With the NBA Playoffs well underway, much attention is — obviously – being given to the stars of the game: your LeBrons, your Kevin Durants, and your Dirk Nowitzkis. But several sports analysts recently looked at the playoffs in a new way by analyzing the players who were largely responsible for regular-season wins but who generally weren’t All-Stars, had “lower” salaries, and didn’t get a lot of press. Read on to find out more about the National Basketball Association’s seven most underrated players in the playoffs.
1. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks
After being drafted 27th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009, Carroll has been shuttled between teams — five teams in five seasons, to be exact. Now with the Atlanta Hawks, Carroll has been a force on both the offensive and defensive ends, averaging approximately 11 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.5 steals in the regular season. In the Hawks’ playoff battle against the Indiana Pacers, Carroll is being asked to defend Indiana swingman Paul George and is expected to contribute offensively. After totaling 12 points, 10 rebounds, a steal, a block, and 2 three-pointers in a Game 1 win at Indiana, Carroll has proved he’s up for the challenge.
2. Trevor Ariza, Washington Wizards
With his Wizards now locked in a playoff battle against the Chicago Bulls, Ariza has been consistent in both his play pre-playoffs, and his play in the playoffs: He’s a consistent 50 percent from the field, an approximate 45 percent from three-point line, and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line. “I just try to play hard every night,” the Wizards swingman has said. “If I’m not scoring, I’m trying to do other things to help this team win, whether it be defense, rebounding– whatever it is to help, that’s what I try to do.”
3. Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers
Lopez’s regular-season numbers make him one of the league’s most consistent centers, as well as one of its unsung heroes: think an average of 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the floor, and 82 percent from the foul line. “He is huge for us,” said Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, one of the game’s top power forwards. “I have said all year that he is the reason we have been so successful, because he does all the dirty work. He is about business only, no flash.” At $5.9 million per year, Lopez is proving that an investment in fundamental, physical basketball pays off.
4. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
The same deal that brought Chris Bosh to Miami sent Valanciunas, a Lithuanian center, to Toronto. Though Bosh has undoubtedly received more coverage, it’s Valanciunas who actually deserves it: In the regular season, Valanciunas had 2.5 more wins than Bosh while making $15.5 million less. Valancuinas also averaged 11 points and 9 rebounds in 28 minutes per game this year while shooting 53.1 percent. In the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets, Valanciunas has continued his strong play, limiting future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett to 5 points in the opener and adding his own 17 points and 18 rebounds.
5. Josh McRoberts, Charlotte Bobcats
Though probably now most famous for checking LeBron James in the neck with a forearm with 50 seconds left in Game 2, McRoberts deserves attention independent of the foul heard round the world. In 78 appearances, the power forward has averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in 30.3 minutes per average played. Given Charlotte’s 7-59 record two years ago and the fact that the team is currently in the playoffs, it’s safe to say that McRoberts has played a role in the franchise’s turnaround. While McRoberts has put up solid numbers against Miami in the series — most recently, 13 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, and 2 three-pointers in Game 3 — it still might not be enough to hold off the powerhouse Heat.
6. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Though the Spurs are usually a playoff shoo-in thanks to stars such as Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ “Big Three” are in need of some spark off the bench this season — and Mills can be just that. In the 2013-2014 regular season, Mills averaged 10 points and less than 1 turnover in 19 minutes per game, shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range, all significant increases from his stats in 2012-2013. Though his playoff contributions have thus far been less than what we saw in the regular season, Mills has shown that he’s capable and dynamic.
7. Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls
Called the man who “saved” the Chicago Bulls’ season after Derrick Rose was declared out for the remainder with his second knee injury, Dunleavy is by no means new to the scene: The shooting guard has had a 12-year career in the NBA and, though “only” making $3.2 million a year, is third on the Bulls in wins produced. Dunleavy is faring well in the playoffs — so well, in fact, that Game 3 of the series against the Washington Wizards saw Dunleavy set a record for most threes made in a playoff game by a Bulls player. Yes, more than Michael Jordan, more than Scottie Pippen, and more than Steve Kerr, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point percentage. “Mike’s been around a long time and had a terrific career,” said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau. “Sometimes people forget how good he is, and probably the only thing that was slowing him down were injuries. He does whatever you ask him to do to help the team win.”