NBA PM: The Most Important Role Players
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Every player who gets to the NBA was a star at some point in their career leading up to their arrival. Things change at the NBA level, though, where everyone can’t be a star. Making that adjustment has been impossible for some players, who quickly find themselves out the league afterwards. Others thrive in it and are remembered forever just for being able to play their role properly and do what was needed.
In today’s NBA PM we take a look at 10 of the most important role players, who must produce in 2012-13, in order for their teams to experience the level of success they’re aiming for.
Metta World Peace, Los Angeles Lakers
When World Peace joined the Lakers in 2009 he was coming off of a 15 points, five rebound and three assist campaign with the Houston Rockets. Over the last three years, his production has steadily dropped. Some of that is a byproduct of having a reduced role in comparison to what he’s had previously in his career.
Don’t expect his numbers to be impressive this year either as his impact will go beyond what the statistics can show. His main focus is going to be locking down the best perimeter player on the opposing team defensively. He will have a lot of open looks offensively thanks to the immense amount of talent around him in Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol, though. So, he’ll have to be ready to make defenses pay for playing off of him as well.
Shane Battier, Miami HEAT
The trademark of a great role player is stepping up when needed. Battier did exactly that in the 2012 NBA Finals, shooting a series-changing .577 from beyond the arc en route to helping the HEAT top the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. As always, he also defended at a high level against a variety of players, including the Thunder’s leader Kevin Durant.
The HEAT’s bench received a big boost with the additions of former All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. They may take away some time from Battier in the regular season, but come playoff time when the HEAT run into explosive perimeter scorers like Durant, the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce, and the Indiana Pacers’ Danny Granger, Battier will undoubtedly be on the floor plenty.
Kris Humphries, Brooklyn Nets
Humphries’ life off of the court gets brought up far too often when evaluating him as a player on it. Yes, he did get caught up in the reality television roller coaster, but that doesn’t change the fact that Humphries gets it done on the hardwood.
He’s coming off of the best season of his career, averaging a double-double of 13.8 points and 11 rebounds. He’s the poster boy for blue collar basketball, being willing to do the dirty work that is a necessity to winning ball games. With the vast improvements the Nets made this offseason, Humphries continues to be in a perfect situation. Look for him to remain a steady provider of a double-double night in and night out.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
A slight tumble on draft night turned out to be the best thing to happen for Leonard. It helped him avoid situations where he may have been asked to do a little bit too much as a rookie and put him in a position with the Spurs where he was only asked to do things he was ready to. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s rotation isn’t easy to break into, but Leonard quickly a mainstay in it. His minutes per game actually increased from 24 during the regular season to 27 during the postseason, a sign of how much Coach Pop trusted him.
As a sophomore Leonard will probably play a similar role, although they could give him a little bit more freedom offensively. That’s certainly what they appeared to be grooming him for at the Las Vegas Summer League. The Spurs know they have a solid role player in Leonard, but unlike most players on this list, he has the room to grow into something more than just that.
Brandon Bass, Boston Celtics
When the Celtics drafted two rookie big men in this year’s draft, there was a lot of talk about how much they are going to benefit from the team’s culture and most specifically being around all-time great power forward Kevin Garnett. For an example of what that can do for a player, look no further than Bass, who had a career-year in 2012-13 in his first year with the Celtics.
While Bass could be pressed for minutes by rookie Jared Sullinger, he’s still going to be a big part of the Celtics rotation. His defensive ability really shined in the postseason and will be key again if they’re going to make a championship run.
Eric Maynor, Oklahoma City Thunder
As good of a job as veteran point guard Derek Fisher did in replacing Maynor, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in January, on a short timetable, the Thunder are really looking forward to having a healthy Maynor back into the fold.
We could be seeing a lot of small ball from the Thunder this season with Durant at power forward and possibly Maynor at the point with Russell Westbrook at shooting guard. They feel that’s their most talented and potent combination. The Thunder didn’t make any big moves this offseason, so really the re-addition of Maynor could be their biggest boost.
Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors
This summer should go down as one of the most important in Warriors’ history. With the moves they made, they not only have the talent level to make the playoffs, but they should be aiming for a top spot in the top six. With all teams, health is vital for them. One of the players that causes the most concern from a health perspective is point guard Stephen Curry, but with Jack the Warriors can survive and even excel without Curry.
If you ask other players in the league they’ll always point to Jack as being severely underrated. Whether he’s starting in place of Curry or serving as the leader for the second unit, Jack is going to make his presence felt in a big way on the Warriors this year.
JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
While McGee, who received a four-year $44 million contract from the Nuggets this offseason, isn’t played like a role player, he’s not going to be featured like someone of his pay rate usually is. That’s not how the Nuggets work. Their strength is in numbers, not individuals.
Even with that said, though, McGee brings unique skills to the table, which is the main reason why he got paid the way he did. His ability to change the game with his length, athleticism and activity in the paint will be key in the Nuggets’ chances of advancing in the playoffs. He can establish himself as a top-tier big man without getting a lot of touches; he just needs to provide what Nuggets head coach George Karl asks.
George Hill, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers made a big financial commitment, $40 million over five years, to Hill, making him their starting point guard without question. They traded point guard Darren Collison to the Dallas Mavericks shortly after, but did bring in D.J. Augustin as a backup. Augustin has started for most of his career, so he’s going to push Hill and make him still earn that starting spot.
Hill has always been somewhat of a silent assassin. He never jumps off the page, but he gets the job done and provides steadiness at the point that every head coach desires. He’s surrounded by plenty of talent. It will be on him to get the ball where it needs to be, defend at a high level, and serve as the glue guy in the Pacers’ attempts to make it past the second round.
Raymond Felton, New York Knicks
Knick fans clamoring for Linsanity this offseason instead ended up with Feltonmania. Ok, definitely not as catchy or appealing, especially considering the fact that Felton had a really poor year in 2011-12. However, Felton has the respect of his new teammates and he’s far more proven over a longer period than Lin.
It will be interesting to see how Felton adjusts to playing for Coach Woodson as opposed to Mike D’Antoni, who was at the helm with Felton was last in N.Y. Their systems are different, but the surrounding cast remains stellar. The pieces are in place for Felton to bounce back and have a strong campaign in 2012-13.
Which other role players do you think will be vital in their team’s chances to make noise in the playoffs? Leave your thoughts below!
Up Close With Jordan Adams
As far as quality role players go at the collegiate level, UCLA guard Jordan Adams warrants mention. He’s part of the fab four recruiting class that is expected to help return the Bruins back to glory. He’s the certified sharpshooter on the team and while at the adidas Nations championship game HOOPSWORLD caught up with him to talk about his role, the team’s goals, and how early practices have gone.
Kareem Gets His Statue: It became official today that Hall of Fame center Kareem Adul-Jabbar will have a statue built of him outside of the Staples Center at some point this season. Currently former Laker greats Jerry West, Magic Johnson, and Chick Hearn, the longtime voice of Lakers basketball, have statues. It’s only fitting that Kareem, who voiced his displeasure over not having one built of him already, join them.
Kareem’s jersey hangs from the rafters with the rest of the Lakers greats at the Staples Center. He won five championships with the organization and became the league’s all-time leading scorer by the time his career was finished with over 38,000 points.
Kareem helped the franchise in a coaching role recently, serving as the mentor for young center Andrew Bynum. Kareem helped him develop from a raw 17-year-old to a championship caliber center who left with two championships under his belt when traded for center Dwight Howard this offseason.
NBA Chats: There are two chat wraps in the books today with Eric Pincus and Coach Macri. Tomorrow’s chat schedule features Lang Greene at 8 pm est. As always you can checkout our entire upcoming chat schedule along with our previous chats list.