NBA Championships aren’t easy to come by. Making it through the grueling regular season is a task in it of itself. Throw in two more months of playoff action and the entire season is right around eight months long. One has to wonder how LeBron James keeps making it to the NBA Finals every year. Perhaps being one of the best players on the planet has something to do with it. Regardless of what the reason may be we know that LeBron hasn’t made it to the promise land on his own these past six seasons. Last year Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert were just some of the guys coming off the bench that gave Cleveland the final push they needed to come back from a 3-1 deficit.
A majority of the teams that have won it all showcased a supporting cast that the starting five would be nothing without. Every team needs a sixth man. Whether it’s a back-court player or a front-court player, having a spark off the bench can be the difference in an intense series like last years NBA Finals. With that being said not everyone can thrive in the second unit; it doesn’t really matter though since a number of players have earned rings for doing next to nothing throughout the season. I guess hardly playing isn’t so bad when you have some hardware to go along with it. Of course there are a number of players who dominated in their primes but didn’t earn a ring until they were in the twilight of their careers. Stories like that are always awesome. The moral of the story is that some players earned their titles and some didn’t. Here are 10 bench players who deserve their championship rings and 10 who don’t.
2o. Do: Marco Belinelli
As the best three-point shooter on the Spurs, Belinelli provided a huge lift for the team back in 2013. With a team high 43 percent from three, Belinelli started in 25 games during the regular season but didn’t start in any games during the playoffs. The team avenged their series loss from the year before by beating the Miami Heat 4-1 in the 2014 NBA Finals and Belinelli was able to get his first taste of championship glory. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Teams can never have too much shooting. The league has learned that it’s more efficient to shoot the deep ball and it doesn’t hurt to have guys like Belinelli on your team when attempting a push in the playoffs. The best part about this team was that it featured seven players from five different countries outside of the United States. Only Coach Popovich could handle talent as diverse as that.
19. Don’t: Robert Horry
I know what you’re thinking and to some extent I’d have to agree. Robert Horry is extremely clutch in the 4th quarter. There aren’t many other players I would rather have take a last second shot than Horry. He’d knock down some huge shots but don’t let the “Big Shot Bob” moniker fool you. Horry was a glorified bench player at best. He started for the Houston Rockets but every other team he played for used him in a lesser role. Career playoff numbers of 7.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG and 0.9 BPG don’t exactly warrant seven rings. He’s 6’10 but he let guys like Shaq and Hakeem grab all the boards while he stayed on the three-point line like a guard even though he only shot 34 percent from deep at the end of his pro basketball days. I can live with him having all those rings, just don’t put him in the hall of fame.
18. Do: Steve Kerr
With five championships as a player and one so far as a coach, Steve Kerr may very well be on his way to earning ring number seven as his Golden State Warriors currently sit atop the Western Conference. During his time with the Chicago Bulls Kerr, who shot 47 percent from behind the arc during his five years with the team, played a major role in the second three-peat the team experienced in less than 10 years. He was also very reliable for the franchise as he played in every regular season game from 1993 to the end of the 1997 season.
While he was never an All-Star, Kerr did participate in the NBA Three-Point Shootout Contest on four different occasions and took first place in ’97. He would retire as the league’s all-time leader in three-point percentage for a single season (.524) and held the record until 2010 after Kyle Korver finished with a three-point percentage of .536. Kerr is the definition of a three-point specialist and clearly his traits have rubbed off on Curry and Thompson.
17. Don’t: D.J. Mbenga
D.J. Mbenga, also known as “Congo Cash”, was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers teams that won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Hailing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mbenga provided comic relief for Lakers fans who chanted “MVP” after he scored a career high 10 points in a game against the Timberwolves back in 2009. Yes, there were MVP chants being reigned down by fans in the Staples Center for someone not named Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal. In all seriousness Mbenga didn’t do much to earn his rings. In his three seasons with the team he averaged 2.3 PPG in 7.5 minutes of action on the court. Still, those championship teams were way more fun to watch than what the team puts out today.
16. Do: Andre Iguodala
Yes, Iguodala started the final three games of the 2015 NBA Finals but until then he had not started in one all season which is why he gets a spot on our list. During his first few years in the league the Illinois native could throw down a jam that would make you pray for his opponent (just ask Brian Cardinal). Now 33 years old, Iguodala can’t quite throw down like he used to but he is still one of the premier perimeter defenders we have in the game today. Steve Kerr and his coaching staff needed to switch things up during the 2015 NBA Finals. It became clear that the 13-year veteran was the best answer for LeBron James.
Using a smaller lineup Kerr had Iguodala start over Andrew Bogut, meaning Draymond Green would start at the center position. This allowed the Warriors to keep their best defensive option on LeBron James for a majority of the contest. With Iguodala guarding him James made 38.1% of his shots. Without him he made 44%. The difference was highly noticeable and Iguodala would be named the Finals MVP of the series after the Warriors took the series 4-2. He is the only player to ever win a Finals MVP award despite not starting in every game in the series.
15. Don’t: Mengke Bateer
The first ever Chinese player to win an NBA Championship, Mengke Bateer became a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2002 after coach Popovich saw him play in the FIBA Word Championships the same year. Pop was impressed with the 6’11 center and wanted him on the Spurs so the team traded the Detroit Pistons a second-round draft pick for Bateer in return. It’s amazing to think that someone like Bateer has a ring and Yao Ming doesn’t. He played in only 12 games and took only 20 shots the entire regular season. With such little court time I would be bored out of my mind. Of course when you’re getting paid millions of dollars to do nothing, sitting on the bench collecting dust isn’t so bad.
14. Do: Vinnie Johnson
Here’s a perfect example of having a sixth man that can provide instant offense off the bench. At 6’2 Vinnie Johnson was a perfect substitute for the Detroit Pistons during their championship seasons in 1989 and 1990. Both titles came at the end of his tenure in the NBA, but due to his size “The Microwave” could fill in at the one for Isiah Thomas or at the two for Joe Dumars. His ball handling and shooting made for a lethal combination against opponents like the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1989 NBA Finals. With guys like Magic, Kareem and Worthy the Lakers should have had no problems taking care of Detroit. Wrong. Johnson, who scored 68 points on 60 percent shooting, threw everything but the kitchen sink at L.A. He used a mix of mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket to keep the competition guessing.
By the way who can forget the block he had on Mychal Thompson in Game 2? Nasty stuff. Johnson did everything possible during his nine seasons in Detroit to win a title for the city. Good to know he was rewarded for his efforts.
13. Don’t: Scot Pollard
Scot Pollard basically served as an insurance plan for the Boston Celtics during the 2007-08 season. If any of their big men went down, Boston would have Pollard waiting in the wings to simply protect the paint and grab rebounds. With Kendrick Perkins solidifying his spot at the center position, Glen Davis and Leon Powe were used as backups to Perkins since they were more reliable front-court options than Pollard. He didn’t play in a single game during the ’08 playoffs so his main duties included becoming a male cheerleader and keeping the bench warm for guys like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Even Brian Scalabrine was more deserving of his ring than him.
If Pollard is remembered for anything it’s for telling kids to do drugs on national television. The stunt gained him more notoriety than anything he ever did on the court. Like a majority of the players on this list Pollard just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
12. Do: Jason Terry
Dirk Nowitzki in his prime was quite the sight to see. Leading the Mavericks to a title in 2011, Dallas had the odds stacked against them since they were going up against the Miami Heat and the dreaded “Big Three”. Of course Dirk couldn’t have done it alone. Jason Terry had some of his best performances come during the ’11 playoffs. His best game of the postseason came against the Lakers during the Western Conference Semifinals. Terry went 9-10 from three in a blowout victory that allowed the Mavericks to sweep the defending champions. He averaged 17.5 PPG on 47 percent shooting in the playoffs and gave the Mavericks a much needed boost with the second unit. The team was very underwhelming when it came to defending their title. They went 36-30 the season after and were eliminated in the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not every team has the capability to go back to back.
11. Don’t: Brian Cardinal
Here’s an example of how being really tall gives you a shot in the NBA. Another member of the championship Mavericks team, Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal is known for getting absolutely destroyed by Andre Iguodala in the same season the team won it all. Starting in only 37 games throughout his 12 years in the NBA, Cardinal was reserved to a bench role for a majority of his time in the NBA. He averaged just 4 MPG during the playoffs in 2011 and averaged just one point during his limited time. If you’re not going to score as a center you should probably grab at least two rebounds instead but Cardinal failed to do even that since he averaged only one during the regular season.
It always amazes me when teams sign players like Cardinal to one-year contracts. There had to have been better options at the time but oh well, everything worked out in the end for Dallas.
10. Do: Toni Kukoč
While Kukoč started for more than half of the games (52) during the Bulls 1997-98 season, the Croatian came off the bench for the team the two seasons before that. Kukoč did a little bit of everything while he was with Chicago (14 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.2 APG). It’s never easy to average double digits when you’re coming off the bench but Kukoč is one of the few players that has. He was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1996 and is the last player to earn the reward and win an NBA Championship in the same season. A feat like that has only been accomplished by four other players: Kevin McHale, Bill Walton and Bobby Jones. Before retiring in 2006 Kukoč played for three more teams (76ers, Hawks and Bucks). He had some great seasons with those teams but he’ll always be remembered as a Chicago Bull.
9. Don’t: Eddy Curry
Eddy Curry should be happy he was even in the league when the Miami Heat won their second championship in franchise history. At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, the Miami Heat signed Curry to a one-year contract so that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would have someone to practice against. Okay that’s not true but you never know. At this point Curry was already on his way out of the league. He played in only 14 games during the regular season and suited up once during the postseason but didn’t even play. I will say this though. Curry did come into the season 70 pounds lighter. Kudos to him for actually taking a season seriously for once. It still doesn’t mean he deserved a ring though.
8. Do: Bill Walton
By the time Bill Walton got to Boston his best days were behind him. Chronic foot injuries plagued him for a number of years but the hall of famer showed just how tough he was in his first season with the Celtics. Walton started for the Portland Trailblazers during his first four years in the league but came off the bench during the 1985-86 season, which was his first year dawning the historic green and white. He played a key role in winning the championship that year for Boston as he served as a respectable backup for Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. His numbers (7.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG) won’t amaze you, but Walton was the ultimate team player and it’s hard to forget someone who is the only player in NBA history to win the Sixth Man Award and be named the NBA MVP in their career.
7. Don’t: Darko Miličić
It’s hard to believe this guy was taken second in the 2003 draft. It’s not often that you see a player drafted so high and never average never more than 10 points in a season. When it comes to the first five picks in any NBA draft most of the teams with those picks are pretty terrible. The ’03 draft was a bit different though, at least for the Detroit Pistons. Detroit actually wasn’t that bad the year before. In fact they were really good having finished first in the Eastern Conference at the end of the 2002-03 regular season. They obtained the draft pick back in 1997 in a trade that sent Otis Thorpe to the Vancouver Grizzlies. So with their pick the Pistons took Miličić and man was he disappointing.
He was a non-factor in the Pistons championship victory the following season which is understandable since it was his first season in the league. However there was no excuse for his crappy play the rest of his professional career. Averaging 6 PPG through six different teams, Miličić’s lackluster stint in the NBA came to an end in 2013. The only thing he might be worse at than basketball is kickboxing. He decided to step into the ring in 2014 and the whole thing from beginning to end was just awful. Kickboxing is hard enough as it is; the last thing we need is Darko completely killing the sport.
6. Do: Manu Ginóbili
It’s weird to think of a talent like Manu Ginóbili as a bench player but some his best years with the Spurs came outside of the starting lineup. His most impressive line of work came during the championship run the team made during the 2006-07 season. There’s no reason why Ginóbili couldn’t have started every single game during the regular season (and the postseason). He was outplaying all of his counterparts, but the mastermind known as Gregg Popovich was smart about his rotations and he knew how to use his players to their fullest potential. For Ginóbili it was as the team’s sixth man. It clearly worked out for them as the Spurs went on to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the ’07 NBA Finals.
The Argentinian came off the bench in every game during the playoffs that year and was very effective in his role averaging 16.5 PPG on 46 percent shooting. With four rings and two All-Star appearances, Ginóbili is one of the greatest international players the league has ever seen. A nomination to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame shouldn’t be out of question.
5. Don’t: Adam Morrison
Adam Morrison’s NBA career was a bust. Plain and simple. After being selected by the Charlotte Bobcats with the third overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, Morrison would later become a Los Angeles Laker after being traded to the team in 2008 for Vladimir Radmanović. He would end up winning two championships with L.A. despite the fact that he spent almost every game during both seasons wearing a suit and tie. He didn’t play in a single playoff game in 2009 and only showed up in two in 2010.
The Lakers released Morrison after the team won its sixteenth title and his days in the NBA were all but over at that point. The Trail Blazers signed him to a contract in 2012 but they ended waiving him after realizing that he provided next to nothing for their team. Kind of like how he provided next to nothing with the Lakers.
4. Do: Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf are the only players to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award two years in a row. There’s just one key difference between the two; McHale won three NBA Championships while Schrempf won zero. Sorry Detlef but the Celtic great gets a spot on our list this time around. McHale spent his entire 13-year career with the Boston Celtics and can you blame him? Him and Bird were a dynamic duo for Boston having won three titles together for Beantown.
The power forward gets an entry on our list for his work in the 1983-84 season. That was the year McHale won his first Sixth Man Award and his numbers show why he deserved it. He averaged almost 20 points off the bench (18.4) on 57 percent shooting during the regular season and continued his solid play into the playoffs where he averaged 14.8 points in 23 games. The Celtics won their 16th championship (this being McHale’s second) and the University of Minnesota alum was named to his first All-Star game of his career. He would be selected for six more before his retirement in 1993.
All of these accomplishments are pretty amazing. Throw in the fact that he was named to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players and you’ll understand why McHale is regarded as one of the best the game of basketball has ever seen.
3. Don’t: Jack Haley
A lot of players in the NBA are often signed to contracts for the veteran leadership that they may have to offer to some of the younger athletes on the team. Players getting signed to simply babysit another player is another thing; it basically never happens but it did with Jack Haley and the Chicago Bulls. Obviously this wasn’t the real reason that the Bulls signed Haley but his limited play only backed up the notion that he was on the team for reasons outside of basketball. He played in one game during the 1995-96 season. By the time the regular season was over you would think that Haley would have spoken to management or the coaching staff about actually stepping onto the court. Well the trend continued as Haley didn’t play a single minute in the postseason. I guess he can’t complain though. Chicago won its fourth NBA Championship and Dennis Rodman kept his cool for most of the season. Who knows what he would have done without Haley by his side.
2. Do: John Havlicek
The man known as “Hondo” is without a doubt one of the many players who revolutionized the game of basketball. He gave meaning to the term “sixth man” by being the first in his era to produce quality numbers and provide his team with profound support off the bench. A 13-time All-Star and 11 All-NBA Team selections, Havlicek made his living by being a backup for legends like Sam Jones during the early stages of his basketball career. After Jones retired in 1969, Havlicek already had six championships under his belt and if the Sixth Man Award existed back in the 1960s he would have easily earned at least two of them.
Throughout his career he was used sporadically as a starter but he is known for being one of the greatest reserves the league has ever seen. With multiple season averages just short of a triple double, it’s hard to argue that anyone else was or has been greater in the sixth man role than Havlicek. He retired in 1978 as Boston’s all-time leading scorer with over 26,000 points and had his number 17 retired by the team in 1978. Who knows how Havlicek would fair in today’s game. What we do know is that he dominated during his days and that’s all that matters.
1. Don’t: Jim Loscutoff
Let me start off this entry by asking a couple questions. Do you know who Michael Jordan is? Do you know who Kobe Bryant is? Do you know who Tim Duncan is? I’m assuming your answer to these questions is “yes”. Now let me ask you one more. Do you know who Jim Loscutoff is? Didn’t think so. Loscutoff has more rings than all of those guys but put in way less effort to earn them. A graduate from the University of Oregon, Loscutoff won seven NBA championships while averaging 6.2 PPG for his career and 5.5 points in the playoffs. Imagine if anyone in any professional sport today won seven titles with those kind of numbers. There would be a riot. He averaged 18.5 MPG but only saw his points-per-game go over nine points once during his time with the Boston Celtics.
Honestly, I have to salute anyone that sticks with a team for that long and wins that many rings. It’s almost impressive that he was able to accomplish so much while doing so little. I’m sure him and Red Auerbach are celebrating up in heaven, enjoying a cigar or two while watching Isaiah Thomas light up the TD Garden.
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