Examining the NBA role player standard

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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.

Rockets’ Eric Gordon wins NBA Sixth Man of the Year

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Eric Gordon could never quite get fully healthy or find his place in New Orleans.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey saw the potential for how he would fit in as a shooter in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, and he signed him to a multi-year deal.

It worked. Gordon averaged 16.2 points per game coming off the bench, and shot 37.2 percent from three — full healthy he is part of what made the James-Harden-as-point-guard experiment work.

Monday night, Gordon was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year.

“We just had an unbelievable year here with the Rockets,” Gordon said in his acceptance speech at the NBA Awards Ceremony. “I want to thank (owner) Leslie Alexander of the Rockets for just believing in me. I’d also like to thank my teammates and coaches for making my job easy this year.”

Gordon beat out Rockets teammate Lou Williams (who spent much of the season racking up buckets with the Lakers in a bench role) and Andre Iguodala, who didn’t have the offensive numbers but certainly was at the heart of key Warriors lineups, plus he has a ring for his effort.

Just a reminder, Eric Gordon is locked in through 2019-20 with the Rockets on a very reasonable contract. He could pick up another one or two of these in the coming years.

Malcolm Brogdon wins 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year Award (VIDEO)

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Move over, Joel Embiid. Malcolm Brogdon is your 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year.

The Milwaukee Bucks rookie took home the award beating out other big-name contenders like Embiid and Dario Saric, both of the Philadelphia 76ers. Brogdon took home 64 first place votes, with Embiid grabbing 23 and Saric with 13. Brogdon totaled 414 points, beating Saric’s 266.

The win for Brogdon makes it a historic night for Bucks fans. Milwaukee didn’t take him until the 36th in the second round, making Brogdon the first player to win ROY after being drafted outside of the first round in 60 years.

Brogdon averaged 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.8 rebounds rebounds per game while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range.

Speaking to the crowd on stage after accepting his award, Brogdon said,”This is a testament to guys that are underestimated, guys that are second round picks, guys that are undrafted every year.”

Brogdon beat out both Sixers rookies, likely because of his impact over the course of the season for Milwaukee and because Embiid did not play the full season.

It is an impressive feat for any player, so a big congratulations to Brogdon to Bucks fans.

Draymond Green’s suit at the 2017 NBA Awards was really something (PHOTO)

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Is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green fashion-forward? I’m not so sure.

He was certainly be a lot cooler than his contemporaries, given that he went with an interesting choice for his suit at the 2017 NBA Awards on Monday.

Specifically, Green showed up wearing shorts.

Yup, the dream that you have all summer long at your office job — shorts instead of slacks when it’s 90 degrees out — is what Green decided to go with.

Via Twitter:

Although his suit jacket makes him look like the maître d’ at a Seattle Mariners-themed restaurant, I have no doubt that he was much more comfortable than his buddies.

Those shoes gotta go though.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.