Two of the Most Underrated Basketball Players That Played In the 21st Century
By Jared Rhone
All sports are riddled with all-time greats and super star players that have dominated the face of their respective sports. Basketball is no exception; in fact, it is one the few team sports where games can be truly monopolized by one player. Basketball stars have steadily carried their franchises and uplifted their team to championship status. But what happens when we peel the cover off and observe star’s counterparts that helped drive them to success? So many quality players have been masters of their craft behind the scenes, and even some NBA superstars have seen their contributions put to the side. Today we explore three of the most underrated players in the history of the NBA.
Years Active: (2009-Present)
The only active player on this list, Jrue Holiday has continued to be underrated for much of his career. The 17th pick in 2009 NBA draft, Holiday’s talents have often been overshadowed by the success of other prominent players in his draft class (Blake Griffin & James Harden). But his lack of acknowledgement doesn’t take away from what he contributes to the game of basketball. The 6’3 guard is a staple to the success on any given team he’s on, as his ability to be dangerous on both ends of the court makes him an invaluable asset.
Holiday’s defensive skills are amongst some of the most elite in the NBA, as he frequently guards the opposing teams best player, especially in crunch time. Holiday is also statistically proficient on the defensive side of the game. In 2020, he forced 3 turnovers a game (which was third highest in the league) and he maintained a defensive rating of 108.1, which was not only one of the leagues best but it was a better rating than the eventual Defensive Player of the Year that season, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Holiday has been a member of the NBA All Defensive Team three times, which is an honor only give to 10 players a season. Furthermore, he was an NBA All-Star in his fourth season, as he carried a lackluster Philadelphia 76ers team to within 3 games of making the playoffs.
But Holiday’s skills on the court aren’t restricted to his statistical records, in fact, the best way to observe Holiday’s impact is to pay attention to what he does outside of numerical metrics. Former NBA player Kendrick Perkins described Holiday’s talents as being “the most underrated in the NBA,” he claimed that he’s Elite on the offensive end and he puts people in a straight jacket on the defensive end.”
Holiday’s outstanding impact on both sides of the court comes down to fundamentals in his game that yield big results in big moments. For example, while his career average in points per game is 16, his career efficiency in how he scores, shooting 45% from the field, and 37% from 3 pointers makes him incredibly reliable to keep his team in a game. His defensive capabilities are no different. Holiday is tireless perimeter defender, with smart positioning and active hands to frustrate his opponents Holiday is known for making for every possession intense as he applies pertinent defensive pressure to lock people down.
In an interview with Bleacher Report on in 2021, Holiday claimed that “Defense is hard. Especially when you’re guarding one of the best players. For me, it becomes a long distance track meet, where one of us is going to get tired, and I make sure it’s not going to be me first.”
Holiday has continued to be an deciding factor on any team he’s played for, and will always be an invaluable teammate. After joining the Milwaukee Bucks in 2020, his impact was felt immediately as his intangible skillsets pushed the team to winning their first NBA championship in 50 years. His selection as “NBA Teammate of the Year Award” in 2020 which is given to the leagues most ideal teammate who exemplifies selfless play, dedication and commitment to their team, showcases what he can bring to a basketball team.
PC: Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
Years Active: (1997-2016)
While the selection of NBA legend Tim Duncan may be surprising to some, the superstar was vastly underrated and underappreciated throughout his career. Nicknamed as “The Big Fundamental,” Duncan’s stature and style mirrored the nickname well. He was a 6’11 power forward, with a lean frame and large wingspan. He always played at his tempo, taking over games with his slower paced more calculated playstyle. He was a natural leader, outstanding interior defender, and subtly efficient scorer, as his signature shot “the Bank shot” felt impossible for defenders to stop.
Duncan played in his entire NBA career for the San Antonio Spurs under legendary coach Greg Popovich, but his contributions as a player are what made the Spurs a household name. In his decorated career, Tim Duncan led the spurs to 5 NBA championships (which is more than NBA greats such as LeBron James, Larry Bird and Shaquille O Neal). Duncan also won 3 Finals MVP’s, 2 regular season MVP’s, averaged over a Double-Double for his entire career (19 points per game, 10 rebounds per game) and is third all time in defensive rating at 95.57. Duncan also holds the record for the most NBA All Defensive Team selections of all time, with 15, meaning in his 19 seasons in the NBA, Tim Duncan only missed an All-NBA defensive team four times.
But with all the accolades, why was Duncan underrated and underappreciated? The answer falls down to Duncan’s personality, the culture of the NBA and sports media not realizing what Duncan was truly accomplishing until he was retired. Duncan’s personality was averse to many NBA stars the league had seen. Though most people loved Duncan, he was incredibly reclusive, avoided drama and scandal, and was very levelheaded on the court. His lack of flare and “charisma” made him less attractive to NBA media especially in relation to superstar counterparts within the league. For example, players such as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O Neal are generally observed more by popular media today, but when comparing the three player’s career, Duncan’s numbers and accolades actually show he was just as talented and definitely more accomplished across multiple seasons.
Duncan’s play however has also spoken for himself. Although Duncan was not the most explosive athlete on the court, his game intelligence and ability to maximize what he exceled made him impossible to stop. Duncan could quietly score 20+ points night, all while taking very few shots and allowing his teammates to be involved in the play. While most NBA fans think of legends such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and LeBron James when it comes to clutch factor, Tim Duncan was more than reliable down the stretch of game. He has a collection of clutch performances and dominant games, some most notable ones coming in Spurs’s 2003 championship run, where Duncan delivered monsters game in the Finals, averaging 24 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks a game.
Duncan’s addition to the league was more than we gave as an individual. Duncan was the spirit of the San Antonio Spurs from the moment he was drafted, as he learned to lead by example and create Spurs teams that were team-oriented machines that ran through talented teams throughout the playoffs. The franchise was relatively average when Duncan arrived, but he placed San Antiono on the map. To date, the San Antonio Spurs, are the only NBA franchise who have a winning record against every other team in the league, a testament to Duncan’s longevity and impact.
In an interview with Andscape, Draymond Green, a 3-time NBA champion stated that “Duncan, he has meant a lot to the game, the way he has carried himself and what he has done for the Spurs for a number of years. He is the centerpiece of the golden standard in the NBA. When you talk about the NBA and consistency, the Spurs are the golden standard for that, and he has been the centerpiece of all of that.”
PC: Patrick Smith- San Antonio Express News