The NBA is full of excellent superstars who clearly shape the way each game goes, but many teams have those unsung heroes who never really get the attention they deserve. They might not be superstars, but they affect each game in multiple ways that the eye test and basic box scores don’t really illuminate. These guys might not take the last shot or make the All-Star team this year (though a couple of them should), but when they play, their team has a distinct advantage that may not exist when they sit on the bench.
PG: Pablo Prigioni, New York Knicks
AKA “Priggie Smalls,” Prigioni has been one of very few shining stars for the New York Knicks this season (who just fell to 3-10 after a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers last night). His basic statistics are fairly pedestrian: he is currently averaging 3.9 points, 2.3 assists, 1 steal, and 1.7 rebounds per game in about 18 minutes of play. Where Prigioni really shines is in his efficiency and his advanced metrics. He is currently shooting 51.4% from the field and he makes 46.4% of his threes. In addition, he is currently leading his team in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage (both are at a phenomenal 68.9%). His offensive rating is at a whopping 123 points per 100 possessions, which not only leads the Knicks, but is also higher than that of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Blake Griffin. He is also third on his team in offensive win shares with 0.4. He may not be flashy, he’s not quick, and he’s definitely not going to ever be a starting point guard in the NBA. He is, however, a major difference maker on the offensive end of a team that has struggled to make high percentage shots at a consistent pace.
SG: J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
While everybody is talking about Cliff Paul and Blake Griffin’s KIA advertisements, everyone seems to forget that the Clippers made an incredible acquisition this summer in signing shooting guard J.J. Redick, who is currently averaging 16 points per game on 45.9% shooting from the field, 35.8% shooting from three point range, and 91.8% from the free throw line. He has a career-high PER of 18.0, and he has an offensive rating of 120. Among players on his team who have played all fifteen games this season, he has the highest true shooting percentage (59.2%) and the lowest turnover percentage (6.9%). Everyone knew Redick would be a very welcome addition to this franchise, but his advanced numbers show how truly efficient and effective he really is.
SF: Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors
Often viewed as the poor man’s LeBron, Andre Iguodala has had a great year in Golden State. Iggy should be an All-Star this year, but probably won’t be because of the strength of competition in the Western Conference and the fact that he shares the floor with Stephen Curry and David Lee, who are better scorers. He may not score the most points for his team, but Iguodala’s impact on the Warriors’ success this season has been extraordinary. Though he’s only averaging 12.9 points per game this season, he’s shooting a tremendous 54.5% while also making 47.9% of his three pointers. Last season, Golden State’s defensive rating was ranked 14th in the league. After the addition of Iggy, they have climbed all the way to 4th. He currently leads his team in true shooting percentage (65.6%) and effective field goal percentage (65%) and is second on his team in offensive rating with 120. He has been playing phenomenal defense, he takes high percentage shots, and he’s incredibly unselfish. In addition, his positional versatility means that coach Mark Jackson can use him in many different kinds of lineups. Iguodala will likely be the best player this season not to make the All-Star team.
PF: DeJuan Blair, Dallas Mavericks
Greg Popovich might be one of the weirdest coaches to play for if you are a young, budding player. The advantage you have is that you will experience at least 50 wins each season and that Pop will get as much out of you as possible. The disadvantage is that you might not get as much playing time as you like. DeJuan Blair had an interesting role over the past few years in San Antonio, sometimes starting and sometimes only playing garbage time. Now in his new role in Dallas, Blair has really shone on both ends of the floor, despite only playing about twenty minutes a game. Per 36 minutes, however, Blair is averaging 15.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.1 steals per game. He has the third highest PER on the Mavericks as well as the highest defensive rating, only allowing 100 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. The Mavericks currently have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, so they should probably think about giving Blair more minutes if they want to seriously compete for a title.
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
It’s hard to call a lottery pick underrated, but Andre Drummond is playing on a team that just signed Josh Smith to a four year, $54 million contract and Brandon Jennings to a three year, $24 million contract, plus also already having power forward Greg Monroe on contract for over $4 million this season. Drummond may still need to work on his post game and his free throws, and he’s not exactly the guy you want taking the last shot, but his all around impact on the Pistons this season has been sensational. He’s averaging 12.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting a league high 65.9% from the field. Among players who have played every game for the Pistons this season, Drummond leads the team in PER (21.5), true shooting percentage (62.2%), effective field goal percentage (65.9%), offensive rating (122 points per 100 possessions) and defensive rating (101 points per 100 possessions). Keep in mind that this is only his second year in the NBA, and he’s only twenty years of age. In a few years, we may be talking about Andre Drummond as one of the elite centers in the NBA.