Well that was fast. I know the season is still young, but that sound you just heard was the 2009 All-American team already being locked into place. You know who's going to be on it, I know who's going to be on it, we all know who's going to be on it. Let us not even speak their names.
(After all, I certainly wouldn't want to curry favor with you and harden the prejudices you already have. This might be a good time to note that my three favorite historical or fictional characters are Luke Skywalker, former president John Tyler, and the poet William Blake. Just thought I'd share that.)
Instead, let's look past the foregone conclusions and see if we can't uncover some new or at least underappreciated talent. We'll call it the All-Underrated Team and the criteria are simple:
- You must be having a phenomenal season while playing a major role (on offense, defense, or both) on your team.
- You must be someone who should be but is not usually included in any garden variety discussion of the best players in the country at your position.
Just one more thing, if the 16-team Big East gets to name 11 players to its all-conference "first" team, then I certainly get to name ten players to my All-Underrated Team.
Let's get to it, in alphabetical order.
John Bryant, Santa Clara (6'10", 305, Sr.). Meet the best defensive rebounder in the country, better even than Blake Griffin or DeJuan Blair. When he's on the floor, Bryant gets to 35 percent of opponents' misses. He's also a very good shot-blocker. That's enough to merit consideration for my team right there, but Bryant is additionally a load for opponents on offense, hitting 59 percent of his twos and dominating the offensive glass. While Bryant might be All-Underrated nationally, he's no secret in the WCC, facing constant double- and even triple-teams, making his production all the more impressive.
Lee Cummard, BYU (6'7", 185, Sr.). Cummard has the astronomical scoring efficiency of a dutiful role player. However, he's actually one third of the Cougars' "big three" on offense, along with Jonathan Tavernari and Jimmer Fredette. His shots just go in, whether from the perimeter (he's shooting 42 percent on his threes) or in the paint (he makes 59 percent of his twos). Cummard even has a nice assist rate, meaning opposing defenses are faced with a player who can hurt them in just about any way imaginable.
LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor (6'4", 195, So.). Dunn is just about perfectly situated to be underrated. On the one hand he fits what I call the Daequan Cook Criterion, in honor of the former Ohio State shooting guard who would come off the bench, well, shooting. Same with Dunn. The casual fan will say "He doesn't even start!" but the truth is Dunn, like Cook, was an elite recruit who chose to sign at a school with a deep and experienced backcourt. Dunn doesn't start, but during his minutes he shoots way more often than any other Bear does. He should: Dunn is far and away Scott Drew's most efficient scoring option. (Just don't expect to see any assists from the sophomore.) Speaking of a perfect situation for being underrated, Baylor has fallen short of expectations and indeed their NCAA hopes are very quietly falling into jeopardy, so while everyone is looking elsewhere Dunn is having an outstanding year.
Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin (6'2", 190, Sr.). You might be vaguely aware of Hudson as the "L. Hudson" you always see right below the "S. Curry" on the list of the nation's scoring leaders. He is indeed Curry-esque; or maybe Stephen Curry is Hudson-esque. One thing I know: Lester Hudson can play.
First off, note that Hudson not only averages 27 points a game, he does so efficiently, making a respectable 35 percent of his threes and an excellent 54 percent of his twos. An occasional point guard (again like Curry), Hudson has an excellent assist rate and shoots 87 percent at the line. Despite his non-towering stature, he is his team's best defensive rebounder and his steal rate puts him among the national leaders. Hudson even diagrams plays in the huddle and advises President Obama on foreign policy, with particular expertise on Hamas and Gaza.
OK, I made that last part up. My point is this: there's not another player in the country that displays excellence in as many different ways as Lester Hudson.
Aaron Jackson, Duquesne (6'4", 185, Sr.). Jackson's case is interesting because it demonstrates how a player who flourishes as a senior is almost always overlooked. If you're going to play the way Jackson is playing point guard this season, better to do it as a freshman or even as a sophomore, so that you can get your name out there. Here's how Jackson stacks up this year against a certain high-profile sophomore:
Jackson and the "Mystery Sophomore"
(through games of January 25)
eFG pct. ARate TORate FT pct FTM/FGA
Jackson 59.3 32.9 19.0 81.6 .390
Mystery 60.1 23.5 21.0 83.2 .512
Jackson is about as effective shooting the ball from the field as the mystery player is. Both players are a little too turnover-prone, but Jackson sports the significantly higher assist rate. Where the mystery player truly excels is in getting to the free throw line and knocking down the freebies.
The mystery player is Jeff Teague of Wake Forest. Teague should be given a bit of a break here because he plays a more prominent role in his offense than Jackson does in his. My purpose here, however, is not to ding a great player like Teague but merely to suggest that Jackson, too, is having a great year.
Jerome Jordan, Tulsa (7'0", 240, Jr.). Jordan is widely projected to be a late first-round pick, so if you haven't heard his name yet, you're about to. He's a one-man foundation upon which any coach can build a defense, ranking among the national leaders in both defensive rebounding and shot-blocking. Jordan's per-game stats tend to undersell his ability because he spends so much time sitting due to fouls. When he's not in trouble with the zebras, though, Jordan shines. For example, see his game against Memphis a couple weeks ago, where he recorded a 20-13 double-double with four blocks.
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky (6'9", 235, So.). I realize it may seem odd to see Patterson here. He was, after all, the high-profile recruit that Billy Gillispie landed for the Wildcats in the coach's first days at his new job. Playing in Rupp Arena in front of a hoops-mad fan base, Patterson is not what you'd call obscure.
No, he's just underrated. The justifiable fuss over Jodie Meeks in Lexington this season has obscured what Patterson is doing: making his shots at an incredible rate. Meeks is so prominent in this offense that unless you look a little closer you might think Patterson's a mere supporting player. In fact his role in the offense would be that of a featured player on any "normal" team without Meeks. In that role Patterson is incomparably efficient, taking care of the ball and making two out of every three shots from the field. A fair defensive rebounder and shot-blocker, Patterson is also a 78 percent free-throw shooter.
Jerome Randle, Cal (5'10", 160, Jr.). After a perfect 4-0 start in the Pac-10, the Golden Bears have dropped two of their last three games and the Pac-10 spotlight has emphatically moved on to Oregon State, its coach and his somewhat famous relative. Sounds perfect for the All-Underrated Team! Meet Jerome Randle: that rare under-six-foot point guard who can finish on the inside. Randle is having a "where did this come from?" year across the board, showing excellent improvement in assists, turnover rate, shooting accuracy from inside and outside--everything. What's more, Randle has done all this while taking on a significantly larger role in the offense. First-year coach Mike Montgomery is either lucky, a master of player transformations, or a little of both.
Jermaine Taylor, UCF (6'4", 205, Sr.). Here's some exclusive pro bono scouting for teams about to play Central Florida: Jermaine Taylor will shoot a lot. No player in the country takes a higher percentage of his team's shots during his minutes than Taylor does. Not Stephen Curry, not Lester Hudson, nobody. So it's beyond impressive that Taylor is actually accurate on all those shots (56 percent on his twos, 41 percent on his threes). It's not like opponents don't know what's coming when they play the Knights. Taylor excels anyway.
Marcus Thornton, LSU (6'4", 205, Sr.). By rights, Thornton shouldn't still be underrated. He actually had a phenomenal season last year, but what with John Brady's midseason departure as head coach and Anthony Randolph's star turn as a one-and-done, there was precious little ink left for a newly arrived junior-college transfer like Thornton.
This year there still doesn't seem to be much ink available to Thornton, who's now actually even better. Under first-year coach Trent Johnson, Thornton is now the featured player in a surprisingly potent Tiger offense. He scores effectively from both sides of the three-point line and never turns the ball over, despite functioning as "the man" when LSU is on offense. Thornton is projected by most mock drafts as an early second-round pick, as is his teammate and fellow senior Chris Johnson.
Ten players, ten cases for better promotion. Who'd I miss? Let me know.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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