NBA: 1 unsung player from every Western Conference team
The NBA is full of superstars and All-Star-caliber players, but many guys play an unsung role for their respective teams. Perhaps not a household name nor one filling the stat line every day, these players do the work without much attention or praise attached to their name.
Here are 15 NBA players from the Western Conference who do a lot more than they’re given credit for.
Dallas Mavericks – J.J. Barea
The tiny veteran point guard out of Puerto Rico found himself signing a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum to remain in the Mavs roster. That is no coincidence.
Barea isn’t getting anywhere close to the run he used to get in prior years, but he is serving as a mentor to a young Luka Doncic. Judging by Doncic’s performance this season, Barea has been an invaluable hold for the organization along with being a locker room and fan favorite to keep the spirits high.
Denver Nuggets – Paul Millsap
Rarely does a starter make this list, but Millsap has the wisdom of an old seer that many at his age don’t yet have. The 35-year-old was the 47th pick of the 2006 NBA Draft and worked his way to bump Carlos Boozer out of the starting lineup in his third year after the latter suffered a wave of injuries.
Most would have considered that enough of an achievement, but he turned himself into an All-Star and a quality frontcourt player. Millsap doesn’t have the same juice as he did in his heyday, but his work ethic and a vast range of experience serves as a great mentorship tool for a young Nuggets team.
Golden State Warriors – Kevon Looney
This was perhaps the hardest team to choose for, considering the injuries and wholesale changes in the roster. Looney is a strong pick, considering his blue-collar approach to basketball and his relentlessness on the court.
The 6-foot-9 forward has had a rough go with injuries lately, but if he can ever get those right he can prove to be the linchpin he was for those Warriors title teams in 2017 and 2018.
Houston Rockets – Ben McLemore
Much has been made about the small forward competition between former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon and newcomer Danuel House Jr. Yet it’s McLemore that provided some long-range aid when Gordon was out with an injury and House struggled.
The former Kansas product had two stints with the Sacramento Kings and another with the Memphis Grizzlies in his young career, but it looks like he’s found his spot in Mike D’Antoni’s offense after impressing this season.
Los Angeles Clippers – Landry Shamet
Shamet made a name for himself at the national level through his performance in the first round of the playoffs last season.
He’s recently become a starting option for Doc Rivers, but his timely shooting has become a luxury for a Clippers team that already boasts the best bench in the league. Not bad for the 23-year-old marksman.
Los Angeles Lakers – Dwight Howard
Howard has been constantly lauded by every Lakers player and coach this season, it seems. Yet the luxury of having a starting-caliber player come off the bench and accept an auxiliary role for a championship team is something many undervalue.
Only a year ago, Howard was signed by the Washington Wizards to a two-year deal to be the team’s starting center. Injuries derailed that dream and ultimately put him in this situation. He’s now shooting a career-high 73.2% from the field and giving the Lakers no loss at either end of the floor.
Memphis Grizzlies – Tyus Jones
All the buzz in Memphis surrounds No. 2 overall pick and likely NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant, yet his trusty backup point guard Tyus Jones is deserving of some praise too.
The former Minnesota Timberwolves backup is averaging a sound 7.4 points and 4.4 assists while shooting a career-high 45.9% from the field and 37.9% from deep. He’s also been a huge part of why the Grizzlies’ second unit has managed to keep and even grow leads with Morant off the floor.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Josh Okogie
Okogie has been bubbling to lock down a starting spot for the past year. Andrew Wiggins’ trade to Golden State provided that window of opportunity.
The second-year guard is still a bit rough around the edges offensively, but he has defensive potential to boot — hence why he’s often asked to guard forwards and taller guards despite being only 6-foot-4.
New Orleans Pelicans – JJ Redick
Redick is no longer scoring at the high clip he was with the Philadelphia 76ers, but he’s traded that for optimal marksmanship this season. The Pelicans veteran is canning threes at a 45.2% clip — the second-best percentage of his 14-year NBA career.
Besides his elite scoring, he’s also mentoring a lot of the young faces on this roster — a help that is invaluable for a team that is quickly accelerating its rebuild.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Nerlens Noel
Noel’s numbers won’t turn heads, but the 6-foot-10 center is quickly putting together one of the best years of his career.
The 25-year-old is shooting a career-best 68.5% from the floor and 76.5% from the foul line. He’s also one of the handful few to average at least 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals from a frontcourt position.
Phoenix Suns – Dario Saric
Saric was an underrated addition to the roster this past summer. The Croatian would give the Suns some added length and a shooting stroke from the power forward position — all until his benching came around.
As fate would have it, head coach Monty Williams would need to rely on his services once again after the Kelly Oubre Jr. injury. So long as he isn’t forgotten, Saric is an unsung contributor for a team still putting the pieces together.
Portland Trail Blazers – Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent Jr. didn’t fully break into the TV screens of Rip City fans until an injury to Damian Lillard gave him some much-needed opportunity.
The shooting guard has been primarily molded as a three-and-D option and he’s flourished under that archetype, flashing some impressive numbers when given the right dose of minutes. The 21-year-old is still a work in progress, but he’s already shaping as a knock-down shooter that can help the Blazers’ depth.
Sacramento Kings – Nemanja Bjelica
Bjelica’s decision to sign with the Sacramento Kings was one last cry at NBA life before testing the waters in Europe, the way Nikola Mirotic did upon signing with powerhouse Barcelona. His gamble has paid off, as he’s started 61 of 64 games for new coach Luke Walton and averaged career-bests across the board.
His clutch shooting ability is perhaps the most underrated part of his game, usually coming through with the game on the line. The Serbian has become one of the most potent 3-point shooters from the power forward spot, knocking down more than 40% of his shots from deep in the last three seasons.
San Antonio Spurs – Rudy Gay
Gay is no longer the ruthless scorer he was in his Memphis Grizzlies days, but he is still a potent option off the bench and an invaluable contributor.
The 33-year-old is still posting a sound 10 points and 5.4 rebounds while logging a decent share of minutes for a newly-young Spurs roster.
Utah Jazz – Royce O’Neale
O’Neale worked his way to the starting lineup with displays of tough defense and timely play-finishing. That’s why he eventually found himself as part of the starting core again once the Jazz decided to shake things up.
The 26-year-old doesn’t have eye-popping numbers, but he’s a versatile defender who can shoot the three and fill in at several positions, making him a Swiss army knife in Quin Snyder’s pocket.
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