Underrated. Underappreciated. Overlooked. Undervalued.
Whichever phrase you prefer… there are plenty of players that deserve a bit more buzz throughout the league, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do here. Here are nine players that stand out to me the most at this point, along with a bonus honorable mentions section for some additional under-the-radar players in the association.
Note: This list isn’t in any particular order or ranked in any certain way.
1. Nikola Vucevic- C, Orlando Magic
Year in, year out, there may not be a more consistently just… good basketball player that rarely gets talked about relative to his high-level performance. Vucevic has added wrinkles to his game each year and has quietly carried Orlando for some time now. Orlando has made the playoffs two years in a row in large part due to Nikola Vucevic. He is currently 4th in the NBA in VORP behind only Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, and LeBron James.
Put some respect on his name.
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) January 30, 2021
2. Larry Nance Jr.- F/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Larry Nance Jr. has been awesome this season, but even last year I thought his productivity wasn’t talked about enough due to how he’s progressed as a shooter and adapted his game to fit a more modern big defensively. When you combine the finesse he’s added to his freakish athleticism and positive decision-making… you’ve got yourself a starting caliber big in the NBA with some very high upside. Despite being 28 years old, I think there’s more to his game and he still hasn’t even scratched the surface of his full potential yet, which is a scary thought. Some players are just late bloomers, and he’s one of them. He’s been a huge reason why Cleveland has been one of the surprises of the early NBA season.
He’s arguable been a top 5 defensive player this season and leads the NBA in total steals at the moment.
Larry Nance Jr. leads the NBA in steals per game (2.3) and deflections per game (4.4), and ranks 5th in loose balls recovered per game (1.5).
He's a legit All-Defense candidate as the best defender on the NBA's 6th-ranked defense: pic.twitter.com/ZkPx9r8Erw
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 27, 2021
3. Dejounte Murray- Guard, San Antonio Spurs
Murray has progressed year-by-year in a system that has proven to be ideal for any young guard or wing as evidenced by not only the Spurs longstanding tradition of player development, but due to the fact that you could make a case for each member of their young core to be included on this list. (Hint, there is one more later on)
He still may not be a knockdown shooter, but offensively he’s shown the ability to score at a decent clip in spite of that through his slashing ability, transition scoring and occasional mid-range jumpers off the bounce. His calling card is defense however, and he’s damn good on that end with his ability to switch on the perimeter and use his length to be disruptive in the passing lanes and on the ball.
He’s been a major reason why the Spurs have been fun and overachieving to start the young season.
Dejounte Murray picks Kemba’s pocket with the game on the line late 4th pic.twitter.com/wORzz0p2T8
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 28, 2021
4. Mikal Bridges- Wing, Phoenix Suns
Mikal Bridges. That is all.
Really though, Bridges deserves more credit than he’s getting to this point (shoutout to Kevin O’Connor) on the national scale for what he does on both sides of the court. He is constantly chasing the opponents’ number one offensive option throughout the game and does an incredible job using his length and IQ to bother the hell out of them. Not only that, but he is one of the best cutters in the NBA and has been a knockdown shooter from deep this year at 43.4% on a high-volume. Offensively he is getting there, as the pull-up shooting flashes increase by the day. Defensively, he should be in consideration for an all-defensive team sooner than later. He has arguably been Phoenix’s most impactful player to start the year.
5. Seth Curry- Guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Curry has an 11.4 net rating and an absurd true shooting percentage of 68.7% and is off to a blistering start for the 76ers. He led the NBA in 3 point percentage last season which I thought flew under the radar a bit as he was a major reason Dallas put together one of the best offenses in NBA history. Shooting 50% from 3 on nearly 5 attempts is pretty wild, and it looks like he has a shot to win the 3PT% crown in consecutive years assuming (my favorite rookie) Desmond Bane (52%) concedes it to him.
Philadelphia’s improved offense in part is due to them not playing 7 centers together anymore, but in large part it’s due to Curry’s floor spacing and Tobias Harris’ resurgence (peep the honorable mentions).
Seth Curry is not easy to stop. pic.twitter.com/ytcnJxm2NU
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) February 1, 2021
6. Donte DiVincenzo- SG, Milwaukee Bucks
Villanova guys making up 22.2% of this article is not shocking at all, and Donte (along with Mikal) are the poster boys for what Villanova basketball is all about. High IQ players that know their role, play hard and improve year-by-year due to their killer work ethic. He is an elite defender both on the ball and off it, and has thrived in a low-usage role where he isn’t asked to do much offensively, but you just know there is a lot more there if given the opportunity.
He has long been one of my favorites dating back to the 2018 NBA Draft, so it’s nice to see him carve out a role on a winner, much like he did at Villanova.
DONTE DIVINCENZO!! pic.twitter.com/slgNciPkeN
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 28, 2021
7. OG Anunoby- Wing, Toronto Raptors
OG has made strides every year throughout his young NBA career and continues to do so in year 4 as he leads the NBA in steals per-game at 2.1 and is averaging a career-high in PPG (14.6), RPG (5.8), and 3PT% (43.3%). He recently had a 30 point outburst against Indiana in a win on the road, which goes to show he’s more than just a versatile defensive wing and someone that can occasionally carry the load offensively.
OG Anunoby put on a show in the @Raptors road win over Indiana!
— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) January 25, 2021
8. Keldon Johnson- Wing, San Antonio Spurs
Another Spur? Yup. Keldon Johnson has been so awesome this season and the strides he’s made in the past 24 months is incredible, especially when considering how underutilized he was at Kentucky. He’s always had the size, frame and athleticism to succeed, and to see him put it all together so quick is a testament to the Spurs development system. He’s shown better processing speed on reads on both sides of the floor and plays noticeably more under control.
The Spurs young core of Murray, Johnson, Walker, White and Vassell is a lot of fun.
NBA TV showing Keldon Johnson and the San Antonio Spurs some love: pic.twitter.com/ddhwFDcuaZ
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) January 28, 2021
9. Richaun Holmes- F/C, Sacramento Kings
Holmes currently holds a 69.6 True Shooting Percentage and has been a major piece to a somewhat surprisingly fun Kings team early on. Richaun has strung together three relatively quiet yet productive seasons in a row after departing Philadelphia in 2018. He is a perfect energy big that offers rim-running and rim protection on a nightly basis and has even shown some better playmaking flashes now and again.
the kings are very much, unequivocally, without question not fun right now. but richaun holmes might be the most underappreciated player in the nba.
among many other things, he's shooting 86.7% on floaters (13-of-15) and 72.5% on all jumpers (29-of-40) pic.twitter.com/WKpgqBXncO
— Dan Favale (@danfavale) January 16, 2021
I tried to balance this section with stars that aren’t talked about enough, and players that are very much not known at the national level to casual fans and/or players that are having bounce-back season and deserve a shoutout.
- Zach LaVine- Guard, Chicago Bulls
- Myles Turner- F/C, Indiana Pacers
- Malcolm Brogdon- Guard, Indiana Pacers
- Tobias Harris- Forward, Philadelphia 76ers
- Al Horford- F/C, Oklahoma City Thunder
- Collin Sexton- Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
- Julius Randle- Forward, New York Knicks
- Chris Boucher- F/C, Toronto Raptors
- Monte Morris- PG, Denver Nuggets
- Malik Beasley- Guard, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Miles Bridges- Forward, Charlotte Hornets
- Cameron Johnson- Wing, Phoenix Suns
- Harrison Barnes- Forward, Sacramento Kings
- Daniel Theis- F/C, Boston Celtics
- Jarred Vanderbilt- Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
- David Nwaba- Wing, Houston Rockets
- Royce O’Neale- Wing, Utah Jazz
- Wayne Ellington- Guard, Detroit Pistons
Who else do you think should be included? Who was snubbed? Comment below!