There is always an abundance of talk about the top players of all time, the most overrated, the most underrated and the biggest busts. But what about those specialists that always seem to break the opposing fans heart? That guy you think is a nobody scrub that drops twenty on your team in game six? Or hits two wide open 3's in the last couple of minutes of the pivitol game five? Well here are those guys. Modern Era means players from 1980-2007. As it is difficult to determine the accomplishments of lesser known role players from the early eras.
1. Steve Kerr
Steve had no one on one game, he couldn't dribble, he couldn't play D, he could do one thing and one thing only. Hit wide open shots. That was his specialality and based on percentage he did it better then anybody in the history of the league. But it goes deeper then that. He hit the game clinching shot versus the Jazz. He torched the Mavs in the fourth quarter of the Western Conference Finals after playing virtually no minutes the entire playoffs on root to helping the Spurs to their second title. He played maybe 15 minutes a game for the Bulls yet he was always on the floor the last five minutes of close games. He would hit the wide open three and jumper on consecutive possessions to take that close five point playoff game to a comfortable ten point lead time and time again. It seemed he never failed. Anytime his number was called he came through.
2. Robert Horry
Now he didn't have the same efficiency as Steve and many times he would toss up bricks in the third and early fourth. But when it came to shots in the last minute of a game he always came through. From hitting clutch shots versus the Knicks, hitting them for the Spurs and breaking Sacramento fans hearts. In his prime he had a decent defensive and offensive game but not good enough to make him better then the fifth best player on the team.
3. Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson
Probably the most prolific scoring role player in NBA history. Nobody had the ability to go three games scoring ten points then erupt for thirty in a pivitol game. Sometimes going on streaks where he would score 15 in a row for his team. Top it all off by nailing the game winner verus the Blazers. Though the series only went five games this was a very close series and the Pistons just made all the plays at the right times stopping it from going seven.
4. John Paxon.
A pure jump shooter and darn good too. Micheal is on a quest for his first ring and is up against Magic. He is trying to get over the hump and prove he is an elite player. Problem is the Lakers took game one and the are relentless with the double and triple teams. Micheal was gonna have to pass and pass he did. Time and time again he passed it to Paxon and time and time again Paxon made virtually every jumper. What about those Suns fans? What about Barkley? What about game seven at home? Well thanks to John we will never know.
5. Danny Ainge
Screw how many you make. It's all about how many you take. Danny was a scorer and when he was on he could get you twenty. He was on the Celtic Championship teams playing a pivitol role. The Blazers make it to their third Finals and what do you know? There goes Danny shooting every time he touches the ball. A year later, a new team and the same result. There goes Danny with the Suns putting on a clutch performance in the Classic triple overtime win over the Bulls.
Depends on your definition of role players. Charles Oakly, Kevin Willis, Otis Thorpe, Buck WIlliams are all pretty damm good. "Quote"
These players in their prime were all the second best player on their team. A role player is the fifth best player or below. A role player has never won any award with the exception of Free Throw Percentage or Three Point percentage. A role player is always a role player. Not a rookie who starts as a role player and not a veteran at the end of his career. A role player will not make the All Star Game more then once. Which is a result of having a career year on a powerhouse team and being rewarded by coaches for being a team player not because he is anywhere near top twelve in his conference. Only Danny Ainge made the All Star game and he only did it once. There are players who never made the All Star game who are not role players. Most notably Rod Strikland, Sam Cassell, and Derek Harper "Who was the second best player on the court in the 94 Finals and had the MVP on lock if the Knicks won" .
Charles Oakly was tied with Orlando Wooldrige as the second best player on the Bulls. He was tied with John Starks as the second best player on the Knicks. Buck Williams was a beast with the Nets and made three All Star teams. Kevin Willis was the second best player on the Hawks. Otis Thrope was the second best player on the 93-94 champion Rockets. They are not role players. Manu is not a role player. He is arguably the second best player on his team. Dennis Rodman was the third best player on the Pistons late and was a rookie early. The second best player on the Spurs and arguably more important then Scottie on the Bulls. He is in no way a role player and is a top 20 player from the 90's. Bil Laimbeer is on the cusp of being a role player.
wedman / hastings (celtics backups who could shoot the lights out and play really, really hard, but weren't versatile or particularly dangerous).
horry (lakers / spurs - he was too good to be considered a role player as a rocket)
byron scott might be a little bit too good for a list of top role players, but really he was the apex of the off the ball shooter / runner on a great team who wasn't a first option (like reggie, though he was never on a great team) and didn't create for himself (like ray allen). he played the same role as paxson did for the bulls, he just brought more athleticism to the table. my criteria was fairly one dimensional players whose teams would have missed them dramatically if they were gone. sorry if it's not the same as someone else's criteria.