Oct 23, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT
In the NBA, you win with star players (except if you’re the 2004 Pistons, the exception to every championship rule). They’re the guys you lean on in the closing minutes of tight games. The guys that can affect a game with their sheer talent and turn what looks to be a sure loss into a win.
But, even the most star studded teams need contributions from role players to reach the mountain top. The Derek Fisher‘s. The Robert Horry’s. These players may not get the headlines day in and day out, but when looking at the rosters of title winning teams their names stand out. Without them, some of the brightest stars the game has seen might have a few less pieces of jewelry on their fingers.
This year’s title contenders are no different. They all have at least one key role player that will be depended on to be a difference maker this season. Who are they? Let’s explore…
Ray Allen, Miami Heat
Allen is used to playoff pressure cooker. He’s been around the block multiple times throughout his career and has stuck the dagger into opponents in the biggest games imaginable. When the moment is the biggest, you know what you’re going to get from Ray. He’s going to stroke that sweet jumper of his and opposing fans are going to hold their breath when the shot is in the air.
But Ray comes to Heat no longer one of his team’s best players. Once part of Boston’s big three, he joins a new triumvirate that’s not only already formed but has already tasted championship glory. With this group he’ll be asked to play a supporting role in limited minutes and excel while doing it.
And, for the first time in his career, there are questions as to whether he’s up to the task. How will he perform coming off the bench for the first prolonged stretch of his distinguished career? Is his defense up to a high enough standard to close games on a team that is already so good on the wing? After a somewhat disappointing playoffs last season, how many more jumpers do his legs have in them?
Knowing Allen’s history, he’ll prove any doubters wrong and hit a few more big shots for the Heat this season. But if Allen falters or if he can not approach his normal standard it will have a big affect on the Heat. Dwyane Wade, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, and Shane Battier will need to play heavier minutes than planned. And for a team that’s coming of two straight Final’s runs it would be nice if Allen could soak up some minutes to keep those guys fresher throughout the marathon that is an NBA season.
Antawn Jamison, The Los Angeles Lakers
Jamison is the epitome of the accomplished veteran at the end of his career chasing a ring. He’s been a top scorer in the league and his team’s go-to guy. He’s gone to all-star games and won awards. What he hasn’t done is taste that champagne after his team wins its last game of the season. This is why he came to the Lakers.
The question is, however, does Jamison have enough left in the tank to be a key contributor on a title winning team? After 14 seasons of going being a featured player, it’s more than a fair question. And, so far this preseason, he’s not yet looked like the difference maker off the bench that the Lakers need him to be. His jumper has been erratic and the in-between game that’s been a staple of his success throughout his career has been more miss than hit. And there are, of course, still the long standing issues of his defense and rebounding. Those aren’t exactly the qualities the Lakers signed him for.
No, Jamison will need to hit shots and do so at a consistent enough rate to give space to the front court partner he’s flanking. Be it Pau Gasol or Dwight Howard, Jamison must be seen as a threat to the defense to help give them the room they need to operate in the post. To say nothing of the room created to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash on the perimeter. His scoring punch and the ripple effect it will have are tantamount to this Laker team.
Jamison has never had a role this important for a team this good. If he can play well, the Lakers are one major step closer to solidifying their bench and shoring up a major weakness from last season. If he’s not, they’ll have an even greater chance of being exposed even with the start power at the top of the roster.
Eric Maynor, The Oklahoma City Thunder
There may not be a more unheralded player that’s returning from injury in the entire league than Eric Maynor. Guys like Derrick Rose and Ricky Rubio are franchise altering talents, but it’s Maynor that plays on one of the clearly elite teams and can literally mean the difference between the Thunder advancing to the Finals or not; between winning a title or not.
No, he’s not one of the Thunder’s big three superstars. But Maynor is one of the league’s best (if not the best) back up point guards. And for a team that had to rely on Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher to back up Russell Westbrook last season, that’s a huge difference. Especially for a team that was so close to winning the title.
Maynor not only offers the Thunder a scoring threat off the bench but also a floor general that can run the team should Westbrook falter. Before he tore his ACL, Scott Brooks could turn to Maynor at any time to settle his team down, get them into their sets, and get the team going in the right direction. That type of luxury is so valuable to a team that, even with all its talent, can still be prone to lapses of judgment and too many unproductive possessions.
Maynor also offers them lineup flexibility, giving them a key contributor to any small-ball lineup Brooks wants to deploy. For example, a grouping of Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and Ibaka gives the Thunder a unit that can match up with the position-less Heat lineup that gave them so many issues in the Finals. There’s no hiding defenders against a lineup like that.
Word is that Maynor is fully recovered from his knee injury and should be ready to return to the form he showed before he got hurt. If that’s the case, one of the best teams in the league just added another fantastic young talent to flank their already stacked core. If he’s not, the Thunder will once again be stuck playing below replacement level players behind Westbrook.
Jeff Green, The Boston Celtics
Green is one of the most uniquely positioned role players in the league.
First, he’s coming back from missing an entire season due to having heart surgery. Second, he signed one of the more “wait, he got how much?” contracts this past free agency period. And third, he’s coming back to a Celtics team that has made itself over with smart signings and a solid draft to the point that they’re thinking their window isn’t quite yet closed yet.
How Green performs in the middle of all this remains to be seen. As a tweener forward, he’ll be asked to play in both big and small lineups and use his versatility on both sides of the ball. There will be times that he’ll have to chase small forwards around the perimeter on defense and then attack them in the paint on offense. The next night he may be spacing the floor on offense while playing on the back line of the C’s vaunted defense directing traffic while he hedges and recovers on a pick and roll.
Green has never proven that he’s been up to such responsibilities and that’s one of the reasons the Thunder were okay trading him away for Kendrick Perkins. Yes, his versatility was nice but at some point he needed to show that he could to deliver at a high enough level in those areas rather than just being good at them. With the Thunder, he never did get that done.
Will that change with these Celtics? Will coming off the bench help his game? Will playing with a point guard savant like Rajon Rondo (rather than the more shot happy Westbrook) help him find his stride on offense? Will learning at the altar of Kevin Garnett help him with his defense?
The Celtics can only hope that the answers to those questions are in the affirmative. They’ve invested a fair amount of time and money into Green and for them to be as good as they hope to be, they’ll need him to live up to his lottery talent.
May 23, 2013, 5:16 PM EDT
It’s all about the rings. For Phil Jackson — out promoting his book “Eleven Rings” — it’s always been about the hardware. It’s about building a real team around the stars he was given, about managing the egos, about having a team that didn’t seem fazed by the biggest stages. So when Time Magazine asked…
May 23, 2013, 4:10 PM EDT
If the Philadelphia 76ers had beaten the odds and won the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday it would have made new GM Sam Hinkie’s life a little easier. But he would have heard about it on the phone, he wasn’t in New York. And he wasn’t at home in front of his television with a beer,…
May 23, 2013, 3:15 PM EDT
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May 23, 2013, 2:47 PM EDT
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May 23, 2013, 1:50 PM EDT
Pablo Prigioni reportedly was considering returning to Spain in part because his wife wanted to go back, but the Knicks guard is making intentions clear now. Marc Berman of the New York Post: “If I can choose, I prefer to play in the United States and stay in the NBA,’’ Prigioni said on Argentine radio.…
May 23, 2013, 1:27 PM EDT
Even before the season tipped off you had a pretty good sense that LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul would be All-NBA First Team — they are dominant players at or entering their peak. But Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan continue to defy father time. The two veterans round out the All NBA Team…
May 23, 2013, 12:47 PM EDT
520px;”> Phil Jackson has been virtually everywhere the last couple weeks selling his new book “Eleven Rings” but one of my favorite interviews so far is the one from last night with John Stewart on The Daily Show. And not because as a Knicks fan Stewart wants to know about those two rings. It’s near…
May 23, 2013, 11:39 AM EDT
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May 23, 2013, 11:22 AM EDT
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May 23, 2013, 11:01 AM EDT
The Wizards rightfully believe they would have made the playoffs if they remained healthy this season. Washington went 24-25 with John Wall – a better winning percentage than the eighth-seeded Bucks (38-44). And when Wall, Nene and Bradley Beal all played, the Wizards were 15-7. Washington should be excited to have a team on the…
May 23, 2013, 10:47 AM EDT
Pacers coach Frank Vogel had his reasoning — the Heat with their small lineup had five guys who can shoot from the perimeter so he wanted to match that with a small lineup that could switch everything. Twice in the last 10.8 seconds he pulled the 7’2” rim-defending center and went small with Tyler Hansbrough…
May 23, 2013, 10:03 AM EDT
It’s good to have the best player on the planet on your team. At the end of the day that was the reason the Miami Heat are up 1-0 — as great as Paul George was for Indiana, the Miami Heat have LeBron James. From the very start LeBron was knocking down jumpers from the…
May 23, 2013, 8:43 AM EDT
LeBron James’ detractors are still plentiful and are still vocal — just follow the conversation on twitter during any Heat game. People will tell you how much they loathe LeBron and everything he stands for. But they are buying his shoes. Forbes Magazine broke down the numbers on domestic signature shoe sales (from sportsonesource.com) and…
May 23, 2013, 2:39 AM EDT
For the 145th time since they joined forces in Miami, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh finished as the Heat’s top three scorers. For the first time in the 2013 calendar year, the fourth-leading scorer – Chris Andersen – scored more than 15 points. It’s been much less of a concern that many expected…
May 23, 2013, 2:08 AM EDT
America, meet Paul George. He’s the Pacer that hit the insane, dramatic three pointer that sent Game 1 against the Heat into overtime. He’s the guy that drew the superstar call on Dwyane Wade, then with ice water in his veins hit three free throws to give Indiana the lead with 2.2 seconds left in…
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May 23, 2013, 1:49 AM EDT
The Heat came away with the 103-102 overtime victory over the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, thanks to a triple-double performance from LeBron James, which included hitting the game-winning layup as time expired. The words “game-winning layup” should never be a relevant phrase this deep into the postseason; teams normally defend…
May 23, 2013, 1:16 AM EDT
The Pacers gave the Heat all they wanted in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but in the end, the game’s best player — along with some questionable coaching strategy down the stretch — was too much for Indiana to overcome. LeBron James finished with a triple-double line of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and…
May 23, 2013, 12:28 AM EDT
Paul George hit a big time shot at the end of regulation to get the Pacers to overtime, but once we got to the end of the extra session, LeBron James took his turn at the last-second heroics. With the Heat trailing by one and 2.2 seconds remaining, James receives the inbounds pass and immediately…
May 22, 2013, 11:50 PM EDT
At the beginning of this possession, it looked like Paul George of the Pacers made a huge mistake by not raising up for the shot when he first received the ball at the top of the arc. As the seconds ticked away and with the Pacers down three, things seemed to be breaking down to…
May 22, 2013, 9:52 PM EDT
Carmelo Anthony’s shoulder was clearly bothering him through much of the playoffs, but he fought through it as best he could averaging 28.8 points per game (on just 40.1 percent shooting, down from 44 in the regular season) with 6.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He injured it in Game 5 against the Celtics and went…
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