John Hollinger is one of the best NBA writers at The Athletic. He is one of the few sportswriters who turned that gig into an actual NBA front-office job. John was Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies for several years after writing for, among other, Sports Illustrated and ESPN.
One of his recent articles caught my eye when he named his NBA All-Underrated Team. As always, I checked to see if he selected any San Antonio Spurs. And he did.
Roaming buffalo Derrick White was named the fourth most underrated player in the league. These are the highlights of John’s assessment of Derrick:
“...White is almost certainly among the game’s top 75 players right now, and his absence is a big factor down the stretch as the Spurs cling precariously to their play-in position.
“White doesn’t excel in any one area, which makes it harder to underscore his impact, but he’s pretty good at nearly everything. One area where he’s unusually gifted for a 6-4 guard is rim protection, as he has a real knack for materializing from the weak side and exploding upward to thwart shots at the rim. White’s 2.9 percent block rate is awesome for a shooting guard... White adds value beyond that with solid work on the ball, plus he’s a great help defender who excels at taking charges if he’s not going for the block.
“Again, none of this is super-sexy, but it adds up to a really good player. White’s Spurs are plus-5.1 points per 100 when he plays this season and minus-3.4 when he doesn’t, and they’ve dropped four in a row since he went out with a season-ending ankle injury. His splits were nearly as extreme the two previous seasons, despite playing a variety of roles. Wherever they plug him in, he helps.”
So the Spurs place one player on the underrated First Team. But wait, there’s more. The article lists Jakob Poeltl and Dejounte Murray on his “just missed” list, along with four others, saying “any one of whom could easily have been placed in my very subjective top 10.
Some ex-Spurs also did very well. My guy DannyGreen!! was ranked 7th overall:
“Danny Green just impacts winning and does it so quietly that he managed the rare feat of being underrated even while playing for the Lakers. Green is on his fourth team in four years, but over the last five seasons, his teams are 262-120 with two championships, and he may add a third this season with the 76ers. That’s half a decade of winning at a 56-win pace, and while Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James had a wee bit to do with that as well, it underscores how well Green fits in as a role player on contending teams.”
The article also points out something that this ex-college coach always appreciated about Green — his ability to snuff out 2-on-1 (and 3-on-1) fast breaks:
“Perhaps most underrated of all, he is one of the best transition defenders I’ve ever seen. Green has an almost magical sixth sense for turning odd-man opponent breaks that are normally easy layups into blocks, turnovers and other assorted miscues.”
One more ex-Spur made the Second Team All-Underrated Team: Kyle “Slo-Mo” Anderson. Talking about his improved three-point shooting (34.9%), Hollinger credits that improvement for Slo-Mo’s overall usefulness:
“That change has made an already useful player a bona fide plus starter. Anderson still has his “slo-Mo” stylings on the ball, meandering through the paint for long-armed finishes and dishes, but the 3-point threat has completely changed the equation on playing him off the ball.
“And with Anderson already being a plus defender thanks to his anticipation and length, it’s made him a valuable part of a surprisingly good Memphis team.”
If we include ex-Spurs with the Spurs still on the team, that makes five San Antonio products among the twenty or so players mentioned in the article, including three of the top ten. So while the Spurs are no longer great, John Hollinger certainly believes their players are underrated. Must be something in the (river) water.