The NBA season can be long for even the deepest of teams and it can be especially long for teams that barely win games. In the end, the top NBA teams will almost always get most of the media coverage. This creates a void where many good players have stellar seasons that go unnoticed because they play for a losing team.
Many of these players usually will not get enough votes to make an All-Star team, will not make ESPN highlight reels and will not be in nationally televised games. These players might be able to drop 20 or 30 points on one of their better known peers, but the effort might get lost when the outcome ends up in another routine loss. In the NBA, stars are expected to carry their teams into the playoffs or else their stardom becomes much less.
There are some pretty good players who are stuck on losing teams. Some are getting their first chance to start in games, while others are fighting alone to try and elevate the play of their team. Whatever the case, there are some really good players that many people don’t get a chance to see playing on some of these mediocre teams.
10. Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic / Current Salary $7,500,000
Arron Afflalo has had problems finding the right place to play. He was finally experiencing success in Denver and then was dealt to the Magic as part of the Dwight Howard trade. The shooting guard from UCLA has always been able to shoot straight and play some great defense too. Afflalo was the NBA’s Shooting Stars Champion in 2009 and has a knack for hitting clutch shots.
Afflalo has flourished in Orlando where he is averaging a career best 19.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He is shooting 43.7% from the 3-point line this season, which is a huge improvement over his 30% of last season. Afflalo has already taken more 3-point shots this season and has also made it to the free throw line for the most attempts in a season, so far this year. He has become a threat to score on the move as well as from the outside. Arron Afflalo is very capable of being a go to guy in Orlando, if he can finally stay in one place.
9. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks / Current Salary $9,500,000
Somehow Paul Millsap must have thought that his move to Atlanta was going to land him on a contending playoff team. The Hawks might still make the playoffs, but the season has not met the expectations from the start of the season. Millsap was supposed to complement Al Horford, until Horford went out with a torn pectoral muscle in December. Millsap is now the primary force in the paint and has had to carry much of Horford’s lost production.
Millsap is a gritty role player who is not going to take over a game by being the main star. He is still averaging 17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game, while the Hawks are struggling to hold onto the last playoff spot. In Horford’s absence, Millsap’s 50.8% career field goal percentage went down to 46% for this current season. He is still a great pick up for the Hawks, and should be better with more options on offense. Jeff Teague has proven he can play and the return of Horford will certainly give the Hawks a great lift.
8. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers / Current Salary $19,285,850
Pau Gasol has been struggling to make an impact this season and last. Despite being the best player on a Kobe Bryant-less team, Gasol has not been able to give the contributions necessary to guide the Lakers to a winning record. He can still be a dominant player on the right team, but Gasol can’t play point guard or just start with the ball in the low post. He seems lost on the Lakers and that pretty much sums up the Lakers current season.
Gasol has played pretty well considering the constant threat of trade rumors that have surrounded his name. He is still averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game this season. Gasol has still had consistent numbers throughout his career, with a career 51.5% field goal percentage to go along with 75% shooting from the free throw line. Gasol is no longer fully worthy of his hefty salary, but he still has skills that might be a perfect fit as a role player on a winning team.
7. Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats / Current Salary $13,500,000
Al Jefferson is having a great year in Charlotte, despite the team’s struggle to achieve success. The veteran center has played for four different teams, but has only been in 11 post season games during his 10 years playing in the league. Jefferson has 31 double doubles so far this season and has been the model of consistency on what has been a very inconsistent Bobcats team.
Jefferson is also putting up big numbers, averaging 21.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists, while shooting 50.5% from the field. He is the veteran leader on a young team that values his presence in the middle. He is not a fast or athletic big man who is going to make jaw dropping plays, but his consistency and hard work in the paint give the Bobcats a good big man to build around. He is getting his chance to be more than just a role player and can continue to use his sturdy frame to play the part of the Bobcats’ star.
6. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings / Current Salary $884,293
The potential of Isaiah Thomas is quite large compared to his small frame. Thomas is in the middle of a breakout season as a member of the Kings. Thomas is an explosive scorer who can do things the belie his diminutive 5 foot 9 inch size. He is fearless driving to the hoop like Allen Iverson, and is still developing his shot to give him more of a complete game. His name might still be more recognizable than his game, but that is starting to change.
Thomas seems to finally be comfortable playing in the NBA. His 20.7 points, 6.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game are terrific improvements over last year. The fact that he averages about 5.8 free throws per game and can shoot over 85% from the line, only bodes well for his future as a point guard in this penetration heavy league. Thomas has all the skills a team could want in a point guard at a current price that is hard to beat.
5. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets / Current Salary $10,785,517
Ty Lawson has had a pretty inconsistent season, but he continues to be the best player on his team. This is Lawson’s fifth NBA season and it seems like more is expected of him each and every year. The Nuggets have been battling injuries this season and even Lawson has spent some time sitting behind the bench. When he is healthy, Lawson is still one of the most dynamic players in the league and his numbers seem to have improved with each passing year.
Lawson is averaging 17.9 points per game, but it is the 8.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game that are more significant improvements over last year. He has had to create more offense this season and his shooting percentage has taken a hit, but he has managed to already reach career bests for free throws made and attempted too. His total number of assists is already a career best with games yet to play.
4. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings / Current Salary $4,916,974
Not many casual NBA fans have heard of DeMarcus Cousins, but he is starting to put up some serious numbers in Sacramento. Cousins is in his fourth NBA season and has really started to find more ways to use his athletic 6’11”, 270 pound frame. The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft has finally started to give many Kings fans some much needed hope for the future.
This season, Cousins has responded by averaging 22.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots per game. He is setting career highs in just about every statistical category so far this season. He needs to remain dedicated to doing the little things that can help him become a bigger star. No more run-ins with coaches or dismissals from the team. When he just goes out and plays hard in every game, he has the ability and talent to elevate the whole team.
3. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers / Current Salary $5,607,240
Kyrie Irving has all the tools he needs to become a big star. Irving is in his third NBA campaign and has already racked up his share of major awards. At the age of 22, Irving has already been the NBA Rookie of the Year (2012), selected to play in two All-Star games, the NBA Rising Stars Challenge MVP (2012), the 2014 All-Star Game MVP (2014) and the NBA 3-point Shootout Champion in 2013. Irving might play for a losing team, but he is already on his way to becoming a big star.
Irving is a smooth player who is still learning how to play the game. He is currently averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game and had his very first triple double against the Utah Jazz earlier this year. The triple double was something that has not been seen in Cleveland since LeBron James was in town. If the Cavaliers can surround Irving with more talent, the weak Eastern conference might be just the thing to help the Cavaliers turn things around.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans / Current Salary $5,375,760
Anthony Davis has quickly become an inside force in just his second NBA season. After leaving Kentucky after just one year and a stint on the US Olympic Basketball team, Davis landed on the New Orleans Pelicans where he has continued to work hard on improving his game. New Orleans has had some key injuries that have helped contribute to a season of futility, but with Davis in the team’s future, it certainly looks pretty bright.
Davis currently leads the NBA in blocked shots with an average of 2.9 per game, while his 21.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game averages are indications that he can do so much more than defend. Davis earned his first all-star game appearance this year, coming off the Rookie of the Year season that he had last year. The first selection of the 2012 NBA draft should provide the Pelicans with a solid foundation to build a team around, if they are able to keep him on their roster for at least a few more years.
1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks / Current Salary $21,388,953
Carmelo Anthony is one of the best scorers in the NBA playing for what amounts to a mediocre team. Anthony has had consistent production during his entire NBA career, but hasn’t achieved that much success. He is certainly well paid as a Knick, but the inability to play in more meaningful games at the end of the season, is starting to produce more than a fair share of speculation that he might be moving on soon.
The Knicks are a mess, but Anthony has been the only consistent part of the whole franchise. Anthony has led the league with a 38.9 minutes per game average, while scoring 28.2 points and logging 8.2 rebounds per game. He is expected to take a shot most of the times his team has the ball, yet he still manages to average 3.1 assists per game, while making 41.4% of his 3-point shots when there is a shot he can’t resist taking. Anthony has all the numbers to make him one of the best to play the game, but the absence of any rings on his fingers will always feed rumors that he is on the move.