The 12 best players in each conference (and Kobe Bryant) squared off in the NBA's premier regular season showcase last Sunday. For the most part, they all deserved to be in the All-Star Game in Toronto. Their job descriptions are the longest and they occupy the most words on an opposing scouting report.
But those players know they need teammates willing and able to fulfill the mundane tasks so they can focus on the big ones. Every great franchise has role players who sacrifice stats and touches to win. These players glue everyone's production together, filling the gaps in a brick foundation.
In most cases, these role players are specifically assigned to address their current team's needs. Some clubs need efficient scoring without any wasted motions. Some need playmaking, whether primary or secondary. Some need elite man-to-man defense and others need pinpoint help rotations. Some need help on the glass, while others need some aid protecting the rim.
But being a great role player means filling more than one specific role these days. As the game has become more dynamic and egalitarian, role players are asked to plug multiple holes, not just one. The more gaps they cover, the more the stars can focus on the few they do best. A team can only use five players at once, after all.
These are the players the third annual Film Room All-Star team celebrates. These are the 12 best role players in the NBA this season. Click the links below to read more about what makes each player so important to their teams.
Some ground rules:
- I defined "role player" as someone who uses under 20 percent of his team's possessions OR plays fewer than 28 minutes a game. Why 20 percent? In a perfectly balanced offense, every player finishes 20 percent of their team's plays. Below 20 percent means they occupy less than their ideal share. Why 28 minutes? Half the game, plus four minutes of crunch time. (One guard on this team barely crept above the 28-minute mark while I was working on this project).
- No more than one representative per NBA team. Otherwise, half of this list would be Warriors and Spurs players.
- No actual All-Stars. As I explain in the snubs section, this rules out one special case.
GUARD: J.J. Redick is saving the Clippers' season
GUARD: Jrue Holiday is part of the solution in New Orleans
FRONTCOURT: Jae Crowder is the combo forward every team now wants
FRONTCOURT: Zaza Pachulia changed the fortunes of two teams
FRONTCOURT: Serge Ibaka is an NBA unicorn
GUARD: George Hill is the Pacers' chameleon
GUARD: Cory Joseph left the Spurs and somehow improved
FRONTCOURT: Tim Duncan is still the Spurs' backbone at age 39
FRONTCOURT: Tristan Thompson does the dirty work so other Cavs don't have to
FRONTCOURT: Andre Iguodala plays chess while his opponents play checkers
WILD CARD: Robin Lopez eats space to let other Knicks thrive
WILD CARD: Jared Dudley is a bright light in the Wizards' dark season
GUARDS: Kyle Korver, Jeremy Lin, Matthew Dellavedova, Wes Matthews, Raymond Felton, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Shaun Livingston, Patrick Beverley, Mario Chalmers, Tyler Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Garrett Temple.
FRONTCOURT: Thabo Sefolosha, Amir Johnson, Marvin Williams, Taj Gibson, Darrell Arthur, Ersan Ilyasova, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Clint Capela, Ian Mahinmi, C.J. Miles, LaVoy Allen, Justise Winslow, Lance Thomas, Steven Adams, Jason Smith, Channing Frye, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, Omri Casspi, Boris Diaw, Bismack Biyombo, Patrick Patterson.