The Other Guys

J.M. Poulard —  September 18, 2012

Professional sports are fun and yet so tricky given all of the never ending debates that stem from them. Indeed, arguments usually come in the form of “Kobe or Magic is better than so and so because…”and from there others chime in and add fuel to the fire by adding or simply refuting points with in depth analysis; or perhaps outlandish statements.

The juiciest ammunition that fans and media members alike love to use when comparing greats is the amount of championships won by the players being compared. It’s one way to go about hammering a point home, but not necessarily the best.

Why?

Because simply comparing the amount of titles between two great players from different eras or even perhaps the same completely trivializes the contributions of role players.

And make no mistake, they matter. If evidence is needed, think back to the 2012 NBA Finals, where players such as Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier and Mike Miller all played a huge part in the Heat winning the title.

Far too often, we throw a lot of praise and admiration at the feet of superstars and fail to recognize just how important the “other guys” are…

Until today.

The Forum Blue and Gold staff went back and looked at every role player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise and voted for all of them in order to rank the 10 best role players in the rich history of the franchise.

Mind you, before we could get to voting, it was important that we decide early on what we meant by role player. For instance, in the eyes of some, Pau Gasol and Jamal Wilkes could fit the description of one, while others might completely disagree. So we figured, anyone that could potentially make the list of top 20 Lakers ever had to absolutely be off the list of role players. So guys like Worthy, Goodrich, Gasol and the like had no shot of making our rankings.

With that idea firmly entrenched, we voted and came up with a list of 10 role players that we felt were the best at being just that during their time with Lakers franchise.

Before beginning the countdown, let’s quickly run through the players that almost made the cut and thus can be cited as being honorable mention: Mychal Thompson, Nick Van Exel, Metta World Peace, Glen Rice, Brian Shaw, Vlade Divac and Happy Hairston.

And thus our countdown begins…

10. A.C. Green

A.C. Green joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie and played just a shade under 19 minutes per game and came off the bench to give the team some rebounding and frontcourt versatility. Indeed, the 6’9’’ power forward could run the floor, defend in open space as well as on the interior and finish around the basket when given opportunities.

It wasn’t long before Green was starting for the Lakers in his second season (1986-87 season) at power forward on the greatest Los Angeles Lakers team in franchise history. On a team with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper, it’s easy to take Green for granted but truthfully he was essential to the team’s success.

Green’s contributions may not have stood out given that they did not come in the form of scoring or gaudy rebounding figures, but his defense was a big part of what made the Lakers — an offensive juggernaut — a team capable of getting key stops and speed up the tempo to run the opponent off the floor.

The Oregon State product had quick feet for his size and thus could do two things that most modern NBA big men struggle to do today: defend pick-and-rolls by hedging or even switching onto smaller defenders and deter them from going to the basket; and defend areas of the court in a half-court trap.

Pat Riley employed a zone trap that he loved to use to force opposing teams to use all of the shot clock, but also to change the dynamic of the offense of his opponent given that some teams occasionally got excited and rushed their possessions and took low percentage shots or simply turned the ball over, which fed the Showtime fast break.

Consequently, whenever Kareem went to the bench, Riley loved to employ his zone trap with Green playing a prominent role in it given that he was an effective helper in the scheme, but also because he recovered and defended most positions should the trap get broken and players had to scatter back to defend whichever man was open.

With Green on board, the Lakers won two NBA titles and made three NBA Finals appearances in the Magic Johnson era.

After the superstar guard retired, Green eventually left the Lakers a couple of seasons later but then returned at age 36 for one final run with the purple and gold. During the 1999-00 season, the 6’9’’ big man split time with Robert Horry at the power forward position and defended arguably the deepest position in the Western Conference  — Chris Webber, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett all played at high level in the conference that season — and found ways to make it work.

A.C. Green was still a solid rebounder although he was less athletic and couldn’t cover as much ground defensively as he had done prior. Nonetheless, his contributions on defense as well as his ability to blend into the triple-post offense helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the first of many titles in the Shaquille O’Neal era.

Consider this: A.C. Green was part of championship teams with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and then later on with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

And yet, perhaps the most impressive tidbit about the Oregon State product’s stint with the Lakers is that he only played nine seasons total with the franchise and yet shows up in the team’s record books because he suited up for almost every Lakers game. Indeed, in his time in L.A., he missed a total of three games. That’s it.

Consequently, he is 10th all time in franchise history in games played (735 games), 10th in steals (657 steals), eighth in total rebounds (5,632 total rebounds), sixth in defensive rebounds (3,543 defensive rebounds) and second in offensive rebounds (2,089 offensive rebounds).

A.C. Green never came close to being an NBA superstar, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Instead, he played his part as a defender and occasional offensive contributor and helped the Lakers win three titles because he helped complete the championship puzzle.

J.M. Poulard

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29 responses to The Other Guys

  1. During A.C.’s rookie season, someone said about him “A year from now, he’ll be crushing the opposition.” I can’t recall who said it, but they were right on the money. A.C. was a great Laker and a joy to watch. My best memories of him are of his tenacity on defense. The man really knew how to compete! And he knew how to rock that Jerri-curl!

  2. Lionel Richie!

  3. I love these historical pieces written here. Is there any way to create a library of these? The awesome quality of work presented here makes this my go to site for Lakers news and talk.

  4. Role players are guys that depend on others to get them open shots and guys that only have one role… Like spot up shooting or defense. Hard to put Nick Van Exel in the category with The Other Guys as he was an All Star PG with the Lakers making The Other Guys look good. If he is in that category how is he not number one let alone not in the top ten? And if Derek Fisher (one of the worst starting PGs in the NBA on the years he started) is ahead of AC Green (a solid starting PF) this list loses integrity. Unless this list is about popular Lakers and not the quality of the basketball player.

  5. And he starred in the greatest commercial of all time. The one were he and Vlade are dancing arount in tuxedo tops and Lakers shorts extolling the virtues of the double quarter pounder with cheese. The internet has erased all evidence of this. If anyone can find it, it’s you guys. Help an old school Laker fan out and give the gift of that commercial back to the world.

  6. Aaron: As has been pointed out by many, these lists are subjective, so they should be treated as such. Putting AC and DF in the same general category is appropriate. They were non-superstar starters on multiple championship teams. I would probably give the nod to AC over DF, but they are in the same general category.
    As far as NVE: He is one of my least favorite Lakers of all time. He has KB’s ego, with 25% of the talent. He was our main man during a decade that is by far the worst in Laker history. Granted that the front office had a down period during the 90’s as well, but NVE and Del also must take on some of that responsibility. Now – please note – this is my opinion. I do not state my opinion as if it is fact. Please reply in kind : )

  7. @Aaron: I think a role player’s role is also about what kind of impact he had with the Lakers’s success. Not only with quality of play, but intangibles, leadership both on and off-court, big plays, the list goes on.

    Like Horry, who will definitely be on this list, who wasn’t just a shooter. We had tons of shooters better than him. But he was Big Shot Rob, who came through with brass balls in the Playoffs.

    Or Fox, just to cite another recent player, who did anything and everything to win a ball game, and was usually one the smartest players on the court.

  8. we should have a list of people who hate Derek Fisher most:

    6,600,000,000 DFisher’s mother

    5,000,000,000 me

    10,000 some Jazz fan

    1,000 some Spur fan

    1, aaron

  9. AC was a fantastic college player and drove me crazy when he was at Oregon State and they were shellacking UCLA every year. I couldn’t believe that he was still on the board when the Lakers drafted him.

    He had a great career with the Lakers and I loved his championship coda in 99-00.

  10. - AC Green made the all star team as a starter over Karl Malone one year. It was a pretty big deal back than, and the fact that Malone was one of the dirtiest players in the league made it that much sweeter.

    – I have to agree that Fisher does not deserve to be ranked ahead of Green. Fish had more memorable plays and moments, but Green was by far the more consistent and productive player.

    – Of all of Green’s accomplishments, I’m surprised his most impressive accomplishment was not included – he remained a virgin throughout his NBA career. There’s a better chance of Dimaggio’s hit streak and Wilt’s 100 point game record being broken before anyone equals Green in this department.

  11. What a great idea for a top ten list. This will indeed be fun. As a long time Laker fan I’m looking forward to seeing if two of my favorite Lakers make this list, or if they were ruled “ineligible” because they were “too talented” to be considered role players while with the Lakers or during their careers. I’m talking about Bob McAdoo & Norm Nixon.

    I know there’s a decent chance each could be considered a top 20 Laker (especially Norm) which would eliminate them from this list which could include Minneapolis Lakers since this article says: “The Forum Blue and Gold staff went back and looked at every role player in the history of the Lakers’ franchise and voted for all of them in order to rank the 10 best role players in the rich history of the franchise.”

    As for your 1st choice, A. C. Green: excellent choice, can’t wait for #9.

  12. Without knowing who else is on the list, I would’ve ranked AC higher given his overall body of work and I’m interested to see who is above him on this list – there’s certainly a deep roster of great role players to choose from.

    Assuming these guys are on the list somewhere…

    I’d put AC above the guy he supplanted, Kurt Rambis. They both filled their roles to a T, but I remember AC giving you more on offense and being a better athlete.

    I’m not putting AC over Cooper, who – gun to my head – I’m penciling in as the #1 role player in Laker history.

    AC vs. Fish is arguable either way. AC’s production is flat out better, but Fisher was the soul of our 00’s title teams, and I’m not sure there’s any other role player that’s singlehandedly the difference between losing and winning a title. (two words: Game 3)

  13. This countdown is another great idea to keep things moving during the offseason. Looking forward to Ammo’s appearance.

  14. Ahhh … A.C. Green, an underrated Laker who I got to know abit during his rookie season. Our business condo in Marina del Rey was A.C.’s initial crash pad as we somhow connected through a friend and he ended up staying there for a few weeks before finding more permanent dig. A great, sincere guy without a whiff of entitlement or ego.
    I remember one day we were walking together across the parking lot of the condo … he 6’8″ and me, all 5’8″ … and I invited him to a breakfast. He begged off saying something about ‘Riley wanting us on time — everytime.’ Show Time in L.A. was sublime with many memories for all Laker fans, some a bit more personal.

  15. Snoopy @ 14:

    whaaaaa? Ammo? Get real. This is a list of top 10 *roleplayers* in Laker history, not top 20 all-time great Lakers.

  16. Another great countdown, looking forward to seeing which players make the list. Really enjoying all the summer posts. Wonder if Eddie Jones will make this list or maybe that is for another list?

  17. (13). AC’s succession of Rambis was similar in a lot of ways to Worthy’s succession of Wilkes. In both cases, a younger, more athletic player came along to fill a basically identical role in a way that was just better and impossible to deny. (This makes them slightly different from the Nixon-to-Scott transition, since those 2 were different types of guards.)

    Rambis and Wilkes were phenomenal, so it’s pretty incredible the Lakers were able to upgrade like that seamlessly at 2 positions (3, with Nixon-Scott) in their starting lineup, mid-decade, while winning titles the whole time.

  18. Aaron,

    We exchanged a lot of emails and had some great, diverse conversations about the general topic of this post, and about all the specific aspects of it. I am glad to say that the question of integrity never came up. This staff is a very collaborative, supportive one and like all sports fans, we like to have fun with this stuff.

  19. Great post – one of the athletes I appreciated most.

    After this, can you do the “Ten Greatest Laker Back Surgeries”

  20. @Jodial, not to mention the grace that was shown by all parties in handling both those transitions.

  21. Good stuff, but AC Green at ten?

    It would save us a lot of grief if you could post those who didn’t make the list first ;)

  22. Indeed, AC was just a role player and yet he was able to displease Malone in the ASG starters, the latter questioned the decision in choosing Green ahead of him. Unfortunately, it was the LA fans who placed him there.

    Off topic, I would like to comment the news of the day that our beloved stadium is for sale by AEG. That is sad but understandable as a good move for corporate raiders, banking on the principle: ” to sell high when you’re at the top and hold when you’re in the bottom”. As Laker fans, we want loyalty to anyone attached to the Lakers, to the city and to its people. We want them willing to attach their fortune for good like what King Ludwig did in his Castles in Bavaria. Well, it is rare to find another Dr. Jerry Buss who believe on this city, nurtured a team to greatness and stick to it till death, I presumed. Supposing the new owners would be foreigners like the Chinese or the Russians, will they value our Laker traditions like those jerseys on the rafters and monuments in placed or use Staples as their new acquired toys, spin it again to the highest bidder?

    We are passionate fans here in this blog that will spend, quarrel, aspire, pray and dream of grandeur….to others that passion means good for business, move on baby.

  23. Dave,
    But at least try and place good players ahead of bad players :) There better be nine other all stars ahead of AC

  24. Bleacher Report has their take on NBA all-time role players, with several Lakers players sitting prominently on that list. Note that some of these guys played significant parts of their careers and had significant contributions teams other than the Lakers (Ron Harper and Robert Horry).

    Former Lakers on the list:
    #19 Pat Riley
    #12 Ron Harper
    #10 AC Green
    #9 Lamar Odom
    #5 Michael Cooper
    #2 Derek Fisher
    #1 Rober Horry

  25. Asking my step-father (who is a Celts fan, but a nice one; he likes the Lakers) why AC Green get soooo many rebounds not even being that tall. His response:

    “The ball likes him”

  26. @Aaron, seven people are voting on a large group of players and the idea was to avoid All-Stars. For all you know, Luke could head the list, haha.

  27. J.M.:

    Excellent article and a great idea for a series. Role players never get the credit they deserve. Most championships were the result of one of two role players stepping up big and shifting the balance of power in the Finals. A.C. Green as #10? Man, can’t wait to see who you’re putting above the man.

    LakerTom

  28. people worry about the 90’s being the worst time for the Lakers but you have to remember there was no proper plan when the whole Magic things went down to keep the team at such a high level.