*Originally written 07/08/2020
Today’s NBA is filled to the brim with elite-level talent. As a result, some of the league’s rising stars are underrated — neither receiving media exposure nor winning NBA awards. Names like Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker, who previously could have been labeled as underrated, are not in the running given they were All-Stars this year.
The purpose of this article is to uncover the Association’s hidden gems from the 2019–20 season. The evaluation of such players is based on statistics, salaries, accolades (or lack thereof), and media coverage.
Now let’s take a deeper look into the players who didn’t receive as much attention, this year, as they should have.
One of the unfortunate circumstances of being on a team possessing a .338 win percentage is being unappreciated. This is the case for Zach Lavine and his Chicago Bulls. The Bulls’ schedule had them appearing on national TV a mere one time, for the entire 82-game season. Most fans recognize Zach from the jaw-dropping 2016 Dunk Contest, at All-Star Weekend. But now he’s carving out his place in the league as one of the budding stars.
This season Lavine indisputably posted his most prolific numbers to date. He’s accumulated the fourth-most points in handoff situations and averages 25.5 points a game at an efficient 45% clip. This rate of offensive production is unmatched by any other Chicago Bulls player since Michael Jordan in 1997–98. Unlike Jordan, who won MVP that season, Lavine didn’t even make the All-Star Team. NBA experts appeared to value a team’s success rate over an individual player’s stat line.
Zach confronted the reality of being snubbed in an NBC Sports Chicago interview saying, “I don’t think there are 12 people in the East who has had a better year than me. But like I said to you guys at the beginning of the year, [being nominated is based] on winning”.
Oftentimes a player flies under the radar due to their personality or their city’s lack of prominence. The latter rings true for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s two-guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder’s schedule revealed they would only play three games, broadcasted nationally.
The distribution of the Thunder’s scoring, while effective, does not do Shai any favors either. Four Thunder players average a respectable 17 points or more, and Gilgeous-Alexander is their leading scorer with 19.3 points per contest. Despite being the top scorer for the western conferences fifth-seed, Shai was not nominated to the All-Star Game. The 21-year-old Canadian remains under his rookie contract for the bargain price of $11.469 million for three years.
The versatility he provides on offense presents match-up problems for smaller guards due to his ball-handling capabilities and 6-foot-5 stature. Perhaps his most redeeming quality, though, is his astounding 6-foot-11 wingspan which permits Shai to be a defensive nuisance, constantly disrupting passing lanes.
A theme around under-valued players is being surrounded by high profile teammates. This is the reality for Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown who plays alongside three NBA All-Stars. He logs 20.4 points per game at a proficient 49% FG rate. Also, Jaylen’s contributions have gone towards a winning effort as the Celtics boast a 43–21 record, seeded third in the eastern conference.
Brown totaled over 900,000 fan votes but was excluded from All-Star Weekend festivities. In response to being omitted, Jaylen told NBC Sports Boston, “I try to use anything and everything as motivation. But it’s OK. I’ll keep working and get ready for the playoffs. That’s the stage you want to be on.”
Critics tend to dwell on his potential, meanwhile his performance this year has been top-tier, posting career-highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals, and field goal percentage. Adding to that, Brown is fourth in fastbreak points per game(4.7) relishing in his role as the team’s spark plug. On a roster filled to the brim with All-Stars, he may not be highly noticed, but elsewhere he could be the marquee player.
The Net’s back-up guard, for the injury-ridden Kyrie Irving, took a step into the spotlight this season. Spencer Dinwiddie won’t be joining the Brooklyn Nets in Disney, but he was a breakout player, tallying the fifth-most ball handler points in the pick and roll (593).
Dinwiddie only came off the bench in 15 of 64 games. This allowed him to showcase his innate leadership traits in the absence of Kevin Durant. These traits were evidenced by leading the playoff-bound Nets in points and minutes per game (min. 20 games).
His clutch gene was on full display as he totaled five go-ahead buckets in the last 30 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime. Nobody else in the NBA has made over three shots of this variety. In 2018 the Nets signed him to a $34 million, three-year extension and it appears to be paying dividends.
Joining the ranks of the 20 points per game players this season is Bosnia and Herzegovina native, Bojan Bogdanovic. The Utah Jazz are a well-balanced squad with stout defense and sophisticated offense, seeded fourth in the western conference.
This playstyle fits well with Bogdanović’s ability to stretch the floor, making three 3s per game to pair with career-high scoring. On top of that, Bojan sits fifth in the NBA in off-screen points (196). The timeliness of his lethal shooting from the perimeter has bailed out the Jazz on more than one occasion, draining 5–10 threes with under five minutes in the fourth quarter or overtime to tie or take the lead.
Bojan, however, has been ruled out for the remainder of the season in Disney as he underwent successful surgery on his right wrist in May. While he isn’t quite a household name yet, the Jazz were wise locking him into a four-year, $73 million contract.
Overshadowed by his older brother’s NBA accomplishments, Seth Curry is easily one of the most “slept-on” sharpshooters in the league. Competing with Steph’s two MVPs and three NBA Finals rings, it hasn’t been easy for Seth to make a name for himself.
Seth Curry has been a “suitcase player”, lacing it up for six different teams in his five-year career. Nonetheless, Curry has found a home in Dallas as an integral cog in the Mavericks’ machine. The two main gears, Porzingis and Doncic, operate harmoniously while Seth complements them with deadeye shooting. In 2019, the Mavs shrewdly signed Seth to a four-year, $32 million deal. And the Mavs are reaping the benefits in his first season as he’s delivering higher value than anticipated.
He’s shooting a career-best 45.3% from behind the arc (second-highest percentage in the NBA) in 5.1 attempts per game. Now settled into a system that fits his skill set, Curry should begin to notice more buzz around his name as he continues to improve his game.