For the next few weeks, I'm going to pick an NBA-related subject, A-through-Z, and tell you why it's worth your time, and why it's one of the reasons I love covering this league.
Because that's why I wanted to become a scribe who's paid to cover this league. Sharing the things I know and love with those of my kind. All that stuff.
Because I'm lucky enough to have your ear for however long, I don't care that this might come off as a bit twee. A little embarrassing. A little too forthright. I'm OK with that. Hopefully you are, as well.
As you may have guessed, "U" was originally going to be for "Udonis Haslem." But as priorities shifted at BDL, we had to put the A-through-Z series on hold. And in the meantime, Matt Moore took on Udonis and knocked his take out of the park.
Because of this, as we start back up, "U" is for "underrated players."
We start with something that people who don't like to read much will take as a feint for attention. These people will usually stop reading after the following sentence -- Kobe Bryant(notes) is underrated.
He's overrated, as well, mainly because the most polarizing figure in the NBA is rated and talked about by so many. Huge aspects of his game -- his decision-making, his ability to score efficiently or take over in the clutch outside of hitting last-second winners -- are consistently overrated.
But what people don't bring up enough are the parts that make him underrated. That brain of his.
Nobody in the NBA knows the league better. Nobody. People like Steve Nash(notes) and Tim Duncan(notes) dominate in their sleep at times, and LeBron James(notes) can't help but give you 30-9-8 lines, but each of those monsters falls well short when it comes to preparation and knowledge of the NBA. Each of those men have hobbies. Kobe does not.
While Steve Nash is making viral videos or Tim Duncan is collecting swords or LeBron James is ticking off 80 percent of the American public, Kobe is shooting insane amounts of jumpers and watching game film. August in El Segundo, or January in Memphis. He's preparing, studying, working. That "Doin' Work" documentary may have been two hours of Kobe annoying his teammates with "you-wouldn't-be-doing-this-if-you-weren't-mic'd-up" advice, but the greater thing to take from that ego exercise is that nobody knows this game like Kobe Bryant.
That's what makes the betrayal of his knowledge -- those bad decisions, the competitive nature run amok -- so frustrating. But it also makes him a special underrated player. People don't appreciate this aspect of Kobe Bryant nearly as much as they should.
Beyond Kobe? Well, two off guards running in the picture toward the bottom of this post aren't bad.
At point guard? Well, everyone knows his name, and he did make an All-Star two years ago while slightly disappointing last season. But he's clearly slimmed down, and about to enter his prime. I think Jameer Nelson(notes) will be terribly underrated this season.
This guy has a chance to go off. This isn't to say he looked doughy or out of it last season, it's just to point out that he really looks fit now, and could lead Orlando to great things. The Magic have long needed him to be the straw that stirs the drink, and I don't think I'm being annoyingly glass half-full in expecting him to stir away in 2010-11.
There's nothing showy about pointing out that LeBron James is one of the more underrated players in this league -- people just don't realize what a legendary career we're watching here -- but he continues to wear sunglasses indoors. And until that stops, forget that guy.
Gerald Wallace(notes) continually shows up on all sorts of "underrated" lists, mainly because he's underrated, but also because he fits the bill. Small-market guy, no real CBS-bred college background to scream about, and not a scoring demon.
But he is underrated, severely. Even with respect for Carmelo Anthony(notes) at a low ebb right now, I was chewed out considerably last summer for even suggesting that it would be fine to switch out Anthony and Wallace as the third- and fourth-best small forwards in the NBA. I don't think people have seen enough of his defense, which went from gamble-happy to "I will never leave your side, sorry" last season. Or how remarkable it is for a small forward to pull in nearly a quarter of all available defensive rebounds.
There are some nights where you watch Luis Scola(notes), and you wonder if anyone can guard him. If anyone in the league can stay with him, should he ever deign to try and strive for 22 points per game, or if those Houston point guards (though they are getting better) actually made good entry passes.
This goes well beyond his 27-point average in this summer's world championships, or the way he averaged 20 and 10 for all of last March. Just watch him play. At times, he seems like the most effortless scorer on the court.
At center? Well, I think Yao Ming's(notes) pre-injury still leaves him sadly underrated. People should be ruing his recent stretch of injuries like they rue Bill Walton's injuries after his MVP turn in 1977, because Yao was nearly as good from 2005-07.
Yes, the same David Lee that made Michael Sawyer's All-Overrated team. I say this because I think we're at a point where we're recognizing the high possession count of Lee's teams and letting the terrible defense mitigate Lee's contributions a little too much. A lot too much. So much too much. I'm starting to sound like the William Hurt character from "Broadcast News."
Chris Duhon(notes) can throw a bounce pass, but teams barely have to guard him because he can't shoot, and yet Duhon-to-Lee (or any other Knick point guard, to Lee) was one of the best go-to moves this league had last season. Lee might be growing into the NBA's best pick-and-roll performer, and his rebounding stats (even after adjusting for pace, minutes and the amount of caroms available) are still off the charts.
He can't defend anyone. Big forwards or bigger centers. But he scores like you wouldn't believe, and that's half the game. We can't let our newfound ability as analysts to take in the entire picture distract us from the prettiest parts of that picture.
- Kobe Bryant