Five underrated players set to step up in NBA playoffs
Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) dunks the ball in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.  Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2021 NBA Playoffs set to get going here soon, the usual suspects have been the talk of the Association. How will LeBron James perform after missing a ton of action due to injury? Back east, it’s going to be all about the performances of the big three in Brooklyn and Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid.

Even then, there’s some underrated players who will have an impact on the NBA Playoffs. Michael Porter Jr. has shown out big time in Denver since Jamal Murray went down to injury. Andrew Wiggins is busy making naysayers look foolish in San Francisco.

Below, we look at five underrated players set to make huge differences once the 2021 NBA Playoffs start.

Michael Porter Jr., forward, Denver Nuggets

With Jamal Murray sidelined to a torn ACL, these Nuggets are going to be relying on Porter Jr. to step up during the NBA playoffs. The third-year forward from Missouri has done just that as the regular season comes to a conclusion. Porter, 22, is averaging a resounding 27.1 points and 6.3 rebounds on 51% shooting from distance over the past 10 games.

With Nikola Jokic as the likely NBA MVP, these Nuggets can be legitimate Western Conference title contenders should Porter Jr. continue to play at this level. Right now, they’d likely take on the Portland Trail Blazers or Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. After a dazzling run to the Western Conference Finals last year, don’t discount Denver despite Murray’s injury.

RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks reacts after scoring during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden. POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

New York received some flack for selecting Barrett No. 3 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft. In fact, he was taken immediately after better-known prospects in Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Right now, the former Duke wing is looking every bit the part of a star for an ascending Knicks squad. Barrett, 20, is averaging 17.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists on a stellar 39% shooting from distance this season.

For their part, the Knicks are the talk of the Association right now. They are currently the sixth seed back east and could face a matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. With Julius Randle’s ascension to stardom, don’t discount New York making a big run. Barrett’s underrated performance this season adds another layer to that.

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) reaches back for a hand slap from the bench during play in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors at Vivint Arena.  Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The likely NBA Sixth Man of the Year, Clarkson has always been a pretty darn good scorer. At issue here was a lack of consistency in previous stops with the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Averaging 18.2 points for Utah this season, that has not been the case. In fact, the 28-year-old guard has tallied at least 20 points in over one-third of his games during the regular year.

With Donovan Mitchell hobbled due to an ankle injury, there’s no telling whether he’s going to be 100% for the NBA Playoffs. That’s where Clarkson must step up. Despite likely landing as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Jazz could very well be facing a tough first-round matchup against either the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers or upstart Golden State Warriors. Having Clarkson being able to drop 20 on a given night off the bench could loom large.

Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (15) reaches for the ball during the first quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena.  Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Capela, center, Atlanta Hawks

Not necessarily a modern center in the truest sense of the term, Capela has always been underrated. We’re seeing a repeat of this in his first season with the Atlanta Hawks after spending his first six years in the NBA as a member of the Houston Rockets. Capela, 26, is averaging 15.2 points and an league-best 14.3 rebounds on the season. He’s also shooting a gaudy 60% from the field.

Potentially looking at a home-court advantage against either the Miami Heat or New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs, Atlanta has posted an absurd 25-11 record under interim head coach Nate McMillan. If it can show an inside-out game with Trae Young and De’Andre Hunter dominating out on the wing and Capela and John Collins doing their thing inside, this team might be a hard out.

Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks the ball in the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.  Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Wiggins, forward, Golden State Warriors

It’s actually pretty interesting. People look at Wiggins’ tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves coupled with his bloated contract and view the former No. 1 pick as overrated. A one-dimensional player who isn’t efficient shooting the ball and can’t play defense. Boy, has Wiggins turned that narrative inside out in his first season with the Warriors.

Defensively, Wiggins has gone up against the likes of Kawhi Leonard and performed extremely well. He boasts a defensive win shares of 2.6 on the season. To put that into perspective, Leonard’s number currently stands at 2.4. On the offensive end of the court, Wiggins is shooting 48% from the field while averaging nearly 19 points. With the Warriors in the midst of a hot streak and Stephen Curry needing more scoring help, Wiggins’ underrated game could lead to a surprisingly long stay in the NBA Playoffs.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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