Baseline Awards: The All-Underrated Team
Tim Duncan is the most valuable underrated player.
The Internet makes rating anything nearly impossible. Prisoner of the moment, straw-men, counter-reaction to the mainstream, counter-counter-reaction to the mainstream, undisclosed bias, pretty much any effort to accurately rate anything is going to get tripped up once any sort of serious conversation begins.
And yeah, I'd throw this running column as much in that pile as any.
But in the course of the NBA season, guys are going to get overlooked relative to their performance. It's just going to happen. So with that, here are my All-Underrated awards.
The Most Valuable Underrated Player: Tim Duncan
Duncan will not win MVP, nor should he win the MVP. He has not been more impactful, more outstanding, more excellent than LeBron James or Kevin Durant . (You can make an argument for his relative standing to anyone else on the planet.)
And I don't necessarily buy into the contention that the San Antonio Spurs have been under the radar this season. They're constantly talked about by national media sources ... as being under the radar. If everyone's talking about how no one's talking about you, everyone's actually talking about you. Duncan has gotten his own credit, his own attention for his phenomenal play.
Yet, Duncan has been so good, he's still the Underrated MVP.
Duncan's playing the best basketball he's played since 2007. His per-36-minutes numbers are all in line with that last championship season, and in some cases, his advanced numbers (rebound percentage, block percentage) are actually superior when you account for pace.
There is a difference in his role. He is not the centerpiece of the offense anymore. There is no centerpiece of the offense anymore. It is a self-supporting automation that runs on grizzled determination and pride in execution. But Duncan's particular cog happens to be bigger than most, and the Spurs are thriving because they can rely on it.
The bigger impact is on the defensive end, however, where at age 36 Duncan has put himself in the running for defensive player of the year. The standard, and horribly flawed media approach, will point out his absurd 2.7 blocks per game, but as I'm always preaching, defense is way more than blocked shots.
The Spurs are 3.6 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Duncan on the floor, a phenomenal mark considering Duncan is almost always up against the top competition, very rarely getting burned against the weaker players or fattening up in garbage time.
Duncan's been showing off the whole repertoire offensively this season. Driving to the rim, the one-hand hook from just inside the free-throw line, the dreaded turnaround bank shot. Tony Parker may have been the Spurs' best player this season, but no one has been so brilliant with so little attention, something Duncan desires, than Duncan.
Runner-Up: Marc Gasol
Most Underrated Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
The top five players in Win Shares, via Basketball-Reference: 1. LeBron James 2. Kevin Durant 3. Chris Paul 4. James Harden. 5. Russell Westbrook.
The top five players in assist percentage via Basketball-Reference: 1. Chris Paul 2. Tony Parker 3. Jose Calderon 4. Russell Westbrook.
Top players in PER, Westbrook is ninth.
Top guards in rebound rate (minimum 20 minutes per game played), Westbrook is third.
He's No. 1 in usage, which you can make jokes about, but the fact is that often results in a huge drain on efficiency.
Fourth in points per 36 among guards playing 20 minutes, 11th among guards playing 20 minutes in assists per 36 minutes, the list goes on and on.
Kevin Durant gets the accolades. Westbrook gets the criticism.
Westbrook has been phenomenal this year, as he was last year, and were he on his own team, we'd be talking about him as a fringe MVP candidate the same way we talk about James Harden. Instead, he is mocked for his fashion sense and told to give the ball to Durant more.
Westbrook should be applauded for the burden he carries for OKC as their only other significant consistent offensive contributor and for the adaptation he's made to be more of a distributor since Harden was traded. But no one seems to like that story as much as "Should the Oklahoma City Thunder have kept James Harden and traded Russell Westbrook?" So the same story goes on.
Westbrook has been the best point guard no one seems to notice has been great.
Runner-Up: Stephen Curry
Most Underrated Wing: Paul Pierce , Boston Celtics
This is tough for me because I honestly believe the biggest reason the Celtics got off to such a horrible start and the reason they can't advance in the playoffs is that Pierce simply doesn't have what he used to on either end of the floor. He's neither devastating off the dribble nor solid defensively.
But somehow, despite age having kicked in on him, he's still managed this: 20 points per 36 minutes, with seven rebounds and five assists and 38 percent shooting from 3.
He's adapted his game. He's used every ounce of that veteran savvy. Only Dirk Nowitzki is a scarier threat on the transition trailer three. And without Pierce, the Celtics are nowhere near the playoffs after Rondo's injury. Kevin Garnett is the Celtics' most important player, but it's Pierce who has carried them to the level they're at.
Runner-Up: Nicolas Batum
Most Underrated Stretch Big: Ryan Anderson
The Sixth Man of the Year candidate has been simply brilliant in a weird lineup situation for plucky New Orleans. He's got 19.1 PER, is averaging 19 points per 36 minutes, shooting 39 percent from 3 and still grabbing a fair amount of rebounds. Anderson's in a weird situation in his rotation on a team full of inexperienced players, but he has made the most of it.
Most Underrated Big: Al Horford
The fact that Al Horford wasn't an All-Star is really kind of ridiculous. Horford has been a monster this season for the Atlanta Hawks and is their best player without question. A 56.3 True Shooting Percentage, a higher rebound percentage and PER than Marc Gasol (widely considered the best center in the league), a brilliant passer (15.2 assist percentage) and a phenomenal defender, Horford is never discussed as an elite player in this league, and that simply makes no sense.
Horford is essentially the B-Level Tim Duncan and he's only 26. If Duncan and the Spurs are overlooked by the national media, Horford is blacklisted. A terrific face-up shooter, post-scorer and a guy who comes to work every night, Horford needs more attention this season.
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat : Well, he scored 23 points in less than six minutes the other night, so yeah.
2. Kevin Durant, Thunder: Going to end up having arguably the greatest non-MVP-winning season since the early 90s.
4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers : The biggest problem with the Clippers is that none of them are on CP3's level, so I'm not going to punish him here for it.
4. Tony Parker, Spurs: I wonder if Duncan is more valuable, but I'm keeping him here for season consistency.
5. Kobe Bryant , Los Angeles Lakers : Welcome to No. 4 All-Time, Mamba.
Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard , Portland Trail Blazers : Learning to draw contact is what he should work on next year.
3. Anthony Davis , New Orleans Pelicans : Quietly going to finish with a very good rookie season.
2. Andre Drummond , Detroit Pistons : The team needs to focus on him going forward.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies : Coming back from injury was noble, but concerning.
2. Andre Iguodala , Denver Nuggets : There has not been a better on-ball defender this season.
3. Tony Allen , Grizzlies: If there were someone who had been better, it would be Allen.
4. Larry Sanders , Milwaukee Bucks : Amazing for a third-year guy. Future's so bright, he's got to wear shades that he tosses at the officials and gets ejected for.
5. Joakim Noah , Chicago Bulls : He did all this this year with plantar fasciitis. That's insane.
Most Improved Player
1. Jrue Holiday , Philadelphia 76ers : This should be a unanimous vote.
2. Greivis Vasquez , Hornets: Finishing the season strong, just needs to work on his defense.
3. Larry Sanders, Bucks: Put 21 on Dwight Howard , that ain't bad.
5. Paul George , Pacers: Fading as the year goes on, he might fall off the final list.
Coach of the Year
1. Erik Spoelstra, Heat: He won 27 in a row, and his team clinched the Eastern No. 1 seed on March 29th. I don't care how much talent he has.
2. Gregg Popovich, Spurs: Always looking long-term, always hating everyone asking him about ... well, anything.
3. George Karl, Nuggets: 50 wins before April is not only phenomenal but the 12th time he's put in 50 wins or more in a season in his career.
4. Scott Brooks, Thunder: Has kept OKC balanced, even with some tough losses this year.
5. Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors : The team has stabilized just enough to get him back on this list. If it wasn't for that midseason swoon, he might have won this thing.
6th Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford , Clippers: They lean on him so much, he's got to be the most valuable sixth man.
2. Jarrett Jack , Warriors: Jack might make some weird decisions, but he's still the guy with the ball late in games for a team that has Stephen Curry, and he makes it work.
3. Ryan Anderson, Hornets: Just consistently great. Weird that he's a Sixth Man. That whole rotation is weird.
4. J.R. Smith , New York Knicks : I'm putting J.R. and his now whopping 41 percent shooting percentage back on this list because he's been phenomenal at getting to the rim for the past eight games. Hurrah.
5. Carl Landry , Warriors: He has one of the highest PERs and TS percentages for nonstarters. He's been a beast for that team.
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