A player’s reputation is tied to lots of different factors: the team he plays for, his style of play, his statistics, his personality and various other circumstances. Many times, NBA teams or the general basketball public significantly miss the mark when evaluating players.
Now, I obviously have my own biases that cloud my judgment, so my opinion isn’t perfect by any means. However, these are five players who I evaluate to be greatly underrated heading into the 2019-20 season.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
A lot of times, people sort of forget about high draft picks if they develop slowly and don’t play for a team that gets much national spotlight. That is what I think has happened to Gordon, the No. 4 overall pick in 2014.
Gordon isn’t quite an All-Star-caliber player, but he is a lot closer than some people might think. He was second in scoring (16 points per game) and rebounding (7.4 rebounds per game) for the 7th-seeded Magic in 2018-19 while chipping in a big career high of 3.7 assists per game. He was probably the best defensive player on a squad that ended the season a very solid eighth in defensive rating.
There is still more room for the 23-year-old Gordon to improve. He’s a freak athlete, but he doesn’t draw many fouls. His ball-handling, shot selection and overall shooting ability need some work. For being easily the second-best player on a playoff team last year, he didn’t get nearly enough attention.
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
White’s raw averages of 9.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in 2018-19 do a great job of underselling his value. An injury early in the season got his season off to a slow start, but he was absolutely dynamite from late December through the end of the Spurs’ season in the first round of the playoffs. His excellent defense put him in the conversation for one of the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams.
San Antonio’s 25-year-old guard was excellent whenever his squad gave him sizable playing time and a significant role in the offense. He had a total of 10 games this season where he got at least 30 minutes and attempted at least 10 shots. In those games, these were his averages: 20.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1 block, 1.5 turnovers and a 69.2 true-shooting percentage
The good news for Spurs fans is that White is likely going to be hitting those 30-minute and 10-shot benchmarks a lot more this year. He has reportedly been one of the best players at the United States basketball minicamp in Las Vegas this month and he should have a great all-around season in 2019-20.
Ed Davis, Utah Jazz
If you are one of the NBA’s best players at a specific skill, you would think the general public would know who you are. Davis and his ridiculous 17.3 rebounds per 36 minutes are relatively unknown.
Granted, Davis’ game isn’t super well-rounded. He is just decent on the defensive end, and his offensive game is pretty limited away from the rim. His rebounding, boxing out and screen-setting are perfect attributes for a team that already has other players who do the more glamorous tasks on a basketball court like ball-handling, passing and shooting. Thankfully, Utah does have plenty of those players.
Davis is about to start playing for his sixth team in 10 NBA seasons, so it is clearly not just fans who underrate him. Let’s see if he can find a home in Utah with the Jazz as an elite backup center.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Turner was the defensive anchor for the NBA’s third-ranked defense last year. He led the league in blocks (2.7 per game) despite playing 28.6 minutes per game. Somehow, he was just fifth in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. He definitely should have been top three.
Turner doesn’t only close off the paint on defense for the Pacers, he spaces it out for them on offense. He is a very good pick-and-pop center who hit 76 total three-pointers in 2018-19 at a 38.8 percent clip.
With Victor Oladipo likely out for the first couple months of the season, Indiana needs Turner to increase his confidence and aggressiveness on offense and average closer to 17 points per game than the 13.3 he averaged in 2018-19.
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Hardly anyone noticed because the Celtics were a disappointment in 2018-19, but Smart had the best year of his career.
The defensive-minded bulldog of a guard took a step back to re-evaluate his offensive game and he came back a much smarter (no pun intended) and more efficient player. Smart’s career-high true-shooting percentage of 56.8 was above league average in 2018-19 and much higher than his previous high (49.1).
Smart’s biggest weakness has always been his outside shot, but he knocked down 36.4 percent of his 4.3 long-ball attempts per game last season. Teams couldn’t just completely leave him alone anymore.
Let’s hope the general public catches onto Smart’s immense value this season. He is definitely a very useful player now that his offense has started to close the gap with his already fantastic defensive ability.