Billy Fitzpatrick ’20
Chief Sports Editor
In the age of social media, the NBA has cemented its status as a star-driven league. LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Joel Embiid are as much celebrities as the likes of Rihanna and Will Smith. However, with this glamorization of the league’s stars, productive players who don’t boast the flashiness or flair as the Kyrie Irvings of the world are perpetually overlooked and underappreciated. These players are integral to their team’s success and rarely get the recognition they deserve. We are here to fix that. Without further ado, the NBA All-Underrated First-Team:
Point Guard: Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
After being traded to the Pelicans following his All-Star campaign with Philadelphia in 2012-2013, Holiday endured four seasons plagued by injuries and personal issues that kept him off the court for long stretches. That changed last season, when Holiday had a career year while playing in 81 games during the regular season. It is telling that the New Orleans front office was willing to let DeMarcus Cousins walk in free agency; they were confident Holiday could be a worthy sidekick to MVP candidate Anthony Davis. One of the best defensive point guards in the league, Holiday also stepped up his game when it mattered most in the Pelicans’ playoff run last spring with a slash line of 23.7/5.7/6.3.
Shooting Guard: Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets
Harris, only 24 years old but entering his fifth NBA season already, has entrenched himself in the young Denver core alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. A regular starter since his age-21 season, Harris has blossomed into a reliable scorer and defensive playmaker with incremental progression each season. The knock on Harris is that he doesn’t give the Nuggets much in terms of rebounds and assists, but he fits perfectly in an offense predicated on off-ball movement and three-point shooting. With Wilson Chandler departing in free agency and Will Barton suffering an early-season injury, Harris will be a focal point for a Denver team that has ambitions of making a deep playoff run this year.
Small Forward: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Another player who plays in the shadow of an MVP candidate teammate, Middleton is primed for a breakout season in a contract year. Coming off a bounceback season in which he started all 82 games and posted a career-high 20.1 PPG, Middleton will benefit as much as anyone from playing in new head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Already, he is taking fewer long two-point shots and jacking up more threes. He should get better looks in this revamped offense led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ranking fifth among small forwards in win shares last season, he is the prototypical two-way wing for today’s NBA, and he will be rewarded with a big contract – either in Milwaukee or elsewhere – next summer.
Power Forward: Tobias Harris, Los Angeles Clippers
After being traded from Detroit to Los Angeles last season, Harris saw increases in almost every major statistical category after the scenery change and enjoyed a career year by most accounts. He is the perfect 4 in the modern NBA on the offensive side of the ball due to his prolific three-point shooting (41% on 5.6 attempts per game). This season, he figures to act as the go-to scoring option on a scrappy team that will look to fight for the 8-seed in the Western Conference.
Center: Al Horford, Boston Celtics
While the box score won’t give you the whole story about Horford, there is a case to be made that he is the most important player for the consensus best team in the Eastern Conference. Sure, Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward will put up more impressive numbers and create more highlight clips. But Horford is indispensable to the Celtics. In both the regular season and in Boston’s deep playoff run, he posted the highest net rating of any Celtic. He allows Boston to play the way it wants to play offensively by serving as a secondary playmaker (4.7 APG last season) and floor-spacer (43% from three) at the center position. One of the smartest and most rugged defenders in the league, Horford is the perfect 5 for a Celtics team filled with stars.
Second-Team: Malcolm Brogdon (Milwaukee), Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers), Robert Covington (Philadelphia), Joe Ingles (Utah), Enes Kanter (New York)
Third-Team: Fred VanVleet (Toronto), TJ Warren (Phoenix), Al Farouq-Aminu (Portland), Daniel Thies (Boston), Julius Randle (New Orleans)
Photo Courtesy of Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports