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.
Jul 24, 2014, 1:00 AM EDT
Shannon Brown joins Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom
Jul 24, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Allen has already said an MRI comes first
Jul 23, 2014, 10:59 PM EDT
We know how this movie is going to end, Donald Sterling will lose the Clippers, we just don’t know how we will get there yet.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Aminu, who replaces Rashard Lewis, will have player option
Jul 23, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Houston’s other second rounder, Alessandro Gentile, to remain in Europe
Jul 23, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
If you really want something and you can afford it, why not? But Ballmer overpaid big for the Clips.
Jul 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT
Does this mean Boston will trade Rajon Rondo?
Jul 23, 2014, 7:12 PM EDT
Sacramento reportedly plans to file waiver claim on Casspi
Jul 23, 2014, 5:38 PM EDT
If Kevin Love goes to Cleveland does that impact Ray Allen’s decision?
Jul 23, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Numbers show a substantial increase in popularity.
Jul 23, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
Exum is a project but he also could be the point guard of the future in Utah.
Jul 23, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
“I was about to get him kicked out of the camp,” Wade joked.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Good pickup to add some depth at the point, something Dallas needed unless you’re expecting a monster bounce-back season for Raymond Felton.
Jul 23, 2014, 2:09 PM EDT
Is it better than the offer being put together by the Cavaliers?
Jul 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
He was given community services, which he can complete in Dallas where he was traded.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Waiters will continue to be rumored to be available until he proves he can fit in with Kyrie Irving.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Dallas was counting on him for bench depth and now will be looking to replace that help in a depleted market.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Minnesota wants to dump some bad contracts as part of the deal, and Cleveland isn’t taking them.
LeBron James sent cupcakes to Akron neighbors to apologize for commotion caused by his free agent decision
Jul 23, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
People descended upon LeBron’s neighborhood as rumors swirled.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT
Stackhouse coached against Hollins at adidas Eurocamp in Italy this summer.
- Mavericks signing Al-Farouq Aminu to two-year, minimum salary contract 5
- Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at 12
- Report: Jameer Nelson near $2.7 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 13
- Report: Mavericks void Rashard Lewis’ contract after it’s discovered he needs knee surgery 10
- Report: Sixers, Nuggets or Celtics could become third team in Kevin Love trade to Cavaliers 48
- Five biggest surprises from Summer League 13
- Justin Bieber and Kevin Durant share brunch (photo) 22
- Clippers CEO: If Sterling remains owner then Doc Rivers, players, sponsors all ready to bolt 61