its schedule back to normal format. The league office anticipates that future playoff series will no longer get pushed back to the months of June and July. Similar to everything else, however, this current schedule is subject to change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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