The NBA playoffs are drawing near and the Eastern Conference stage is all set. It’s now time for the stars of the league to cement their legacies as they relentlessly pursue a title. But for every Michael Jordan, there is a Steve Kerr. And for every dynamic Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant duo, there’s a Derek Fisher or Robert Horry helping them ascend the ladder. So with that being said, let’s take a look at a few potential unsung heroes, as we analyze the most underrated NBA players in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
With Kyrie Irving being knocked out for the remainder of the year, Terry Rozier will finally get his spot in the limelight this post-season. While the third-year guard is certainly a far cry from his All-Star teammate, he’s still thrived when given the opportunity.
The Louisville product has put up career-best numbers in just about every single statistical category this season. Rozier has poured in an average of 11.3 points to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, in 79 total contests (15 starts). He also recently set the single-season Boston Celtics record for three-pointers made by a reserve, surpassing NBA champion Eddie House. Not bad for a guy who has been linked to a wealth of trade rumors throughout his short career. Given Rozier’s ability to stuff the stat sheet, don’t be surprised to see the Celtics impress many people over the course of the playoffs.
I really can’t say enough good things about “The Homie,” Dario Saric. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid casting a huge shadow over what the Sixers have done this season, it’s easy for the average NBA fan to have missed out on Saric’s impact. The 6’10” Croatian is the embodiment of what Philadelphia is. He’s hard-nosed, emotional, and gives everything he has for the guys next to him. That’s exactly why he’s garnered such admiration throughout both the city and in the locker room.
But hustle and heart aren’t the only things that Saric has to offer. He has the stats to back it all up. In just his second NBA season, the big guy is averaging a remarkable 14.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.6 APG. Not to diminish his competition, but those are far better numbers than James Harden and Kawhi Leonard averaged in their second seasons. Pair that with the fact that Simmons is getting better with each game, and it’s safe to assume that the results will only continue to improve. If the Sixers do, in fact, become the Golden State Warriors of the East, then Saric will be their Draymond Green. So for those rabid Process fans, like myself, I’ll give it one more…Dario is never coming over.
Despite being a journeyman for the better part of his eight-year NBA career, James Johnson appears to have found a home with the Miami Heat. Over the last two seasons, the 31-year-old veteran has proven to be a valuable asset for the squad. His 6’9″ lanky frame makes him a menace on both ends of the floor. It also affords him the opportunity to defend multiple positions.
Not only has he been a mentor to some of the younger talent on the Heat, but Johnson has posted career numbers as well. Since joining the roster in 2016, the Wake Forest alum has averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. Now, while those may not seem like top performer stats, Johnson’s ability to go off on any given night makes him a playoff threat. After all, he did set the Heat franchise record this season with 18 points in an overtime period, surpassing LeBron James.
The fact that casual NBA fans don’t know much about Khris Middleton is an absolute travesty. It’s possible that he may be the most underrated player in all of basketball. Sandwiched between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks‘ swingman has remained an under-the-radar star throughout his six-year career. And this season is no different.
Middleton, a former second-round pick, is putting career-best 20.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. And as if that weren’t special enough, he’s done so while starting every game thus far this season. Having such a versatile player as a third option is a must, come playoff time. And despite not having the personality of his peers, the 6’7″ forward has garnered the admiration of basketball experts. In fact, Middleton has been selected to the 2018-2020 U.S. Men’s National Team Roster. While this doesn’t guarantee him an Olympic spot, it’s still an honor designated only for the league’s best. He’ll surely need to have a huge impact if Milwaukee is to make any kind of deep playoff run.
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