Top 10 most underrated NBA players of all time

Profile Picture: Ryan Murphy

Ryan Murphy

January 17th, 2020

Not everyone can average 30 points a game, but there are many NBA players who find ways to contribute to their team’s success in a big way, albeit under the radar. Whether they’re considered unathletic or simply not flashy enough, these are the top 10 most underrated NBA players of all time.

10. P.J. Tucker

NBA teams: Toronto Raptors, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets

P.J. Tucker may get lost in the shuffle in Houston as James Harden and Russell Westbrook continue to pile up points for the Rockets, but the 35-year-old veteran forward plays a big part in Houston’s surprisingly staunch defense. Tucker averaged a career-high 6.6 rebounds per game in 2019-20, which allowed Harden and Westbrook to focus on what they do best. Though Tucker doesn't often stand out, his efforts have kept Houston in the championship conversation year after year.

9. Michael Cooper

NBA teams: Los Angeles Lakers

Magic Johnson and James Worthy got most of the love during the Lakers’ Showtime era, but L.A. would still be stuck on 12 championship banners were it not for the contributions of Michael Cooper. The 1987 NBA Defensive Player of the Year was a long-limbed perimeter pest who specialized in matching up against the other team’s top wing players. Cooper’s tenacious D allowed Magic to focus on offense and paved the way for five NBA titles.

8. Malcolm Brogdon

NBA teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers

Malcolm Brogdon didn't get nearly enough attention in 2019-20 as the Indiana Pacers defied expectations in the absence of Victor Oladipo. The former Rookie of the Year had his best season as a pro, averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game to go along with 7.1 assists, good for 11th in the league. Although he didn't play in the league's mid-season classic, he should continue to thrive with the Pacers.

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Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose (25) gets around Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1). (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)

7. Derrick Rose

NBA teams: Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons

There’s no denying the resilience of Derrick Rose after many considered his injury-riddled career a closed book. Rose was highly productive for the floundering Pistons in 2019-20, posting 18.1 points per game along with 2.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists. The former MVP has become a journeyman of sorts, but he deserves serious credit for resurrecting his career in Motown.

6. Buck Williams

NBA teams: New Jersey Nets, Portland Trail Blazers, New York Knicks

You won't find many basketball fans outside of New Jersey and Portland waxing nostalgic about Buck Williams, but they absolutely should be. The hard-nosed, big-bodied grinder was an absolute beast on the boards who ranked in the top 10 in rebounding in each of his first six seasons in the league. The underrated Williams was at his finest in 1982-83, when he averaged 17.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game and finished seventh in MVP voting.

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Miami Heat small forward Shane Battier (31). (Photo by Icon Sportswire)

5. Shane Battier

NBA teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat

We’ll be the first to admit that Shane Battier doesn’t have the sexiest stats, but the former Duke product was an underrated team-first player who just knew how to win. His willingness to sacrifice his body – and his numbers – led to a pair of championships with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013.

4. Sidney Moncrief

NBA teams: Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks

"Sir Sid" is largely forgotten when it comes to conversations about the greatest two-way players of all-time, and that’s shame because he was a destructive force at both ends of the court. The 6'3" guard was a five-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year who averaged 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game over a year span from 1982-86.

3. Fat Lever

NBA teams: Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks

Let’s be honest: If there was a hall of fame for great player names, Lafayette "Fat" Lever would be on the first ballot. Alas, the underrated combo guard isn’t in any hall of fame despite the fact that he was a walking triple-double who averaged 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game over a four-year span with the Nuggets from 1987-90. Lever was Russell Westbrook without the moodiness, but few NBA fans seem to know about him today.

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Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns drives to the hoop. (Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire)

2. Kevin Johnson

NBA teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns

Kevin Johnson is known to many California residents as the 55th Mayor of Sacramento, but prior to assuming office he was one hell of a point guard who averaged 20 points or more over five seasons, and led the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1993. KJ’s finest season came in 1989-90, when he averaged 22.5 points and 11.4 assists per game and was named to the All-NBA Second Team.

1. Mark Price

NBA teams: Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic

Do you know how many players in NBA history have a better career free-throw shooting percentage than Mark Price? Two. That’s it. Steph Curry and Steve Nash are the only players living or dead who were better at the charity stripe than Price. Of, course, the George Tech product could do a lot more than just hit a stationary shot from 15-feet away. Price was also a four-time All-Star who was among the league leaders in assists nearly every season during his exceptional 12-year career.