The NBA, as are most major sports, is a star-driven. LeBron James, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, etc. carry the day in regards to popularity, production and success, whether on the court or otherwise.
That said, and despite what some may say to the contrary, no one man can take home the Larry O’Brien trophy alone. That star may carry the day, but even the best need a team around them to win at the highest level — players that do the dirty work and raise their team without recognition for their effort and, more often than not, the pleasure of the spotlight.
So, we at Basketball Insiders have done our best to acknowledge some of those players, to give them the recognition they truly deserve. We’ve already looked at the Atlantic, Central, Northwest, Pacific and Southeast — we even tabbed some executives that deserve further credit. Today, we look at the Southwest.
Derrick Favors — New Orleans Pelicans
Favors, from the shadow of Rudy Gobert into the frenzy that was Zion Williamson-mania, has gone underappreciated for much of his NBA career.
Never a stalwart on offense, Favors has faded into the background of a league driven by it. A modest 9.2 points on just under seven shots per game in his first season with New Orleans — albeit on an impressive 62 percent clip — was never going to jump out of the boxscore. And, unfortunately, it has caused so many to overlook the massive impact Favors has had on the glass and on defense.
Favors, for a number of reasons, spent the first quarter of the season in and out of the lineup. Once he was restored to a regular role, however, his presence proved more than noticeable: one of the worst defensive groups in the early going, the Pelicans have since improved to eighth in both defensive points allowed per 100-possessions and effective field goal percentage allowed.
A major deterrent in the paint, Favors’ return has forced the opposition, who were already avoiding plus-defenders Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball on the perimeter, to rethink their strategy against the Pelicans. Combined with his work on the glass — 9.9 rebounds per game — and Favors has proven steadying presence at a position that, beyond rookie Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans just has no high-upside depth at, and he deserves to be recognized for it.
And that isn’t to say Favors is only an impact on defense, either. His 3.3 offensive rebounds per game, good for eighth in the NBA, is also a major reason as to why the Pelicans are third in second-chance points.
Dejounte Murray — San Antonio Spurs
Murray’s case is similar to that of Favors. The fourth-year guard made a name for himself on the defensive end, earning an All-Defense nod as a 21-year-old sophomore.
But Murray’s offense? Let’s just say it lagged behind.
There’s a reason Murray made a name for himself on defense — there just wasn’t much of anything for him to work with on offense. Murray not only struggled as a shooter in his first two seasons, but rarely created for his teammates, facts that were only pronounced by his limited touches.
That said, Murray took a massive step forward as an offensive threat this season. Unfortunately, amidst the league shutdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, his growth seems to have been overlooked.
In 58 games, after a year lost to a right ACL tear nonetheless, Murray has set multiple career-highs, including points (10.7), rebounds (5.8), assists (4.1) and field goal attempts (9.3) per game, field goal percentage (47.5%) and three-point field goal percentage (37.8), among others.
As the team has continued to evolve in the post-Tim Duncan era, the fact that head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have asked Murray to be a key cog, a primary contributor on offense and defense is no small honor, either.
And, clearly, Murray has responded, thriving under the weight of greater responsibility. And, only 23-years-old, that’s likely only the start.
Jonas Valanciunas — Memphis Grizzlies
Valanciunas is old school, a throwback to the center-dominated, pre-three point boom NBA. But, while that may leave him forgotten when talking about the league’s best at the five-spot — look up “underrated” in the dictionary and you just might find Valanciunas’ picture — it certainly hasn’t made him any less valuable to the Grizzlies.
Like Favors with Williamson, Valanciunas has flown under the radar playing alongside rookie phenom Ja Morant. But, despite the amount of time he’s spent on the court without the ball, Valanciunas has managed a career year: 14.9 points per game, second only to the 15.6 he averaged a season ago, to go along with 11.2 rebounds, a career-high and good for sixth in the NBA, 1.1 blocks and an effective field goal percentage of 60.8 percent, also a career-high. Valanciunas also posted 33 double-doubles, good for 12th best in the NBA.
And he’s managed it just over 26 minutes per game. Not just anyone could put up those numbers, fewer in so few minutes.
Valanciunas even began to expand his range: while he only attempted 1.3 shots per game from beyond the arc, he managed to knock them down from distance at a solid 36.7 percent clip. Only 27, Valanciunas going the way of Brook Lopez, old school big turned three-point marksman, certainly isn’t out of the question.
But, even if he doesn’t go that route, Valanciunas certainly deserves some vindication for his play. Before the season was put on pause, the Grizzlies were in position to make the postseason for the first time in three seasons.
He may not flash like some, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to mention Valanciunas in the same breath as the perceived best centers in basketball.
P.J. Tucker — Houston Rockets
With the Golden State Warriors no longer in their way, the Rockets saw their chance. In a major move toward an NBA Finals bid, Daryl Morey dropped Chirs Paul and brought the James Harden-Russell Westbrook act to Houston.
But, while they’ve proven the show’s main players, P.J. Tucker has played as important a role as any.
Tucker, a hard-nosed, do-the-dirty-work type, would be valuable, if not underappreciated, by any team. But, as Mike D’Antoni and Co. have shifted further toward positionless “small-ball,” Tucker has become central to their identity: defense, switching, forced turnovers, etc.
And, while they struggled in the season’s early going, the 6-foot-5 “center” had anchored one of the NBA’s better defenses in recent weeks.
While his 7.1 points per game aren’t exactly game-breaking, Tucker’s 37 percent three-point shot certainly can be with Harden and Westbrook, two of the NBA’s most gifted passers, patroling the backcourt as well.
By the nature of his game, Tucker will forever be hard-pressed to stand out amongst his teammates. But, should Houston prove successful in their bid for a Finals appearance, let alone in their quest for the Larry O’Brien trophy, know that Tucker will have played a not-so-insignificant part in that success.
Tim Hardaway Jr. — Dallas Mavericks
Could any player average more than 15 points per game, shoot more than 40 percent from three and somehow still be regarded as underrated?
Just ask Tim Hardaway Jr.
Of course, playing with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, it would be hard for anyone to steal the spotlight in Dallas. But, as the team’s third-leading scorer, Hardaway has proven a critical piece to the team’s success and is deserving of some recognition.
No longer burdened with the weight of a primary option, Hardaway has flourished offensively — while his scoring averaged has dipped a bit compared to his 18.1 points per game from last season, his shooting percentages are up across the board, including a career-high 40.7 percent from three. Meanwhile, there’s something to be said about the fact that Hardaway’s success in his own role has further enabled Doncic and Porzingis in their own play and success.
But there’s more. Defensively, Hardaway has been trusted to defend the opposition’s top option on more than one occasion; like Murray with Popovich, that type of trust coming from a coach as respected as Rick Carlisle means something special.
So yes, the NBA may be a star-driven league. But remember, behind every last one of them resides plenty of other players that deserve to be recognized as well. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the rest of our Underrated series, and keep on the lookout for more from us here at Basketball Insiders.
And, more importantly, stay healthy and safe!
NBA Daily: Milwaukee Bucks Face Unique Situation
Despite a successful season, Tristan Tucker looks at why the Milwaukee Bucks face uncertainty regarding their future.
Despite beating the dominant Brooklyn Nets in seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks face more uncertainty about their future than any other team in the playoffs. Last season, the Bucks accrued a 56-17 record that was good for best in the league. However, the team disappointed and saw a second-round exit at the hands of the Miami HEAT.
After that disappointing finish to a season that many believed would lead to an NBA Championship, the Bucks faced many criticisms. In response, Milwaukee rushed to fix many of those issues. Eric Bledsoe and a boatload of first-round picks were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for defensive stalwart Jrue Holiday. The team then swapped out its bench rotation, filling it out with players like P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes. The Bucks even got older rookies Sam Merrill and Mamadi Diakite to play quick spot minutes.
But Milwaukee’s biggest criticism was one that was left unresolved: the coaching situation. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year winner. Budenholzer first won the award after getting the Atlanta Hawks over 60 wins in 2014-15. Then, he did it again with the Bucks two years ago. Despite his metal, Budenholzer’s rotation decisions were met with criticism and confusion during the heartbreaking loss to Miami in 2020. Many fans around the league noticed that many stars were playing well over 40 minutes in big games and never played less than 36. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s big names sat for extended periods of time.
For reference, Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Los Angeles Lakers played over 36 minutes per game in the playoffs last season. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo did the same for the HEAT. Both of those teams moved on to the Finals. On the other hand, Khris Middleton led the team with 35.5 minutes per game in the playoffs while Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 30.8 minutes a night.
Despite this, Milwaukee’s brain trust kept Budenholzer into the 2020-21 season. And so far, that seems like the right decision. The Bucks came back in a big way in the playoffs, being the only team to sweep another team, Miami, in the first round. Then, the Bucks battled back into the series against the Nets, evening the series twice after falling back the same number of times before eventually overcoming the then-title favorites. The team is now matched up with the scorching-hot Hawks and has gone down 1-0 in the series.
All seems to be going relatively well for the Bucks despite the current series. Budenholzer seems to have learned his lesson, his stars are all playing over 37 minutes per game. In fact, the whole rotation seems to be clicking.
Middleton in particular put together the best postseason performance of his career in Game 6 against the Nets. The former All-Star ended that contest with 38 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, missing just five of his 16 shots. This isn’t new for Middleton, who is the face of consistency in the league. Outside of an injury-marred 2016-17 season, Middleton has averaged around 20 points per game for almost six straight years.
In each of the last two seasons, Middleton came within inches of securing a 50/40/90 season. Both seasons have seen a respectable amount of attempts from deep and the charity stripe. Middleton even became the go-to guy on offense for the Bucks. Just watch his and his teammates’ confidence in him as he buried a four-point play to ice Game 6 against Brooklyn:
It isn’t just Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing more aggressively as of late, securing 30 points on 20 field goal attempts in Game 6 against the Nets. “The Greek Freak” followed that performance up with a 40-point showing to clinch that series, officially avenging last year. In Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Antetokounmpo put up 34 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in 41 minutes.
Holiday hasn’t had the best playoff stint of his career, but there’s no denying how absurdly better the team’s perimeter defense is with Holiday substituting for Bledsoe and George Hill. The team’s faith in Holiday paid off with a 33-point, 10-assist showing that saw the middle Holiday brother connect on five 3-pointers.
Some of the most notable changes came from Milwaukee’s bench. Forbes and Portis in particular took the next step as players this year. Both players took one-year bets on themselves in the offseason that are sure to result in paydays this summer. Portis and Forbes ranked third and fourth in the regular season in three-point percentage, respectively. Forbes in particular became notorious for how he torched the HEAT in the first round from deep.
And yet, despite the positives, the Bucks still face one of the biggest crossroads of any team in the playoffs. And it all depends on how deep this team can go.
Despite beating the Nets, Budenholzer is still on the hot seat. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the series win over Brooklyn will go a long way in determining Budenholzer’s future, the two-time Coach of the Year still hasn’t made the Finals as a head coach. If Budenholzer and the Bucks lose to the Hawks, who they are much better than on paper, it could have a ripple effect on the franchise. In fact, several reports indicate that the team is already looking at potential replacements if things go south.
Rick Carlisle Connected To Head Coaching Jobs With Bucks, Pacers https://t.co/RKk6TKOO49
— RealGM (@RealGM) June 18, 2021
It’s an odd turnaround for a team that is experiencing the high of knocking off the title favorites. Middleton had a poor Game 1, and the team likely doesn’t lose that game if he is clicking. But Budenholzer’s questionable rotation decisions still plagued the team, with seldom-used Jeff Teague seeing six critical minutes against Trae Young.
Firing a head coach — especially one as successful as Budenholzer has been in the regular season — is no small task. The move would likely come with several other staff and roster changes.
Despite how great Portis and Forbes have been for the team, it’s unlikely Milwaukee can afford either moving forward. Portis and Forbes both have player options for next season, Portis at $3.8 million and Forbes at $2.4 million. There’s no way either remains on the Bucks at that price with a weak free-agent class on the horizon. And unfortunately, the Bucks don’t have the money to re-sign either to a huge number.
That path would lead to the team being extremely aggressive with what money and assets it does have. The team reportedly agreed to trade Donte DiVincenzo — who is now out with injury — for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade before Bogdanovic refused to be traded there. Other players like Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton have tradeable salaries and could help bring in another impact player.
If the Bucks went the distance, Budenholzer would most likely stay and the franchise would avoid a culture reset. Forbes and Portis probably still depart, but other free agents like Tucker would likely be more inclined to re-sign for a smaller salary.
In that case, the team would be more inclined to sit back and watch internal growth. Players like Jordan Nwora, Merrill or Diakite could fill the holes left by potential Forbes or Portis departures. That isn’t to say the team wouldn’t be aggressive, but there isn’t a team left in the playoffs that would see such a huge change if they were eliminated.
Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns was a Coach of the Year finalist. The Suns have the assets for internal and external growth if eliminated. The Hawks vastly improved from the last season, and have a direct pathway to getting better through guys like De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu. And the Los Angeles Clippers will likely retain Tyronn Lue and Kawhi Leonard this offseason, even if things go awry.
Unfortunately for Budenholzer, this is a unique situation. There haven’t been many do-or-die cases involving jobs this deep into the playoffs involving contenders. For Budenholzer, winning the title secures his job. If he fails to do so, it could spell the end of his Milwaukee tenure.
Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 3 predictions, picks and betting tips: Bet Home Court Dogs on Friday Night
Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals takes place at 9pm ET on Friday. Our experts have made their predictions and betting picks for the Clippers vs Suns at the Staples Center.
Cynics will tell you that L.A. is a city of a million shattered dreams, and if Deandre Ayton’s last second alleyoop slam-dunk is anything to go by, those cynics aren’t exactly wrong.
The Phoenix Suns marched into a 2-0 series lead vs. the Clippers as a result of Ayton’s heroics. The 104-103 victory meant Monty Williams team now takes a firm grasp of the Western Conference finals.
Despite being down 2-0 in the series, it appears the average American bettor hasn’t given up hope on the Clippers staging part one of a comeback in game 3. Indeed, why would they? We’ve seen way over 400 teams return from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs over the years. Plus, if Paul George (26 pts in Game 2) decides to wage war again, the Clippers do have half a chance, even without Leonard…
Besides, why wouldn’t you place a couple wagers on a mild underdog on the NBA betting lines?
Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline Odds
Phoenix Suns: -115
Los Angeles Clippers: -107
Western Conference Finals – Game 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Spread (DraftKings NBA Playoff Odds)
Phoenix Suns -1
Los Angeles Clippers -1
Los Angeles Clippers Preview
Other than the pain of a last second defeat, the big news coming out of the Clippers camp remains the fact that the team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is still out injured.
Leonard had averaged over 30.0 points per game during the playoffs until going down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 4 vs. Utah in the last round. The current prognosis is not good – he will almost certainly miss out again.
There is series-hope for Clippers fans in the form of SG Paul George, who himself is averaging 26.6 points per game in the postseason; not to mention the fact that L.A. has twice before returned from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. But they have to get something going in Game 3 – no team has ever returned from 3-0 down in NBA playoff history.
Nevertheless, what hope is left is dangling by a thread at present. Up against a full-strength Phoenix team that’s riding high on the confidence of a last-minute win, it’s going to be tough evening’s work for George, Jackson and co. come Thursday night.
That said, L.A. does have home-court advantage and di just lose by the 1 point. So, it’s little surprise the two teams have been given similar odds – Game 3 is anyone’s game.
Phoenix Suns Preview
The Suns did what they needed to do, took advantage of being at home for games 1 and 2 and now take a lead to LA. Game 2 was on a knife edge throughout, so they’re not as dominant over the Clippers as some may have thought, but the 2-0 lead is huge. As mentioned above, they’ll be hoping that Leonard can’t make it to the court on Thursday night, but even if he does, they can rely upon the likes of Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and game 2 hero Deandre Ayton to stifle the Clippers. They’ve now won 9 straight in the playoffs and they’ll take some stopping to make it 10.
Chris Paul is expected back from a stint on COVID protocol soon. But Game 3 might come too early. Expect Paul to miss out again.
Other than that, the Suns are surely shining bright en route to Los Angeles following Ayton’s heroics in the previous clash. The Clippers have caused them problems throughout the first two games, but the Suns seem to have that little bit extra in the tank: more guile; more nous, and, even if Leonard could take to the court with the Clippers, – arguably – more talent.
Devin Booker has been in superb form in the series thus far, putting up 40 points over the course of the first two contests – look for him on the player prop market.
Overall, there’s a reason the Suns have been made favorites by the NBA oddsmakers, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the their dominance in Game 3…
Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Prediction
We’ve spent all this time waxing lyrical about Phoenix, but the Clippers deserve a result. They have pulled out all the stops in the absence of Leonard and, in our humble opinion, eventually hard work pays off.
We are vouching for the homecourt underdogs on the moneyline: Clippers to win at -107
NBA Finals Betting Odds : 2021 NBA Championship Odds Update as Conference Finals Continue
The 2021 NBA Conference Finals are now underway and so look at the updated Championships odds for the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.
Few expected to see the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns make up the final four of the NBA Championship Playoffs. But each team has made it this far on merit, and the performances don’t lie – the cream always rises to the top.
In the Western Conference Final, DeAndre Ayton broke Clippers hearts last night when, with 0.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, he came up trumps with a sublime alleyoop dunk. Those 2 points put the Suns 104-103 ahead, as they took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
The Hawks are all set to travel to the Bucks for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, in a game that will see two of the NBA’s finest talents, Atlanta G Trae Young and Milwaukee PF Giannis Antetokounmpo come face to face.
2021 NBA Championship Odds
With games coming thick and fast and players bouncing into and out of form and IR in this year’s epic conference finals, it’s about time to check in and see what the sportsbooks make of all the action, as we take a look at the 2021 NBA odds for the 2021 national championship.
Clippers NBA Championship Odds Continue to Dwindle Without Kawhi Leonard
It’s hard not to feel bad for Clippers fans: without their superb small forward Kawhi Leonard, and the 25 points per game he tends to put up, life was always going to be tough vs. the Phoenix, even without the Suns having their electrifying playmaker Chris Paul out on court. And so, it has proven.
After that tough final second loss, the Clippers have seen their odds drop from +440 at the start of the playoffs to between +1500 (FanDuel). If they lose again on Thursday (June 24), expect to see the odds reach into the +infinity category, since no NBA team has EVER come back from 3-0 down in the playoffs.
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue must now be thinking about just wheeling Kawhi Leonard out there in a wheelchair for one final assault. But don’t write his team off just yet: L.A came within 1point and they did that without their best player – there’s still a chance; they make it through and we’ll find out for sure come Thursday.
Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals Odds: +1500 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online
Suns’ Odds to win NBA Championship Continue to Rise
The bad news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is expected to be back in action for the Suns quickly. The diminutive playmaker broke COVID protocol, which was stupid, but did get himself vaccinated beforehand (not so stupid) and will be available sooner rather than later as a result.
Plus, Devin Booker more than carried the mantle in Paul’s absence during last night’s second meet. Booker put up 40 points in total as the Suns asserted their dominance.
It’s the strength in depth and the team’s ability to hurt its opposition all over the court that has seen the odds on the Suns continue to shorten. Monty Williams’ team began the playoffs as massive outsiders at +2500. But their odds are now just +115.
Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Odds: +115 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online
NBA Betting Lines not Favoring the Hawks
Atlanta’s incredible 4-3 series defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers is the stuff of legend and the Hawks deserve a tremendous amount of credit for pulling that result out of the bag; even if the 76ers were missing Joel Emblid for a few games.
Enough about that though. With players like G Trae Young to boast among the ranks, you’d give the Hawks a chance against anyone, including vs. the Bucks this evening.
That said, Milwaukee is a big ask for Nate McMillan’s team. During the regular season, the Bucks posted the highest field goal accuracy (91.8), the 2nd most rebounds per game, and the 5th most 3-pointers per game – they are a team that can punish you if given just half-a-chance.
Sorry Atlanta fans. But it seems likely to us that the McMillan Cinderella story ends here.
Then again… we’ve been wrong before and at +1300, it’s worth a Hail Mary for sure!
Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Finals Odds: +1300 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online
The Bucks are the Betting Favorites to be NBA Champions
The Bucks began the playoffs with NBA Vegas odds of +800 on the moneyline. If you are one of the lucky ones who picked them up on those odds, hold tight: you’re looking good right now; Milwaukee fans are dreaming of being NBA Champions for the first time in 50 years.
Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on fire throughout the Bucks’ postseason run, putting up 30 points in six games thus far! With Middleton and Brook Lopez, in particular, among the supporting cast, the Bucks offense puts up big numbers and rarely turns the ball over without something to show for it.
It’s not that the Hawks don’t have playmakers of their own – they do. But defensively, they don’t touch this Bucks team that features both Jrue Holiday (DPOY) and Antekounmpo (2X DPOY). That’s why the odds are so short on Milwaukee and so long on Atlanta – the sportsbooks don’t fancy the Hawks to score enough.
Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals Odds: +105 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online