There are many players in the league who don’t get the rightful credit that they deserve for the hard work they put in for their teams offensively, defensively, and even off the court. We’ve come up with a list of these good players who you don’t hear of often, but have been vital to their teams all season long. Some of them will make bigger names for themselves when the lights shine brightest in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean that how they are currently playing doesn’t deserve our attention. Here are Cavs Nation’s top 10 most underrated players this year, starting with number 10:
10. Boris Diaw
Diaw is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams with a good skill-set on the perimeter and in the post. He also has the court vision that, for a forward, is comparable to LeBron James. He has a reputation of only playing well on good teams, but nobody in San Antonio is complaining. He is a perfect fit for the Spurs, and was crucial in their championship run last year as he exploited opposing defenses to get open looks for his teammates.
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9. Bradley Beal
When Beal has been healthy, the Washington Wizards have been difficult to beat. The Wizards recent struggles started with Beal on the bench due to injury, and although the team has not yet regained its early season form, Beal is still one of the league’s best young scorers. Combined with John Wall, the two are one of the better backcourts in the NBA. Beal averages 15 points and shoots better than 41% from beyond the arc, making him the perfect complement to both the inside game of Marcin Gortat and Nene, and the dribble penetration game of Wall.
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8. Andrew Bogut
Here is the list of guys that Andrew Bogut has to guard in the Western Conference: Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard. The Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA, and their best shot blocker and rebounder deserves more attention. The Warriors will only go as far as Bogut can take them, and with his recent health struggles, the Warriors need him as much as they need the Splash Brothers.
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7. J.R. Smith
When he came to Cleveland, Smith brought more questions with him than answers, but he has been a Godsend for the surging Cavs. The knock on Smith was that he was too immature and selfish to help a good team, but he is proving the opposite to be true. He is one of the Cavs’ most unselfish players, and one of their fiercest defenders, which is a skill that Cavs fans thought they would be getting exclusively from running-mate Iman Shumpert. He has always been able to score the ball, but the way he has helped change the team’s culture is an unexpected, but pleasant and welcome surprise.
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6. Kawhi Leonard
Nobody really knew who Kawhi Leonard was when the Spurs traded the up-and-coming point guard George Hill for the right to draft him, but last year the swingman introduced himself to the world by helping the Spurs cruise through the NBA Finals for a championship, with him taking home the MVP trophy. Leonard did so by playing lights out defense against LeBron James, and by being a major threat on the offensive side of the ball. Leonard is a great defender and rebounder, and when he is contributing offensively, the Spurs are extremely difficult to beat.
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5. Gordon Hayward
There is a reason that Gordon Hayward was Cleveland’s backup plan if LeBron had not decided to come home. Hayward can flat out ball. He is a great shooter, underrated athlete, and a very high IQ player. He is playing with too many players that are even younger than he is, but he is still helping the Jazz to win some games that they probably shouldn’t win.
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4. Goran Dragic
If Pat Riley trades for you, then you are a very good basketball player. Dragic is a very crafty point guard with long-range capabilities. He finishes around the rim very well, and in time, will help the Heat become a very well-rounded team. People forget that he was 3rd team All-NBA last year, and the league’s Most Improved Player, yet he has never been an All Star.
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3. Jamal Crawford
If you want scoring off the bench, you will get it with Jamal Crawford. The former Sixth Man of the Year is quietly doing what it seems like he has always done, which is put the ball in the basket. Jamal has quietly become a model of consistency for what most coaches want out of a sixth man, and at 34 years of age, Crawford is showing no signs of slowing down.
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2. Draymond Green
The Golden State Warriors own the best defensive statistics in the NBA, and it has a lot to do with the efforts of Draymond Green. His ability to defend multiple positions, despite being an undersized power forward at 6 foot 7 inches, allows head coach Steve Kerr to hide weaknesses in other areas. He is dynamic in the pick-and-roll game with Stephen Curry, and is able to space the floor by making open three pointers. Above all else, he brings toughness and a winning mentality to the Western Conference leading Warriors.
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1. Mike Conley
Conley has also never been an All Star, but is the floor general for the second best team in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies. Conley is a consistent, steady leader. He rarely plays outside of his own capabilities, and almost always has the ball in his hands late in close games. He is an extension of his coach on the floor, and has improved his scoring ability to make himself more of a threat. He has a Kyrie Irving-like knack for finishing in traffic with either hand, making him a very difficult cover for opposing point guards. On top of that, Conley also seems to have a certain clutch factor in him, something that should prove useful come playoff time.