As the 2017-18 season winds to a close, much of the basketball world will be focused on NBA stars competing for major awards. But they’re not the only standouts who deserve attention.
Throughout the campaign, a dozen players have put together outstanding years that simply haven’t been recognized for their individual excellence. Some are team leaders, while others are complementary pieces.
Even if a couple of the following players land on All-NBA teams, their contributions merit more praise.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets
During a campaign in which nobody expected the Nets to accomplish much, Spencer Dinwiddie has emerged as a bright spot. After cracking 20 minutes per night in 2016-17, the point guard has lifted that average to an even 29. He’s recorded 12.8 points, 6.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds, helping the Nets avoid the absolute cellar of the standings without Jeremy Lin. Among players who have appeared in 20-plus games this season, Dinwiddie’s 4.24 assist-to-turnover ratio is the second-best in the league, per NBA.com.
Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls
Shortly before the season, Bobby Portis threw the punch heard ’round the NBA world. The jab to Nikola Mirotic’s face kept Portis on the sideline for eight games prior to his season debut. Since then, however, he’s been one of Chicago’s top players — if not the best one. While playing 22.4 minutes per appearance, the Bulls’ sixth man has averaged 13.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Chicago is destined for a high selection in the 2018 draft, and that rookie will be a focal point of the future. But the Bulls can be confident they’ve found a key piece in Portis, too.
Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic is a rising star in Denver, which added Paul Millsap during the offseason. There isn’t much other national attention paid to the Nuggets, though. That’s a disservice to Gary Harris, the fourth-year guard playing at the highest standard of his career. He’s notched 17.7 points while collecting 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Harris is one of 12 in the league averaging those marks, per Basketball-Reference.com. He and Donovan Mitchell are the only players in that group who have never been All-Stars. While we’re not saying Harris deserved to be one in a stacked Western Conference, he’s performed at that level.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
Injuries have prevented Chris Paul from playing a full season, but when he’s available the Rockets rarely lose. Houston is a ridiculous 46-7 with Paul in the lineup. The “Point God” has contributed 18.8 points, 7.9 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, giving the Rockets another sensational player next to James Harden. And that’s the “problem” for Paul. Harden is likely going to earn MVP honors thanks to his 30.7-point, 8.7-assist averages. The left-hander has overshadowed a terrific season, but CP3 surely doesn’t mind. He’s finally on a true championship contender.
James Johnson, Miami Heat
No, he’s not paid like an underrated player. James Johnson still isn’t as recognized a player as he should be. After signing a $60 million deal last offseason, the versatile forward has amassed 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game. He’s shooting a career-best 50.3 percent from the floor. Johnson fought through some inconsistency to begin the year but has remained a valuable weapon on both ends of the court. Additionally, his energy and leadership cannot be quantified. Miami’s postseason ceiling will largely be influenced by Johnson’s performance.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Despite hitting what can be called a disappointing 36.1 percent from three-point range, Khris Middleton has increased both his production and efficiency this season. The sixth-year forward has registered personal-high averages of 20.1 points on 47.0 percent shooting and 5.2 rebounds while dishing 4.0 assists. Milwaukee’s offensive rating dips 5.5 points when Middleton leaves the floor, per NBA.com. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the undisputed leader of the Bucks, but they wouldn’t be heading to the postseason without Middleton’s impact.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Similar to CP3, injuries have relegated Aaron Gordon to the sideline at various points of the season. When he’s on the floor, though, Orlando has a breakout player — despite lacking a clear role. The fourth-year forward has tallied career-high clips across the board in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Gordon has also knocked down 34.6 percent of his threes, which is more impressive when considering he was a career 28.9 percent shooter prior to 2017-18. The Magic should not let the impending restricted free agent leave, lest the rebuild undergo a setback.
Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid is an All-Star. Ben Simmons might be the Rookie of the Year. Markelle Fultz was the most popular injured player of 2017-18. The Process is working! Those are all topics mentioned well before a conversation finds Robert Covington. But the 27-year-old is a tremendous two-way threat for the 76ers. He averages 12.7 points while shooting 37.9 beyond the arc and boasts a plus-15.5 net rating, according to NBA.com. Covington, who offers 2.3 combined steals and blocks per game, is a quietly terrific three-and-D weapon.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
The trade from Denver to Portland unlocked a version of Jusuf Nurkic only seen on occasion. While he hasn’t matched that level of effectiveness in 2017-18, Nurkic is still just 23 years old and learning how to play major minutes every night. The fourth-year center has recorded 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. Portland’s defensive rating drops an even 5.0 points when Nurkic heads to the bench, according to NBA.com. His future with the Blazers is uncertain, but he’s an essential contributor right now.
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
During the summer of 2017, news emerged that LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t satisfied with his role. Reportedly, the Spurs discussed trades for the All-Star forward. Had that happened, it’s possible — perhaps even likely — San Antonio wouldn’t be in the playoff picture because Kawhi Leonard has missed a strong majority of the season. Aldridge has rediscovered his team-leading ways of the past, scoring 23.2 points per game with a 50.8 percent mark from the floor. Thanks to him, the Spurs are in position to continue a 20-year postseason streak.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Are the Raptors for real? That question will be answered during the postseason, and DeMar DeRozan will have the largest impact on the resolution. The All-Star guard reshaped his game for 2017-18, drastically reducing his isolation attempts and becoming a better team-oriented player. DeRozan has lifted his assist average from 3.9 to 5.1 yet still nets 23.4 points per contest. His catch-and-shoot rate has climbed from 11.3 percent to 16.7, and his effective field-goal percentage has soared 10.2 points, per NBA.com. This is the best version of DeRozan the NBA has seen.
Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards
When the Kansas product bolted for the draft, many analysts thought Kelly Oubre would need a couple years before asserting himself as a regular threat. And that’s exactly what has happened. In his third season with the Wizards, Oubre has nearly doubled his scoring output and contributed 12 points per game. He’s also secured an average of 4.5 rebounds. Although his shooting efficiency has dropped late in the year, cold stretches are to be expected from a player still developing. Oubre is now a significant part of the Washington roster.