Starting Five NBA Role Players Roundtable


Role players are sometimes overlooked and don’t always get the credit that they deserve. However, when you look at every championship team, they’ve always had solid players that knew their purpose and did their job. A few members of the Basketball Society are going to give their definition of a what a role players means and also, list their starting five role players of all time.

Our writers include:

  • Alfonso De Falco – @fonzydefalco50
  • DJ Allen – @djallen23
  • Alex Fischbein – @fisch21
  • Alec Walt – @alecwalt
  • Martin Soaries – @marsoaries

1.) What’s your definition of a role player? What are some attributes you believe a good role player should have?

De Falco: A role player, I believe is someone you can always rely on off the bench. However, they do not always have to be on the bench as they can be inserted into the starting lineup depending on certain match ups. One main attribute I would say a good role player needs is a really good basketball IQ. You want your role players to know what their job is when on the court as well as the situation they are put in.

Allen: A role player is someone that serves their purpose on a team to assist their teammates in gaining a victory. When I think of a good role player, I think of someone who’s unselfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win at all costs.

Fischbein: A role player is someone who is on a team for a specific reason, and that is to perform one, or sometimes a couple, specific parts of the game. That means this player is going to be on the team due to his defense like Tony Allen or maybe for his leadership like Andre Miller. A good role player performs inside his role and rarely tries to do more than is asked of him. He tries to become the best at his specific role, and he thinks about how he can use that to help the team.

Walt: A role player is a support player who is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Role players are accepting to their role whether they start or have to come off the bench. Role players make stars better, and star players make role players better. The best role players are hard working, passionate about winning, and willing to do the dirty work. Teams with the best role players win NBA Championships.

Soaries: A player who plays and attacks a specific role that is integral to the function of the team. Good role players are wise, versatile, and selfless.

Credit: Warriors World

2.) Pick your starting five of role players.

De Falco:

  • PG: Jamal Crawford – He’s played for many teams but made an impact wherever he landed. The only player to win the sixth man of the year twice is a scoring machine.
  • SG: Tony Allen – From his early days in Boston to his days now in Memphis, Tony Allen has been a defensive stopper. There have been seasons when he was a full time starter but it seems like now he will be coming off the bench. Regardless, whenever he is put into the game he knows his job and is very good at it.
  • SF: Bobby Jones – Jones was the first person to ever win the the Sixth Man award and was a fan-favorite for the Sixers. He was able to do everything from blocking shots, moving without the ball and diving for loose balls, something that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score.
  • PF: Taj Gibson – Gibson so far has been a reliable forward for the Chicago Bulls. He has never been a full time starter but when his name is called he has been able to provide strength down low in the post.
  • C: Bill Cartwright – Cartwright was the starting center for Jordan’s first three-peat. Although he did not have eye-popping stats, he was responsible for guarding centers like Bill Laimbeer, Shaq, and Patrick Ewing.


  • PG: Derek Fisher – Fisher has been there and done that. A great leader, a clutch shooter, and a hard worker. This is one guy that you know will give 110% every single night.
  • SG: Allan Houston – Allan got buckets and made it look easy. Injuries took away from his career, but this is one guy I grew up watching and always admired. He meant so much to those playoffs Knicks teams and often, his great talent gets forgot about.
  • SF: Lamar Odom – Lamar was so crucial to those 2009, 2010 Los Angeles Lakers championship teams. His versatility made him such a threat and he could do so much offensively and defensively. A true point forward, that gave his opponent nightmares.
  • PF: Robert Horry – CLUTCH! 7 rings! “Big Shot Bob”… Drops mic.
  • C: Ben Wallace – Even though he took down my Lakers in 2004, I believe Ben Wallace is the true definition of a role player. He knew that he was looked at to play defense and get rebounds, and that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t care about scoring or being in the spotlight, he did what was asked and it helped win a championship.


  • PG: Jamal Crawford
  • SG: Tony Allen
  • SF: Bobby Jones
  • PF: Robert Horry
  • C: Rick Mahorn
Jamal Crawford’s one of the best scoring role players that we have the enjoyment to watch recently. His handles and ability to get 4-point plays make him an exciting player to watch. Then, I have Tony Allen and Bobby Jones who are two of the best defensive role players there are. We all know the kind of hard-nosed defense that Allen plays, and Jones has a similar hustle and “leave it all on the floor” attitude. Horry is a no-brainer because who else is known as “big shot bob?” Rick Mahorn was a great role player for the bad boy Pistons that allowed them to play with the physical style they were known for in their time.
  • PG: K.C. Jones, Boston Celtics – K.C Jones started his career as Bob Cousey’s backup, then became the teams starter for three years after his retirement. Jones won eight NBA Titles throughout his first eight NBA seasons. His game was quiet, but he brought intensity on defense. He was responsible for covering the best opposing guard, and he never backed down. Every time Jones hit the floor he was doing the dirty work. All Jones cared about was winning.
  • SG: John Havlicek, Boston Celtics – John Havlicek was a reserve player who became a Celtics legend. “Hando” played an under-appreciated role and brought no flash to his game. His game was consistent and currently holds the Celtics franchise record in points after his 16 year career. He also thrived on the defensive end as he was named to an All Defensive team 8 times in his career. But what makes Havlicek such a good role player is that he let Bill Russell and Sam Jones be the stars. He accepted multiple roles throughout his NBA career.
  • SF: Robert Horry, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs – Robert Horry is the definition of the perfect role player. He was versatile on both ends of the court, made clutch shots, and always gave 100% effort. Horry won seven NBA Championships, and played his best when it mattered most. Throughout Horry’s career, he played with star players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan. They made Horry better and Horry made them better. Horry is the best role player of all time.
  • PF: Don Nelson, Boston Celtics – Don Nelson won 5 NBA Championships with the Boston Celtics, but never appeared in a single All-Star game. He played most of his career as a sixth man with great ball handling skills. His game is modeled on consistency with a career 48% field goal percentage, and even took free throw shots with one hand. Nelson was known for having a high basketball IQ. With Red Auerbach as his head coach, his IQ only got stronger. Nelson took a backseat role and was always interested in learning something new.
  • C: Tommy Heinsohn, Boston Celtics – Tommy Heinsohn was the backup to NBA legend Bill Russell, but he was still able to average 18.6 points per game throughout his career. He was a hard nosed forward and did whatever it took to win. Heinsohn owns eight NBA Championship rings and only played in the NBA for nine seasons. His offensive game was crafty with a quick release, deadly jump shot, and efficient low post game. Confidence helped him throughout his career, and coming off the bench never discouraged him.
  •  PG: Ron Harper (97-98 Bulls) A big, long guard who can be a scorer and run the offense.
  • SG: Jason Terry (2011 Mavs) Big shot maker who’s always ready for the moment.
  • SF: Andre Iguodala (2015 Warriors) A do-it-all guy that can make big plays on both ends of the floor.
  • PF: Lamar Odom (08-09 Lakers) One of the most versatile, position- less players I’ve ever seen.
  • C: Vlade Divac (2000-01 Kings) A crafty big with ability to dictate the offense.
LeBron James
Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

3.) If you could pick a star player to put alongside these guys, who would it be and why?

De Falco: If I can pair a superstar with this starting lineup I would say Magic Johnson because of his passing and ability to make his teammates look good. Add his length with tony allen’s defensive abilities this backcourt looks like a nightmare for the opposing team.

Allen: My pick would be Carmelo Anthony. Even though he hasn’t won a ring, I believe this type of roster would suit his style best. He would have deadly shooters around him in Fisher, Houston, and Horry. A stopper in the paint in Wallace and then a threat coming off the bench in Odom. Melo has what it takes, he just needs the right supporting cast.

Fischbein: I would pick Kevin Durant to play alongside these guys. Durant is a deadly scorer and he is always criticized as not being aggressive enough. Well, if you pair him with the physical style of play in Allen, Jones, and Mahorn and give him a great scorer at sixth man with a guy who can also hit the big shot, I don’t see any reason why Durant couldn’t succeed at the highest level.

Walt: This team’s star player would have to be Shaquille O’Neal. This team is very undersized, but each player can play more than one position. With Shaq inside, this team would play a similar game to when the Celtics had Bill Russell and won 11 NBA Championships. The Celtics won 11 titles because players like K.C Jones, John Havlicek, Don Nelson, and Tommy Heinsohn accepted their roles. Add Robert Horry to this lineup, and we add one of the most clutch role players of all time. Shaq would make this team dominant.

Soaries: LeBron James because he’s one of the best ever at elevating players around him.


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