The Most Underrated Player in NBA history is….

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USA News Sports Division July 03, 2023
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The Most Underrated Player in NBA history is….
The Most Underrated Player in NBA history is….
Most NBA-related debates center around who are the best teams and players are. Fans debate who the best is both today and all-time. Many fans argue over the best team of all-time. Hell, at least once a month someone from the present-day Golden State Warriors mentions that their 2017 team could beat the ’96 Bulls. Everyone argues who the GOAT is. What about the overlooked players? Who is the most underrated NBA player of all time? Now, THAT’s an argument! OK, but what’s the answer? Who IS the most underrated NBA player of all-time? How is that even determined? In my opinion, the answer is pretty complicated. I’m sure there are many differing opinions. I believe the most underrated player in the history of the league is one who was among its most talented who never got the credit that he deserved. He is a player who was an All-Star but isn’t mentioned among the best in almost any conversation. This is a player who has a history of being snubbed. It’s also most likely someone who doesn’t have a ring. There are many possible answers to who the most underrated NBA player of all-time is. The answer could depend on eras. For example, does anyone even talk about star NBA players from the league’s first 15-20 years not named Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or George Mikan anymore? Unfortunately, it seems to me that they’re only talked about when a current player passes them on an all-time list, in obituaries, or when one passes away. I’m not trying to be morbid. When’s the last time you heard names such as Bob Pettit, Paul Arizin, Richie Guerin, or Dolph Schayes mentioned otherwise? Maybe it’s because J.J. Redick refers to these guys as “plumbers.” Jerry Lucas is one of four NBA players to average 20 points and 20 rebounds per game in a single season (Chamberlain, Pettit, and Nate Thurmond are the others). Could Lucas be the most underrated player of all-time? Maybe it’s someone like Dr. J who spent time in both the ABA and NBA. Could guys like Connie Hawkins, Rick Barry, and Artis Gilmore be considered as the most underrated ever? They spent time in both leagues and their career stats (not that stats are everything) didn’t carry over to the NBA. What about NBA stars of the 1970s such as Dave Cowens, Bob McAdoo, Chet Walker, John Drew, or Lou Hudson? I don’t remember the last time I heard any of those guys being brought up in any conversation. Could the most underrated NBA player ever come from the higher-tempo 1980s? This was a time where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson saved the league. Everyone knows that the NBA during the ‘80s belonged to the Celtics and the Lakers. There were other players on other teams too. There are tons of guys from this era to choose from: Alex English, Dale Ellis, World B. Free, Tom Chambers, Orlando Woolridge, Terry Cummings, Mark Aguirre, Sidney Moncrief, and Adrian Dantley. What about someone from the 1990s? Sure, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated the decade. Why not throw Scottie Pippen into consideration? Pippen may be the one guy mentioned so far who fans either believe to be among the most underrated OR most overrated NBA player ever. How about Mark Price, Rod Strickland, Mitch Richmond, Steve Smith, Dan Majerle, or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf? If we extend into the early 2000s, we could add Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, Jamal Mashburn, and Eddie Jones into the mix. Don’t forget about Shawn Marion and Rasheed Wallace. Antawn Jamison is one of four inactive NBA players to have scored at least 20,000 career points and not be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. LaMarcus Aldridge too (Chambers and Joe Johnson are the others). Heck, John Stockton is the NBA’s all-time career leader in assists in steals. Does he get mentioned in the best point guard conversations as much as he should. Tiny Archibald is the only player to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season. Is he mentioned among the best point guards as much anymore? What about guys who were among the NBA’s best for a short time and then got hurt? Who knows what their careers would have looked like if they weren’t a “what if” guy? I’m talking about Bernard King, Pete Maravich, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy, and Derrick Rose. At least Rose was an MVP. Hill might have been mentioned as a top-10 or top-15 player of all-time today had he not got hurt. King would have been much higher up on the NBA’s scoring leader list. Same with Maravich. Those guys have gotten their flowers to a point though over time. I’m sure there are many former underrated NBA players that I’ve forgotten to mention too. How do you narrow it down to just ONE guy? I’ll give it a shot by ranking 10 down to 1… 10. Jrue Holiday: A member of the perennial All-Overlooked Team 9. Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson: He only made two All-Star games. HOW??? 8. Antawn Jamison: What I said about “Big Dog” goes for Jamison. 7. World B. Free: More than a cool name. He Was. A. Bucket. 6. Lou Hudson: I bet most people reading this will have to Google search him. 5. Scottie Pippen: I’m taking the underrated road. Dude WAS great. Video doesn’t lie. 4. Rasheed Wallace: Perfect example of a player whose numbers don’t tell the story. 3. Tom Chambers: He’d kill even more today as a stretch-four. 2. Alex English: He’s the best scorer of the 1980s that you may have never ever heard of. Commence drum roll. And the most overlooked, underappreciated, and most importantly the most underrated NBA basketball player in my humble opinion is… Jacques Dominique Wilkins. Yes, the “Human Highlight Film” is who I believe is the most underrated player in the history of the NBA. I know what some of you may be thinking. How can a 9-time NBA All-Star and Hall-of-Famer be considered as the most underrated NBA player ever? I’ll answer that question with a question. When is the last time you heard Wilkins mentioned amongst the greatest players in NBA history? The man might not be in the GOAT conversation nor is he a top-10 NBA player ever. How much farther does he fall on the list though? However, the Atlanta Hawks great is consistently mentioned among the best dunkers the game has ever seen. Maybe that’s a good place to start. Dominique Wilkins is one of the most athletic players to ever play in the NBA. He has one of the coolest nicknames ever – The Human Highlight Film. There’s a reason for that. He consistently produced highlights during his 15-year NBA career. Wilkins IS one of, if not the best dunkers ever. The late Bob Lanier wouldn’t talk to him for years because of Wilkins posturizing him with a vicious dunk late in the Hall-of-Fame center’s career. The 1985 and 1990 Slam-Dunk Championship belong to Dominique Wilkins. The thing is, “Nique” was so much more than a dunker. He was one of the best scorers the NBA had ever seen. Wilkins averaged at least 25 points per game in TEN consecutive seasons from 1985-1994. He averaged at least 30 points per game twice during that span and won the NBA’s scoring title for the 1985-86 season. He scored 26,668 career points which is 16th all-time. Imagine how many more points he could have scored if he didn’t play two seasons in Europe during the tail-end of his career. His career scoring average is 24.8 points per game. That’s good for 14th all-time. That’s a higher career scoring average than… Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Stephen Curry Larry Bird Shaquille O’Neal Charles Barkley Carmelo Anthony Wilkins ruptured his Achilles in January 1992 which ended his season after 42 games. He was 32 years old at the time and medical technology wasn’t exactly what it is today. All the man did the following season was average 29.9 points per game in 71 games. He followed that up by averaging 26.0 points per game the season after that (1993-94) in 74 games. Most stars don’t play 70 games in a season anymore. This man did it after an Achilles tear! “Nique” was the first NBA player to make a success return from a serious Achilles injury and regain his old form…at 33 years old!!! The Human Highlight file had a dominant 10-year stretch between 1985-1994. He was 6’8’’, skilled and uber athletic. The guy could only go right and everyone knew it. Still, Wilkins was feared and no one could stop him from only going right. Do you remember anyone shutting him down during that time? Me neither. He averaged 28.0 points per game during those ten seasons. There was only one guy in the NBA who scored more than Wilkins during that stretch – Michael Jeffrey Jordan. He was the one guy who could outduel Wilkins. Then again, there were many guys MJ outdueled. The advanced metrics don’t favor Wilkins as much. He’s 48th all-time in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) at 21.56. His 117.47 Win Shares rank 49th all-time. Wilkins was among the league leaders in missed shots in many years despite a .461 career field-goal percentage. He’s also 33rd all-time in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) at 50.62. These stats and rankings don’t help the argument for Wilkins being ranked higher among the greats. The eye test tells a different story. Ask the guys Wilkins played against about him too. Make no mistake. Wilkins WAS great…and greater than most realize. Despite this level of stardom, Wilkins wasn’t as appreciated as much as other stars from his era. A big part of it was probably due to his lack of playoff success. Bird, Magic, and Michael won rings. Dominique Wilkins never got his Atlanta Hawks teams out of the second round. Wilkins averaged 25.4 points in only 56 career playoff games. His Atlanta Hawks squad were perennial playoff teams but could never get past the Celtics or the Pistons. The closest Wilkins came was in 1988 where his Hawks lost in the Eastern Conference Semis to Bird’s Celtics. That Game 7 battle between Wilkins and Bird was epic, but the Celtics moved on. Nique never won a ring. That must be a huge part of why he’s not mentioned among the top 10-15 players of all-time. He was a high-volume scorer and may have been thought of as selfish. I thought he scored because the Hawks needed him to score. Selfish guys tend to get snubbed. Unfortunately, Dominique Wilkins has a history of getting snubbed. Many argue that Wilkins should have won the Slam-Dunk Title in both 1986 (thanks Spud Webb) and 1988 (he wasn’t beating MJ in Chicago). A solid argument could be made that he was snubbed out of both trophies. His Atlanta Hawks finally had a chance to be top dogs in the East in the 1993-94 season. In February of that season the Hawks were 1st in the Eastern Conference with a 36-16. Jordan had retired for the first time and the NBA Championship was up for grabs. Atlanta then traded Wilkins, their 34-year-old longtime star, to the Los Angeles Clippers of all teams – for Danny Manning. Coach Lenny Wilkens, a Hall-of-Famer himself, claimed that Manning’s skill set would help the Hawks more down the stretch and in the playoffs? WHAT??? To this day it’s still the only time in NBA history where a team traded it’s leading scorer while it was first in its conference post-All-Star break. I wonder how that worked out for the Hawks. Oh yeah, the Pacers knocked them out in the second round in 1994. One thing that I never understood was why Dominique Wilkins wasn’t selected to the original Dream Team. That’s not talked about enough. I don’t remember it mentioned as much in NBA TV’s Dream Team documentary. I also don’t remember Wilkins’ snub being mentioned in the great booked penned by SI’s Jack McCollum’s titled “Dream Team.” Everyone was so focused on Isiah Thomas not being selected - and rightfully so. What about Nique though? Wilkins’ name was not among the first 10 players announced for selection in September 1991. We will never know if Wilkins would have been one of the last two player selected. He tore his Achilles that next January and wouldn’t be able to play anyway. Clyde Drexler and Christian Laettner were the final two players selected to the team in 1992. Scottie Pippen thought Wilkins should have been named to the Dream Team over Christian Laettner. Hell, Wilkins may have been more deserving than Scottie Pippen at that point! What about when the NBA announced it’s 50 Greatest Players of All-Time during the league’s 50th anniversary season in 1996-97? Wilkins was not selected as part of that group. HOW ON EARTH WAS DOMINIQUE WILKINS NOT NAMED ONE OF THE NBA’S 50 GREATEST PLAYERS? He was 7th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list entering that season. I understand that there’s more to the game than scoring but the man was in the top ten in all-time points AND HE WAS SNUBBED. I hate to say that someone wasn’t deserving of that honor, but Wilkins should have been selected ahead of a couple guys. I won’t say names. At least the league and media got it right and named Wilkins to its Top-75 all-time players last year. You may believe that other players who may have been snubbed out of more All-Star games, had more playoff success, and got less media coverage than Wilkins may be more deserving of the Most Underrated NBA Player of all-time title. That's fine. To me, it’s Dominique Wilkins. And it’s not even close. Just don’t call him Jacques. I hear he doesn’t like when people call him that.

Photo Credit: Twitter
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