Sometimes it can be hard to realize that the NBA is more than just the dazzling play of a few superstars. For every LeBron James, there are a host of players working behind the scenes to help their teams win games. This series will focus on these players, guys whose good play has slipped through the cracks and deserves some recognition. Today we will be taking a look at three NBA veterans and why they deserve more credit for their play this season.
Click here to read the first article in the series on under-the-radar rookies.
9.0 PTS, 4.8 REB, 2.4 AST, 43.9 3P%
This time last year it seemed like Nicolas Batum’s time as an NBA player was nearing its inevitable end. The 31-year-old was averaging career-lows nearly across the board and struggled at times to crack the rotation of the lowly Charlotte Hornets. Oh and he was on one of the worst contracts in basketball to boot.
But before the 2020-2021 season Batum was waived by the Hornets and free to sign with any team willing to take a chance on him. With nothing to lose and in search of talented players to bolster their supporting cast, the Los Angeles Clippers offered Batum a one-year deal to prove that he still belonged in the league.
What followed was nothing short of a revelation. Batum has seemingly risen from the dead, playing a key role for the Clippers as a do-it-all forward and even solidifying himself in the starting lineup. His main weakness in recent seasons was his three-point shooting, ranking below average in three of the last four years. But this season is an entirely different story. His 43.9% clip from deep puts him among the best long-range snipers in the league, giving him a new lease on life on the offensive end.
Batum also finds himself playing meaningful basketball for the first time in years. The Clippers are the first team that he’s been a part of that can truly be considered title contenders and he’ll be hoping to make it past the second round for the first time in his long and winding career.
12.1 PTS, 5.9 REB, 4.4 AST, 2.0 STL/36
Thaddeus Young has been a reliable and consistent NBA player throughout his 14-year career. With his adept finishing around the rim, quick hands that rack up plenty of steals, and underrated hustle on the offensive glass, Young has always been a player that brings a lot to teams while often being underappreciated.
This year has been no exception for Young. He has been one of the first guys off the bench for the Chicago Bulls this season and is having arguably playing his best ball since his time in Philadelphia. Despite the Bulls drafting direct competition at the power forward position in the form of Patrick Williams and already having Lauri Markkanen on the roster, Young’s great play had earned him an increase in playing time from last season.
The most impressive aspect of Young’s game this season has been his willingness to add to his arsenal even after so many years in the league. This addition has come in the form of a huge spike in his ability to playmake out of the post. His 4.4 assists per game this season are far-and-away a career-high and look even more impressive when looking from a per 36-minute perspective. His career-high in assists per 36 before this season sat at just 3.0, this season he’s sitting at 6.2.
It is so rare to see a player of Young’s age add such an important aspect to his game and he deserves more credit for being able to evolve with the times.
13.9 PTS, 3.3 REB, 1.5 AST, 53.2 TS%
It’s strange to call a 10-time NBA All-Star an under-the-radar player but it seems we’ve gotten to that point with Carmelo Anthony.
Although he’s not the player he once was in Denver or the Big Apple, Anthony has provided instant offense off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers, especially as of late, without the media frenzy you would expect around someone who was a former MVP candidate.
In recent years, Melo’s offensive game has suffered from inefficiency due to a drop-off in his ability to get to the line. His offensive game has always teetered on the edge between effective and redundant but for most his career it swung hard towards the former due to his ability to draw fouls. After a handful of seasons where his free throw rate collapsed, he’s starting to get to the line regularly again and at rates not seen since his final season in New York.
That improvement alone would have been enough to make Melo an effective scorer again but he’s also been great from beyond the arc. His 38.7% shooting from long range is the second-highest percentage of his career and his 2.5 three-pointers made per 36 minutes is the most of any full season he’s played.
Thanks to his improvements both at the foul stripe and from downtown, Melo’s efficiency is good enough to once again make him a viable offensive threat, which is exactly what he’s been down the stretch for Portland. Portlands performance seems intrinsically tied with his. In games where he’s scored more than 15 points this season, the Trail Blazers are 10-2.
It is safe to say that the Blazers would be in a worse spot without him, which is credit enough for one of the five oldest players in the NBA.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com
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