The NBA's 10 Most Underrated Players: Part II

 by Jon Nichols

Today I continue my countdown of the top 10 most underrated players in the league.  Here we go…

5. Erick Dampier (Ranks 46th in 2007-08 Composite Score)
            The 5th and final center on this list (I promise), Dampier has surprisingly been one of the keys to the Mavericks’ success over the past few years.  Most people think he’s grossly overpaid, but his contract may not be as bad as some people think.  Dallas is obviously not sold on him, as evidenced by them resigning Desagana Diop.  Statistically, Dampier ranks well above average on both offense and defense.  On both ends, his general purpose is to grab rebounds and take up space near the basket, and he does both of those things very well.  Last season, he ranked 15th in the league in Composite Score.  He’s also not just a product of the Mavericks’ system.  He played extremely well in his last season with Golden State.  He’s a bit old and will get paid over $13 million by the end of his contract (those two combine to give him low trade value), but he’s been a key player for Dallas. 

4. Tayshaun Prince (Ranks 31st in 2007-08 Composite Score)
            Prince may not qualify for this list much longer as he gets more and more recognition every year.  He’ll even be representing Team USA in the Olympics in August and he’s been on the All-Defensive 2nd team four years in a row.  Still, he’s never made it to the all-star game despite consistently being ranked as one of the best players in the league in my book.  In fact, he’s never ranked lower than 46th.  His offense is good but his defense is magnificent.  Detroit certainly values him highly and will build around him in the future.  I put him on this list because he’s not considered at the same level as someone like Carmelo Anthony, but he ranks much higher than those players every year.  He may not be a superstar, but he’s a definite all-star.

3. Chuck Hayes (Ranks 54th in 2007-08 Composite Score)
            Hayes is not above Prince because I think he’s a better player.  Hayes is this high because most casual NBA fans have probably never heard of the guy.  But he’s a great player, especially on the defensive end.  This year he ranked as the 3rd best defender in the league, so even though his offense was poor, he was a very good player.  He’s not a starter, has spent time in the D-League, has a career high points per game average of 5.6, and is often brutal to watch (especially when shooting free throws).  He’s also a 6-6 power forward.  Add these things up and it makes sense why he’s never talked about or even heard of among many people.  But he’s very strong and excellent in both individual and team defense.  As long as he makes the easy shots on offense when they’re available, he’s very useful and probably could start for many teams.  Credit must be given to the savvy Rockets front office, which was able to sign Hayes for four more years last offseason at a huge discount.

2. Chauncey Billups (Ranks 2nd in 2007-08 Composite Score)
            2nd may seem too high for Billups, but he’s a legitimate star in the NBA.  His CS ranks since 2004: 15th, 9th, 2nd, 14th, and 2nd.  He’s no fluke and he doesn’t appear to be slowing down.  After being drafted 3rd overall, Billups disappointed at first.  He wasn’t terrible, but he was very underwhelming.  Once he got to Detroit in 2002, it all came together.  If you look at his all-around package of offense and defense, he’s clearly one of the best point guards in the game and should be considered one of the best players in the league regardless of position.  As I wrote about in one of my previous articles, many people underrate efficiency, and Billups is as efficient as they come.  His shooting percentage isn’t that high but he shoots so many threes at such a high rate and is so reliable with the ball that he’s the key to the Pistons offense.  He also is one of the best free throw shooters in the league.  His defense is also superb, although it does help that he plays for the Pistons.  If the Pistons trade him for rebuilding pieces they’ll be making a big mistake.  With someone like Billups you’ll never get the value you really should be getting in return.

1. Manu Ginobili (Ranks 4th in 2007-08 Composite Score)
            He may not be the most popular player in the NBA, but he’s damn good.  He ranked as the best player in the league in 2005.  And again in 2006.  The great team defense of the Spurs helped boost him that high, that’s for sure.  But it’s not like Brent Barry or Robert Horry were up there.  Only Tim Duncan ranks as well as he does on the Spurs.  Ginobili has only been to one all-star game and has been on the All-NBA 3rd team once.  He got the Sixth Man of the Year award this year and even ranked 10th in MVP voting, but that still doesn’t do him justice.  He may not be the most underrated player in the league this year, but he has been for his entire career without question.  It’s impossible to identify his strengths, because he does everything well: shooting, passing, ball-handling, rebounding, on-the-ball defense, creating turnovers, etc.  Tim Duncan may be the face of the Spurs (and rightfully so), but the Spurs would be just another good team in the West if it weren’t for Ginobili.  He’s been what’s kept them above everyone else for a while. 

There you have it.  A lot of my top ten featured centers, but that’s because people often underrate the value of a strong defensive presence near the basket.  Still, the cream of the crop is Billups and Ginobili.  If anybody is still surprised how the Pistons and Spurs are so good every year, look no further than those two guys.





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