15 NBA Studs You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

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15 NBA Studs You Probably Never Heard Of

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The players of the NBA are arguably among the best all-around athletes in the world. The cream often rises to the top and both the media and league combine to promote and market the attributes of the very best. If your name isn't Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, there is a strong possibility that only the most ardent of basketball aficionados will know even your name.

But the greatness of a player can only be measured against his or her contemporary peers. Without said peers, the attributes of the very best will go unrealized and under appreciated. With every NBA basketball game televised, there are legions of would-be Jordanites lamenting about their ability to take a spot from some of these guys. But there is a reason these guys are in the league.

This slideshow features some of the very best players that you may never have heard of. Some of the players I have selected are role players who are critical to their teams while others are young players who are just coming into their own. Others still are on the verge of superstardom. There's a strong possibility I may have forgotten a hardwood soldier from your hometown squad, but I've only got 15 spots.

Ricardo Hazell is a freelance sports writer for Follow him on Twitter @NikosMightyDad or add him to your network on Google.

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15. Andre Drummond

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At 6-foot-11 and 279 pounds, Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons is a prototype center trapped in a stretch-four league. Though he only averaged eight points and eight boards per game last season, Drummond showed flashes of brilliance which included a 29-point, 11-rebound showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Drummond is a year older and will likely average a double-double in the coming season.

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14. Nikola Vucevic

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Nikola Vucevic wanted to run before he crawled as a rookie for the Philadelphia 76ers, but he never got the minutes. But when he was shipped to the Orlando Magic as part of the trade to nab center Andrew Bynum, the 7-foot power forward/center responded. Vucevic upped his average from five points and four rebounds per game to 13 points, 12 boards an outing. You can never be subtle when averaging a double-double. Back-to-back 20-plus rebound games last year can attest to his hunger for caroms.

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13. Jimmy Butler

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When it comes to defending the best wing players in the league, the Butler did it, and he serves up long distance shooting as well. The 6-foot-7 small forward/shooting guard out of Marquette was pegged as a lockdown defender when he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2011, but his toughness may have been a pleasant surprise even for Bulls' top brass. He averaged eight points, four rebounds and one steal in 26 minutes of playing per game last season. He shot 40 percent from behind the arc during the postseason as well. Butler's role will likely be expanded upon in the upcoming season with the return of Derrick Rose. Now he'll be more wide open than ever before.

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12. Nikola Pekovic

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Nikola Pekovic is a bruiser in the low post and might be the single biggest counter to the "All Euro-players are soft" mantra that constantly falls from the mouths of some NBA analysts. He even makes some All-Star centers roll their eyes in disgust whenever he checks in the game. That's big time respect, people! At 6-foot-11 and weighing 290 pounds, Pekovic likes to take his time backing opponents down into the paint and can finish with hook shots with either hand. You're either going to foul him, get some weak side help or he's going to score. That simple. He can't jump over a phone book, but can probably tear one in half.

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11. Omer Asik

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Omer Asik is the living embodiment of the thankless double-double. The 7-footer averaged 11 points, 11 boards and a block last season. He's also proven to be very durable as he played all 82 regular season games. Speaking of thankless, Asik is likely trade-bait with the arrival of C Dwight Howard.

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10. Bradley Beal

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Washington Wizards' shooting guard Bradley Beal is the latest in a long line of high draft picks for one of the NBA's worst franchises. However, Beal's play last year has raised expectations considerably. He and PG John Wall were meant to be the back court of the future for Washington, and the future does indeed look bright. The streaky-shooting slasher can fill it up when he's on, gets in passing lanes and will dunk on your head. He averaged 13 ppg in 56 games last season.

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9. Danilo Gallinari

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Denver Nuggets SF Danilo Gallinari is a problem at the small forward slot. At 6-foot-10, he can shoot over most defenders or drive by those with the length to challenge his shot. Gallinari has been known to fill it up on occasion throughout his five-year career and was averaging 16 points per game prior to tearing his left ACL last season.

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8. Luis Scola

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Luis Scola is the oldest player on this list and for the life of me, I can't figure out why he gets very little love from NBA fans. He averages 14 points and seven rebounds for his career and is the not-so-little engine that could in the low post. He's big, but he's not that big. Strong, but not that strong. However, he'll singe defenders' eyebrows with his hot shooting and wide array of low post moves once he gets rolling. Next season, Scola will be part of an Indiana Pacers' front court that will feature Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West. That's a whole lotta size up front!

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7. Anderson Varejao

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How come Anderson "Sideshow Bob" Varejao never, ever gets any love? The numbers aren't there, but the man will out-hustle, out-muscle or simply out-think other big men night in and night out. He has been bitten, perhaps more like chomped, by the injury bug over the past three seasons, but was averaging 14 points and 14 boards in 25 games before a quadriceps injury ended his 2012-13 season prematurely.

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6. Mike Conley Jr

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Mike Conley Jr. is a speed merchant with world class afterburners strapped to his heals. Though he has been somewhat inconsistent throughout his six-year career, Conley put all doubts to bed when he led the Memphis Grizzlies to the Conference Finals last season. Not much of a three-point shooter, but he gets past almost anyone and can finish at the rim with both hands.

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5. Nate Robinson

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Nate Robinson has been much maligned over his career for his seemingly devil-may-care attitude on the basketball court. Yes, we all know he is athletic and can score, but his basketball IQ and work ethic have been called into question time and time again. But the little man with the big game showed and proved his worth during last year's playoffs. He ran ruck shot over the Brooklyn Nets and even the mighty Miami Heat before he was stifled by defensive adjustments. No longer is he the second coming of Mugsy or Spud-lite, he's on another level. Bogues and Webb never were capable of scoring with as much ease as Robinson when hot.

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4. Greg Monroe

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I can't tell you how many times I heard some announcer mention the Georgetown Hoya big man pedigree whenever Roy Hibbert came to town. Even his flatulence was compared favorably to Dikembe Mutombo's. Meanwhile, no one ever says a peep about the Hoyas connection when C Greg Monroe is hooping. What gives? Perhaps I'm overstating it just a bit because I absolutely love this guy's game. But a man averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game should get a little more respect.

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3. Klay Thompson

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Klay Thompson combines the rare attributes of lights-out shooting and next level athleticism. The Golden State Warriors have been looked upon as something of a one man show since the arrival of PG Steph Curry, but Thompson proved his worth last season with several scorching-hot shooting performances during the playoffs, including a 34-point effort in a game one matchup versus the San Antonio Spurs in which he shot 8-for-9 on three pointers.

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2. Kawhi Leonard

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Seeing as though Kawhi Leonard is fresh off an NBA Finals appearance that not only saw him blossom into one of the league's top wing defenders and mid-range finishers, some would say he doesn't belong on this list. Leonard averaged 14 points and 11 boards in the Finals and could be in the conversation for best rebounding small forward in the upcoming season. But the casual fan will likely say "Kawhi Who?" when shown a photo of the San Antonio Spurs wing. I feel he needs to be a bit more selfish with the basketball offensively to take it to the next level, but the skills are glaringly apparent.

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1. Jeff Green

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When Jeff Green was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, I envisioned the duo of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green as having the potential to be an all-time great combination as their skill sets complemented one another. But eventually, Green's heart and motor were called into question, resulting in him being shipped to Boston where he was diagnosed with a career-threatening heart condition that required surgery. Last season, Green showed flashes of brilliance on a Celtics team whose star player (Paul Pierce) played the same position as he. I project Green to average around 20-plus points per game next season with the departure of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. He's healthy, hungry and has all the talent in the world.