NBA All-Underrated Team
Point Guard - Damian Lillard
At first glance, one might not think of Damian Lillard as an underrated player. I mean he has accomplished quite a bit in his first four seasons in the NBA. It's not until you really look at the facts, where it becomes pretty clear that he isn't getting the recognition he deserves.
Damian Lillard finished the 2015-16 season averaging 25 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists while shooting 42% from the field, 37.5% from three, and 89% from the free throw line. These are solid numbers for anybody but if we compare them to the MVP of the league, Steph Curry, you will see just how he compares.
Lillard was second (behind only Curry) in points per game for point guards, and total three-pointers made. He also finished eighth in the NBA in assists which was one spot ahead of Curry. Now I am by no means saying Lillard is on the same level as Stephen Curry but his name should be as relevant as any other backcourt player in the league.
The point that really drives the nail into the coffin is the fan voting numbers for the NBA All-Star Game this past season. I realize it's a popularity contest to make it to the all-star game but that absolutely adds to how under appreciated Lillard is. He was 10th in Western Conference voting for backcourt players which is ridiculous in its own right but when you add in the fact that Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo got more votes than he did, it really makes you realize that Damian Lillard is criminally underrated.
Shooting Guard - CJ McCollum
I promise I am not a Trail Blazes homer, but just like Lillard, backcourt mate CJ McCollum is the most underrated shooting guard in the NBA. He is obviously appreciated within the organization as he was given a huge 4 year, $106 million contract extension. The argument here is that if you talk with NBA fans about the league's best 2 guards, his name always seems to be prefaced with things like "Oh Yeah McCollum is good" or "Yeah, he can be one of the best in a few years". While that seems like decent praise for a player coming off his first year as a starter, the reality is that he is already "one of the best" shooting guards today.
The Trail Blazers lost every starter on their team, except for Lillard, during the 2015 offseason. McCollum, a former first-round draft pick, was plugged into the starting lineup to replace Wesley Matthews, who was one of the key pieces of their playoff team the year before. It was a tough task to live up to right away but McCollum answered the bell and then some. He helped Lillard take a team that was supposed to finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference, to the Western Conference-Semis. There, they would force the Warriors to earn every game of their five-game series.
None of this could have happened without the drastic emergence of McCollum. He would end the season averaging 21 points per game and finished in the top five amongst shooting guards in three-pointers made as well as three-point percentage.These numbers for such a young player indicate something special and I think it's only fair that he be mentioned immediately when discussing the best 2 guards in the NBA.
Small Forward - Gordon Hayward
Personally, I feel that Gordon Hayward is the most underappreciated player in the entire NBA, which goes hand and hand with being underrated. These days the small forward position is considered the premiere scorers position and Gordon Hayward fits right into that role. In the last two seasons, Hayward has averaged just under 20 points per game while also averaging the most minutes played among small forwards. This points to just how much the Jazz rely on his ability to score as well as contain the rest of the superstars who play the position. Hayward uses a nice blend of size, strength, and agility that is necessary to have when tasked to go head to head with the LeBron's and Durant's of the world. He holds his own against the league's top players and has proven to be an upper tier defender in the NBA.
The stacked small forward position is a big reason that Gordon is underrated. He plays the same spot as the before mentioned LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but also Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. These are some of the biggest stars on the planet so it's tough for Hayward to really break through that wall. He has never made an all-star game but his numbers are certainly indicative of one. 2015 saw Hayward put up a career high of 19.7 points per game, 5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. At shooting guard, and point guard, these are absolutely all-star numbers. Gordon Hayward falls victim to something he just cant control, and that is playing a position that is full of top NBA talent. That doesn't take away from how versatile and important he is for the Utah Jazz and his name should certainly have more respect put on it.
Power Forward - Tristan Thompson
I know Thompson is technically an undersized center but he plays enough of the four to include him here. Tristan Thompson's coming out party seemed to happen against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals this past season. He was a huge reason why the Cavaliers were able to comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against arguably the best team in NBA history. The aggressiveness, effort, and emotion that he brought to that offense seemed to really help lite a fire under them. He was LeBron's go to when they needed to get the crowd back into games. All he had to do was throw it near him and it seemed like Thompson couldn't be stopped while driving to the rim for an alley-oop. While he was on the floor, Golden State averaged less than 100 points a game, per 100 possessions, and 117 points while Thompson wasn't on the court. He was truly a difference maker in that series and easily the third most important player during that series behind LeBron and Kyrie.
This was just one series but he had shown glimpses of his importance throughout the 2015-16 season. He doesn't have eye-popping stats like the other guys on this list but the reason he is underrated isn't because of his numbers but because of how important he is to his team. Thompson makes the most of his 27 minutes per game by playing with a toughness and aggression that the Cleveland Cavaliers so desperately need. His best attributes come on the defensive side of the ball as he is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league and is agile enough to switch onto guards without the worry of being left on an island. Fans need to take notice of his importance to his team and start mentioning him amongst the league's best big men. He's also only 25 years old. He can only continue to improve and once he hits his prime that contract that the Cavs gave him will all of a sudden look pretty good.
Center - Nikola Vucevic
Not only is Nikola Vucevic underrated from an outside perspective, but it seems like his own team underrates him as well. During the offseason, the Magic brought in Bismack Biyombo on a big deal to add some physicality and aggression to their post game. This move directly points to a lack of confidence in Vucevic going forward and it might even lead to the Magic trading him away, knowing they could get quality for him. The one knock on Vucevic's game is his defensive ability, but even that doesn't make him a liability. He is still a great rebounder and his offensive statistics speak for themselves.
Nikola Vucevic finished third among centers in scoring in the 2015-16 season and second the season before. The only center that averages more points per game in the past two years is Demarcus Cousins.Of all the centers that rank in the top five in scoring, Vucevic is first in field goal percentage since 2014 and is in the top ten in rebounds per game, since 2012. He is one of the most consistent offensive threats in the NBA in terms of big men, but yet he doesn't seem to get the recognition he deserves. If the Magic do intend to use him as trade bait, whoever lands him will not be disappointed.