Underrated players for the 2021 NBA season

By Shawn Dennis

Before we take a look at the players who’ve been putting up numbers and aren’t getting the love they deserve, let me explain what it means for a player to be slept on in the league. 

In this article, the players included I believe have not been given as much credit and recognition that other players are receiving who are putting up similar stats as them. This is typically because the franchise that they play for is under the radar or if there is an All-Star on the team who gets the fandom and acknowledgement for their team’s success. And as we all know, there is no I in team. 

From points per game, hustle stats, player efficiency ratings, and other random statistics, I’ve depicted four players that should be discussed more in the basketball world with some limelight shined their way. 

Malcom Brogdon

This isn’t the first season that the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year has been extremely efficient without getting much praise. When the Milwaukee Bucks traded Greg Monroe and a couple of picks for Eric Bledsoe, it seemed apparent that the Bucks weren’t keen on the future of Brogdon, which led to a sign-and-trade deal to the Indiana Pacers in 2019. Now, do I think Brogdon would’ve been the difference in the Bucks coming up short for the past few seasons in the playoffs? Probably not, but his numbers have been above average on both ends of the floor, as someone who plays fundamental and non-flashy basketball but is  never on the mixtape or highlight reel. 

In 20 games this season, Brogdon has been putting up merely 8 more points than his career average of 14.3 and dishing the ball beautifully with 7 assists a game. He’s always shot incredibly from the charity stripe (90% this season) and isn’t a liability on the defensive end of the ball either, getting 1.5 steals per game.

Being the 36th pick in the 2016 Draft, Malcolm Brogdon has been the definition of exceeding expectations, being a purely consistent point guard. Due to the fact that he doesn’t put any defenders on posters, crosses anyone up, or has that “razzle dazzle” style of play, he won’t be talked about very often. Which is a shame when realizing that he’s been putting up the same averages that Kemba Walker had last year who, not to mention, was an All-Star in 2020. 

Jordan Clarkson 

Being known more for his game off the court than on the court with his relationship history, Jordan Clarkson has been a solid 6th man for the second best team in the West, the Utah Jazz. Clarkson seems to have gone a bit backwards in his career since starting out with the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2014, where he started the vast majority of his games played until he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and came off the bench for nearly every game. Clarkson isn’t a great defender and he’s an above average offensive shooting guard, but the value that he has for the Jazz is unquestionably underrated for several reasons. 

Depending on who the Jazz are against, Clarkson can be inserted in the game for crucial minutes playing either the point or the shooting guard position. He’s currently leading the league in free throw percentage, shooting 97.2%, which is essential if a game is close in the closing minutes. Depending on the health of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley Jr., he can easily be added to the starting rotation and provide valuable offensive time for the Jazz. 

Averaging 18 a game in less than 26 minutes of play is also impressive for any guard off the bench. Once the playoffs come, I believe Clarkson will be getting a ton of playing time if the Jazz are forced to play a team like the Portland Trail Blazers, who play the small-ball formation from time to time. I can also see him boosting his average up to 20 ppg and if he does, there’s no reason why he won’t be in conversation for the 6th Man of the Year Award unless the media continues to sleep on both him and the fiery Utah Jazz. 

Larry Nance Jr. 

Can you believe that Larry Nance Jr. is entering his fourth season playing for the Cavs? That’s right, the deal that sent both him and the previously mentioned slept on player Jordan Clarkson to the Cavaliers in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye, and a protected first round pick in 2018, has been complete that long already. Aside from his ability to dunk the ball, Nance Jr. hasn’t been discussed for his defensive prowess whatsoever. 

Starting in 17 of the Cavs 18 games so far, Nance Jr. is second in the league in steals behind Jrue Holiday at 37 and has the highest steal percentage in the NBA for all positions. Kevin Love’s injury has given Nance Jr. the opportunity that he hasn’t been granted since his time in LA and he is showing that he has the potential to be a ball-stopper against an elite scoring big. 

His father, Larry Nance, had a solid career for the Cavs, playing 7 seasons for them from 1987 to when he retired in 1994. Nance was certainly a better scorer than his son and shot over 80% from the free throw line in his 15-year tenure versus his son’s 69% from the stripe. I believe that has played a miraculous part in the media not paying as much attention to Nance Jr. because he hasn’t been living up to his father’s statistics, but the 28-year-old forward does the little things that are underappreciated and don’t show up in the scoring column for his team to win games. He’s been playing 34 minutes a game and has helped this Cavs team pick up the slack from last season by being only one game under .500 and might aid them towards making the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James up and left his hometown team. 

Nikola Vucevic 

When’s the last time you’ve turned on ESPN and they mentioned anything about the 7-footer from Switzerland that’s managed to lead the Orlando Magic to back-to-back playoffs averaging a double-double per game? Nikola Vucevic is frankly the only reason that the Magic had somehow brought this depleted roster to playoff contention, aside from maybe Terrence Ross shooting well from deep and Aaron Gordon showing signs of being an All-Star from time to time. 

Vucevic is averaging a personal best 22.6 points a game this season and is one of the most consistent bigs in the league, especially now that he can space the floor as he’s shooting three pointers quite well at 44% with 6 attempts per game. 

Although it’s unlikely the Magic will keep their playoff streak alive this season because of the potential of Gordon or Ross being traded, alongside injuries to Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, the 10-year veteran has never been credited with the recognition he deserves as arguably being a Top 10 big in the NBA for the past 4-5 seasons. It’s true that Orlando hasn’t been the talk of SportsCenter aside from the Bubble and Aaron Gordon postering someone, but they shouldn’t be stepping over the fact that he’s been putting up better numbers than centers like Clint Capela, Brook Lopez, and even Marc Gasol have, yet he’s been ghosted by the media. 

Christian Wood

Since his departure from Detroit last offseason, Wood has been playing on a whole new level for the Houston Rockets. After only averaging about 13 minutes per contest between the last five teams that Wood has been a part of in five-year career, he’s finally been given the opportunity to show what he’s made of while being a Rocket. Christian currently has the highest player efficiency rating on the team (24.37), is shooting over 55% from the field, nearly 40% from three, and is averaging a double-double a game with 23.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. 

An absurd stat in Wood’s undervalued career is he’s started one less game this season than in all of his seasons on five other teams combined. Why has nobody given Wood the chance to play more minutes on the floor especially considering he’s played for the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit, and the Philadelphia 76ers during their rebuild in the 2015-2016 season? He’s been cut or waived from five teams in five seasons, but now has the 16th highest PER in the league this season, in front of players like Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, and even his former teammate James Harden.

The Rockets have won six games straight and Wood has been leading the team in points, blocks, and rebounds per game and scored the most points in 7 of their 15 games played this season. With all the hype being around James Harden leaving H-Town for Brooklyn and the additions of John Wall and now Victor Oladipo, the media, including Shaquille O’Neal on the Inside Guys, who apologized for “not being familiar with his game” after scoring 27 points and 15 boards against the San Antonio Spurs, need to recognize the future that is in store for Christian Wood.  

Honorable Mention: Jaylen Brown

Only due to the fact that sports journalists and media have been discussing the importance of Jaylen Brown on the Boston Celtics since Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum had been absent, I didn’t include him. If not this season, which it would be disheartening if not, then next season Brown will 1000% be an All-Star. 

I know there’s plenty of players missing, but these are the names that stuck out most while considering the position of their team in the standings, their offensive or defensive ratings, and how their play contributes to the team. If there’s anyone you feel got Aaron Gordon-ed (snubbed) from the list, please feel free to comment on this article or our JDF Facebook page!

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