by Spencer Suk
All-Star frenzy is officially in full swing. Media heads and fans have been assembling their twelve-man rosters for the East and West for the past week or so, giving their two cents on questions with no right answer. “Do the Hawk deserve four All-Stars?” “Have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook missed too many games to be considered?” “Should a guy like DeMarcus Cousins be penalized because of his team’s poor record?”
Now that the reserves have been announced, everyone will undoubtedly shift their attention to the biggest snubs, most notably Lillard and Cousins (who is now Kobe Bryant’s replacement). However, I want to shed some light on a few players who haven’t been involved in any of the All-Star talk by creating an All-Underappreciated Team.
The guys that I chose for this list aren’t good enough to considered All-Stars (or even snubs), but they make significant contributions (that are often overlooked) on a nightly basis for their respective teams. A good example of a player who would have likely made last year’s All-Underappreciated Team is Nene. No one outside of Washington had been talking about the Brazilian big man all year. His stats didn’t jump off the page and injuries forced him to miss a third of the season. Yet, the Wizards were clearly a more complete team when he was on the court (14-15 record without Nene). When the playoffs rolled around, Nene physically dominated Joakim Noah, the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, and propelled the Wizards over the Bulls in five games.
Putting this list together had me feeling like a kid in a candy store; there were just too many tempting options. So here are the three rules I used to limit some of them:
- Must pick one player at all five positions (PG, SG, SF, PF, C)
- Starters only (No bench players)
- Cannot choose a player who has been an All-Star
Now that the tables are set, let’s get to the 2014-15 All-Underappreciated Team.
PG Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Who Gets the Attention: Every Other Point Guard
Why He’s Underappreciated: While Ty Lawson may not be one of the best point guards in the league, he is certainly one of the best playmakers. He is right there with players like Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and John Wall in terms of passing. Every which way you look at the numbers, you’ll find Lawson near the top. He’s second in assists per game, third in free throw assists per game (pass leading to foul and made free throw), first in assist opportunities per game (pass to a shot where pass would count as an assist if shot were made) and first in points created by assist.
What makes Lawson such a deadly passer is his ability to find teammates in so many different ways. In halfcourt sets, he orchestrates a smooth offense, passing the ball freely and getting everyone involved. Lawson’s handles and nifty moves allow him to break his man down off the dribble and penetrate into the lane. From there, he will find the open shooter on the perimeter, dump it down to the big man if the help rotates over, or simply take it to the rim himself.
Lawson is also a treat to watch in transition. What Lawson lacks in height (listed generously at 5’11”) he makes up for with his blazing speed. After a miss or turnover, Lawson turns on the jets and gets up court before defenses can settle in and man-up. As a result, one of his teammates is usually open for an uncontested look and Lawson gets him the ball.
As an added bonus, Lawson is one of the best half-court alley-oopers in the league. Seriously… Go on YouTube and search “Ty Lawson long alley-oop.” You’ll find a long list of videos like this one:
Honorable Mention: Darren Collison
SG Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers
Who Gets the Attention: Damian Lillard & LaMarcus Aldridge
Why He’s Underappreciated: Wesley Matthews is arguably the best 3-and-D player in a league that has increasingly emphasized both threes and D.
He has become an elite shooter from deep, launching almost eight three-pointers per game while still managing to knock down 40% of them. His 3.1 three-pointers made per game ranks third in the entire NBA, trailing only Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver. To further highlight how much his shot has improved, Matthews has been taking less and less of his threes from the corner (the shortest and easiest three to make) as his career has progressed, yet his shooting efficiency has remained constant.
On the other side of the ball, Matthews is undoubtedly Portland’s best one-on-one perimeter defender. Don’t get fooled by the fact that he only averages 1.1 steals per game. Wes holds his man to 38.5% shooting from the field (total: 171-444, per game: 3.7-9.7). His lockdown D has been a big reason why the Blazers are currently the fourth stingiest defense in the NBA, allowing just 97.2 points per game.
Honorable Mention: Monta Ellis
SF Jeff Green, Memphis Grizzlies
Who Gets the Attention: the Celtics’ Miserable Season
Why He’s Underappreciated: Of all the midseason moves made by West contenders, I like the Grizzlies’ acquisition of Jeff Green the most. The Mavericks’ offense just hasn’t looked the same since trading for Rajon Rondo, as Coach Rick Carlisle continues to try to find a way to mask his shooting deficiencies. As a result, the Mavs have gone just 11-9 since the move. Things in Houston haven’t gone much better: the “Let’s Start Josh Smith” experiment lasted all of five games (2-3 with him starting). And while they are now 12-7 with Smoove, most of the success can be credited to his teammates, mainly James Harden.
However, the Grizzlies haven’t had the same rough transition as the Mavs and Rockets, winning eight of their first nine with Green onboard. The former Celtic hasn’t exactly dominated thus far in Memphis, averaging just 12.9 points and 4.1 rebounds. But as he becomes more acclimated to his new team, Green should eventually be able to serve as some sort of Rudy Gay Lite. In fact, Coach Dave Joerger is bringing back some of the plays designed for Gay when he was a Grizzly so that Green can get more looks on offense (the Grizzlies didn’t run any plays for the small forward before Green’s arrival).
Green’s combination of size and scoring should be able to give the Grizzlies an extra push in the playoffs. Alongside Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen/Courtney Lee, Green gives Memphis one of the most complete starting lineups in not only the West, but the entire NBA.
Honorable Mention: DeMarre Carroll
PF Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
Who Gets the Attention: Josh Smith
Why He’s Underappreciated: When the Pistons rattled off seven wins in a row after the release of Josh Smith, everyone came to the same logical conclusion (myself included)... Josh Smith was the problem. Just by picking up a stat sheet, you can tell that the player with shooting splits of 39.1% FG / 24.3% 3PT / 46.8% FT is probably the one hurting the team the most.
However, you have to do more than release Josh Smith to win seven games in a row. Kyle Singler stepped in as the starting small forward, adding much needed spacing to the starting lineup (41.2% from three). As a result, Greg Monroe finally had an opportunity to show what he could do within a more traditional five man unit.
Prior to releasing Smith, Coach Stan Van Gundy had tried two starting forward combos (Singler/Smith and Smith/Monroe), but neither was even close to as successful as the Singler/Monroe duo as seen above. This is mostly due to the fact that Monroe is embracing his larger role, averaging 16.1 points and 12.3 rebounds since the departure of Smith.
The Pistons have lost their last four games after Brandon Jennings (who was also playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career with Smith gone) tore his achilles, but Monroe has continued his double-double frenzy, averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 54.3% from the field and 82.4% from the line in his last five.
Honorable Mention: Markieff Morris
C Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors
Who Gets the Attention: Splash Bros & Draymond Green
Why He’s Underappreciated: The attention the Splash Bros and Draymond Green have received is obviously well-deserved. Curry and Thompson were both shoo-ins for the All-Star Game while Draymond Green has put his name in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion (he leads the league in defensive win shares).
However, let’s not forget about Andrew Bogut. Bogut is the Warriors only true rim protector, and an elite one at that. He’s first in blocks per 36 minutes amongst all starters and is holding opposing players to 41.4% shooting at the rim. As a result, he also ranks third in defensive box plus/minus. To give a clearer understanding as to what this means, the Warriors are +21.7 per 100 possessions with Bogut on the court and just +7.7 without him.
The problem with Bogut is that he gets hurt a lot, leaving players like Marreese Speights and David Lee to man the paint (both are talented scorers, but liabilities on defense). With Bogut in the lineup, the Dubs are 27-2, as opposed to just 9-5 without him.
The Warriors need to do everything in their power to keep Bogut healthy for the playoffs because, as talented as they are, it’s unlikely that Golden State can make a deep playoff run in a scary Western Conference without their only rim protector.
Honorable Mention: Jonas Valanciunas