The NBA is full of superstars and All-Star-caliber players, but many guys play an unsung role for their respective teams. Perhaps not a household name nor one filling the stat line every day, these players do the work without much attention or praise attached to their name.
Here are 15 NBA players from the Eastern Conference who do a lot more than they’re given credit for.
Atlanta Hawks – Vince Carter
Vinsanity is the oldest player in the NBA at 43 years old, but he might also be the wisest. The lone 40-year-old elder statesman on a team comprised of plenty of young faces, Carter combines veteran savvy with the occasional reminder that he still is Half-Man, Half-Amazing.
Carter is playing only 14.6 minutes per game in his last hurrah in the NBA, but he’s managed to be on the court for 60 of the Hawks’ 67 games — earning the checks like no other veteran at his age has done in recent years.
Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart
A starting-quality guard with unique defensive abilities. Smart is a luxury coach Brad Stevens is blessed to have. Smart is game-changer who can provide a jolt off the bench or sub in as a starter for an injured player, as he has done multiple times throughout the season.
A Swiss Army knife of sorts, Smart combines timely scoring and playmaking with claw-like tenacity on defense.
Brooklyn Nets – Caris LeVert
While the two superstar signings have spent most of 2019-20 on the sidelines, LeVert has had a sound bounce-back season after dealing with a scary injury in 2018-19. Averages of 17.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists have him pegged as a potential third cog of a three-pronged attack for next season.
Charlotte Hornets – Cody Zeller
Not the shiniest name on the list, but Zeller gets the job done. As the Hornets undergo a quasi-rebuild after the departure of Kemba Walker, Zeller has been the steady Eddie in the middle for this franchise.
Before the hiatus, the Hornets decided to roll with Zeller as the starter in place of a struggling Bismack Biyombo. Averages of 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds won’t shake anyone’s seats, but the big man is a rock-solid option for a team still trying to find its bearings.
Chicago Bulls – Kris Dunn
Dunn entered the season following a summer of trade rumors. After two years as a starter, he ultimately ceded the point guard position to newcomer Tomas Satoransky, pledging to make the most of his opportunities.
The results were more than pleasant, as Dunn was among the leaders in steals before suffering a season-ending injury. Dunn averaged a tick under two steals while playing only 24.9 minutes through 51 games (32 starts). Extrapolated to per-36-minute totals, Dunn was the steal king on a team that relied on his ferocious defense.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Larry Nance Jr.
Nance hasn’t been a prominent name in the Cavs’ system since Kevin Love returned to full health, but he still brings an energetic approach to the game.
His averages of 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds don’t say much, but making a 3-pointer per game at a respectable 35.2% clip in limited attempts is the type of value that keeps him relevant and somewhat unsung for a bottom-dwelling team.
Detroit Pistons – Svi Mykhailiuk
Mykhailiuk has been a sneaky stud for the Pistons in a 2019-20 season that hasn’t gone the way coach Dwane Casey expected it to go. The sharpshooter has become a true gem for the Motor City with a 40.4% clip from deep.
There’s not a lot of good news in Detroit with an injured Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond being shipped out of town, but Mykhailiuk is a solid cog the Pistons can keep for cheap ($1.7 million team option) next season.
Indiana Pacers – T.J. McConnell
Much like his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, McConnell has been the energizer bunny and an unsung hero for his new team.
Undersized and without a 3-point shot to threaten defenses, McConnell is once again a third-string point guard who infuses units with his energy and effort. The 6-foot-1 guard won’t be making a lot of highlight reels, but he is a locker room favorite for all the intangibles he brings to the table.
Miami Heat – Goran Dragic
Perhaps the biggest name among all the aforementioned players. Dragic has been an NBA All-Star before and a solid starter for most of his career, yet he was unselfish enough to let a rookie guard take his place and conform with his new role as sixth man.
That has brought nothing but good news for the Heat, as Dragic can still impact games with his dynamic scoring and underrated playmaking ability. Games like this 29-point, 13-assist gem against the Portland Trail Blazers show “The Dragon” has still got it.
Milwaukee Bucks – Donte DiVincenzo
The Big Ragu spent most of his rookie season on the sidelines and even had a short stint with the Wisconsin Herd of the G League. He has greatly ramped up his importance for this Bucks team, going from a work in progress to snatching the starting spot away from veteran 3-and-D specialist Wes Matthews.
DiVincenzo has proven he can score, rebound, make plays, and even defend as a second-year player. His 3-point stroke has also greatly improved, going from 26.5% as a rookie to a more respectable 34.4% from deep.
New York Knicks – Taj Gibson
Taj Gibson was one of four power forwards the Knicks chose to sign after it became evident no star-caliber free agent would come through the doors of Madison Square Garden.
The veteran is far from the most impressive signing, but his voice has been a much-needed display of leadership for a team that has once again managed to disappoint. Gibson is no longer the safe 10-point, six-rebound bet he was early in his NBA career, but he is a leader on that bench who can help a lot of these young players grow.
Orlando Magic – D.J. Augustin
D.J. Augustin quickly settled from would-be starter to a bench contributor after the first few years of his career. While it’s Markelle Fultz getting the keys to the point guard position, it’s Augustin that has taken to mentor him and show him the ins and outs of that position.
The 32-year-old veteran is diminutive in stature, but he is a giant when it comes to stepping up in clutch situations — something Fultz surely appreciates.
Philadelphia 76ers – Furkan Korkmaz
Korkmaz wasn’t one of the biggest names on the Sixers’ roster as Philly rolled out a stud starting five for the 2019-20 season, but his scoring ability was one of the reasons the team chose to keep him.
The Turkish sharpshooter has played consistent minutes since mid-January, and his averages of 9.7 points and 39.7% shooting from deep have more than earned him a spot on the Sixers’ second unit.
Toronto Raptors – Norman Powell
Powell might not have gotten the nod to start over Fred VanVleet at the start of the season, but that didn’t keep him from making yet another jump in the Raptors’ system.
The 6-foot-4 dynamic scorer has been on a tear all season long, averaging 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.3 steals coming off the bench. He has scored 20 points or more in 17 games and has reached the 30-point threshold three times this season. Not bad for a sixth man.
Washington Wizards – Davis Bertans
Bertans made a lot of noise in weeks before the NBA trade deadline — and rightly so. The Latvian sniper was the casualty of a trade by the San Antonio Spurs to reel in Marcus Morris, only it backfired.
Morris never signed on the dotted line and Bertans nearly doubled his scoring average from last season with a new opportunity in the nation’s capital. Couple that with a 3-point stroke that is melting defenses and the Wizards got themselves a true steal — one they intend to re-sign this offseason.