The Best Hidden Gems in the NBA Today

Every year it feels that there are always a few breakout players who seemingly appear out of nowhere. While not many become true superstars, they often do become very solid role players — or even starters — for their franchise. Whenever one of these guys break out, it can feel so obvious when we look back at it, as usually these players show signs of being something in the NBA.

I decided to look at a few guys who currently do not get the minutes or opportunities they deserve, and nearly all of the time, it is not their fault. These guys are at different points of their young careers, but each one I believe has more to give, and either their team should provide more time for said player, or another team should swoop in and get a nice piece.

DeAndre’ Bembry

Bembry will probably be the most recognizable name on this list, and he is the one who I view as having the most upside of any listed as well. The 6’6” wing is currently a bench piece on the Hawks, and with the multitude of players at his position in Atlanta, his time and opportunities will be reduced this year.

While Bembry’s shooting is a concern — he has only hit 28.1% of his 3’s and 60.5% of his free throws — he creates his value on the defensive end of the court as a phenomenal athlete who can wreak havoc. Not only is he a great athlete, as seen by his highlight plays, but his solid 210 pound frame can keep him in front of larger small forwards.

While his defense and athleticism are his calling cards, he is a sound offensive player who excels in isolation situations, where he was the third most efficient isolation player last season, as defined by effective field goal percentage and playing at least 65 games.

He did not have a lot of opportunities to get these plays, but watching him with the ball in his hands, one can see his smoothness and smarts. Bembry is not going to turn into some sort of isolation or pick-and-roll savant like James Harden, but he can certainly find the open man, as seen in his game against Denver this year.

Now you might be wondering, so what? Or, what is going to happen to him? Now I am skeptical as to how much shine he will get this season, as Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter and Evan Turner already project to play large roles for Atlanta this year. Plus, with Cam Reddish and Allen Crabbe coming into the fold this year, I can see Bembry getting less and less minutes. While this may occur, I think a team should try to pry him away via trade this season, or possibly snag him this next off-season when he becomes a free agent. Bembry can instantly become a starter on a team who needs a defensive wing, such as the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, or Philadelphia 76ers. Staying on the young Hawks might be the best for the 25 year old’s career, but if the opportunity presents itself on a good team, he will perform well and can be a solid 6th man at worst.

Semi Ojeleye

Ojeleye is another somewhat recognizable name, being a valuable role piece for the Celtics the past two seasons. The absolute unit of a forward has been limited to a very small role in Boston’s offense as a spot up shooter, but he is much more than that. At SMU, he had a much longer leash on the offensive end, and boy oh boy, did he perform. In his lone season as a Mustang, Semi averaged 19 points and 6.9 rebounds a night with 48.7/42.4/78.5 shooting splits and looked like a completely different player. His ability to create for himself and get to the rim has been ripped away from him by the Celtics, mainly due to the fact that they don’t need him to play that way with their current roster construction.

Ojeleye is also a good defensive player, and while he does not rack up the traditional defensive stats, his athleticism and strength allows him to become a deterrent to other forwards.

This can be seen the most on the perimeter, where he makes opposing players shoot 3% worse than they typically do on their 3 point attempts, and 3.8% worse on any shot beyond 15 feet out. While he will turn 25 before his third NBA season ends, I believe Semi can become a player known for his defense throughout the league. As he has proven among real competition, he can slow down opposing forwards. I also think he can regain some of the swagger he had in college and work his way back to becoming more of a go-to scorer.

Now what is going to happen to Semi? It sounds sad, but I see him being an even smaller contributor this year, as the drafting of Grant Williams signified the Celtics likelihood to transition to another powerful forward. So while his future does not seem to be in Boston, I think a team should try to target him partway through this season when his value will be very low.

Ojeleye does have a team option on his contract for next year at right around $1.75 million — something any team should absorb for a good all-around prospect. I project that at some point this year a team who needs a no-nonsense scorer and defender will look to trade for him. Portland, Houston, or Utah should target Semi not only for the here and now, but also for the future.

If he can evolve from a guy who is limited to three point shots to someone who can work in the mid-range and get more comfortable, we will see Semi become a high-end role player on a good team, rather than a stop-gap that is wasting away his potential.

Jerome Robinson

A lottery pick in the 2018 draft, Jerome Robinson received minimal opportunities as a rookie, and arguably even less his second season. The Boston College alum is a good scorer with a legitimate jump shot, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he performed.

Spending most of the season in the G-League last year may have reduced the eyes on him, but it did not diminish his game. Robinson averaged 21.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists per-36 minutes. And while the G-League is home to lesser competition, we have seen the league grow in value over the past few years when it comes to analyzing players.

Now, when trying to see what Jerome Robinson really is, we cannot look solely at his limited NBA minutes, as it will not paint the true picture of his impact. Going back to his college days at BC, Robinson manned his team alongside Ky Bowman, and while there, he looked like an NBA-level scorer.

If you watch his highlights against Duke, you can see all his weapons on full display. Whether it was hitting his threes, finding open shooters, or creating his own smart shots, Robinson looked like someone just too good for college.

And yes, highlights are deceiving, but this was against an undefeated Duke team with good defensive guards in Trevon Duval and Grayson Allen on the squad. By pairing the highlights with his box score that night, it appears that this type of game was the norm and not an outlier for the guard.

Similarly to the other players mentioned, I think Robinson’s role will be limited this year, and not for anything he did. The Clippers seem to be focused on other players, and Robinson could just end up being tossed to the side, and may be available for close to nothing in a trade this year. Considering the Clippers want to win a title, and there are enough scoring options in LA, a team can easily poach and build around the former Boston College guard.

Chimezie Metu

A second round pick in the 2018 draft, Metu spent nearly all year in Austin, where he had a very solid year for the Spurs G-League affiliate. The 6’10” big man is a little thin as he only weighs 225 pounds, but his main skills do not come from his physicality, but rather his instincts and defensive ability.

The 22 year old USC alum has proven to be quite a versatile player, as he was slotted at the 3 for portions last year, with the Austin Spurs having quite a few other bigs on their team. I do not see him as a 3 in the NBA, but building his skills against lower competition will certainly help in his long term future.

Metu is currently a project, but his play-style and athleticism do convert to a really impactful player. He has more of a push shot than standard jumper, but his 69% from the line at USC shows that it is not a lost cause, but can actually be a strength. I don’t see him as a true 3-point shooter yet, but as he builds strength, I can see him stretching his range from mid range to the NBA three point line.

Metu is also a solid ball handler and passer, but both skills are good enough to reduce errors rather than lead to him being a play making big. This sounds confusing, but think of it this way, when Metu grabs a board, he will be able to handle the ball or pass it off without turning it over, something that other young bigs struggle with, whether it be due to confidence or lack of skill. However, Metu’s biggest asset is his rim protection, where he averaged 1.7 blocks per game his last year at USC. As a good athlete, Metu can reach a shot’s apex and throw it away with ease, but other parts of his defense have room for improvement. Stronger bigs can take advantage of him on the boards or down low, and at times he seems unaware on defense. I do believe both can be fixed in time with more time in a team’s system and some time in the weight room.

His explosivity and smoothness on the perimeter are quite ahead of many other players of similar stature, but he is not perfect.

Metu is on a guaranteed contract this year, but I doubt he will play much in the NBA, as the Spurs have a ton of power forwards and centers who should aid in their playoff run. Chimezie is just not ready to do that right now, but I can see his upside of looking like a young Serge Ibaka. The comparison might be worn out, but the jumpshot and shot blocking ability are eerily similar. Metu is smoother, while Ibaka is more powerful, but their impact and stats are similar. Metu’s contract is not fully guaranteed next year, so I can see a team waiting to get him for nearly nothing next year, or trading for him now on a minimal contract. I would love a team who needs a young big man to bring him in and develop him slowly, or even for the Spurs to really work on him and developing him into a real rotation threat in a season or two.

Jemerrio Jones

Who???? Yes, Jemerrio Jones is one of my favorite hidden gems in the NBA today and I doubt many fans know of him, as his only time in the pros came in the late stages of the Lakers’ disappointing season.

Nevertheless, Jones is a phenomenal rebounder and defender, all while standing at just 6’5”. The 24 year old wing is a unique player, as his offensive game is limited, but nearly everywhere else he seems to be a great prospect. He should certainly stick in the league as a specialist, and if he gets minutes, I look forward to his exceptionable box scores.

After spending two years at Hill College, Jones finished his collegiate career at New Mexico State, all while being a great energy wing. His 25.4% rebounding percentage his last year (which is the percentage of missed shots that became his rebounds) is unheard of for non-seven footers. This skill carried over to the pros, where he earned a 20.2% mark in the G-League and a 17.7% mark in the NBA. These numbers all point to him being a real threat on the boards, but his impact reaches beyond that. While he only has been in the NBA for 143 minutes, he has managed to get 12 combined blocks and steals in just 6 games, showing that he is a true pest on the court.

His energy and joy remind me so much of Corey Brewer, but while Brewer is a more athletic player, both play with an unlimited motor and happiness that is infectious and leads to wins. And while Jones is a pretty horrible shooter, he does have a solid handle and vision, allowing him to grab-and-go on the defensive boards. No one will mistake him as a point guard, but being competent here will help him get minutes and improve his team’s offense as they will be able to leak out on fast breaks instead of having a guard stay back to bring the ball up.

Jones was traded to Washington in the offseason, and it seems unlikely that he will make the final team due to the recent signing of Justin Anderson. This will make him an unrestricted free agent where any team can sign him, and I certainly think he warrants a real role in nearly any team’s rotation. His future in the NBA relies on his cutting, defense, and rebounding, and if he polishes up his handle further, I can see him becoming a starter.

While his jumper is a work in progress, he is not reluctant to shoot it when open, and his off-ball movement helps with spacing. I am exciting to see him play more this year in some jersey, and if he does not, a team is really missing out on a future impact guy.

— Josh Pires

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