By: Jalon Dixon, Columnist
With the first two episodes of the “The Last Dance” revealing just how underpaid NBA player Scottie Pippen was in his stint with the Chicago Bulls, talks have swirled around the NBA universe in debate on whether Pippen could be considered one of the most underrated players in league history. With the topic of underrated players at the forefront of NBA discussions, here are my selections for an All-NBA team made up of the league’s top underrated and most under-appreciated players.
On point guard is Los Angeles Clippers’ Lou Williams, aka Sixth Man Lou Will. Despite having to get accustomed to the play style, demand and expectations that come with bringing in two elite two-way players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who were both acquired last summer, Williams has not lost a beat.
Every sports media news outlet has raved about the dominance of Lebron James this season in year 17, but Williams is not too far behind as he is in his 15th season, from South Gwinnett High School in Georgia and on. He is a self-proclaimed “Underground G.O.A.T.” as published in his feature with SLAM Magazine. Williams was showing out this season averaging 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists on 41.6% shooting from the field and 36.3% from three on nearly five attempts per game. Did I mention that he is doing all of this for only $8 million a year?
If Williams telling us that he is a G.O.A.T. is not enough to make us pay attention, how about hearing it from Brooklyn Nets All-Star forward Kevin Durant.
“I mean Lou Will’s probably the number one guy,” said Durant on the “Knuckleheads” podcast “I feel like he’s a Hall of Famer. Yeah, I feel like he’s one of those guys that is a culture-changer as far as like setting the lane for NBA players, you know? Being that undersized, 6’2, 6’3.”
Well-deserved high praise for a player that has thrived in his role and continues to display why he is arguably one of the best sixth men in NBA history.
Next up at shooting guard is New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday. With the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star forward Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and the fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft, it is clear that the Pelicans are at the forefront of a youth movement. Led by rookie phenom and first overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft, Zion Williamson, one could say that 11-year vet Holiday is being overshadowed by the influx of young talent.
Funny enough, Holiday has been sneakily playing at a fringe All-Star level over the last three years. This season alone Holiday is averaging 19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.9 assists on 45.2% shooting from the field and 35.7% from three while chipping in 1.7 steals on the defensive end. According to Basketball Reference, Holiday has actually averaged 19+ points, 1.5 steals and nearly a block a game over the last three seasons.
Williams was actually a former teammate of Holiday’s on the Philadelphia 76ers from 2009 to 2012, Williams had high praise for his former backcourt mate. While sitting down with former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast, Williams was asked who he believes is the most slept on player in the league.
“Jrue Holiday,” Williams said. “On both ends of the court bro. Like I don’t think he gets the recognition and respect that he deserves. I hate seeing Jrue come, I ain’t even going to front.”
It only feels right to reunite these two dynamic guards in the All-Underrated team considering they both have had elite, under the radar careers thus far.
At the forward spots are the Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton and the Orlando Magic’s Jonathan Isaac. Despite playing second fiddle to the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton was having a career year this season. Being voted in as a back-to-back All-Star, Middleton was averaging a career-high 21.1 points and 6.2 rebounds to go along with 4.1 assists per game. Middleton was also creeping up in the 50-40-90 stage as a shooter, shooting 49.9 percent from the floor, 41.8 percent from three and 90.8 percent from the free throw line. Standing at 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and those kinds of shooting splits, it is surprising to see just how little love a guy like Middleton gets.
Isaac, being the former sixth overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, had a lot to prove. With a significant injury history that limited him to playing 27 games in his rookie year, his official “sophomore season” was the season where he needed to work hard to prove why he was selected in the early part of the lottery. And he did just that as the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Dobbins reported that Isaac put on 12 pounds during the summer of 2018 in preparation for this season. Isaac was averaging 12 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists and even though 12 and seven might not jump off the page, what really stands out is his defensive statistics.
Isaac was averaging 2.4 blocks per game in the 2019-2020 season, which according to ESPN would be tied for second in the league with Anthony Davis and Brook Lopez. Also Isaac was averaging 1.6 steals in the 2019-2020 season which ESPN shows would be tied for 11th with Marcus Smart and Chris Paul. Not to mention that that is just barely behind players like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden and of course Jrue Holiday. If not for a rough knee injury suffered against the Washington Wizards back in January, Isaac was on a trajectory that easily would have put him in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion.
Lastly at Center, I have to go with Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams. Better known as the “Aquaman look-alike” Adams has been a near double-double machine for the last three years. This season Adams was averaging 10.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists on 59.1% shooting from the field. He might not be a modern day big that shoots the three, but he is a great rim runner and a defensive presence that can hang with any of the top centers in the league. As the lone survivor from the original Oklahoma City Thunder core that had Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and others, it is safe to say that the 26-year-old Adams has held the Thunder down and is a core piece of the franchise’s future.
Although these might not be some of the most exciting names to hear on an All-NBA team, that is actually what makes this group so unique. They may not have all the flashy plays or the media spotlight, but they fly under the radar as one of the key pieces that make their teams go. These are the guys that can turn perennial playoff teams into championship contenders and turn contenders into champions.