Arron Afflalo

Examining the NBA role player standard


No kid logging hours in their school gym longs to be an NBA role player, but the talent structure of the league dictates that some serve more complementary functions than others. There are those who adorn billboards and there are those who do not, and though superstars make the NBA world (and turnstiles) go ’round, the quality of the entire league’s operation wouldn’t be possible without a wide range of capable and kind-of-capable supporting types.

Among them are certain archetypes — the grizzled floor general, the project big man, the step-slow NCAA scoring standout — and fluid incarnations of the role player standard. Typically, such incarnations are merely flavors of the week; the Spurs’ championships made every team want a Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry’s title travels made him a standout, and Trevor Ariza’s supporting spot on a winning Lakers team earned him a big paycheck and an oversized role. Playoff success does wonders for the career of any role player, as evidenced by the fact that J.J. Barea’s stock has never been higher.

Rewarding the success of good role players on good teams is important, but truly valuable ones deserve better than a mere five minutes of fame whenever their club happens to be doing well. Most eyes remain fixed to the shiniest of superstars (and if not them, the talented core of All-Stars and quasi-stars the league has to offer), but as basketball fans grow more and more savvy to the complex dynamics of teams and the NBA game, so too should they gain in their understanding of the value of the NBA role player as a singular concept. Such complementary talents can toil away on bad squads — or mediocre ones — just as stars can, and though they may not be as topical as the supporting cast of a top-level team, quality play deserves mention and, more importantly, accurate appraisal.

So underneath the light cast on the role players of the moment should be an appreciation of who the best complementary players in the league are, and why exactly they excel at what they do. The range of the term “role player,” may differ from observer to observer, but the precise boundaries of that term matter little compared to an understanding that NBA players can be worthy of praise regardless of their limits. Basketball players need not be given epithets outlining what they cannot do; it’s just fine to appreciate any player for performing well in the role they’re given, even without providing an asterisk and explanation that they may not be suited for something more.

With all of that in mind, here are a few nominees for the role player standard, the contemporary players with the most universal supporting application with an acknowledgment of their sub-star limits:

Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets

Afflalo came into the league as a defender, but has improved his offensive skill set dramatically since his rookie season. That defensive efficacy has remained a crucial part of Afflalo’s game, but once compounded with an incredibly accurate three-point stroke, a more comprehensive defensive game, and some subtle new tricks in his offensive repertoire, Afflalo was able to take his previously unremarkable performance to new heights. He’ll never have the offensive punch to become all that much more than he is, but Afflalo is a three-and-D swingman with modern sensibilities — an ever-useful combination of specific utility and understated versatility. What basketball team on the planet couldn’t use an Arron Afflalo?

Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder

Collison has carved out a name for himself in the stat-minded basketball community with his sterling +/- and adjusted +/- numbers, but Collison’s unselfish offensive game is an unheralded part of his total contributions. He’s established an interesting on-court rapport with James Harden, a player who, as a fellow member of OKC’s second unit, is able to take full advantage of Collison’s passing from the high post. He screens hard, he rolls into open space, he rebounds effectively, and he brings a level excellence to both individual and help defense. Collison is who he is, and while that won’t garner him All-Star consideration, it certainly does well for the Thunder — as it would any NBA club.

Goran Dragic, Houston Rockets

The jury’s still out on what will become of Dragic’s NBA future, but at the very least he figures to be a competent pro for a long time. He may find a starting job somewhere down the line, but for now he’s a capable, productive reserve who contributes on both ends of the court. Dragic can thrive with or without the ball — a valuable skill for a player of his type, whose role is largely determined by who he plays alongside. His ability to create for himself and others gives him an ideal flexibility for a complementary guard.

Spurs waive first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles before first NBA game, putting him in small club

San Antonio Spurs' Livio Jean-Charles, center, and Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. San Antonio won 95-89. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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It took a few years, but the Spurs finally signed Livio Jean-Charles – the No. 28 pick in the 2013 draft – to a rookie-scale contract this summer.

The problem: Jean-Charles tore his ACL in Europe and hadn’t developed as San Antonio hoped.

So, San Antonio is cutting bait historically quickly.

Spurs release:

The San Antonio Spurs today announced that the team has waived Joel Anthony, Ryan Arcidiacono, Patricio Garino and Livio Jean-Charles.

This allows the Spurs to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, Bryn Forbes and Nicolas Laprovittola. A shooting guard, Forbes is a 3-point specialist who went undrafted out of Michigan State. Laprovittola, a point guard, will give San Antonio a second Argentinian with Manu Ginobili – though Garino could’ve been three.

Jean-Charles is just the fifth first-round pick in the rookie-scale era to be waived or renounced before playing in the NBA. The other four:

Royce White (No. 16 pick in 2012 by Rockets)

White and and Houston never got on the same page about how to handle his anxiety issues. The Rockets traded him in a financial move to the 76ers, who waived him. White later played three games with the Kings.

Frederic Weis (No. 15 pick in 1999 by Knicks)

Weis never came to the NBA from Europe, but he became infamous for getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. New York traded Weis’ rights to the Rockets (for Patrick Ewing Jr.) in 2008. Weis retired in 2011, and Houston renounced him.

Leon Smith (No. 29 pick in 1999 by Spurs)

The Mavericks acquired Smith in a draft-night trade, and the player who jumped straight from high school struggled in every respect. He clashed with coaches and management, attempted suicide and got arrested twice before being released during his rookie season. It’s a sad tale. Smith later had short stints with the Hawks and Sonics.

Travis Knight (No. 29 in 1996 by Bulls)

Knight never even signed a contract. Chicago renounced him rather than giving him the required three-year guaranteed deal. He signed with the Lakers and made the All-Rookie second team. That led to a more lucrative contract with the Celtics, and Knight also played for the Knicks in a seven-year NBA career.

Pelicans keep Lance Stephenson, waive Alonzo Gee

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 18:  Lance Stephenson #5 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Keep Alonzo Gee: $1,500,000.

Keep Lance Stephenson: $2,380,431.

The Pelicans opted for the more expensive – and more intriguing – option with their final roster spot.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has waived forward Alonzo Gee.

This drops New Orleans’ roster to the regular-season limit of 15 players, including Stephenson.

Teams rarely give someone a guaranteed, above-minimum salary and then waive him the same offseason. But that’s what the Pelicans did with Gee. At least he’ll take home $1.4 million, more than his $1,379,400 player option would’ve paid had he opted in last summer.

Stephenson – with just $100,000 of his minimum salary guaranteed – adds much-needed playmaking with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans both out. Though he has struggled since leaving the Pacers, Stephenson is still talented and relatively young. Maybe he re-finds his groove in New Orleans. It’ll at least be interesting to watch him try.

Report: Lamar Odom, Khloe Kardashian (engaged to Tristan Thompson) agree to divorce terms

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
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Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian are reportedly engaged.

But some wondered: Isn’t Kardashian still married to former NBA player Lamar Odom?


Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom have officially signed off on their divorce, and all that’s left is a judge’s John Hancock … TMZ has learned.

Khloe and Lamar have reached a property settlement and each has now signed legal docs that were filed Friday.

Thankfully, that’s cleared up.

Report: Rockets management wanted to elevate Clint Capela over Dwight Howard last season, coach resisted

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets celebrates with General Manager Daryl Morey after they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 113 to 100 during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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When he was starting at power forward next to Dwight Howard last season, Clint Capela looked like he could eventually supplant Howard as the Rockets’ starting center.

It happened this offseason with Howard leaving for the Hawks.

Houston apparently wanted it to happen even sooner.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Houston Rockets management repeatedly pushed for Clint Capela to get more playing time at the expense of Dwight Howard last season, sources told ESPN, adding to the disharmony that played a prominent role in the team’s disappointing 2015-16 campaign.

Former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff resisted complying with the wishes of general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander regarding a drastic reduction in Howard’s playing time. Team sources said Alexander never participated in the meetings with Morey and Bickerstaff but fully supported the general manager’s plan to prioritize Capela’s development.

League sources said input from face-of-the-franchise James Harden heavily influenced Houston management’s desire to decrease Howard’s minutes. However, team sources insisted that Harden was not involved in those discussions.

It’s believable Harden conspired against Howard. It’s also believable the Rockets covered for Harden.

Whoever was working against him, Howard clearly understood Houston planned to deemphasize him. Maybe he didn’t always handle that the absolute best way, but to a certain degree, he was just dealing with a difficult reality – one the Rockets should have foreseen.

It’s tough to tell an established star his role is being reduced. It’s far easier to tell a second-year player he must wait his turn. Houston’s management tried to take the harder path – and didn’t even get its own coach to comply, which only muddled the situation further.

The Rockets were coming off a run to the Western Conference finals, and amid so much chaos, still made the playoffs. This was a talented team that came too close to wasting a season due to internal dynamics.

And what does Houston have to show for its Howard plan? The Rockets didn’t trade Howard, didn’t get him to opt in (as they wanted him to do, according to MacMahon) and didn’t re-sign him. Capela will start now, but he’s not substantially more experienced playing center with other starters. Howard is in Atlanta, ready to help another team.

Prolonged breakups just aren’t healthy. Rip off the bandage or leave it on.