5 Under the Radar NBA Players

5 guys who you may not be paying attention to right now (but should be)


by Daniel Kaufman,

Marvin Bagley: PF, Sacramento Kings

It may seem strange to list a player who was picked 2nd overall just two drafts ago as an under-the-radar player, but I believe Bagley may have the “potential-to-hype” ratio that’s the most out of whack of any player in the league. Due to a combination of being brought along slowly last year and a broken thumb and nagging foot this year, Bagley has only made 10 starts at this point in the NBA, so he’s not far along in his development as a player. The results already signal a well above-average NBA player, but I believe Bagley has not yet touched his potential.

Simply put, Bagley is a unique athlete. His ability to change ends and get off the floor in a hurry are almost unparalleled among big men. His second jump is possibly the best in the entire league; he explodes off the floor after rebounds. Bagley is also a force in transition, with elite top-end speed for a 6’11” player and the ability to put the ball on the deck for a few dribbles if need be.

Defensively, while his advanced analytics and early results have been mixed, Bagley shows tremendous potential as a versatile rim protector with perimeter switchability. While he lacks the ideal length for a rim protector (7’1” wingspan last measured), he has demonstrated some ability to switch onto guards on the perimeter, and has the leaping ability to reject shots both at the rim and from behind on the recovery. Due to his small frame and lack of mass (235 lbs), he’s better suited to play the 4 with a true center alongside him. Of course that will only work offensively if Bagley can knock down the three ball, which is developing.

While he only shot 31% from three last year, and is shooting a pretty eyebrow-raising 18% this year, a look past the preliminary numbers reveals a more encouraging foundation. Bagley shot a respectable 69% from the line last season and a much-improved 80% this season, and overall has a clean straight up and down stroke with good wrist snap and follow-through.

Lastly, there is Bagley’s motor, which runs red-hot from the jump. He always looks locked-in, is a menace on the glass (10.8 rebounds per 36 for his career), and runs the floor hard every trip down. Like most every other young player, Bagley has his areas for improvement, he is very left-hand dominant, the shooting still comes and goes, he could stand to bulk up a bit, etc. Yet almost all of his areas of weakness are things that can be taught, and most of his strengths are things that can’t.

Most of what is written about Bagley is in reference to whom he was picked ahead of in the 2018 draft. Yes, the Kings should have taken Luka, and some of his other draft class members (Trae Young, Jaren Jackson, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) have made more headlines in their time in the league. But that matters not now, and if you focus merely on what his counterparts are doing, you may miss the truly special player I feel Bagley is on his way to becoming.

Naz Reid: PF/C, Minnesota Timberwolves

A player that is most likely unknown to all but the most avid of NBA watchers, 20 year old Timberwolves big Naz Reid quietly strung together a promising rookie season as the loses mounted in Minnesota. A beefy and skilled center, Naz is a fluid athlete with good touch and coordination for a player of his size. While he will by no means wow anyone with his speed or explosiveness, he knows how to use his frame and stop-and-start moves to get to the basket and create space. While he’s undersized for center at 6’9”, his ridiculous length (7’3” wingspan) makes up for it and gives him good recovery ability against smaller players.
Reid’s numbers certainly won’t wow anyone (9, 4, and 1 his rookie season), but he also was only playing 16 minutes a night. His per 36 numbers, however, tell a much different story. He averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds per 36, rivaling scaled numbers of guys like Tobias Harris, Jonas Valanciunas, Kevin Love, etc.

One part of Reid’s game that immediately stands out is his shooting. While his release isn’t especially quick or pretty, he already is comfortable pulling up from anywhere on the court, and has some respectable rookie splits to back it up (41/33/70). He gets good high arc on his shot and has a high release point given his length.

Despite only averaging 1.2 assists per game this season, Naz shows some pretty encouraging developments as a playmaker. He makes quick reads on the block, seems to have a good understanding of player positioning on the floor, and flashes some impressive assists on tape. While this may be a slightly outdated way of looking at the position, the Timberwolves really don’t have a traditional point guard on the roster; almost all of their guards are shoot-first, the one possible exception being reserve man Jordan McLaughlin, which could present the possibility of Reid essentially being a point-center for the 2nd unit. With guys like Jarrett Culver, Malik Beasley, Jake Layman, and other non-facilitators leading the bench, they may want to try giving Reid the lion’s share of touches on the high block, where he would be free to go to work offensively, or find cutters and spot-up shooters around him. Think like a far more simplified version of the Nuggets run with Jokic. An interesting hypothetical, and for a team that went 19-45 this season and is clinging to their franchise player for dear life, there are no wrong answers.

Luke Kennard: SG, Detroit Pistons

Another player who is largely known for who he was drafted ahead of, Kennard has quietly turned into a strong starting 2 guard for the Pistons. A quick, heady player who can really light it up from distance, Kennard’s game is built around his outside shooting. A career 40% 3-point shooter and 86% free throw shooter, Kennard has a sound release that he gets off really quickly and in tight windows off screens. He’s more of a catch-and-shoot guy as of now, but his ability to shoot of the bounce came a long way this past season.

While he lacks standout burst and explosiveness, Kennard is an underrated athlete, who’s twitchy with the ball and possesses good stop-and-start quickness. He knows how to use change of speed to knock defenders off balance, and he’s good in space around the top of the key, a threat to pull up from mid or to step back for three.

The Pistons, particularly after Blake Griffin was lost for the season, are essentially without a real playmaker on their roster, so Kennard was thrust into a sort of combo lead guard role in 2019, and actually fared pretty well. His skills in the pick n roll are developing, as he’s a threat to score on all three levels, but has also started to show the ability to make quick reads and find cutters and open teammates on the perimeter.

As for how Kennard could be featured down the road, the Pistons roster plans are pretty unclear. Aside from Kennard, Griffin, Christian Wood, and Sekou Doumbouya, Detroit has little to nothing resembling a core in place, and it isn’t too far outside the realm of possibility that those players could be the only meaningful carryovers for next season, should the Pistons move Derrick Rose (which they should). It is essentially a blank slate for Detroit, and one way they could best utilize arguably their best asset (with Blake Griffin’s health in question), is to feature Kennard as a combination of the starting 2-guard and occasional leader of the 2nd unit. The Pistons’ point guard situation is essentially a blank slate at the moment, and they will, I assume, address it in the draft. However, as whoever the pick is assimilates to the NBA game, Kennard could run the point at times for the starting unit. As we saw this past season, this can unlock different facets of his game that previously lay dormant, and turn him from a simple floor-spacer to a valuable starting guard if he continues to show the ability to lead the offense in spurts. Similarly to the situation with Naz Reid in Minnesota, the Pistons have very little to lose by trying out various lineups and position alignments. This is a complete top-to-bottom overhaul, and getting creative could result in them revealing their first legitimate franchise building block going forward.

Donte Divencenzo: SG, Milwaukee Bucks

With the Bucks searching for ways to get over that championship hump and re-sign their prized superstar next summer, one of the answers may be sitting in-house with budding weapon Donte Divencenzo. While Donte only played sparingly in his rookie season, he has seen a major uptick in action this year, averaging 23 minutes a game and making some spot starts throughout the season at either guard position.

Divencenzo is a skilled and athletic scoring guard at 6’4”, and can provide the Bucks with some major versatility if he is inserted into their crunch time lineup. While he doesn’t have the deep skill-set of a primary offensive creator, he’s been used primarily as a source of offense off the bench. Divencenzo has the explosiveness and handle to get by many 2nd unit guards he’s matched up against, and has a good enough shooting touch to prevent clogging the lane.

Divencenzo also shines as a defender both on and off the ball, and the Bucks surrender 10.8 points less per 100 possessions with him on the court vs. off. With good lateral quickness, a sturdy frame at 204 pounds, and textbook team defensive fundamentals, Divencenzo has emerged as one of the best defensive assets on a Bucks roster that is absolutely loaded with them. He can stay in front of most guards, play the passing lanes well, and use his athleticism and awareness to rotate into the paint and prevent easy baskets.

If the Bucks were to run Divencenzo out with their closing lineup of Bledsoe, Middleton, Giannis, and Brook Lopez, the versatility on both sides of the ball would be staggering. Offensively, this would be a unit in which 4 players can comfortably put the ball on the deck and create their own shot, every member can at least keep the defense honest with his 3-point shot, and every member is a high-IQ guy who knows how to make advanced reads and find cutters. Defensively, the switchability would be limitless. Bledsoe and Divencenzo are both high-level defenders who can hound opposing ball-handlers, and the frontcourt of Middleton, Giannis, and Lopez can all at least stay in front of guards to hedge a screen, Lopez is a plus rim protector, and Giannis has blossomed into arguably the best all-around defender in the league.

Divencenzo demonstrated marked statistical improvements in every aspect of his game this past season, and I feel he is ready to step into a crunch-time role. As we saw with Toronto last season, if you’re not stacking stars as Golden State was, the best approach to build a team is to have as much versatility with your role players as possible, all flanking the superstar hub with complementary skill-sets. Additionally, we’ve seen with many championship teams in recent years, sometimes that last push can come from promoting a 2nd unit leader to the starting lineup and allowing them to really flourish, such as Draymond in Golden State and Siakam in Toronto. I feel Divencenzo could take the Bucks lineup to a true championship level, and perhaps lead to Giannis signing on that dotted line, and getting very, very rich.

Josh Jackson: SF, Memphis Grizzlies

Josh Jackson has not lived up to his draft billing, and he has had his share of bad publicity off the court as well, but I still feel in the right role Jackson can be a major cog to a winning team.

Jackson’s strength offensively comes mostly from his speed and explosiveness, where he thrives as a cutter and transition finisher. He runs the floor like a gazelle, and excels at filling the lane and getting to his spots to be found for lay-ins and lobs. In the half-court set, he does a good job at attacking close-outs and can use his burst to attack gaps in the defense with or without the ball and get to the rim.

Where Jackson really can make a living in this league, however, is on the defensive side of the ball. Jackson has been an elite defender dating back to his time at Kansas, and has the combination of speed and size to guard everywhere from some slower 1’s to undersized 4’s and everywhere in between. He has good length with a 6’10” wingspan, and uses his quick acceleration to jump passing lanes. He also displays the gritty and passionate mentality you like to see out of defense-first guys.

After his humbling start to his NBA career and subsequent stint in the G-league, you’d like to see Jackson embrace the role of a defensive stopper, and quotes from his coach and teammates in Memphis seem to indicate that’s what’s happening.

Jackson’s issues on the offensive side of the ball mostly stem from his inability to shoot effectively, and with career splits of 41/30/65 and no marked improvement throughout the past 3 seasons, that’s unlikely to change. That being the case, it seems unlikely that Jackson ever blossoms and becomes the true franchise building block that many (myself included) thought he would be coming into the league. But his current team (who didn’t pick up his 4th year option, that’s something to monitor) is actually pretty short on perimeter defenders. Could Jackson be an Andre Iguodala-type glue guy for a team looking to make real playoff noise next season? I certainly think so.

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