- The Season's Over -

Who’s That? Ten of the NBA’s Best Players John Q. Public Has Never Heard Of

January 9, 2008

David West throws it down

David West Photo Credit: Larry Smith/Icon SMI

OK, so maybe you’ve heard of them. Outside the relatively small circle of NBA diehards, though, many casual sports fans would scratch their head with indifference if you mentioned these 10 b-ballers whose skills are all-too-often overlooked or flat-out ignored. They’re rarely featured on Sportscenter, they (usually) don’t pen high-profile blogs, and maybe they don’t possess the chiseled good looks of a mass-marketable superstar.

Let’s be honest: many of these players don the jersey of a–brace yourself, dirty words coming–”small-market team,” and that can be a tough straw to draw. The coveted endorsement deals are limited to local businesses with no production budget for their commercials (NBA League Pass subscribers, you know the ones), their stands are often over half empty, and All-Star caliber production still isn’t enough to make headlines. Don’t feel too bad for these gentlemen–after all, they’re still handsomely paid–but their lack of accolades for a job well done is just a shame. Worry not, ye of this underappreciated ilk, your time in the shining ETB spotlight has arrived. There are many other players who deserve mention; this is just ten of them. Feel free to add more in the comments.

(Caveat for the nitpickers: these players are listed in no particular order.)

David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets

Like fellow point guard Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz, Chris Paul is fast becoming a household name (and rightfully so), but outside of him most would struggle to name even two more players in the Hornets’ starting lineup. That’s too bad because this unheralded squad deserves better; in a city still struggling in the aftermath of Katrina, the 23-11 Hornets are routinely beating opponents on their home court in an arena filled to much less than half-capacity. While much of the praise for this team’s success squarely belongs with Paul, fifth-year power forward David West has established himself as a legitimate scorer in the post who also rebounds, shoots a high percentage from the field, and stays out of foul trouble. Transplant the 6-9 West into the Eastern Conference and he’s a shoo-in for the All-Star game. Over his first five seasons, this ’03 first-round pick has increased his per-game averages in points, rebounds, and blocked shots every year, consumating in his finest season yet: 19.4 points, 9.4 boards, 1.3 blocks, and 47% FG on 16 shots/per. That’s pretty darn good.

Chris Kaman, C, Los Angeles Clippers

Currently ranked third overall in both double-doubles (25) and rebounds (14/per), the last remaining member of the Cro-Magnon Clan was recently revealed as the center dead last in All-Star voting in the Western Conference. We understand that he’s not the most attractive man in the world and that his game isn’t much prettier, but it’d be a travesty if the pride of Wyoming, Michigan, didn’t get the recognition he’s earned this season by being named as an All-Star reserve. The sixth pick of the ’03 draft, Kaman’s role with the Clips expanded exponentially when Elton Brand was lost to injury, and he’s responded in kind. Logging nearly 40 minutes a night (8 more than his previous career high), the seven-footer is dropping 18 points and 3 blocks to go with all those boards. Those numbers are making a huge impact for fantasy teams, too: he’s currently ranked fifth amongst centers in Yahoo! scoring.

Al Jefferson, F/C, Minnesota Timberwolves

It’s not easy being Big Al. Drafted straight out of high school by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the ’04 draft, Jefferson spent his first three NBA seasons toiling away for one of the league’s worst teams. Last summer he was then shipped to the T’Wolves, who have now assumed the dubious honor of being the NBA’s most inept through the season’s first 100 days. Don’t mistake his two team’s lack of success as an indictment of Jefferson’s ability to get it done. Understanding that he sported some extra baggage in his belly, the 6-10 Beast on the Blocks dropped 30 lbs prior to the 06/07 season, and ever since he’s been a double-double machine. Between last year in Boston and this year in Minnesota, Jefferson has averaged 18.3 points, 11.6 boards, 1.4 blocks, and 50% from the field which, as you know, are numbers worthy of All-Star consideration. We’re both big fans of Big Al here at ETB, and hope that one day he becomes recognized as much more than “the main guy traded for KG.”

Maurice Williams, PG, Milwaukee Bucks

Williams was clearly ready to offer his services to the highest bidder before the Bucks re-upped him to a six-year, $52 million deal in the offseason. The Miami Heat were thought to have been in the mix; playing alongside Wade and O’Neal, that’s one change of address that would have instantly elevated the cat-quick guard’s profile. Whether he could have helped save that team from themselves is a question that’ll never be answered, so we’ll focus on what this former second-round pick of the Jazz does for Milwaukee. In his second full season of averaging over 35 minutes a night, Williams is the team’s next-best scoring option behind Michael Redd and their top three-point shooter at 38.5%. At 6-1, his lack of size makes him vulnerable to post ups from bigger guards like Chauncey Billups and Jamaal Tinsley, but when healthy he can run the floor with anyone.

Danny Granger can dunk

Danny Granger, F, Indiana Pacers

A common argument is whether or not the Pacers should trade Jermaine O’Neal or keep building around him, but third-year forward Danny Granger is quickly becoming the guy this franchise should consider it’s more valuable long-term asset regardless of what happens with JO. Like the Hornets’ West, Granger’s production has increased pretty much across the board every season. Compared to his strong sophomore campaign, the 6-9 New Orleans native has seen an uptick in points, boards, three-pointers, assists, and blocks in almost the exact same amount of floor time. Some credit belongs to coach Jim O’Brien’s new system, but this kid was bound to get better anyway… and he’s not done yet. The Atlanta Hawks recently got a first-hand example of what he’s capable of when Granger tied a career-best with 32 points (including 5 three-pointers) to go with 9 boards and 2 steals on January 4.

Danny Granger Photo Credit: Sporting News/ZUMA Press/Icon SMI

Antonio Daniels, PG, Washington Wizards

Are the Wizards a better team with 11-year vet Antonio Daniels running the show than with the injured Gilbert Arenas? No, and Daniels is clearly not the better player, but Washington does have a better record with Daniels in the lineup this season. To be fair to Gilbert, this fact is drawn from the only eight games he’s played in thus far, eight in which he clearly was not himself. Throughout his career, Daniels has consistently been the kind of glue player that every team needs coming off the bench or subbing for sidelined starters. His stats in Arenas’ absence have been solid, if not spectacular: 11.7 points, 6.4 feeds, 4 boards, 1.5 steals, and perhaps most importantly, less than 2 turnovers/per in nearly 36 minutes a night. That the Wizards are sporting a 17-16 record and still realistically chasing the Magic for the Southeast Division crown, without Gilbert, has a lot to do with the steady, solid play of Mr. Daniels.

Gerald Wallace, F, Charlotte Bobcats

Three things instantly become evident nearly every time I turn on a Bobcats home-game broadcast through the magic of NBA League Pass: the high-school production quality make it look overcast with a strong chance of rain inside the arena; the seats are more empty than occupied; and Gerald Wallace is an incredible talent stuck in the mud of a middling franchise. Besides Rashard Lewis, the 6-7 Wallace was arguably the best small forward on the free-agent market last summer, but unlike Lewis he opted to stick around, signing on the dotted line of a six-year, $57 million deal that pays him on par with the Mavericks’ Josh Howard. He and Howard also share the similar talent of filling up box scores: through the season’s first 31 games, Wallace is averaging 20.5 points, 5.5 boards, 3.2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 1 three-pointer. Still just 25-years-old, any possible turnaround in Charlotte will have a lot to do with the continued all-around production from this versatile forward.

Hedo Turkoglu, F, Orlando Magic

Quick: name the Magic’s second-leading scorer. Wrong–it’s not Rashard Lewis but 6-10, Turkish-born Hedo Turkoglu, who’s enjoying a career year and has become Orlando’s de facto go-to guy when the team needs a big bucket in crunch time. I touched on Turkoglu’s emergence in last week’s Front-Row Seat, but failed to mention that his 2.2 three-pointers/per currently ranks sixth in the NBA, ahead of pretty good long-range shooters like Baron Davis, Steve Nash, and Chauncey Billups. I’m going to round this one out with an attempt to invoke the cadence and tone of the excitable Hubie Brown: “you like Turkoglu’s size and his rebounding, and he’s a wonderful threat from the perimeter when defenders collapse on Dwight Howard. Now, understand he’s not a great defender, but that’s not what he’s asked to do, okay. He’s asked to shoot the ball with a high percentage, and he’s doing that very well at this point in the season.”

Jose Calderon, PG, Toronto Raptors

Perhaps we should wait for a bigger sample-size of Calderon’s playing time before showering him with the accolades that are bound to come from being listed in this article, but his early returns as a starter are very, very good. With T.J. Ford out of the lineup, Calderon has stepped in and posted a disgusting–in a good way, of course–assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.22 on the season. That’s a stat that doesn’t get enough consideration when it comes to evaluating a player’s worth, especially when talking about point guards playing 35+ minutes a night. To put it into perspective, Chris Paul’s A/T ratio is next best amongst starters… at 4.04. That kind of efficiency, coupled with 13.5 points a night, has made him incredibly valuable in fantasy leagues that count A/T (like the HoopsAddict league). With little to no point-guard depth behind him in Toronto, one could make a strong case for him as the Raptors’ first-half MVP.

John Salmons, G/F, Sacramento Kings

Like Calderon, Salmons has been an early-season saviour for the Kings, who’ve been faced with extended absences of starters Ron Artest, Kevin Martin, and Mike Bibby. Salmons hasn’t run the point, but he’s done damn near everything else as a fill-in starter, taking his offense to where it’s never been before in his six-year career–an average in double digits (16.8)–and logging the kind of heavy minutes usually reserved for the league’s most irreplaceable. But that’s exactly what he is right now for the 13-20 Kings: their best perimeter defender (when Ron-Ron is out), their best shooter (when K-Mart is out), and their most durable as one of only three Kings to suit up in all 33 games. Salmons is featured in one of two articles penned by the ETB Fellowship in HoopsWorld’s upcoming All-Star themed print edition.

Reader Picks

- Brandon Roy, G, Portland Trail Blazers (some think he’s too well-known to be here though)
- LaMarcus Aldridge, F/C, Portland Trail Blazers (ditto)
- Steve Blake, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (ETB gadfly Andrew Thell’s pick)
- David Lee, F, New York Knickerbockers
- Monta Ellis, G, Golden State Warriors
- Antawn Jamison, F, Washington Wizards (I’m not sure he falls in this category, but maybe he does)
- Josh Smith, G/F, Atlanta Hawks
- Joe Johnson, G/F, Atlanta Hawks
- Travis Outlaw, F, Portland Trail Blazers
- Andrew Bynum, C, Los Angeles Lakers
- Louis Williams, G, Philadelphia 76ers (totally agree on this guy)
- Kevin Martin, SG, Sacramento Kings
- Kris Humphries, F, Toronto Raptors
- Rudy Gay, G/F, Memphis Grizzlies
- Kelenna Azubuike, G/F, Golden State Warriors
- Francisco Garcia, G/F, Sacramento Kings

24 Comments »Posted by Brian Spencer on Jan. 9, 2008 at 8:42 am in ETB Articles, NBA, NBA Fantasy News

24 Responses

Love it. Although, I would have included somebody on the Blazers, Roy or Aldridge maybe.

Posted by: basketbawful on January 9th, 2008 at 2:08 pm

great information,these players will never receive the respect that they are worth.they will always be treated by casual fans as “not that good”, “prefer (insert old superstar that is on his decline/basketball idol which isnt really playing good now but has fame, here) instead”
but we know the truth.thats fine

Posted by: jeff on January 9th, 2008 at 2:29 pm

Granger is looking like he’s gonna become a bonafide supadupastar by the end of the season.

Posted by: Rupert Entwistle on January 9th, 2008 at 2:38 pm

The fact that West and Granger were able to fall so low in their drafts is amazing. With Granger it was clear teams were passing on him after getting blown away by high school potential. Not a good move.

Posted by: Larry Diamond on January 9th, 2008 at 2:44 pm

A good list. Others for consideration are David Lee, Monta Ellis, Mike Dunleavy, Antwan Jamison, Josh Smith, and if we are counting Gerald Wallace… Joe Johnson.

Posted by: Kurt on January 9th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Travis Outlaw? Finally pulling it all together and its not even a contract year. Not giant numbers, but huge in the 4th quarter.

Posted by: jim on January 9th, 2008 at 4:09 pm

[...] This sites lists some players that deserve more recognition in the NBA. My only contention is some of them are on some really bad teams. I just have never liked the player that was able to score but unable to win. [...]

Posted by: Links - Kellan « K and J Sports Podcast on January 9th, 2008 at 4:53 pm

andrew bynum? does that ring any bells, he not only changed kobes mind about LA but the lakers are now a contender in the west

Posted by: cory on January 9th, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Here’s the missing Blazer: Steve Blake.

He may look more like your local paper boy than an NBA player, but he’s the kind of point guard every coach loves and every player loves playing alongside. His #1 priority is always taking care of the ball, running the offense, and getting his teammates involved – and he does all of those things quite well, as evidenced by his consistently low assist-turnover ratio and the Blazers dramatic success since Blake was inserted into the starting lineup. Then he also provides an added bonus of being able to consistently knockdown the three-point shot, utilizing an ever-improving jumper that is nearing “automatic” status if he’s left wide open (as, playing alongside the likes of L.A. and Roy, he often will be).

He’s certainly not an awe-inspiring athlete, but with his “true point guard” abilities referenced above, its not a coincidence that he’s been a big winner throughout his basketball career – first at mythical national champion Oak Hill Academy in high school, then earning two Final Fours and a National Championship at the University of Maryland, and now in the NBA as the primary facilitator on a Blazers team that’s currently the story of the 2007-’08 season.

Posted by: Andrew on January 9th, 2008 at 6:05 pm

Hedo is the man! He is one of the best passing big men in the game, remember last years alley to dwight for the win against the spurs? remember who threw it? yep, the 6-10 Turkish Thunder!! He also serves in the Turkish Army…The way he’s playing he should switch salaries with Lewis…mmm…

Posted by: Ben on January 9th, 2008 at 10:09 pm

I think most casual fans at least remember Hedo from some of those Sacramento teams.

Posted by: Mike on January 9th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Great job, Kaman is my favorite player on the list. The guy is a tough bruiser, ambidextrous and has a nice shooting touch from up to 15 feet out. Also, I had no idea Calderon’s assist/to ratio was so great since becoming a starter, 6 to 1 is amazing.

All in all I loved it

Posted by: Richard on January 9th, 2008 at 11:09 pm

I used to watch David West in high school. He dominated then and despite weak numbers early in his nba career, I always knew he would be special. Also could have put Louis Williams from Philly on here. He will soon be their second option one way or another. I like Al Jefferson, but technically he has no business on this list. Everyone knows him including my NBA-illeterate mom thanks to the KG trade

Posted by: Patterson on January 10th, 2008 at 2:02 am

needs more Brandon Roy..Steve Blake..

Posted by: Steven on January 10th, 2008 at 2:46 am

nice work including antonio daniels, he was a big part of the success the sonics had a few years ago and never got the recognition he deserved

Posted by: tyler on January 10th, 2008 at 3:57 am

[...] in the series. Crap. My parents STILL haven’t bought me that pair of Air Jordan IVs, yet.PF: Empty the Bench. A look at some of the league’s more-unheralded players, and Chris Kaman.SF: Hardwood [...]

Posted by: The 10-man rotation, starring Mars Blackman | Sports 4 Dorks on January 10th, 2008 at 4:29 am

Great article! I expect we’ll still be hearing about David West being underrated three years from now when he really isn’t anymore. The word is leaking out… Poor Al Jefferson! I get the sinking feeling that he’s going to get stuck in Bad GM limbo for the next nine years, just like KG before him. I feel so cheated now that I’m catching Boston games on TV. I think Glen Taylor was too much of a Kevin McHale fan to realize that the guy isn’t up to the job. What do you do with all the posters once you fire the guy? That’s why I’d never hire a court legend to run by team (if I were a billionaire and owned one, that is). Definitely got off track here, so great article, got to read about some folks I’d lost track of – haven’t read about Danny Granger outside of a video game in a good while.

Posted by: Justin on January 10th, 2008 at 8:05 am

Is it wrong that I think Kaman will come crashing back to earth soon? Maybe it’s because I haven’t had a chance to witness a CLippers game but after seeing him the past few seasons I can’t fathom how his game’s exploded. Granted, I get big men take a little while longer to “mature” but I’m shocked at the season he’s having.

D West is the truth! I tried to draft him this season but waited a round too long and I’m still kicking myself.

JOSE!!! Huge points for listing him. As a Raptors fan I’m a huge fan of Jose and I was stoked to see Hollinger list him as his top reserver guard for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. His TO/Assist ratio has been amazing this season – what more can you ask for in a PG?

Posted by: Hoops Addict on January 10th, 2008 at 8:06 am

The next person who mentions Brandon Roy should be banned from posting. He’s, um, just a little bit well known.

Posted by: beedlebaum on January 10th, 2008 at 9:43 am

Kevin Martin.

Posted by: Shrooms on January 10th, 2008 at 10:03 am

Thanks for the article. I agree with you on most players. I wouldn’t include Roy on the list. He is the reigning ROTY! My man Rudy Gay however, he deserves to be on that list. He does everything but happens to be on a bad team. But I love his energy (and the socks too)…
Kris Humphries isn’t doing too bad over in Canada either.

Posted by: Marc on January 10th, 2008 at 11:37 am

[...] on the Internets Posted on January 10, 2008 by entersandman Empty the Bench lists David West among the top 10 NBA players nobody’s heard of. Ryan Schwan of Hornets 247 notes that his [...]

Posted by: Hornets on the Internets « A New Orleans Hornets Blog on January 10th, 2008 at 1:10 pm

Ok, so i follow the Kings fanatically and watch just about every Warriors game.

Monta Ellis is not undervalued. Seriously, he’s the most over-hyped guy on the team. Yeah, the guy has game and he’s easy to watch with his Barbosa-esque game. But when EVERYONE in the media calls you slept on,…are you really that slept-on?

Most Important Warriors:
1. Baron Davis
2. Stephen Jackson
…….big gap after that
3. Andris Biedrins (don’t sleep, especially when he plays D. But sadly, he like Monta, is constantly getting ink for being “undervalued” or “next”)
4. (tie between Monta and….)

If your looking for an overlooked Warrior, or a “NEXT” guy….remember this name….Kelenna Azubuike…..Kah-leena….As-Uhh-Boooke-eee…..

Does almost everything J-Rich did at much less the salary…

As for the Kings, Salmons is pretty right on, he’s our MVP this year. But look out for….

“Cisco”…Francisco Garcia…yeah, the guy who lead Louisville to final four before melting down….yeah, that guy. The new and improved, Puerto Rican Jamal Mashburn…..

Posted by: Tha Shizzzz on January 11th, 2008 at 5:21 pm

If anyone watches the raptors… and I’m pretty sure those who do are exclusively Canadian…. you would have known how good Jose is. Even last year coming off the bench he was phenomenal. In fact almost the entire Raptors team is undervalued (except maybe Chris Bosh). This is a team to look out for and have been getting absolutely no respect from the league or the media outside Canada. Nearly the entire team is undervalued.

Jamario Moon (top defensive Rookie in the league period.)

Kris Humphries (energy, strength and unexpected hops.. he even has a nice jumper. What was he traded for? A rudabega!)

Jose (well we already have an entire article on him)

Anthony Parker (3rd best 3 point shooting % in the league, as consistent of a player as exists and a great defender.)

Bryan Colangelo has made everyother GM in the league look like chumps…

Posted by: Salami and Cheese on January 12th, 2008 at 2:09 pm

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