Last week’s premiere of the ESPN documentary ‘The Last Dance’ was something many NBA fans (including myself) needed. Not only was it the most basketball action seen in weeks, but it also shed light on many of the behind-the-scenes issues during the Bulls Dynasty.
One compelling topic portrayed in the first episode was how the Bulls significantly underpaid Scottie Pippen. This topic then led to the inspiration of this article, which focuses on the 5 most underrated players in NBA history.
These are players that, like Pippen, gave a lot to the game of basketball and, due to one reason or another, are not valued as much as they should be by the basketball community at large. Again, I am not saying these players are the best, but these are 5 players that definitely deserve more credit and recognition.
5. Chris Paul
Let’s start our list with the man that was leading OKC on a playoff run that no NBA expert was expecting. I think the problem that Chris Paul had throughout his career is that he never received enough attention for his play.
During his early years in New Orleans, he was derailed by being in both a small market team and by being in a conference dominated by the Lakers, Suns, and Spurs. People seem to forget that before Steph Curry and after Steve Nash’s prime, Paul was undoubtedly the best PG in the league.
CP3 had the ability to control the tempo of the game with amazing court vision, defensive intensity, and amazing basketball intelligence. Yet even during that 5 year stretch with the Clippers, injuries at the wrong time constantly derailed that team along with clear locker room issues with the team’s co-star Blake Griffin.
While in Houston, Chris Paul’s Rockets held a 3-1 series lead in the Conference Finals against an extremely dominant Golden-State team until Paul went down with a hamstring injury. In this series, CP3 was incredibly dominant scoring 19 ppg while also dishing out nearly 5 assists per game.
CP3 also holds a multitude of amazing career accomplishments that are quite frankly under-looked by the NBA community. He is a 10-time all-star, 8-time All-NBA player, 9 time NBA All-Defensive team, 4-time league leader in assists, and 6-time league leader in steals.
What’s even more insane is that he is currently the top 7 in all-time assists and ranks top 4 in assists per game. Overall I just do not believe CP3 gets enough love and appreciation for his skills in this era, but there is no doubt he has proven himself to be one of the best floor generals the league has ever seen.
The reason he is only number 5 on this list is that I still believe he has time to change his narrative and earn the respect he clearly deserves.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon
Look, I get the obvious criticism with having a player like Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon on the list. While it is true that Olajuwon is considered a top 10 player of all time, the fact remains that he does not get enough credit for his sheer greatness.
First of all, whenever people think about 90’s basketball, the player and the team that everyone talks about is Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. Yet what many people choose to forget or recognize is that the Rockets led by Olajuwan won back-to-back titles, and whenever one talks about this team, they claim that they only won the championship because Jordan retired.
Due to this narrative that was perpetuated in the media, Olajuwon’s legacy has taken a severe hit from being one of the most dominant players that the league has ever seen. Just look at the man’s resume. He’s a 12-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA selection, 2-time DPOY, the 1994 MVP, 2-time NBA Champion, and a 2-time Finals MVP.
Lastly, one thing that he does not get enough credit for is being the best big in an era dominated by bigs. He literally dominated against all of the great like Shaq, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, and Kareem, and in a position that has a legacy of being a team’s main defensive anchor, no one can deny Olajuwon’s presence.
He is the league’s all-time leader in blocks and is the center with the most steals of all-time, and lets not forget that he led one of the most impressive runs in NBA history. He led his 6th seed Rockets all the way to the NBA Championship.
The media portraying him as a player that won only because Jordan retired should not take away from him being the best player ever in the NBA.
3. Scottie Pippen
As the inspiration for this article, it is impossible to do a list of underrated players without talking about Scottie Pippen. In pop culture, his name is synonymous to being secondary or a side-kick. Even during that era, many media personalities claimed that he would be nothing without the greatness of Michael Jordan propelling him forward.
This idea is simply ignorant, as Pippen played a key role in all 6 Championships won by the Bulls. Consider his ability to guard the opposing team’s best player, be the second major scoring threat, and the player with the most assists on the team during that historic run.
Consider his amazing performance in the 91 Finals where he essentially locked down Magic Johnson. In the playoffs that year, Magic was averaging a solid 23 points per game. In the Finals, Pippen limited him to only 18 points a game including a game 2 performance where Pippen was able to limit him to only 14 points.
While Michael may get all the glory, the fact that everyone seems to forget is that he never won the Finals without his right-hand man Scottie Pippen. Now consider doing all of this for a franchise that is choosing not to pay you justly for your services, and you have one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of all-time.
2. John Stockton
In the current NBA era, the most important position is the point guard, and when many casual nba fans think of the best point guards ever, names like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and Steph Curry are always on the top of the list. Yet, many people forget about John Stockton and how he was one of the best PGs the league has ever seen.
Like others on the list, his recognition was undercut due to the greatness of Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. Yet despite never winning a championship, he was a 10-time all-star, 11-time All-NBA selection, 9-time assist leader, 2-time steals leader, and a 5-time All-Defensive player.
Many of the great players in that era have called him the prototypical point-guard. A player willing to pass the ball and set screens to get his teammates open, and for a guy who was only 6’1, he was incredibly tough and unafraid of challenging anyone on the court.
His ability to read the defense and his willingness to pass to his open teammates placed Utah on the map, and led to one of the best runs the NBA has ever seen. To top it all off, Stockton is the all-time leader in both assists and steals. In terms of assists, his record has reigned for an incredibly long time and will more than likely continue to last.
To put in perspective, Stockton has more than 3,500 assists than Jason Kidd who is second highest on the list. The other aspect that makes him underrated is that his teammate Karl Malone get a lot of credit for the success of that team, and while Karl is a great player, many NBA analysts and former NBA legends have stated that Stockton played a major role in Malone’s success.
For instance, the great Isiah Thomas once said “I felt like he (Stockton) made Malone, I don’t know if Malone would be the type of player he was without Stockton.” This was due to the fact that he was able to masterfully use the pick n roll to get open shots for Malone. Malone just had to finish the play, and thanks to these assists, Malone became the second highest scorer in NBA history.
With all the love that is given to point guards, I think John Stockton has not been given the respect and admiration that he deserves.
In an era where everyone is looking to make flashy plays, it was refreshing to see Stockton willing to do everything he could to support his team. Whether it was setting picks against giants like Patrick Ewing or only taking 12 shots to allow the other players on his team an opportunity to score, Stockton is truly the most underrated point guard in NBA history.
#1 Moses Malone
Those that know basketball have heard the name Moses Malone. Yet, what most people think about is that he was a decent player and nothing all that special. What many people fail to realize is that he is one of most unique talents to ever play the game.
Malone was a dominant force throughout his career using his 6’10 215 lb body to bully opposing players and out hustle everyone on the court to snag precious rebounds. He was a walking double-double averaging around 20 points per game, while also grabbing 12 rebounds a game.
However, he was not nicknamed “Chairman of the Boards” for nothing, as he led the league in rebounds 6 times. Let’s be clear, he dominated the glass on a multitude of occasions, as he would grab over 20 rebounds in a game.
In a game against the then New Orleans Jazz, Malone was able to grab 37 rebounds! And while it’s not the most sought after stat in today’s game, his ability to score and dominate the glass helped propel him to being one of the best players in his era.
All time he ranks 1st in offensive rebounds, 5th in defensive rebounds, and 3rd in total rebounds. During his career, he was a three time MVP, and was the first player to win back-to-back MVPs on two different teams. Along with these 3 MVPs, Malone was also a 13-time All-Star, 8-time All-NBA, and a 2-time All-Defensive selection.
In spite of all the other accolades, his greatest accomplishment is his 1982-83 Championship, and Finals MVP. In an era dominated by Magic’s Showtime Lakers and Bird’s Boston Celtics, Malone had a year where he and his team dominated both historic franchises.
During that finals performance, he averaged an astonishing 25 points along with 18 rebounds, while also having a field goal percentage of 51%. With all of these amazing accomplishments, it begs the question of why he is not remembered as fondly as other great players.
The first major reason is that he was in era focused on both Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Despite being a great player in his own right, he simply could not garner the same attention as those two individuals.
The other major reason is that by the end of his career, he played for 6 different franchises. This meant that he was not tied to one singular fanbase.
Even after winning a championship in Philly, Julius Erving was regarded as the more popular player instead of Malone. In spite of this, he deserves recognition for both his hard work and extreme dedication to the game of basketball.