Calling a player underrated in today’s NBA signals that you, a diligent League Pass-watcher, appreciate the game of a player you think is under-discussed. This approach, however, assumes you know how much attention each player actually receives. Contrary to popular belief, chatter on NBA Twitter is not the only form of recognition from the basketball-watching world.
There are many ways to measure how good a player is, but measuring attention requires more creativity. In August of 2015, Wikipedia began publicizing the daily traffic totals for all of the pages on its site. Like Google Trends, Wikipedia pageviews can be used as a tool for measuring what, or, in the case of the NBA, who is trending at any point in time.
Since Wikipedia is among the first links that appear when you Google any player’s name, pageviews reveal who the average fan is interested in. Usually, it’s the league’s best players. The players who received the most pageviews in 2018 were LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant (in that order).
Pageviews also act as a proxy for relevance in real time. No one would argue that Trae Young or Deandre Ayton has been more relevant than Luka Doncic this season, and the Wikipedia pageviews already bear that out.
There are exceptions, of course. Seth Curry oddly has twice as many pageviews as Damian Lillard this season—possibly from Golden State bandwagon fans misspelling his brother’s name. But in general, better and more relevant players tend to have more pageviews.
So, if good players usually have more pageviews than their inferior counterparts, then any objectively good player with relatively low pageviews could be considered underrated.
Below is a scatter chart that shows the relationship between Wikipedia pageviews since the start of the season and player performance, as measured by ESPN’s real plus-minus. (Note that pageviews has been logged to make the relationship between the two variables more clear.) Also, to be underrated a player needs to be good, or at least not bad. So, we’re going to limit our sample of NBA players to those that have a positive real plus-minus, a total of 143 players.
For many players, their pageviews increase with their RPM. These are the dots close to or on the line of best fit in the chart above. But some players buck that trend and have fewer pageviews than we’d expect based on their real plus-minus. These are the dots below the line of best fit. Any player that has fewer pageviews than we’d expect based on their real plus-minus could be considered objectively underrated.
The next step is to create a model which predicts how many pageviews we’d expect a player to have based on their real plus-minus and their minutes played per game. In stat-speak: we’re going to run a linear regression, controlling for real plus-minus and minutes played per game, to find the players that generate the largest negative residuals (the players who generate the largest positive residuals would be those who have more pageviews than we’d expect).
So without further delay, here are the 10 most underrated players according to the model.
10. Marcus Smart, Celtics
RPM (RPM Rank): 3.52 (18)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 44,864 (230)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.71
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.67
When I got a puppy two years ago, I alternated between believing that I had adopted the worst dog ever and the best dog ever. One day she’d puke all over my couch, and the next day she’d learn how to high-five on command. That’s what it’s like to watch Smart play basketball. In a single possession, he’ll chuck up a wide-open air ball in transition, only to get the ball back and drill a contested 3. Smart is either the sixth- or seventh-most talented player on the Celtics and yet he has the second-highest real plus-minus on the team, in part because he plays with a short-term memory. That mindset may drive Celtics fans crazy, but Smart always seems to find a way to atone for his transgressions.
9. D.J. Augustin, Magic
RPM (RPM Rank): 1.43 (69)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 30,168 (296)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.31
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.31
Fifty percent of Augustin’s pageviews must come from people who check to see which team he plays for now. In 11 seasons, Augustin has played for eight different franchises, tied for third-most among all active players. This season is the first since 2011-12 that Augustin has been a consistent starter, and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t made the most of it. Augustin ranks third in true shooting percentage among point guards behind only Malcolm Brogdon and Steph Curry. Unfortunately, no one seems to care. Augustin, like his teammate, Nikola Vucevic (the 14th most underrated player, according to the model), plays on a Orlando Magic team whose most interesting story line involves which one of their players is going to get traded first.
8. Darren Collison, Pacers
RPM (RPM Rank): 1.22 (79)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 27,046 (315)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.21
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.25
Only two starting point guards have fewer pageviews than Collison: Tim Frazier and De’Anthony Melton, who have been thrust into starting roles as a result of injuries and a lack of a better option, respectively. Even Cory Joseph, Collison’s primary backup, has more pageviews than him. You’d think a starting point guard on the third-best team in the East would be getting more attention. Although to be fair, when’s the last time you thought about Collison? For me, it was when I was watching Aaron Holiday, the Pacers’ promising rookie point guard, and wondered if Indiana should trade Collison to give Holiday more minutes. That won’t happen because Indiana needs Collison if it is going to make a deep playoff run. While Oladipo is special enough to win a game on his own in crunch time, Collison and Co. have to get him there first.
7. Ed Davis, Nets
RPM (RPM Rank): 2.26 (44)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 21,732 (359)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 9.99
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.05
It’s not hard to see why Davis, Brooklyn’s backup center, is underrated. The most impressive parts of his game are some of the least glamorous aspects of basketball. He boxes out, sets screens, and gobbles up offensive rebounds at a league-leading rate—not exactly fodder for House of Highlights clips. But those who know, know. Damian Lillard, Davis’s former teammate in Portland, recently told CBS Sports, “If it was up to me, me and Ed would be teammates for my entire career.” That’s the kind of praise that’s reserved for guys who do the dirty work so that others can shine.
6. Davis Bertans, Spurs
RPM (RPM Rank): 2.25 (38)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 23,129 (340)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.05
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.15
NBA defenses, like casual NBA fans, must not know who Bertans is because the 6-foot-10 Latvian is left open on more than 80 percent of his 3-point attempts, per NBA.com/stats. Not a great strategy for defending one of the league leaders in 3-point percentage. When Spurs fans brainstormed to give Bertans a nickname last season the best they came up with was “Baetans.”
5. Tomas Satoransky, Wizards
RPM (RPM Rank): 0.24 (129)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 15,700 (402)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 9.66
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 10.78
Satoransky was described by The Ringer’s Haley O’Shaughnessy as the “the chemistry guy in a chemically imbalanced locker room.” Satoransky has brought stability to the most volatile locker room in the league, and has become a steady hand in the Wizards’ starting lineup after John Wall was shut down for the season. He isn’t going to wow anyone, but Satoransky also isn’t going to make many mistakes. If Washington wants to make a run at the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, which isn’t inconceivable, they’re going to need Satoransky to do more. Fortunately for Washington, he seems up to the task. Last week, in a win against the Bucks, Satoransky posted his first career triple-double.
4. Josh Richardson, Heat
RPM (RPM Rank): 1.87 (55)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 38,939 (255)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.57
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.72
Technically, Richardson and Williams are equally underrated according to the model, but the two players couldn’t be more different. Williams is a role player nearing the end of his prime, while Richardson is his team’s best player who’s just now entering his prime. However, based on pageviews alone, you’d think Richardson was a bit player. It’s not surprising then why some fans were baffled at the Miami Heat’s reluctance to include Richardson in a deal for Jimmy Butler earlier this season. However, Richardson is better than what the average fan knows about him. He’s a stretchy, slithery guard who can knock down 3s at an above-average rate, guard ball handlers at an elite level, and is in the first year of a team-friendly contract. Richardson is a leaner version of what Celtics fans thought Jae Crowder was. You don’t trade 25-year-olds like that hastily.
3. Marvin Williams, Hornets
RPM (RPM Rank): 1.86 (56)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 27,867 (309)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.24
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.38
Kawhi Leonard, who can’t check the “I am not a robot” box on a CAPTCHA test, is the best player in the NBA that doesn’t use social media. Williams may be the second best. With no Twitter or Instagram, Williams lacks a national profile, but Hornets fans know exactly what they’re going to get from Williams on a nightly basis, and there’s value in a player who rarely doesn’t meet expectations, even if they aren’t high.
2. Thaddeus Young, Pacers
RPM (RPM Rank): 1.75 (59)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 29,015 (303)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 10.28
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 11.49
Without being flashy, Young does a little bit of everything for Indiana. He helped turn the Pacers into a stingy defense, and he kept the offense afloat when Victor Oladipo missed 11 games earlier this season with a right knee injury. For his efforts, he was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Still, I doubt that Pacers fans could pick out Young’s voice in a podcast.
1. Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks
RPM (RPM Rank): 0.05 (142)
Pageviews (Pageviews Rank): 14,975 (406)
Actual Page Views [Logged]: 9.61
Expected Page Views [Logged]: 10.86
Dedmon is the most underrated player in the NBA. It’s not because he’s an unheralded world-beater, it’s just that Dedmon has a pitiful amount of pageviews for being a decent NBA player. The Atlanta Hawks center has a better than average real plus-minus, but his Wikipedia page is one of the least-visited in the league. Dedmon’s Wikipedia page ranks 406th among all players that have logged at least one minute this season. There are more people at the average Hawks game (16,535) than visits to Dedmon’s Wikipedia page since the start of the season (14,975). Dedmon deserves better. Last week, he had one of the best all-around games of his career in a win against the 76ers, posting 19 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
Brook Lopez’s transition into “Splash Mountain” has received a lot of praise, but Dedmon has also added the 3-ball to his game without the same fanfare. Through his first four seasons in the league, Dedmon took just one 3-point attempt; in his two seasons with Atlanta, he’s attempted 241 3s and has made them at a 36 percent clip.
If the trade rumors surrounding Jeremy Lin are true, playoff-bound teams in need of a backup center may want to also ask about Dedmon, who, like Lin, has an expiring contract.
If this list of players teaches us anything, it’s that the guys who we traditionally think of as underrated (e.g. Khris Middleton, Al Horford, and Kemba Walker) are probably not as underrated as we think. A good rule of thumb is that if you hear more than once that a player is underrated, he probably isn’t that underrated any more. The ones that are truly overlooked are the guys that make even the biggest NBA fan pause to think about which team they play for, and maybe even search Wikipedia just to double-check.
For a deeper look into the NBA’s most underrated players, see the extended table below.
Most Underrated Players
|Rank||Player||Team||RPM (RPM Rank)||Pageviews (Pageviews Rank)||Actual Page Views (Logged)||Expected Page Views (Logged)||Difference|
|Rank||Player||Team||RPM (RPM Rank)||Pageviews (Pageviews Rank)||Actual Page Views (Logged)||Expected Page Views (Logged)||Difference|
|1||Dewayne Dedmon||ATL||0.05 (142)||14,975 (406)||9.61||10.86||-1.25|
|2||Thaddeus Young||IND||1.75 (59)||29,015 (303)||10.28||11.49||-1.21|
|3||Marvin Williams||CHA||1.86 (56)||27,867 (309)||10.24||11.38||-1.15|
|4||Josh Richardson||MIA||1.87 (55)||38,939 (255)||10.57||11.72||-1.15|
|5||Tomas Satoransky||WSH||0.24 (129)||15,700 (402)||9.66||10.78||-1.12|
|6||Davis Bertans||SA||2.52 (38)||23,129 (340)||10.05||11.15||-1.1|
|7||Ed Davis||BKN||2.26 (44)||21,732 (359)||9.99||11.05||-1.07|
|8||Darren Collison||IND||1.22 (79)||27,046 (315)||10.21||11.25||-1.04|
|9||D.J. Augustin||ORL||1.43 (69)||30,168 (296)||10.31||11.31||-1|
|10||Marcus Smart||BOS||3.52 (18)||44,864 (230)||10.71||11.67||-0.96|
|11||Richaun Holmes||PHX||1.42 (71)||18,797 (385)||9.84||10.77||-0.93|
|12||Mike Conley||MEM||3.87 (14)||73,444 (146)||11.2||12.09||-0.89|
|13||Ian Mahinmi||WSH||1.01 (87)||17,272 (395)||9.76||10.65||-0.89|
|14||Nikola Vucevic||ORL||5.16 (7)||84,633 (120)||11.35||12.22||-0.88|
|15||Derrick Favors||UTAH||1.32 (76)||26,988 (316)||10.2||11.08||-0.88|
|16||T.J. Warren||PHX||0.09 (139)||30,280 (294)||10.32||11.19||-0.87|
|17||Taj Gibson||MIN||1.34 (74)||30,203 (295)||10.32||11.18||-0.87|
|18||Danilo Gallinari||LAC||3.8 (15)||67,168 (155)||11.11||11.98||-0.86|
|19||Maximilian Kleber||DAL||2.05 (47)||25,458 (324)||10.14||11||-0.86|
|20||Wesley Matthews||DAL||0.14 (134)||30,829 (293)||10.34||11.15||-0.81|
|21||Jeremy Lamb||CHA||0.88 (94)||34,541 (276)||10.45||11.25||-0.8|
|22||Dwight Powell||DAL||2.49 (41)||27,672 (311)||10.23||11.02||-0.79|
|23||Paul Millsap||DEN||3.57 (17)||53,638 (191)||10.89||11.67||-0.78|
|24||Eric Bledsoe||MIL||3.17 (23)||58,365 (179)||10.97||11.75||-0.77|
|25||Myles Turner||IND||0.71 (107)||33,140 (282)||10.41||11.16||-0.75|
|26||Jerami Grant||OKC||1.39 (72)||46,731 (223)||10.75||11.47||-0.71|
|27||Monte Morris||DEN||1.68 (61)||35,931 (269)||10.49||11.2||-0.71|
|28||Joe Harris||BKN||0.87 (96)||38,644 (256)||10.56||11.27||-0.71|
|29||Bam Adebayo||MIA||1.06 (84)||27,849 (310)||10.23||10.94||-0.71|
|30||Cory Joseph||IND||0.78 (99)||32,094 (287)||10.38||11.08||-0.7|
Owen Phillips is a data analyst and writer living in Brooklyn.