X-factors, glue guys, garbage men, sleepers…the following players have all been linked with one of these glorious cliches at some point in their career. Acquiring top flight talent through the NBA Draft or via free agency is easier than it seems but finding the right “underdog” is a very tough process. These individuals are selfless, consistent and always play their part no matter the circumstance.
Frequently seen on championship contenders, UnderDOGS are often the difference makers who help teams get over the hump. Stats don’t often tell the story with these performers, so this list won’t include scoring sensations or shooting specialists like Jamal Crawford, Louis Williams or Kyle Korver.
Here’s a few of our favorites:
1. Boris Diaw (SAS): Diaw is the poster boy for Delay of Game’s “UnderDOGS,” and for good reason. His incredible passing and ball movement in back-to-back NBA Finals appearances has made him an indispensable member for Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. It’s hilarious because Diaw is never quicker, more athletic or stronger than his opponent but he still gets it done. Up and unders, hockey assists, and savvy defense against some of the league’s top frontcourt talents highlights Diaw’s impressive all-around package.
His basketball IQ, underrated in today’s explosive game, is off the charts. Making the correct play is second nature to the flashy Frenchmen, who is imperative for San Antonio to return to the Promised Land in 2015.
2. Tony Allen (MEM): Come on, you know the “Grindfather” would find a place on our list since he is one of the most valued perimeter defenders in the NBA. Allen, the heart and soul of the Grizzlies, has made an indelible mark on the franchise since joining the team in 2010. As someone who is not a gifted offensive talent, Allen always enjoys taking the task of stopping the opposition’s best player.
Who he faces is never the issue. Just ask Kevin Durant in last year’s postseason. Allen, a 6’4, 215 pound shooting guard, got under the skin of Durant (6’11), the league’s top offensive player. His physicality and toughness frustrated KD into many tough shooting nights throughout their 7-game series. Along with Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony are a few other superstars who have experienced the Grindfather’s wrath over the years.
With a healthy roster, Allen and the Grizz are in prime position to finally get over the hump and reach the NBA Finals for the first time in their brief history.
3. DeMarre Carroll (ATL): One of the Atlanta Hawks’ slogans for 2014-15 is a simple, yet fitting motto for DeMarre Carroll: “True never flinches.” Easily the most anonymous name on this list, Carroll is one tough SOB. He’s one of the few wings in the entire NBA who can lock down his opponent while providing a strong boost on the offensive end. Averaging a career-best 11.7 ppg, the Hawks are firmly in the top half of the Eastern Conference largely due to his play.
Kudos to Atlanta for taking a chance on Carroll, who bounced around from Memphis to Utah to Denver before settling in with ATL. An isolation player coming out of Missouri in 2009, DeMarre completely transformed his game, as a 3 and D guy (40% from deep), to both stay in the NBA and find his niche as a valued commodity. If the Hawks go far in the postseason, Carroll will be a prime reason why.
4. Taj Gibson (CHI): As an outsider, one might feel a bit sorry for Taj Gibson, last year’s runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year. After getting constantly passed over for Chicago’s starting power forward position during the Carlos Boozer era, Gibson was told to anticipate an increased role once Boozer was amnestied. However, his opportunity never came. Chicago instead bolstered their rotation by signing Pau Gasol and Spanish import, Nikola Mirotic.
But Gibson, one of the most humble, blue-collar players around, continues to contribute his unique skill set to a championship contender on a nightly basis. He could easily start for the majority of teams in the league but playing a key role on a winning team is his focus. A slender, hard-working big from USC, Taj is the best interior defender and faceup four of any sub in the NBA.
If the Bulls can find a way to get him more crunch time minutes in 2015, a long run into the postseason awaits.
5. Andre Iguodala & Draymond Green (GSW): Ok, we took the easy way out with the Warriors’ two most important role players, Iguodala and Green. But can you blame us? It’s almost impossible to exclude either of them from our rankings. Iguodala’s case is less black and white since he is a former All-Star and is making (near) max money. However, his willingness to accept a Sixth Man role has worked wonders for Steve Kerr’s Warriors. Iggy can initiate the offense, get after it on the defense end, and help build the lead for the Dubs’ second unit.
Green, on the other hand, is more of a classic underdog. Selected in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, 34 teams passed on the undersized former Big Ten Player of the Year. Yeah, you can bet those same teams are wishing for a mulligan nowadays. Green is now a legitimate stretch four who can actually defend. Yes, you read that correctly. He can literally guard all five positions with relative effectiveness, a trait extremely rare amongst four men and even rarer for guys who shoot almost 35% from three.
“Versatility” is the common factor for both Iggy and Draymond. When the game slows down in the playoffs, both guys will be counted on to make key stops down the stretch of close games.
Honorable Mention: Amir Johnson (TOR), Courtney Lee (MEM), Danny Green (SAS), Anderson Varejao (CLE)