Oct 23, 2012, 12:30 PM EST
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.
Dec 6, 2013, 11:47 PM EST
Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only one showcasing his range under pressure on Friday. Paul Millsap of the Hawks heaved a shot from well beyond half court to beat the first quarter buzzer against the Cavaliers, and it found nothing but the bottom of the net. We’d like to tell you that this particular heave mattered…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:31 PM EST
Anytime a player on either team hits a shot from a distance that borders on the absurd, the announcers on the telecast seemingly can’t wait to break out the local references in describing just how far away the attempt actually was. In this case, we had Russell Westbrook hitting a shot from near halfcourt to…
Dec 6, 2013, 9:23 PM EST
Ray Allen couldn’t do it. Neither could Reggie Miller or Stephen Curry or any of the other three-point marksman you can name. Kyle Korver has now made a three in 90 consecutive games, breaking the record Dana Barros set in 1996. He did it midway through the first quarter from above the break on the…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:52 PM EST
Otto Porter, the No. 3 pick of the Washington Wizards and the guy seen as their small forward of the future, could make his NBA debut Friday night. Porter, who strained his hip flexor in September and missed all of training camp and the start of the season, is active for the Wizards Friday night…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:04 PM EST
Kobe Bryant decided to stay home from Sacramento, but he will be in the Lakers lineup Sunday night against Toronto. Steve Nash went with the Lakers up to Sacramento after a week of limited practices but nobody has any idea when we will see him. Or even if we ever will. Nash spoke with reporters…
Dec 6, 2013, 5:23 PM EST
Kobe Bryant’s jersey has faced snow, rain and wind. Yet, it’s endured. That’s the lesson I took from the above video, which Kobe posted to Facebook today. Oh, and that Kobe will return Sunday against the Raptors. I guess he’s been through a lot, too. Sunday will mark just 240 days since he tore his…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:59 PM EST
Kevin Love will not suit up Saturday night when the Timberwolves host the Miami Heat for the one time this season. Love’s grandmother has passed away and he is not with the team right now. Timberwolves assistant coach Terry Porter said Friday Love will not play Saturday, tweets the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Timberwolves…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:22 PM EST
UPDATE 5:37 pm: Kobe Bryant will make his return on Sunday night — he made the announcement in a Facebook video. Apparently he owns some FB stock. 3:22 pm: The Lakers are in Sacramento tonight. Kobe Bryant will be at his home in Newport Beach, trying to get his daughters to turn off the “Muppets…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:02 PM EST
Dana Barros, a little point guard out of Massachusetts who got to play for the Celtics as part of a 14-year NBA career, and while there he set a record: Eighty-nine consecutive games with a made three. If Kyle Korver knocks down a three Friday night when the Hawks host the Cleveland Cavaliers Korver will…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:19 PM EST
I would say the fact Houston has put Omer Asik on the trade block is the worst kept secret in the NBA, except it’s not a secret. Everybody knows it. The only questions are when he gets moved and where he lands. Talks have not progressed all that quickly because while other teams come in…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:54 PM EST
“They hate me, they hate me. I don’t know why, but it is what it is. I already know I’ve got the target on my back, but I’ll play through it; I don’t care. I really don’t. It doesn’t bother me none. If I get a call, I get a call. If I don’t, I…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:45 PM EST
The USA Today has a fantastic feature speaking to Rajon Rondo’s high school coach, Steve Smith (not the player Steve Smith, different guy). It’s well done, you can learn about Rondo as a young player. Then came this interesting tidbit when Smith was asked if he thought Rondo could bounce all the way back from…
Dec 6, 2013, 1:00 PM EST
Apparently Glen Davis was a big child. Very big. Big Baby just returned to the lineup for the first time since last January, when he broke a bone in his foot that took two surgeries to repair properly. He’s looked pretty good since coming back — he had 33 points in the game against Philadelphia…
Dec 6, 2013, 12:39 PM EST
Dwyane Wade is going to be taking a lot of games off this season as the Heat try to rest his knees for the playoffs. It started in the second game of the season and it will continue as he has been out 5 of the Heat’s 19 games (he missed the Bulls game Thursday…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:38 AM EST
Brook Lopez’s second season in the NBA the Nets went an ugly 12-70 (with him as their best player). This wasn’t a team trying to tank for the draft — the Nets got the third pick thanks to the lottery and chose Derrick Favors, who was moved in the Deron Williams deal — this was…
Dec 6, 2013, 11:12 AM EST
When the Knicks got Andrea Bargnani the sales pitch from the pro-Bargnani side was he could do things Steve Novak couldn’t — play some defense in the post and put the ball on the floor and blow by guys. Whether those skills are really worth $23 million over two years is now a moot question,…
Dec 6, 2013, 10:50 AM EST
LeBron James doesn’t like wearing his new shoes. I mean literally his shoes — the LeBron 11 by Nike. Usually if you have a signature shoe you wear it, and in LeBron’s case when he slips on the shoe it’s a lot of free promotion considering the spotlight on him. LeBron outsells any current player…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:44 AM EST
As Holly MacKenzie and plenty of other women will tell you, proposing to your girlfriend at a sporting event is your idea of a cool proposal, not hers. But if your girlfriend is a “Luvabulls” dancer in Chicago (that’s what they are called, it’s not my name) you can get away with it if you borrow…
Dec 6, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Over the years, Dirk Nowitzki has cemented his status as one of the most unguaradable players in NBA history. There have been better scorers, and there have been better shooters, but Nowitzki is second-to-none when it comes to getting his shot off. It would be easy to peg Nowitzki’s 7-foot frame as the sole reason…
Dec 6, 2013, 2:38 AM EST
Our nightly grades from around the NBA, or what you missed while singing Doe, a deer, a female deer… Ray, a drop of golden sun… Mike Woodson, coach New York Knicks. For a night, the Knicks looked pretty good and so Woodson can sleep without the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The core…
- Kobe Bryant returning Sunday against Raptors 16
- Report: Rockets stepping up efforts to move Omer Asik 10
- Rumor: Carmelo Anthony recruiting Rajon Rondo to come to New York in 2015 17
- Report: Heat shopping Joel Anthony, seeking depth behind Wade 21
- LeBron not wearing new LeBron 11s, Nike “redefining” shoe for him 15
- LeBron says Wade is “getting that Kobe deal” in next contract. Should he? (64)
- Michael Beasley finding a role, groove in Miami (43)
- The Extra Pass: Our awards at the quarter pole, plus Monday recaps (42)
- Dwight Howard frustrated with Rockets’ effort in recent losses (40)
- Kobe Bryant dunks, looks good in Lakers practice; Friday return possible (38)