NBA stars make teams better, but role players are what makes teams able to contend. We can validate this by citing the 2015 championship run of the Golden State Warriors. While Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green all had historic seasons, it was the Warriors’ bench made the team unstoppable for extended periods of time, leading to the creation of the famous 2015 slogan “Strength in Numbers”.
Rightfully so, there are many NBA role players who have accepted their positions, while honing their ability to be effective when their name is called. In the case of these five players, it would be an understatement to state that each of these role players have an undeniably incredible skill. Here is a complete list of five role players with unstoppable skills in the NBA.
5. Shaun Livingston
Shaun Livingston’s epic comeback from a cataclysmic injury is the epitome of a true sports miracle. In 2007, Livingston suffered a gruesome knee injury that would have just about ended the career of a normal NBA player.
As a result of colliding his knee directly into the ground, Livingston tore his ACL, PCL, and his lateral meniscus. He badly sprained his MCL, while severely dislocating his patella and tibio fibular joint. All of these injuries drastically changed Livingston’s career, but he has adapted to the situation becoming a reliable role player for the Warriors. Livingston is currently shooting 51 percent on two-point attempts, mainly from his automatic mid-range jumpshot.
Standing at six feet and seven inches, Livingston’s trademark move is posting up smaller guards within 15-17 from the rim, then leaping up to drain an uncontested mid-range shot. This shot has worked well for Livingston who is thriving from the mid-range even in the new age of three-pointers. In fact, in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Livingston scored 20 points, destroying every opponent he could from within 20 feet.
Even after ten years since his gruesome leg injury, Livingston is still providing the Warriors with excellent bench depth from his unstoppable mid-range shot.
4. Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford isn’t just a three-time Sixth Man of the Year recipient or the leader in total 4-point plays made (55). Crawford is a reliable role player who can score in bunches, but one of his skills that has dominated the NBA is his ball handling skills. Crawford is one of the best ball-handlers in the game, and he continues to prove it by performing moves such as these:
Even at 37 years of age, Crawford is still among the best in the league in ball-handling. Though Crawford’s three-point shooting wizardry is starting to decrease with his age, Crawford’s incredible speed and ball-handling makes him a great commodity for any NBA team. Interestingly enough, Crawford has stated that he never performed dribbling drills, according to Scott Davis of the Business Insider.
“It’s almost embarrassing because I couldn’t tell you a drill to do. Like, I don’t do drills at all. I think that’s why a lot of people who handle the basketball, I think mine looks different. You know, ’cause I’ve never done a drill. I’ve never done ‘get to a chair and go through your legs,’ or ‘get to a spot and a cone and go through your legs or behind your back.’
“It was always off instinct, because that cone is not going to be a 6’5″, 6’6″, 6’7″ wing who’s athletic who can jump and can move. I think with me not scripting anything, my moves are more effective that way.”
This may be hard to believe at first, but Crawford’s uncanny ability to embarrass his opponents with vicious crossovers isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
3. David West
When David West signed with the Warriors in 2016, he wanted to put himself in a good position to compete for an NBA title. West wasn’t going to ride the bench by any chance. He already proved that he was a reliable role player for the Spurs in 2016. In fact, according to ESPN, West made a major impact for the Spurs.
West played in 78 games with 19 starts during the 2015-16 season with 19 starts. He averaged 7.1 points and 4.0 rebounds on 54.4 percent shooting as a key cog on a San Antonio bench that produced an NBA-best plus-10.9 net rating. That rating was the best by a bench since the shortened 2011-12 season, when the Chicago Bulls led the NBA with a plus-12.7 mark.
It’s no surprise that West is shooting a whopping 64% of his two-point attempts, most of them coming from his famous mid-range jumper. Earlier in the season, West demonstrated his mid-range skills against the Wizards, scoring 16 points from the bench.
2. Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson is known for many things that don’t actually pertain to the good-natured sport of basketball. However, Stephenson does have a particular skill on the court. Whether you like it or not, he is actually a great isolation player. Stephenson can get into a groove and hit a beautiful shot over anyone, like the game-winner he converted against the Atlanta Hawks.
If you weren’t convinced, then try looking at the moment where Stephenson barbecued the ankles of Courtney Lee.
Stephenson is currently averaging 8.8 points, 2.9 assists, and 4.7 rebounds for the Indiana Pacers. He clearly isn’t the best role player in the NBA by a mile, but the confident shooting guard is known for making at least one exciting play in a isolation set every year. In fact, Stephenson is not an ideal shooting guard for the modern NBA. He shoots just 43 percent from the field and a dismal 30 percent from the three-point line. Nonetheless, Stephenson is an entertaining player that can shock you with a brain-busting iso-move that would make you believe he was a top-five shooting guard.
1. Marcus Smart
How can the Celtics use a player that shoots an awful 34 percent from the floor and 29 percent from deep? It’s simply impossible, yet the Celtics have made use of Smart’s most indispensable skill, flopping. Marcus Smart’s pesky defense is what the Celtics need in their backcourt. He can simply draw fouls in a pinch, averaging 2.5 free-throw attempts per game, which could be more if he could shoot better than 71 percent from the line.
Smart’s most famous play in the 2017-2018 season came in a game against the Rockets, in which he baited James Harden to commit two costly offensive fouls with the game on the line.
It’s clear that Smart’s flopping will be a useful tool for the Celtics in close games, as you can see in the video above. Smart may not draw fouls like Harden himself, but he knows when to flop at the right time.
Essentially, all of these players are special because of their unstoppable NBA skills. It is no wonder why each of these players are providing excellent support to their current NBA teams, even with a limited skill set.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference