Arron Afflalo

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.

Billy Donovan: Kevin Durant was ‘very, very honest’ throughout free agency

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Head coach Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder talks with Kevin Durant #35 during the first half in game six of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Despite the Warriors recruiting him throughout the season – to the point it reportedly bothered his Thunder teammatesKevin Durant was widely expected to re-sign with Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison even reportedly left a dinner with Durant on the eve of free agency with the impression Durant would stay.

Yet, Durant signed with the Warriors – reportedly texting Westbrook and seeing a story leak about his frustration with the star point guard on the way out the door.

Did Durant deceive the Thunder in any way?

Donovan, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

I think Kevin on the front end was very, very honest.

When the season ended, he was going to go through this process, and he was going to take a meeting with us obviously first and then he was going to have some other teams he was going to meet with. And I think a little bit later on, after the season ended, they decided to do it out in the Hamptons.

But I thought the meeting that we had went very well. I think we talked about basketball. We talked about our team. We talked about direction, talked about obviously his leadership, his role – all those kind of things. And I think, leaving the meeting, it was very, very, I thought, positive. I thought it was very, very clear. I think there was direction on both sides.

And the one thing I think with Kevin was that going through nine years with the organization, he was at a point in time where he was allowed obviously to be this free agent and go through this process and start to gather some information. We were the first meeting.

So, obviously, I think, being in college for so long and you go through recruiting, you know that during that process things can change through some of these different meetings. And obviously, after meeting with Golden State, things probably in his mind probably changed.

Durant looked at ease in his season-ending press conference. Many in Oklahoma City interpreted that as evidence Durant was content there. I saw someone with enough self-confidence to make any decision in free agency he desired.

I don’t know everything Durant said or implied to members of the Thunder organization. But from afar, it seems like there was a lot of wishful thinking in Oklahoma City entering free agency that turned into bitterness toward Durant once he left.

So, I appreciate Donovan’s candor. As a former college coach, his perspective is welcomed. Decommitments happen in a system where a decision can’t become binding until a later date – and I’m not sure Durant ever committed to the Thunder or indicated he would. And if he did, so what? They knew they still had to get past that Warriors meeting.

The organization continues to take the high road publicly, as it should. If Durant lied along the way, I haven’t seen credible evidence – and Donovan is vouching to the contrary.

Despite guaranteed salaries, R.J. Hunter and James Young competing for Celtics’ final roster spot

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 11:  James Young #13 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarteragainst the Golden State Warriors at TD Garden on December 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBA permits teams to begin the regular season with 15 players.

The Celtics are the only team with 16 players who have guaranteed 2016-17 salaries.

So, it’ll be an intriguing preseason in Boston, where the early battle lines are already being drawn.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

Several league sources have indicated that second-year guard R.J. Hunter, third-year forward James Young, 27-year-old wing John Holland, and rookie forward Ben Bentil will compete for the last roster spot. Young and Hunter have guaranteed deals, Bentil has a partial guarantee, and Holland is nonguaranteed.

This probably comes down to Hunter (No. 28 pick in 2015) or Young (No. 17 pick in 2014). I’d be surprised if Boston keeps Holland or Bentil.

Hunter and Young, both shooting guards, have failed to make a dent in the NBA. Young has had more time, but he’s also nearly two years younger than Hunter. Both deserve patience the Celtics can’t afford to give due to their roster constraints.

Other teams should be monitoring this competition with the intent of scooping up the loser – maybe even trading for him to preempt the waiver wire and free agency.

The Celtics would have little leverage in a deal, and they know it. They went down this road last year and waived Perry Jones III, who was still on his guaranteed rookie-scale contract. Maybe the lesser of Hunter and Young will hold more value, but it still won’t be much.

Aubrey McClendon used Thunder ownership stake as collateral for loans before death

DUBLIN, OH - MAY 30: Jack Nicklaus (R) stands with Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy Corporation during the Morgan Stanley Pro-Am Invitational at The Memorial Tournament May 30, 2007 in Dublin, Ohio.  (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
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One day after he was indicted for oil and gas conspiracy, Thunder minority owner Aubrey McClendon died in a single-car crash.

Now, his ownership stake could be tied up in court.

Ryan Dezember And Kevin Helliker of The Wall Street Journal:

Collapsing oil prices in late 2014 strained the new oil-and-gas empire he had assembled, and he struggled in his final year to raise more cash to keep it afloat.

Oklahoma records show he had pledged assets as collateral for loans, including his roughly 20% stake of the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team, fine wine, investments in tech startups and antique boats.

Lawyers for Mr. McClendon’s creditors have said they think Mr. McClendon, who during his Chesapeake heyday was a billionaire, left behind more debt than assets. The entrepreneur’s debts so far amount to about $500 million, according to Oklahoma probate records.

But Martin Stringer, a lawyer for Mr. McClendon’s estate, said claiming it is insolvent is “incorrect” because “nobody has the facts,” according to a transcript of a May probate court hearing. The value of many assets “depends on commodity prices,” he added.

Mr. McClendon’s creditors, which so far range from Wall Street banks to a former employee to a farm-equipment maker, have until Sept. 16 to file claims.

Clay Bennett remains the Thunder’s controlling owner, so the team will likely remain stable. But there’s still potential for this to get a little messy.

Report: ‘Several executives’ believe Kendall Marshall, to be waived after 76ers-Jazz trade, still belongs in NBA

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 13: Kendall Marshall #5 of the Philadelphia 76ers puts up a shot between Justin Holiday #7 and Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls
at the United Center on April 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Jazz just traded Tibor Pleiss to the 76ers in a salary dump. Utah gets Kendall Marshall in a procedural move and will waive the point guard whose salary is unguaranteed.

What’s next for Marshall and Pleiss?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on Marshall:

several league executives still believe there’s a spot in the league for him as a backup point guard.

Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly:

https://twitter.com/JCameratoCSN/status/769204973846589440

If so many executives believe Marshall belongs in the NBA, he’ll get signed. I have some doubts.

Marshall was curiously undervalued when he was younger and healthier. Now, he’s coming off a dreadful season in Philadelphia. A 2015 torn ACL still raises major doubts about Marshall’s ability to play even tolerable defense. His outside shooting has also regressed after blooming with the Lakers and Bucks.

Still, he’s a plus passer and just 25. He has a chance.

Pleiss is also coming off a lousy year, and he’s even older. He’ll turn 27 in the season’s second week, though he has played only one NBA season – and most of it was in the D-League. The 7-foot-3 Pleiss has plenty of size and a little shooting touch, but the 76ers don’t have playing time behind Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid to develop him. Pleiss likely returns to Europe.