Unsung All-Stars: The NBA’s Best Role Players

The all-star voting season brings plenty of controversies. There are always players that appear out of place – those last seasons of Kobe; DeMarcus Cousins this year; Jeremy Lin for several seasons now; so on and so forth. But every year there are so many players that deserve an all-star spot but miss the cut because they play less exciting roles on their respective teams. Let’s dive into the best role players of the 2018-19 NBA campaign.

Note: I define role player as a player with a usage rate of 18% or lower

Starting Backcourt: Monte Morris (DEN) & Fred VanVleet (TOR)

These are by far the two best backup PGs in the NBA this season. Both are helping to power their teams to the elite of their respective conferences, and their teams will be relying on them down the stretch- both Denver and Toronto seem to struggle with keeping their guards in good health.

Although Monte barely got any playing time last season (he played in three games), he’s transitioned perfectly to today’s NBA. This season, he’s shot 43.2% from three on 2.6 shots a game, and has a 5.8 assist to turnover ratio, good for second in the league.

Fred VanVleet has been building his role player All-Star portfolio for several seasons, but on a vastly improved Raptors team this season, he’s taken another step up. He’s eighth in assist to turnover ratio (3.5), with 4.5 assists per game. Freddie V doesn’t pop off on the stat sheet, but his ability to fill in for the oft-injured Kyle Lowry and keep the team afloat speaks greatly to his skill.

Starting Frontcourt: Robert Covington (MIN), Jerami Grant (OKC), Pascal Siakam (TOR)

Lord Covington has to be the ultimate role player. He’s a great 3PT shooter (37.8% on 6.7 attempts per game), and is known for his lockdown defense as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ defensive rating worsens by five points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.

Jerami Grant has impressed this year, helping OKC to be one of the best defenses in the league. Grant adds 9.7 to the Thunder’s team rating when he’s on the floor against when he’s not, and the athleticism can’t go unnoticed.

The man can fly, which makes for good ratings (you’re welcome, NBA). And if you weren’t convinced before, his performance in that two-OT thriller against the Spurs should take care of any doubts: 25 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks, on 10-for-20 shooting.

Enjoying career highs in points, assists, rebounds, steals, threes and percentages, Siakam’s breakout year has been crucial for the Raptor’s league-leading 33 wins, with a net addition of 15.4 to the team’s offensive rating. His 7’3” wingspan and great agility allow him to guard almost any player in the league. Not to mention he’s sneakily one of the fastest players in the league and a deadly threat on the fast break.

Backups: Danny Green (TOR), Thaddeus Young (IND), Joe Ingles (UTA), Mason Plumlee (DEN), Joe Harris (BKN)

Danny Green has proved he’s not a system player with great efficiency and defense in Toronto. He’s 41% from three on 5.3 attempts a game and a clutch gene to die for as exhibited by his game-winner against the Magic.

Thaddeus Young is enjoying another solid year as a dependable defender (1.6 steals, 0.5 blocks). He also shooting 53% on 10.3 field goal attempts per game. The Pacers are third in the conference much due to Young’s limitless hustle, drive, and aggression. The man wants to win, and everyone who watches Indy basketball can see that.

The Professor is another cliche role player – Utah’s offensive rating improves by 10 points per 100 possessions when he’s in the game, and although he’s shooting worse than his career averages, he’s still such a positive impact for his team in a very small role (16.8 usage rate). In today’s league, floor spacing by sharpshooters is necessary to win, and Ingles does this as well as almost anyone in the league.

Mason Plumlee is the ying to Monte Morris’ yang, providing a solid pick-and-roll on offense. And with a block and six rebounds a game, Plumlee has proved a reliable backup to The Joker in 20 minutes a game.

Joe Harris might be the most boring player in the league, but he’s getting it done. 2.4 threes a game on 48.3%- good for second in the league, 51% from the field, and a steal/layup to win the game against the Hornets.

-Michael Gorman

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