Skip to content

Who are the key role players on contending teams?

Oct 23, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT

Ray Allen AP

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha says police incident damaged his reputation

    May 29, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Thabo Sefolosha AP

    Sefolosha suffered a leg fracture during a police incident that kept him from participating in the playoffs.

  2. Suns shake up their coaching staff

    May 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

    Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Getty Images

    Jeff Hornacek remains in charge, but there has been some shuffling among his assistants.

  3. PBT Extra: Houston Rockets face interesting off-season

    May 29, 2015, 7:01 PM EDT

    Dallas Mavericks v Houston Rockets - Game One Getty Images

    There are questions about the future of Josh Smith, Patrick Beverley and others with the team.

  4. LeBron James on how to slow Stephen Curry: “The same way you slow me down … You can’t.”

    May 29, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT

    OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 12:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes in for a layup over LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat at ORACLE Arena on February 12, 2014 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The two most popular players in the NBA this season (with Kevin Durant out) go head-to-head on the NBA’s biggest stage.

  5. PBT Extra with NBASavant.com: Cleveland may want to cover Curry in the left corner

    May 29, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT

    Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors - Game Five Getty Images

    Cleveland’s defense has looked better in the playoffs than it has all season, but starting next Thursday it will get the biggest test it has had all season.

  6. It’s official: Scott Skiles hired as head coach of Orlando Magic

    May 29, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT

    150523_skiles Getty Images

    Skiles is a former Magic player from 1989 through 1994.

  7. Cookin’ with the Currys, guest-starring Riley Curry (video)

    May 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Stephen Curry Stephen Curry

    Ayesha Curry cooks, Stephen Curry tastes, and Riley Curry points out raspberry-sauce spills

  8. PBT Podcast: Talking Thibodeau/Bulls divorce; future for Rockets, Hawks

    May 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two Getty Images

    Would hiring Thibodeau really a wise call by the Pelicans?

  9. Warriors’ Klay Thompson officially diagnosed with concussion

    May 29, 2015, 3:09 PM EDT

    Klay Thompson Klay Thompson

    The NBA needs to review this process going forward.

  10. Klay Thompson should not have been cleared to return to Game 5 after concussion evaluation

    May 29, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT

    Klay Thompson Klay Thompson

    Warriors guard passed, but not enough time had passed to determine his health

  11. Rumor: Thunder promised to draft Cameron Payne No. 14

    May 29, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Cameron Payne, Reece Chamberlain AP

    Believable, but is that why it’s believed?

  12. Report: Cavaliers could activate Anderson Varejao in NBA Finals if necessary

    May 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game One Getty Images

    Varejao was slated to miss the entire season with an Achilles tear

  13. Dwight Howard suspended one game after foul switcheroo

    May 29, 2015, 11:17 AM EDT

    Dwight Howard, Klay Thompson Dwight Howard, Klay Thompson

    NBA gives Rockets center a flagrant foul, rescinds technical fouls for him and Andrew Bogut

  14. Report: Magic could hire Scott Skiles as soon as today

    May 29, 2015, 10:54 AM EDT

    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Head coach Scott Skiles of the Milwaukee Bucks looks on against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Scott Skiles Getty Images

    Contract negotiations reportedly ongoing

  15. National Spelling Bee co-champion wore LeBron jersey under dress shirt

    May 29, 2015, 9:45 AM EDT

    Gokul Venkatachalam predicts Cavaliers in 6

  16. Report: Fred Hoiberg still expected to become Bulls’ next coach

    May 29, 2015, 9:08 AM EDT

    Fred Hoiberg AP

    Iowa State coach reportedly had concerns about NBA jump due to health

Did Chicago do the right thing in firing Thibodeau?

Despite ending, Hawks had season to remember
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. S. Curry (8526)
  2. K. Love (6556)
  3. K. Irving (6411)
  4. K. Korver (5053)
  5. L. James (4866)
  1. K. Bryant (4060)
  2. D. Howard (4013)
  3. A. Varejao (3968)
  4. K. Durant (3960)
  5. M. Speights (3690)