Late October turning to early November marks an abundance of sports, with the NBA and the NHL starting their campaigns and the NFL gaining momentum, poised for seasonal dominance, especially once the World Series concludes the elongated stretch of the MLB. Where the NBA is concerned, business will pick up by the wintertime and, for now, casual fans at least know about the veritable All-Star squad the Golden State Warriors have put together. MVP point guard Steph Curry earned All-NBA first team honors last year. He’s joined by forwards Draymond Green and prized free agent signing Kevin Durant, who both made the second team. Sharp-shooting guard Klay Thompson was chosen for the third team, meaning Golden State is starting four of the league’s best 15 players… and also some Other Guy.
That’s the premise we’ll be delving into: Finding the weak links amid a chain of superstars, citing the wallflowers who played a supporting role to the phenoms on great NBA teams. These Other Guys aren’t necessarily terrible, but due to the talent around them, they had to be relatively low-paid, low-maintenance, and granted lower expectations. There were four Beatles, not five, yet the following players can all relate to Ringo. Whether their squads prevailed in spite of them or came up short on the biggest stage, they’re the ones most likely to repeat Ringo’s signature line: “I’m just happy to be here.”
15. Zaza Pachulia, C, 2016-17 Golden State Warriors
The fate of his team won’t be decided until the summer of 2017 and we’re not doing this in alphabetical order, so we’ll start with Zaza. With plenty of shooters who can stretch the floor, now more than ever, the Warriors exemplify the state of the NBA and its new mantra: “Big men are overrated.” The days when marquee centers clashed in the low post–those match-ups of Olajuwon vs. Shaq, Ewing vs. Robinson–have faded into history. And if Golden State prevails as the odds-on favorite by winning their second title in three years, expect more of the trend of teams giving a center like Pachulia the lowest priority in a starting five.
Born in the country of Georgia, Pachulia signed with Golden State in July of 2016, less than a week after Kevin Durant inked his two-year deal. Sometimes the Dubs forego a true center all-together to better run the court and rain threes, but Pachulia is nonetheless their preferred rim-protector, ahead of JaVale McGee and Anderson Varejao on the depth chart. Pachulia brought down 9.4 rebounds per game last season with Dallas, a career-high for the 14-year vet, so he does have value in support of the Fantastic Four. Just don’t expect him to score much or touch the ball during crunch time.
14. Udonis Haslem, PF/ C, 2012-13 Miami Heat
A three-time Champion in Miami, we’re choosing the 2012-13 season because it showed the widest disparity between Haslem and his fellow starters. On the floor for tip-off in three of the seven games in the Finals and 59 times in the regular year, Haslem proved that Miami liked to mix-and-match a lot around the Big Three of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and the incomparable LeBron James. Though he wasn’t a superstar, Mario Chalmers was capable as their point guard. To clarify why Haslem and not Mario C. was the true Other Guy in this quintet, let’s look at Haslem’s stat line that year.
Despite starting more often than not, he averaged a disappointing 3.9 PPG and a barely better 5.4 RPG. Maybe Chalmers wasn’t dazzling, but he certainly contributed more than Haslem in a season that culminated with a thrilling seven-game victory over the Spurs. Trends continued in the Finals: Haslem was a non-factor who could only manage 1.5 PPG and 2.8 RPG, whereas Chalmers hit some three-balls and jumpers and chipped in with 10.6 PPG. With 13 players getting minutes vs. San Antonio, the Heat had to evolve into more of a deep, rotating ensemble to repeat as Champs, and though his role was limited, you’ve got to believe Haslem was happy to make the sacrifice to get that third ring.
13. Charlie Ward, PG, 1998-99 New York Knicks
The only point guard to crack this list, Ward’s also our lone Heisman Trophy winner. Plus, he was drafted by two different MLB teams despite not playing baseball in college, so yeah, he was a pretty good all-around athlete. An exciting running quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles, he chose to focus on basketball, which led to a roller coaster season with the Knicks in which they made it to the Finals as eighth seed to battle the Spurs. Ward’s fellow starters were SG Allan Houston and PF Larry Johnson (both two-time All-Stars), the volatile yet gifted Latrell Spreewell, and Marcus Camby, a great rim-protector who stepped up to replace injured Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing.
Rating this Other Guy is tricky because he was widely known to sports fans, it’s just that the man might have picked the wrong sport. Could he have excelled more as a pro quarterback than a pro point guard? His legacy as a distributor in the NBA was pretty pedestrian: 6.3 PPG, 4.0 APG. He didn’t perform any better in his sole Finals appearance: 5.8 PPG, 3.6 APG. His knack for stealing the rock notwithstanding, it’s kind of surprising he lasted for over a decade in the Association. The last time they played for a title, New York was bested by San Antonio. And some of us wonder if Charlie Ward in the NFL would have bested Charlie Ward in the NBA.
12. Mark West, C, 1992-93 Phoenix Suns
In hindsight, there is a chance these Suns could have risen above the Bulls with better play from their center. Sir Charles Barkley edged out Air Jordan in MVP voting with a career year. The backcourt of Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle had a brief but marquee run together. Even rookie SF Richard Dumas held his own, scoring 15.8 PPG before addiction issues cut his career short. The team lost Game 6 by a single point on a last-second shot. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if a better big man would have made the difference.
Consider what West posted in 1992-93: 19 minutes, 5.3 points and 5.6 boards per contest. His numbers in the Finals were very similar. He got out-rebounded by the smaller “Thunder” Dan by a margin of 4.3-to-8.2 in those last six games. West didn’t even give his team a match-up advantage over the aging and declining Bill Cartwright of Chicago. This Other Guy endured from 1983-2000 in the NBA and has gone on to become an assistant coach for Phoenix, but when Barkley had his best shot to beat MJ and win a ring, Mark West was a liability the Suns could not overcome.
11. Jason Collins, C, 2002-03 New Jersey Nets
In the 2002 Finals, his Nets didn’t stand a chance against Kobe and Shaq. The latter, Diesel, was a match-up nightmare for center Todd MacCulloch, who would have made this list–except for the fact that in the 2003 Finals vs. San Antonio and the twin towers of Tim Duncan and David Robinson, Jason Collins somehow managed to fare even worse. This series actually lasted six games, due to the backcourt of Jason Kidd and Kerry Kittles and the forward combo of Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin. The Nets had an improved roster, except at starting center.
In the regular season leading up to their second Finals defeat in a row, Collins netted 5.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 0.5 blocks per game. Against dominant forces like Duncan and Robinson in the Finals, his numbers stayed about the same, excluding his scoring, which dropped to 3.7 PPG. Let’s compare those stats to that of honorable mention Todd MacCulloch, who started vs. Shaq and the Lake Show in the previous Finals: 7.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 1.0 BPG. Collins was more of a hampering to the fast-paced Nets than MacCulloch (who averaged a respectable 10.6 PPG in his truncated career). Outside of hoops, Collins deserves credit for becoming the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the four major American sports. Inside the NBA, however, his game left a lot to be desired.
10. Mario Elie, SG, 1994-1995 Houston Rockets
Whereas the Bulls three-peated twice due in large part to the unparalleled Michael Jordan, the Rockets repeated in the time between with a starkly different model of success: They were carried by a preeminent center in Hakeem Olajuwon and shooting guard was more of an afterthought. To better their chances of defending as champs, these Rockets made a mid-season trade to acquire Hall of Famer Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. The crew was rounded out by Robert Horry, a key contributor on seven Championship teams, and Kenny Smith, who unassumingly scored 12.8 PPG and dished 5.5 APG in his very good career. Then there was Elie.
The subplot involved his fellow 2-guard Vernon Maxwell, a more dynamic talent and dangerous shooter, who was coined Mad Max for good reason. Maxwell was the better player, but his temperament was toxic. After the team traded for Drexler, Maxwell’s ego got bruised. He perceived a threat to his playing time and became resentful and malignant. That season, Mad Max punched a fan, got suspended, and was later given a leave of absence after the first game of the postseason. Elie benefited, maybe his stats were so-so, but team chemistry started to click as the sixth-seeded Rockets scored four upsets en route to sweeping the Magic in the Finals. Mario Elie wasn’t great, but somehow that was perfectly OK.
9. Jim Chones, PF, 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers
The Showtime era began when rookie point guard Magic Johnson joined the same backcourt as incumbent Norm Nixon–an excellent yet oft-overlooked player. Setting egos aside, they flourished in a fast-break attack. That year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took home MVP hardware. Small forward Jamaal Wilkes was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. Incredibly, this Lakers squad featured a fourth Hall of Famer in PF Spencer Haywood–but his cocaine problem got so bad he was dismissed during the Finals, leaving a spot for Jim Chones, who capitalized on that opportunity to become a supreme Other Guy.
In relief of Haywood, Chones’ minutes increased to 30.8 per contest in a six-game triumph over Dr. J and the 76ers. He quickly adapted to his expanded role by netting 8.3 PPG, knocking down his free throws, grabbing 7.0 RPG, and playing inspired defense against Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins. His heartfelt and gutsy over-achievement helped galvanize the rich talent around him. The squad even persevered through a late-series injury to Kareem that led to Magic starting at center to win his first of five rings. Unheralded as he was, Chones did his job when the chips were down.
8. Dick Barnett, G/F, 1969-70 New York Knicks
It’s both deeply nostalgic and somewhat debatable to label Dick Barnett as an Other Guy. He did partake in an All-Star Game back in ’68. Furthermore, the man scored over 15,000 points in his career, at a clip of 15.8 PPG. To say the least, calling him an Other Guy is a bold statement, but this is the argument: The 1969-70 Knicks started four players who made the Hall of Fame. And Dick Barnett was not one of them.
It might be unfair, but Barnett’s stardom was dwarfed by his teammates: Big man and double-double machine Willis Reed, dazzling floor general Walt “Clyde” Frazier, frontcourt beast Dave DeBusschere, and the esteemed Bill Bradley, a Princeton graduate who was to become the Senator of New Jersey. Those four combined for a total of 23 All-Star appearances. The caveat of this legendary group that prevailed over the Lakers in seven games is that–when you look at the numbers–if one-time All-Star Bill Bradley is a Hall of Famer, then the same should be true for Dick Barnett (who actually scored more career points than his Ivy League counterpart). For the time being and perhaps forever, though, Barnett remains one tough-luck Other Guy.
7. Tiago Splitter, C, 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs
The first Brazilian-born player to win a ring in the Association was a capable yet overlooked starter on the most recent Spurs team to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. For this run, one of their veteran Big Three, Manu Ginóbli, had taken to the role of sixth man, while Tony Parker and Tim Duncan continued to produce as starters in their advanced age. Newcomers Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were the rising talents (Leonard earned Finals MVP honors). That leaves Tiago Splitter, who averaged a respectable 8.2 points, 6.2 boards, and half a block per game that year.
In both the regular season and the playoffs of their title reign, Splitter’s minutes indicate he was on the floor less than half the time, which tells us his role was valued but by no means vital. His playing time dropped in the Finals against the Heat, when he averaged a meager 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in five contests. Forget about the Big Three. Considering the depth of this San Antonio team, Splitter barely cracked the Notable Nine.
6. Nazr Mohammed, C, 2004-05 San Antonio Spurs
We know about the trio of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli. If these three dudes had to share a safe, 13 championship rings would be stashed inside. We should probably remember small forward Bruce Bowen with more clarity than we do. As a superb on-the-ball defender, he had a knack for shutting down elite scorers. Bowen earned All-Defensive First Team honors from 2004-2008, which overrode his minimal impact on offense. Then there was Nazr Mohammed. His presence allowed Duncan to move to power forward, where the future Hall of Famer was more comfortable and productive. As for Mohammed, he was probably just happy to be there.
Aside from blocking shots, Mohammed did little to stand out on this San Antonio powerhouse. He was acquired midway through the year in a trade with the Knicks and the change in scenery caused an appreciable drop-off in his points, rebounds, and field goal percentage. Nevertheless, he started in the Finals as the Spurs prevailed over the Pistons in seven games in a stirring yet kind of forgotten series. It’s hard to last in the NBA averaging less than 6.0 PPG, but this relic of the 1998 draft class has been doing just that (although he might at last announce his retirement by the time you finish reading this sentence).
5. Devean George, SF, 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
Provided you weren’t a Lakers fan, the fall of the Goliath-like Lakers to the Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals was satisfying. Granted, the defeat marked the last chance Karl Malone had at winning a title, but just like Gary Payton (who later got that elusive ring with the Heat), he was past his prime and it seemed like a desperate move to sign up to compliment the quickly imploding duo of Kobe and Shaq. These Lakers won 56 games, but they were a mess of colossal egos, old bodies breaking down, vitriol, and melodrama. Oh, and they also started someone named Devean George at small forward for all five games of the Finals.
Against a Pistons group that exemplified team chemistry and unselfishness, The Lake Show was bested by its polar opposite. Splitting minutes with Rick Fox, George managed a stat line of 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game. Sadly, he still outscored Malone, who could muster only 5.0 PPG in his last Finals hurrah. George’s career numbers were about the same as what he averaged in ’04 Finals. He did contribute as a role player on the three preceding Championship teams in L.A., but as a starter, beside The Black Mamba, The Diesel, The Glove, and The Mailman, Devean George was just the dude without a cool nickname.
4. Trevor Ariza, SF, 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers
Another Other Guy Kobe might recall from the past, unlike Devean George, Trevor Ariza had the fortune of playing for a champion. His stat line as the starting SF of that quintet was extremely Other Guy in nature: In 24.4 minutes per game, he netted 8.9, rebounded 4.3, and assisted 1.8 per game. He was pretty good at stealing the ball, but aside from that, his bust was somewhere in the middle of The Lake Show’s totem pole.
At the top of the pole, The Black Mamba was overjoyed to prove he could win a title without Shaq. His trusted sidekick Derek Fisher had returned to L.A. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum comprised a formidable frontcourt. Ariza lost some minutes to sixth-man specialist Lamar Odom, but for an Other Guy, Ariza did step his game up a bit in the postseason and the Finals. He scored 11 PPG to help beat the Magic, played hard on defense, and overachieved knocking down threes at .417%. We can only guess that’s a recipe for Mamba remembering him more clearly than he did Devean George.
3. Luc Longley, C, 1995-98 Chicago Bulls
Years before the game started its trend of devaluing centers, the Bulls thrived on that model of success for two separate three-peats in the ’90s. The big man from the Land Down Under abetted Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen–still the GOAT and a top 25-ish all-time hoops icon, respectively–as well as Dennis Rodman and Ron Harper–a rebounding freak of nature and a guard who quietly amassed almost 14,000 career points in 16 seasons. All four were great-to-sensational defenders. Toni Kukoc flourished as their sixth man. Longley was the weakest link, but it didn’t matter.
Averaging 7.2 PPG for his career meant the Aussie wasn’t going to win many one-on-ones against the likes of Ewing, Magic-era Shaq, or even Rik Smits in the East, but he played within his skillset, hit an open jumper here and there, and deferred to his outstanding teammates to the degree that it’s hard to call the three-time Champ a liability. He was more of a quasi-liability that the Bulls could always overcome. Granted, he shared a frontcourt with a boards-crashing phenom in Rodman and that helped to negate Longley’s iffy ability to rebound (just 4.9 per contest). Luc Longley sure made it seem like it’s better to be lucky than good.
2. Rick Mahorn, PF, 1988-89 Detroit Pistons
Aptly coined The Bad Boys for their scrappy and nasty style of winning basketball, Rick Mahorn did the dirtiest work on a squad seemingly inspired by the Ric Flair adage of being The Dirtiest Player(s) in the Game. Mahorn started in their sweep of the Lakers, but he deferred minutes to the ascendant Dennis Rodman, who surpassed him by a margin of 10-to-5.3 RPG. Mahorn was also the eighth-best scoring option on that first of two Bad Boys teams.
These Pistons were led by Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, who electrified in the backcourt, a four-time All-Star center in Bill Laimbeer, and Mark Aguirre–who scored 18,458 points at a rate of 20 per game in his clandestinely great career. Rodman, big man James Edwards, and rapidly heating shooter Vinnie “Microwave” Johnson bolstered their bench. Somewhat ironically, Mahorn was a good player to have because he was the “Baddest Boy of them all.” These Pistons sometimes likened a game of hoops to a street fight and even though he couldn’t jump or shoot, they wanted to brawl alongside of Rick Mahorn.
1. Kurt Rambis, PF, 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
Who doesn’t love to see a vintage picture of Kurt Rambis? The ever-hustling power forward had such a delightfully goofy look. Whenever his Lakers clashed with the Celtics in June, his talent was dwarfed by both teammates and opponents–and yet he became an ’80s archetype of sorts with those barely-there shorts and the push broom and geeky glasses he sported. He buttressed Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy, as well as the gifted SG Byron Scott.
The Ned Flanders of basketball was known for diving for loose balls, grappling with Kevin McHale in the low post, snaring some boards, and shooting sparingly yet accurately–tipping-in balls off the rebound was within his range. Given his status, his performance in the 1985 Finals was commendable: In just 22 minutes per contest, he averaged 7.5 PPG and 8.5 RPG. In a game where egos can soar like Jordan from the free throw line, unselfish underdogs like Rambis do wonders for team chemistry. He proved that being the Other Guy can establish a player’s legacy as a dork who was shockingly cool.
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