The NBA has been described as a star-driven league, but with up to 15 players on a team, there have to be people willing to take on the lesser roles on a team. The best of these "role players" not only accept doing the less flashy jobs on a basketball court, they embrace it.
We are going to look at a group of players who don't score much, but contribute greatly to their team's success. To be considered for this list, a player must have averaged less than 10 points per game. There are plenty of guys who score less than 10 points per game because they hardly play, so we're only considering players who played in at least 30 percent of their team's minutes. That way, we are sure to focus on players who play quite a bit, but are not scoring very much.
To see how effective these players are in terms of helping their teams win games, we'll examine their plus/minus (+/-) numbers. The plus/minus metric can be calculated by looking at team scoring when a player is on the court, team scoring when the same player is not on the court, and finding the difference. Around 2003, Roland Beech of 82games.com brought this concept to NBA basketball...and a few years after that, the league made +/- a part of it's official boxscore statistics.
Every player on this list, despite being a relative non-scorer, has a very good +/- rating, and some of them are simply outstanding in this area! We've decided to rank these players by their +/- statistics...none of them score much, but they are excelling at helping their clubs in terms of team scoring differential.
This is a list of guys who get it done without the fanfare that some of their teammates get. They do the little things, the "dirty work" as some like to call it. These players are the unsung heroes of the NBA - the most underrated players in the league for 2011-12:
Steve Novak is known for one thing: 3-point shooting. He's hung around the league for six years now, based primarily on that one skill. His 47.2 3-point field goal percentage this season was the best in the NBA. Having a deadly long-range marksman on your team is a nice weapon to have, but you have to wonder if Novak is also doing other positive things on the floor that he doesn't really get credit for. Steve Novak is an afterthought in the minds of many, but he's far more effective at helping the Knicks win than some of his "superstar" teammates.
The Hornets weren't a very good team this year, going 21-45 in the lockout-shortened season. However, one of the bright spots for them was young guard Greivis Vasquez, acquired in a December, 2011 trade with Memphis. Vasquez isn't a big-time scorer yet, and may never be. He's a decent shooter, and takes the ball to the basket well. One of the things scouts were concerned about when Vasquez entered the NBA was his temperament. He's very intense on the court, and so far, he seems to be keeping his emotions under control and using that intensity as a positive.
Another guy on a star-studded team who is making things happen in a supporting role. Chalmers had a terrific career at the University of Kansas, but NBA scouts were not quite sold on him, and he fell to the 2nd round of the 2008 NBA Draft. Chalmers lacks ideal size (he's only 6-1), but a player who has talent, skill and desire can often make those "measurables" a non-factor. Chalmers has a better +/- than superstar backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade, as well as All-Star Chris Bosh, Miami's power forward/center.
Bonner is a player, much like Steve Novak earlier, who is known primarily as a 3-point specialist. While he is a very good 3-point shooter, one might suspect that he is a better all-around player than he is given credit for, and this is very likely true. For example, he was the best defensive power forward in the NBA in 2011-12, according to the low Player Efficiency Rating - PER value of the opposing power forwards he faced this season. The Spurs certainly need the likes of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili to be successful, but Matt Bonner is making them that much better.
Beno Udrih spent seven years with the Sacramento Kings before being dealt to Milwaukee in June, 2011. Oddly, he played far less and scored far less this season than he did in many of his years with the Kings, but he was exceptionally effective for his new team in 2011-12. Udrih is one of those guys who is pretty good in many areas, but not great in any one of them...unless you count plus/minus results, and in that, he was outstanding this year! Udrih gets little attention from media and fans, but he was clearly a vital part of Milwaukee's 31 victories in 2011-12.
Some players just have a knack for being "team guys" - players who don't do anything flashy, but are essential to their team's fortunes. Others can produce amazing dunks, or post huge scoring numbers, but don't seem to have the intangibles it takes to further team success. The five men on our list excel at being the kind of "role player" that every team wants, and needs.