The NBA All-Underrated Team
FTN's Adam Pfeifer highlights some of the most underrated players in the league this season as we get closer to the NBA All Star Break.
Jan 23, 2023, 1:06 PM EST
Because I love talking about hoops so much, I’ll be providing some NBA content here at FTN Fantasy, talking about more than just fantasy basketball.
Every week, I’ll be providing my takes on trades, players, teams and more from the association. To kick us off, let’s break down the players I believe are the most underrated in the league right now.
Tyus Jones, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
10.8 PPG, 2.3 REB, 4.7 AST, 44.6 FG%, 39.2 3P%
Entering the 2022 season, there was a lot of discussion about the players that teams lost, whether it be in free agency or trades. However, not enough was made of certain players who teams were able to retain, and perhaps no player is more impactful than the unquestioned best backup point guard in the NBA, Tyus Jones. Currently averaging career-highs in points (10.8) and minutes (23.5) per game, Jones is as reliable as it gets. Although he comes off the bench, make no mistake, he is a starting-caliber point guard in this league.
Jones is sporting the third-lowest turnover rate among players with at least 500 minutes played and a 20% usage rate (7.3%). Memphis has one of the best rosters in basketball, but there’s a reason this team went 20-5 with Ja Morant out of the lineup last year. Jones is a starting point guard who just so happens to come off Memphis’ bench. In 2021-22, Jones averaged 12.7 points, 6.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and shot 39.6% from three in 23 games as a starter.
So far in 2022-23, Jones has started seven games, averaging an impressive 21.1 points, 7.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds while shooting 50% from beyond the arc. Aside from his three-point marksmanship, he also has one of the smoothest floaters in the league. The Grizzlies are extremely fortunate to have Jones on their roster.
Kevin Huerter, SG, Sacramento Kings
15.8 PPG, 3.3 REB, 3.0 AST, 48.4 FG%, 41.4 3P%
I can guarantee you that the Hawks wish Kevin Huerter was still on their roster right now.
Atlanta, who ranks 23rd in the association in catch-and-shoot field goal percentage this season (35.6%), could use Huerter’s silky-smooth jump shot. Shooting nearly 42% from beyond the arc this season, Huerter is a perfect fit in this Sacramento offense. He is tremendous at maneuvering off screens, running baseline and finding space to get his shot off. And with Mike Brown coming over from Golden State, this Sacramento offense is predicated on off-ball movement and cutting with Domantas Sabonis as the focal point.
Huerter is in a Klay Thompson role in this offense and is playing well, shooting nearly 42% from three and 45% on triples from above the break. The Sabonis/Huerter dribble handoff has been a joy to watch and is a huge reason why the Kings have been a top-three offense in all of basketball this season. Huerter leads the entire NBA in points per game off hand-offs this season (3.9), while shooting a blistering 48.2% off the play type. Nearly half (3.3 of his 7.0 three-point attempts per game) have come with one or zero dribbles, making him an absolute perfect fit in this system.
Devin Vassell, G/F, San Antonio Spurs
19.4 PPG, 4.0 REB, 3.6 AST, 44.5 FG%, 40.4 3P%
Devin Vassell was selected with the 11th overall back in 2020, becoming the first player to be taken in the lottery by San Antonio in decades. Multiple injuries have limited him to just 63 starts in two-and-a-half seasons, but when he’s on the floor, you can tell that Vassell has tremendous upside. He has consistently improved as a three-point shooter, which has carried over to the pros, as Vassell has seen his three-point percentage rise from 36.1% as a sophomore to 40.4% in 24 starts this season.
Vassell has the potential to be one of the top 3-and-D players in all of basketball, as he has tremendous footwork and length on the defensive end, while also showcasing a high release on his jumpshot. In 29 games this season, Vassell is averaging 7.7 points per game off catch-and-shoot opportunities, the fourth-most in the league, while shooting 46% from the field and over 47% from beyond the arc off the play type. And that is on just over five catch-and-shoot triples per game.
While he will have to add more versatility in terms of creating his own shot, Vassell has demonstrated an impressive behind-the-back move that he has turned to plenty of times throughout his young career. Coming out of Florida State, Vassell drew comparisons to an elite 3-and-D player, Mikal Bridges, who is also one of the most underrated players in basketball. Enjoying a breakout campaign, Vassell has to get healthy to continue to show the world how good he is.
Jerami Grant, F, Portland Trail Blazers
21.7 PPG, 4.3 REB, 2.4 AST, 49.4% FG, 42.7% 3P
One of my favorite players in the league for years, it is no surprise that Jerami Grant doesn’t just make my NBA All-Underrated team, but he headlines it. We have seen Grant play for numerous teams and in numerous roles. He entered the league as a high-energy role player off the bench for a tanking 76ers club, then went to Oklahoma City to play with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Thunder before operating as a slashing wing in Denver alongside Nikola Jokic. And just before joining Portland, Grant was in Detroit with the Pistons, seeing his first high-usage role of his career. He was the focal point of that team, sporting usage rates of 28.5% and 25.7% during his two seasons in Detroit, averaging 22.3 and 19.2 points per contest.
But now Grant is in Portland and scoring in many different ways for the Blazers. He is shooting 49% from the field and nearly 43% from beyond the arc so far this season, becoming a very reliable spot-up shooter. His 6.3 spot-up points per game this season are the second-most in all of basketball, shooting nearly 41% off such shots. During his time in Denver and Oklahoma City, Grant did most of his damage off cuts to the basket, sporting frequency rates well north of 10%.
That number is down to 5.8% this season, though he has always been very efficient in that role. Playing alongside Damian Lillard, Grant is catching and shooting plenty, averaging the 10th-most points per game off the play type (6.9), while shooting 41.3% off catch-and-shoot triples. Grant is a two-way wing who isn’t just in the 3-and-D mold. He can put the ball on the floor and get a bucket and can help keep this offense afloat with Lillard off the floor. And between his all-around game on offense and tremendous versatility on defense, it is no wonder why Grant ranks 30th in all of basketball in Value Over Replacement and Win Shares. Grant’s experience playing multiple roles in different styles of offenses is extremely valuable, and any team would be lucky to have him.
Kevon Looney, C, Golden State Warriors
6.5 PPG, 8.7 REB, 2.8 AST, 62.5 FG%
It is easy for Kevon Looney to go overlooked when he’s playing alongside Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Jordan Poole. But make no mistake, Looney is an integral piece of this Golden State dynasty. He is seemingly always in the right place on the floor and flows so well with this Warriors system.
Looney is one of the most underrated passing centers in all of basketball, always making the right pass amidst all of the movement in this offense. He has averaged at least two assists per game in each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 2.8 assists per game here in 2022-2023. He has shown the ability to make terrific reads with the basketball out of the short pick-and-roll, while his screening ability has been strong too. Looney is currently averaging 3.9 screen assists per game, the 14th-most in the league, as well as the 11th-most points per game off screen assists (9.8). Arguably the Warriors’ third-best player last postseason, Looney deserves more love.
Alex Caruso, SG, Chicago Bulls
5.5 PPG, 2.9 REB, 3.5 AST, 1.6 STL, 39.1% 3P
Alex Caruso is one of the few players in the league who can truly impact the game without really even touching the basketball much. His 11.2% usage rate isn’t just insanely low, but the lowest rate of his career, which is saying something. However, his impact is felt everywhere else, as the Bulls are +9.7 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor this season, the highest rate on the team and the sixth-highest mark among all point guards. Caruso’s defense is elite, as he constantly deflects passes and makes things difficult for opposing ball-handlers.
No player in basketball is averaging more deflections per game than Caruso (3.8), while the opposition is -6.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor this season, the best rate among point guards who have logged at least 500 minutes. And while he isn’t even averaging 6.0 points per game on offense, he is doing plenty to help DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. Caruso is second among guards in screen assists per game, averaging 1.1 per contest.