Underrated: Kyle Lowry
Although most people believe DeMar DeRozan is the star of the Raptors, I believe his backcourt teammate Kyle Lowry is the more important player. DeRozan is the flashier player who puts up a lot of points and fantastic dunks, but the Raptors would not be a contender without Lowry. Lowry has been a different player since getting in shape a few years ago. He was always a good player, but now he’s one of the league’s elite point guards. It’s not like Lowry isn’t getting his due, but most people don’t give him credit as the star of the Raptors. He’s a smaller point guard on the wrong side of thirty, but he keeps getting better each season. Lowry isn’t as good of an athlete as DeRozan, but he’s a better shooter, passer, and leader. His wrist injury has contributed to Toronto’s recent struggles, but they’ll still have a shot at the championship as long as he returns for the playoffs.
Overrated: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook will likely be the first player to average a triple double since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62. That type of stat line is unheard of, but doesn’t exclude Westbrook from being overrated. I’ll admit he’s a fantastic player and is one of the most exciting players to watch in the NBA. However, his style of play is not conducive to winning. Some nights he single-handedly carries the Thunder to victory, but other nights he shoots them out of the game (don’t make me call him Westbrick). His usage numbers are off the charts, but he is prone to taking bad shots and having turnovers at the most inopportune time. I like point guards that make their team better, not stat stuffers who amaze more in the box score than they do on the court. Not to say Westbrook isn’t amazing on the court, but I believe he cannot be a #1 option on a championship team. Westbrook’s intensity is unmatched in today’s game which often makes for amazing highlights. But sometimes he plays out of control and hurts the Thunder’s chances of winning.
Underrated: Gary Harris
Gary Harris is emerging as one of the many young talented pieces for the Denver Nuggets. Although this team is becoming Nikola Jokic’s team, Harris could be a nice #2 option for the Nuggets if he keeps improving. He is getting better each season and is only 22 years old. He wasn’t a great three point shooter before the season, but has improved his shot up to a 42 percent clip from behind the three point line. If he continues to make these kinds of strides on the court, he’ll finally get the recognition that he deserves. The Nuggets are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, but Gary Harris has played well on that end of the floor all season. He usually takes the challenge of facing the opposing team’s best player, which in itself is a valuable contribution to a team. But his ability to dominate the game on both ends of the floor is what makes him so valuable and underrated.
Overrated: Allen Crabbe
The Portland Trail Blazers are underperforming this year largely due to overpaying average players. Allen Crabbe is one of those overpaid players. Portland signed Crabbe to a four year contract worth 75 million dollars last offseason. Only in today’s NBA would an average player command that type of money. Crabbe is a decent defender, decent shooter, and has decent size. But his skill set is better suited for a bench player, not someone making nearly 20 million dollars a season. Crabbe is still young and has a chance to improve, but this contract will be an issue unless the salary cap jumps up again like last offseason.
Underrated: Nicolas Batum
Nicolas Batum has been underrated going back to his Portland days. Although he has never averaged 20 points in a season, he has always been able to shoot the ball. The last few seasons he has averaged roughly fifteen points per game. Batum’s greatest strength is his versatility. He’s averaged roughly six rebounds and six assists a game over the last two seasons. He’s the classic jack of all trades, master of none player. He isn’t elite at anything but he’s good at everything. That is extremely valuable in today’s NBA. He’ll never be a #1 option on a good NBA team, but he’s a perfect third option with the ability to handle the ball and set up his teammates. He’s also a very good defender with the ability to lockdown an opposing team’s best player. Charlotte has underwhelmed this season but it hasn’t been because of Batum. He’s not a flashy player so he’ll likely never get the recognition that he deserves.
Overrated: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony is a future Hall of Famer and is one of the greatest scorers of his generation. But Anthony has always been overrated by the fans, the media, and his peers. I like Anthony as a player, but he is not someone who can lead a team to the championship. He can’t even get the Knicks into the playoffs. I admire his loyalty to New York, but it’s time for him to go somewhere else. Carmelo has always put up points, but he doesn’t do much in other phases of the game. He isn’t a great passer, defender, or leader. Elite players are supposed to make their teammates better, not constantly stop ball movement every time they touch the ball. Melo is a classic team killer. The Nuggets had a better record the year after trading Anthony than they did his final year in Denver. The Nuggets got a lot of pieces for Carmelo, but elite players are supposed to carry their team (it’s easier for a player to carry their team in the NBA than in other team sports). Melo’s talent is starting to depreciate. It’s time for him to move to a team where he can be their #2 or #3 option before his championship window closes.
Underrated: Taj Gibson
The overall dysfunction of the Chicago Bulls was on full display when they shipped off Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City during the trade deadline. Taj isn’t today’s prototypical stretch 4 which all teams covet, but he is a high-energy power forward with enough range and size to make a big difference for the Thunder once the playoffs start. Domantas Sabonis is a nice player but he isn’t quite ready to start. Taj is the perfect piece to take some pressure off Russell Westbrook and allow him to not have to take 100 percent of the burden offensively. I’m not sure that Taj Gibson helps Oklahoma City get past the first round of the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but he will be a nice piece in Oklahoma City if they can get him signed to a multi-year deal. Taj Gibson and the Thunder were big winners in this surprising trade.
Overrated: Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis has been hyped as the savior of the Knicks (they call him Porzingod). Although I think he will one day become an All-Star caliber player, today is not that day. People should let Porzingis continue to improve before giving him credit as a great player that he has yet to become. I love his talent, but he hasn’t fully reached his potential. I’m a fan of bigs that can stretch the floor offensively and protect the paint defensively. There’s a reason he is called a unicorn. These types of bigs are unicorns and are incredibly valuable. I want to see Porzingis move to center at his size. But the Knicks are currently playing him at power forward. I think Porzingis is being overhyped due to playing in the Mecca of Basketball and the draft day boos he received from Knicks fans. He will continue to prove those fans wrong as he keeps improving. One day his skills will match the amount of credit he is receiving, but until that day he will be overrated by the media and fans.
Underrated: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is finally getting some well-deserved publicity for his emergence as of late, but he’s still one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Not even the Nuggets could foresee his stardom when they drafted him in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft. Jokic is already an offense star. With his flashy passing and uncanny ball-handling for a big, Jokic has made the Nuggets one of the more exciting up-and-coming teams in the league. The Nuggets coach Michael Malone wasn’t sure how to use Jokic at the beginning of the season when he tried to play him with center Jusuf Nurkic, but Malone eventually figured out that the two did not work together. After shipping off Nurkic and giving full reigns to Jokic, the Nuggets now look poised to make it to the postseason. The Nuggets’ defense is one of the worst in the NBA and Jokic is as big a reason as any for these struggles. In time Jokic should become a better defender especially if he gets in better shape. Jokic doesn’t get the recognition that emerging bigs Anthony Davis, Karl Anthony-Towns, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, or Giannis Antetokounmpo receive, but he should be mentioned with those other talents. Jokic is underrated until the day he receives that level of recognition.
Overrated: Bismack Biyombo
Bismack Biyombo is the perfect energy big coming off the bench. But for some reason the Orlando Magic decided to give him starter money when they signed him to a four year deal worth 72 million dollars. I’ve never been a fan of Biyombo’s game, so his struggles to live up to this contract haven’t surprised me. I prefer bigs that have guard skill sets. My question I always pose for bigs is, would this player be in the NBA if they were six feet tall or are they in the NBA because they are tall? There’s nothing wrong with having a big like Biyombo in the league, but I like this type of player as a backup. There are rare occasions when this type of player can succeed in the league (for example DeAndre Jordan and Rudy Gobert), but they need the right pieces around them to maximize their skill set. Bismack Biyombo is a DeAndre Jordan lite without the talent around him to be successful. He’ll continue to be a decent piece in Orlando but he’s wildly overpaid.