I’m going to go easy in my first contribution to this series and only focus on two guys who are currently underrated. Here are some props for two All-Star hopefuls.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Horford took a big step forward last year toward fulfilling the potential one is expected to fill as a #3 draft pick, which he was in 2007. His scoring went up to 14 ppg, his rebounds stayed at a high 10 rpg, and his shooting percentage rose to 55% despite taking more shots than the season before. For his efforts and improvements, Horford was named to his first All-Star team. He performed well in the game, scoring 8 points on 5 shots, and snagged 4 boards in only 14 minutes of burn for the East in a tight victory. For a rising 23-year-old in a league that lacks skilled big men, Horford looked to be closing in on his destiny: perennial All-Star center in a league short on good centers.
Instead no one is talking about Horford at all. It’s not for a lack of being good. His stats have all remained the same or gotten better. He’s up to 16 ppg on 57% shooting. He’s still grabbing 10 rpg. His assists are up to 3.5 per game while his turnovers stay at a low 1.5 (that 2.3 A/TO ratio is better than many point guards around the league – it’s right in the middle of the ratios posted by John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, and Raymond Felton, who are all between 2.2 and 2.4). Horford is still blocking 1.1 shots per game, but his fouls are down to 2.6, and he’s now hitting 83% of his free throws. All-Star talk? All but non-existent. He finished a distant 5th in the voting for center in the East, barely ahead of Roy Hibbert and Andrea Bargnani. A search for “Horford” and “All-Star” together on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s site yielded nothing since last year’s game – not even the columns that are common this time of year that push for a local player’s inclusion in the contest. With any luck and reasonableness, Horford will again be named an All-Star and possibly even remind fans that the Hawks are more than just Joe Johnson’s contract and Josh Smith’s highlights.
Nene, Denver Nuggets
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Nene is the Nuggets’ best player. He’s scoring 15 points per game on a league-leading 65% shooting (and an out-of-this-world high 69% TrueShooting%), and he’s doing all the inside dirty work of a big man who’s been stranded underneath after the injuries to Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin. Plus Nene is the team’s lone defensive anchor on the interior this season on a team that’s used to having depth in this area – before the injuries to Andersen and Martin, that is. Melo scores 8 more ppg, but he also takes 11 more shots. That’s not good, and frankly Nene does virtually all of the little things you would want out of a post player to help your team win, which would explain why his impact stats are without question the tops on Denver and have been for a few years.
All that being said, he was miles behind Yao Ming and Andrew Bynum in All-Star voting for the Western’s center position despite Yao playing only 5 games and Bynum only 22 (and a mere 24 minutes per game, at that). Nene’s getting no love from a league without many true big men, let alone ones averaging 15.2 ppg on only 8.6 shots. Hopefully not only does Nene make the All-Star Game finally after all these years of under-the-radar work, but hopefully he’s named the starter as Yao’s replacement. That may be what it takes to get fans to realize how good Denver’s best player really is.