It often takes a while for people to recognize the future when they see it, especially in the NBA. Whether it’s because no one sees someone’s greatness because they play for a team in a small market, they haven’t shown their skills in the playoffs, or their award room is still empty, some of the best players of today were overlooked yesterday. The most underrated guards in the NBA have already proved themselves to be worthy, it’s just a matter of the world recognizing it and giving them their due.
Before Damian Lillard was an annual shoo-in for a spot on the All-Star team, he voiced the disrespect he felt he had been shown by the coaches and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver who initially didn’t select him to replace an injured Kobe Bryant for the 2015 NBA All-Star game. Even though Steph Curry had electrified the college sports world in 2009 by ending his time at Davidson College as the leading scorer in all of NCAA Division I, he was still selected seventh in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors after the Minnesota Timberwolves selected two guards for the fifth and sixth selections of the draft.
Michael Jordan averaged 28.2 points, 5.9 assists, 2.4 steals, and 6.5 rebounds per game, but didn’t make the All-NBA First team in 1985, the only time that happened to him as a member of the Bulls (when he played a full season). That’s because Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas were averaging double-doubles for the entire 1984-1985 season and led their teams to two of the seven best regular-season records while Jordan’s Bulls barely made the playoffs with a losing record.
If no one will give these guards their flowers, Cassius Life will. Check them out ahead.
6. Markelle Fultz
Markelle Fultz was drafted by Philadelphia 76ers for the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft ahead of future NBA All-Star Jason Taytum and future NBA champion Kyle Kuzma. Unfortunately for him, he was deemed a bust after suffering a shoulder injury in his rookie season. That had social media ravaging his broken jump shot and forcing the Sixers to indefinitely bench the rookie before trading him to the Orlando Magic after he had only played in 33 games.
It’s time to put some respect on his name after he helped lead the Magic to their second playoff appearance in seven years during the 2019-2020 NBA season. He turned his jump shot into an automatic rifle and is an early candidate for the most improved player in the 2020-2021 NBA season.
5. DeMar DeRozan
You know you’re underrated like DeMar DeRozan when you’re ranked top 20 in the NBA in total minutes played, points scored, and total assists in the 2019-2020 season, and ESPN still ranks you as the 83rd best player out of 100 entering the 2020-2021 season.
The San Antonio Spurs guard also hasn’t made an All-Star or All-NBA team since 2018, even while putting up those elite numbers. When you’re outscoring Anthony Davis, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard in back-to-back road games, and getting to the basket at will as DeRozan did in the last full month of the 2019-2020 season before the NBA went on a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then you shouldn’t be one of the most underrated guards in the NBA.
4. CJ McCollum
CJ McCollum could be the best player on half of the teams in the NBA yet he’s never been an NBA All-Star or part of any All-NBA team since entering the league in 2013. His résumé makes that fact a miscarriage of basketball justice: He’s scored the most points in a single quarter in Blazers history (28), tied for the most consecutive games with at least three three-pointers (10), and is the only Blazers player not named Damian Lillard to have a game with 40-plus points and 8-plus assists, while making at least 8 three-pointers after he outdueled a 44-point, 17-assist masterpiece from James Harden on December 26, 2020.
His behind-the-back dribble step back is elite and his midrange jumper has bailed his more accomplished teammate out of a jam on numerous occasions, and it’s time the respect matches the game.
3. Bradley Beal
For years, Bradley Beal was relegated to being the Robin to perennial All-Star John Wall’s Batman on the Washington Wizards. But when Wall was mostly injured for two seasons between 2018 and 2020, Beal proved he was a superhero in his own right, making his second-ever All-Star Game in 2019, and becoming the first Wizards player in more than 20 years to average 30 points per game in a season in 2020. His footwork is impeccable, his three-pointer off the dribble is almost impossible to guard, and it’s time we recognized him as the elite guard he is.
2. Malcolm Brogdon
When the Milwaukee Bucks let Malcolm Brogdon go to the Indiana Pacers as part of a sign-and-trade before the 2019-2020 season, the team’s MVP star Giannis Antetokounmpo had one reaction: “Fuck. We gotta get somebody.” That’s because he knew that the 2017 Rookie of the Year was about to break out after becoming only the eighth player in NBA history to average at least 50% field-goal shooting, 90% free-throw shooting, and 40% three-point shooting for an entire season in his last year with the Bucks. Brogdon helped the Pacers make the playoffs in his first season with the franchise so don’t be surprised when you see his name on few All-NBA teams in the near future.
1. Jaylen Brown
The Boston Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals three times in four seasons between 2016 and 2020, and Jaylen Brown was instrumental in all three of those runs. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard from the University of California, Berkeley, was the second-leading scorer on the Celtics in the 2020 playoffs including a monstrous 31-point, 16-rebound 51-minute performance against the defending champions Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Yet Brown has never been selected for either an NBA All-Star game or an All-NBA team, and was included in trade rumors for a potential James Harden trade. He’s dunked on big men Defensive Players of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert, hit buzzer-beaters on James Harden’s Houston Rockets, and is ready to go from underrated to unmistakable.