The New Orleans Pelicans have one of the guys who often goes overlooked in discussions about the best players in the NBA.
This is usually the case in the NBA. Every team has a player or two that get most of the focus, which leads to fans and media pundits undervaluing and even overlooking guys who aren’t in the daily headlines.
But what makes a player underappreciated?
Usually this happens when they are playing in the shadow or shadows of other, more well-known players.
Underappreciated players are often taken for granted, casually thrown into trade conversations that make their coaches and teammates laugh, as they know just how valuable these guys are.
Underappreciated players put up big numbers that somehow go unnoticed, they help good teams win games but probably aren’t in the highlight reels and they never get a single vote for an All-NBA team.
When compiling this short list, these three players stuck out as guys who do a lot for their teams but are rarely mentioned in discussions about the team and certainly don’t get much national press.
Here are the three most underappreciated players in the NBA today.
Serge Ibaka: Center/Power Forward, Toronto Raptors
Serge Ibaka does one thing really well: win games.
The Raptors’ power forward/center has made the playoffs in 9 of 11 seasons in the NBA and was a key part of all of those teams.
Ibaka’s name rarely gets brought up when it comes to best big men in the league, even though his combination of shooting, rim protection and defense puts him in elite company.
The crazy thing is that Ibaka just seems to get better. He is averaging a career-high 16 points per game for the Raptors while pulling down 8.3 rebounds (second highest of his career) and dishing 1.5 assists, which is also a career-high.
Ibaka’s numbers have improved every year he’s been in the NBA, including his 3-point shooting, which is up to a career-high 39.8 percent.
Yet, Ibaka never gets mentioned among the league’s best power forwards or centers, and never gets credit for being a pioneer for big men who can shoot.
This is largely because he’s spent his career playing with high-profile guys like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard. These guys took all of the accolades while Ibaka quietly went about his business.
Need a rebound or blocked shot? He’s got you. Need physical defense played against the other team’s best big man? Serge is there. Need the league’s best glue guy, a winner who will do what it takes for his team, including punching an opponent in the face? Ibaka is up for it.
When the OKC Thunder traded James Harden and kept Ibaka they took a lot of heat for giving up on an eventual league MVP. But did they really make the wrong choice? Yes, Harden is a better player overall, but Ibaka just keeps winning.
Ibaka carries the superstars on his shoulders, already has a championship (unlike Harden) and is about to get paid by someone after another strong season where he was the backbone of the Raptors’ continued success after losing Leonard.
The New Orleans Pelicans will be one of many teams that puts Ibaka on their wish list, but fans around the league need to recognize that Ibaka is a Hall-of-Famer and one of the best players in the league.