It is now mid-January, which means that one half of the NBA season is now officially in the books for most teams.
With the usual suspects gaining headlines and producing at prolific rates, this article is going to focus on a different type of player.
Every year there are players who play extremely well, yet for whatever reason, they never seem get the level of respect in which they truly deserve.
So, this piece is going to focus on the underappreciated ballers who never quite see the spotlight.
The following is a position-by-postion breakdown of 5 players who are amongst the NBA’s most underrated – based on production, exposure, and whether or not they deserve a larger role within their team.
Let’s dive in!
Point Guard – Dennis Schroder, Hawks
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Many fans around the NBA believe that Kemba Walker is the league’s most underrated point guard.
While Kemba certainly doesn’t get the respect that he deserves, his overall level production is still quite a known commodity to most Basketball fans.
Due to being stuck on a terrible Atlanta Hawks team, Dennis Schroder is having an outstanding season, yet nobody seems to be talking about it.
On the season, Schroder is currently averaging a very impressive 19.8ppg, along with 6.6apg. These are both top-10 marks amongst NBA point guards, and whilst Schroder’s overall defense and 3-point shooting could stand to improve, he still deserves a large amount of credit for performing at such a high level thus far.
With no virtually no help present on the Hawks’ roster, Dennis Schroder has produced extremely well night-in and night-out, all despite being the only cause for concern for opposing defenses.
Shooting Guard – Tyreke Evans, Grizzlies
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Only four rookies in NBA history have ever averaged at least 20ppg, 5rpg, and 5apg.
Those players are Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Tyreke Evans.
After seven disappointing seasons in which he has failed to live up to his 2009 production, Tyreke Evans is suddenly having what could be the best year of his career for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Much similar to the season that Dennis Schroder is having, however, nobody seems to care.
As a rookie, Tyreke Evans recorded averages of 20.1ppg, 5.3rpg, and 5.8apg for the Sacramento Kings. That year, Evans also shot 45.8% from the field, 25.5% from three, and 74.8% from the free throw line.
This season, Tyreke Evans is putting up a similar stat-line (19.7ppg, 5.1rpg, and 4.7apg), however, the efficient shooting of Evans is what has been the most impressive attribute.
With career shooting percentages of 44.4% from the field, 29.5% from three, and 75.7% from the free throw line, Tyreke Evans is currently lighting up defenses to the tune of 47.1% from the field, 41.6% from three, and 78.7% from the charity stripe.
On a team that also features a well-known center in Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies’ best player this season has undoubtedly been Tyreke Evans.
Small Forward – Khris Middleton, Bucks
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Khris Middleton might just be the most underrated player outlined in this article.
Due in large part to the to the dominance of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and an early-season trade that brought in Eric Bledsoe, Middleton’s stellar season has been criminally overlooked.
So far this season, the former second-round pick out of Texas A&M is currently averaging 20ppg, 5.0rpg, and 4.3apg – all career highs.
Amongst Eastern Conference small forwards, Khris Middleton currently sits second in scoring behind only LeBron James, and he is top-three on his team in terms of scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals.
While most underrated players tend to find themselves stuck on bad teams, Middleton has been a driving force for a team that sits only two wins outside of a top 4 seed in the East.
Based on production alone, Khris Middleton probably deserves to be an All-Star this season.
Power Forward – Aaron Gordon, Magic
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The Orlando Magic are a bad team.
Well, he is one hell of a basketball player.
Known as an athletic forward without much of a jump shot over his first three years in the NBA, Aaron Gordon has exploded into a polished, dynamic, and well-rounded weapon for the Orlando Magic this season.
With career averages of only 9.7ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.9apg, and with career shooting percentages of just 46.0/28.9/69.9, Aaron Gordon is currently shooting the ball at rates of 47.1/37.0/73.8, whilst also upping his scoring and rebounding averages to 18.9 and 7.3 respectively.
He is still demoralizing defenders at the rim, but also, Gordon is now creating for himself off the dribble, and he is stretching defenses and creating open lanes for himself with what is now a very dependable stroke from distance.
Much like Khris Middleton, based on production alone, Aaron Gordon probably deserves to be an All-Star this season.
Because he plays for Orlando, however, nobody seems to care about how dramatically this young man has improved his game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, and Kristaps Porzingis have all taken massive strides in their abilities this season, however, Aaron Gordon is right there with them in terms of the league’s most improved player.
Center – Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors
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Free Jonas Valanciunas!
At first glace, 11.1ppg and 7.7rpg might not seem all that impressive.
However, when you factor in the notion that Jonas Valanciunas is averaging just 20.9 minutes per game, you suddenly begin to realise how underappreciated the Lithuanian big man truly is.
On a per 36-minute basis, Jonas Valanciunas is currently averaging an eye-popping 19.1ppg, 13.2rpg and 1.2bpg – all of which are terrific marks for an NBA starting center.
On the season, Valanciunas is also shooting a very solid 55.1% from the floor, a career-high 84.5% from the free throw line, and he has even started taking and making some triples – shooting them at a respectable rate of 35.3%.
Often the subject of trade rumors, the Raptors front office has made it perfectly clear that they will hold onto Jonas Valanciunas in the hope that he can burst onto the scene at some point in the near future.
In order for this to happen, though, Dwayne Casey must allow his talented big man the adequate time on the floor needed to make a significant impact.
In the midst of a career year, all whilst playing a career-low in minutes, it seems foolish to keep restricting Jonas Valanciunas’ minutes heading into the second half of the season.
19 and 13 per 36 minutes.
Free this man.