The Other Guys Countdown

J.M. Poulard —  September 25, 2012

In case you missed the opening post of this series, the FB&G panel recently sat down and voted on the best role players in Lakers history. The details can be found here on the collective thought process of the panel as well as the first player in our top 10 countdown.

Now we move on to our next man up.

When we recall meaningful role players, we usually have a multitude of memories of how they contributed to a successful team; they did the little things but also had times in which they came up big because their teammates needed it.

That’s usually how it goes, and yet our next player may very well challenge that notion.

The ninth best role player in Lakers’ history…

Rick Fox

Fox started his NBA career as a member of the Boston Celtics and spent six seasons on the east coast playing for a decent team that eventually became a perennial loser. Eventually, he packed his bags and headed out west to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

In retrospect, it’s coincidental and yet both weird that the former Tar Heel played for only two teams in his career; and they happened to be the most storied franchises in the NBA.

Fox left Boston and joined Los Angeles hoping to be part of the solution that helped an immensely talented Lakers team turn things around and compete for a title. Instead, he joined a squad that was seemingly dysfunctional given the egos on the team.

The Lakers had Elden Campbell, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and a young Kobe Bryant but just could not avoid getting swept in the postseason. Even worse, a team that many thought should reach the title round every single season just could not figure out how to get there.

One thing was for sure at the time though, Fox might not have been a huge part of the team, but he was definitely part of the solution.

Players were moved, coaches were brought in and out and eventually Phil Jackson came to town to bring a stabilizing influence over the team starting in the 1999-00 season.

Rick Fox’s role under Jackson was to come off the bench, play solid defense, take open shots, feed the post, get out in transition and essentially play to his capabilities.

The North Carolina product took his role a step further, even at times playing the role of enforcer for a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Shaquille O’Neal.

Indeed, the former Tar Heel played physical defense, hit players after the whistle, slapped the ball out of the hands of opponents even after calls were made by officials, trash talked and found ways to get inside the heads of opposing players. Fox was an instigator, but he was also a solid role player.

With Fox backing up Glen Rice during the 1999-00 season, the Lakers won 67 games, struggled a little during the postseason but managed to win the group’s first title.

Glen Rice was shipped out of town after the 2000 playoffs, which meant that Rick Fox had become the starter for the Lakers.

The 2000-01 season was one of turmoil for the Lakers as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal fought for control of the team but role players such as Fox still managed to play to their strengths throughout the Bryant-O’Neal rift. The Lakers’ starting small forward saw more minutes that season and thus increased his scoring and rebounding.

Also, with more playing time alongside the starters, Rick Fox had more opportunities to get repetition in the triangle offense and thus had a better understanding of where to get his shots from. Consequently, he improved his field goal percentage, going from a poor 41.4 percent to a 44.4 percent mark.

By the time the playoffs started, the 2001 Lakers morphed into the third best Los Angeles Lakers team of all time, going 15-1 in the playoffs and destroying all of their opponents on their way to the title.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal enjoyed arguably their best collective postseason together that year, but they were also aided by their role players that rose to the occasion whenever the situation called for it.

And that’s what’s particularly tricky about Rick Fox: he played up to par, played to his strengths and made several contributions but none of them truly stood out; unless we count the amount of times he agitated opponents.

Seriously, by the time the Lakers hit their stride in the playoffs, Rick Fox complemented the superstars with timely shooting, a couple of unimpeded drives to the basket as a result of double teams and some solid perimeter defense.

If the 2001 playoffs failed to properly hammer this point home, the 2002 postseason highlighted this perfectly.

After helping the Lakers win back-to-back titles, Rick Fox was not only a starter on a championship team, but an integral piece to the championship puzzle. He played well off of his superstar teammates and even asserted himself offensively at times to help take pressure off the more heralded players on the team.

The box score often failed to accurately capture Fox’s contributions because so many of them came in the form of deflections, charges taken, box outs and the pass that led to the pass that set up an assist. Hence, it’s somewhat difficult to find one game that encompasses the type of player that Rick Fox was for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Difficult, but not impossible.

With Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals scheduled to be played in Sacramento, many thought that the Kings would dethrone the defending champions.

The Kings were deeper, younger, more athletic and thus better, as the story went.

The Lakers on the other hand had arguably the two best players in the league as well as championship experience and that essentially sealed the fate of the Sacramento Kings.

The home team bricked free throws, struggled to execute and get good looks at the basket late in the game, while the Lakers looked like the fresher team, unbothered by the pressure and weight of the moment.

Rick Fox was at his best in a Lakers uniform that day, scoring 13 points, snatching 14 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in 48 minutes of playing time. The North Carolina product was all over the court, and yet never looked as though he was playing above his customary level of basketball talent.

And in addition, although Peja Stojakovic had been hampered by an ankle injury during the playoffs, he had still averaged 21.2 points per game on 48.4 percent field goal shooting during the regular season and was the Kings second option on offense. In the series against the Lakers mind you, Rick Fox played physical and smothering defense on him, holding him to a mere 6.7 points per game on 20.7 percent field goal shooting. His ankle might have been problematic, but so too was the Lakers forward.

That victory over the Kings propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals where they swept the New Jersey Nets and completed the ever rare — this is the most recent occurrence of this in the NBA — three-peat.

Fox played the role of occasional scorer, shooter, defender and rebounder at times, but his best role by far with the team was that of winner.

J.M. Poulard

Posts

40 responses to The Other Guys Countdown

  1. Praise the Fox!

    Smart, strong, dedicated, hustler. His acting is quite sub-par though LOL

    Should have been higher up on the list IMO.

  2. I agree, Luiz. Foxy should have been higher. I guess with guys like Cooper, Rambis, Wilkes, Horry, Green, and Fish out there he can only go so high.

    Fox’s defense on Peja in the 2001 semis was a sight to behold. From the 2000 to 2001 Rick dropped a good 20 pounds and became much more mobile. He worked on his three point shot and really proved to be an assesst on the Shaq/Kobe three peat teams.

    And who can forget Rick’s rumble in the tunnel with Doug Cristie? Man, I miss Rick!

  3. Off-topic, but I’m incredulous: Gasol is ranked below Bynum in the NBARank that ESPN is doing, standing at #15.
    Not true and won’t be true for another couple of years. I may be a little biased, but I can’t think of 14 players I’d rather have.

    On-topic, T. Rogers, Fish is already out of contention if I remember correctly. But I agree on Horry, Wilkes, Cooper and Rambis being higher on the list than Fox.

  4. If Gasol were in a role similar to his Team Spain gig where he was clearly featured, he would surely be higher up. But limited as he is by being a complimentary player on the Lakers, I’m surprised to see him as high as #15 actually.

  5. Fox was all that — and he was the guy Phil Jackson could yell at in front of the bench to deliver a message really intended for either of the team’s two biggest stars.

  6. I also agree with the Pau ranking… He didn’t even make the All Star team last year… He is lucky to be ranked 15th. And as far as him benign ranked behind Bynum… Is that even a debate? Statistically Bynum was the best player on the Lakers last year and Gasol was third. I just can’t see it as that close.

  7. And I would still put Pau slightly ahead of Blake Griffen as Blake has trouble creating his own shot and can’t play defense while Gasol is an adequate defender.

  8. On topic: Fox is a good choice at 9th. Only problem I had with Fox was taking him seriously as the Laker enforcer, lol what a joke. Fox had the be the epitome of the term “fake tough guy”.

    Off topic: Luiz (#3) and Kobe continue to be in the minority with just how good a player Bynum is. As of this posting, this is what it looks like; Bynum will be ranked no worst than 13th, and if you feel Lebron, D-12, & Durant are 1-3 (in whatever order), than Kobe can’t be any better than 4th…and it may be closer than that :-)

  9. @ Aaron, not surprised B Griff got the slight nod over Gasol. Griff has been more dependable & a lot more mentally & emotionally consistent than Gasol and that has to count for something.

  10. Does Steve Blake’s injury affect his position on this Role Player list?

  11. Have to defend Pau here. Bynum is in for a rude awakening. Have you seen Philly’s perimeter defenders? They’ll ask him to be a dominant 2 way player for a season something he’s never been. He’s the best player on that team and he’ll get all the blame. Aaron’s theory about Drew will be tested and past history tells us this experiment will not end well.

    Aaron: Pau accounted for more offense than Drew. Bynum’s not a better player just a bigger player. Drew will be the player we saw with Kobe out an inefficient big man who sacrificed defense to score points.

  12. Blake is #1 among role players injured because they were barefoot in a parking gargae.

  13. Two key points missing from this piece that should always win Fox points among Lakers fans — First, he twice turned down more money from other teams in order to come to L.A.

    It’s not often you’ll see guys leave cash on the table because they truly want to be a part of a particular organization. Fox wanted to be a Laker, saw the potential the team had and chose to be there. And ultimately, he helped bring three rings to L.A.

    Second, he chose to wear No. 17 as a “screw you” to Boston, saying the team wouldn’t win its 17th championship without him. Gotta love the attitude.

  14. Kevin, all Bynum has to do is lead his team to one playoff victory, just one, to show he’s a better player than Pau. Pre-Laker Gasol went 0-12 in three play-off series with the Grizz. Just a reminder.

  15. Regarding Pau vs. Bynum,

    It’s not very complicated. Pau became the clear third option last season. Had he been the second option or even the featured option (like he is with Spain) his numbers and productivity would have been much higher.

  16. ESPN’s top 500 pre-season player ranking is down to the top ten. The Lakers (D-12, Kobe) Heat (LeBron & Wade), & Thunder (Durant & Westbrook) have two players each. The other four players: D-Will, CP3, Love, & Rose.

    4 ones, 2 twos, 2 threes, 1 four, & 1 five. My opinion:

    10: Westbrook
    9: Rose
    8: D-Will
    7: Love
    6: Wade
    5: Kobe
    4: CP3
    3: Durant
    2: D-12
    1: LeBron

  17. @ #12 – “R”
    Yeah, maybe we should have a “Top” list of stupid game-missing incidents.
    – Blake’s parking lot mishap
    – VladRad’s covert snowboarding injury
    – Ceballos and Lake Havasu, of course
    – Rodman and … I don’t remember but there must have been something weird, maybe relating to sock removal, I don’t know.

  18. @ T. Rodgers, correct, but you didn’t finish that point. This year Bynum will be the clear 1st option. Also not playing behind an extremely high usage guy like Kobe.

    At this stage who knows what the offensive pecking order will be on the Lakers. But I’m jumping the gun. That will be a full weeks discussion on this site soon enough.

  19. BigCitySid,

    I am waiting to see what Bynum does in Philly. Personally, I think he will do well if he avoids injury. He needed a change of scenery and circumstances. At this stage him and Pau overlap too much.

    Howard is a PNR center. Gasol is a post up forward/center. They can compliment each other without getting in each others’ way. Gasol and Bynum cancel each other out in many ways.

  20. Rick Fox will always be one of my favorites as long as he keeps looking as stunning as he does with those Baby Blues ;) haha

  21. Here’s my Top Ten for this year as posted way back at the beginning of this thing on another site:

    1. Lebron James (duh…)
    2. Kevin Durant (on the rise – sky’s the limit)
    3. Chris Paul (if now healthy expect a career year with the improved Clippers)
    4. Kevin Love (per C. Barkley best power forward in the game at present)
    5. Dwight Howard (let’s see how that back injury responds this year)
    6. Dwayne Wade (aging but still a stud)
    7. Kobe Bryant (holding steady – let’s see if the S. Nash addition revitalizes his efficiency)
    8. Russell Westbrook (incredible explosiveness at the point)
    9. Derrick Rose (would be much higher except for the ACL)
    10. Blake Griffin (with Dirk fading, expecting Blake to continue to develop his game and justify the #10 ranking from last year…)

    The only one I missed was D. Will for Blake, so we’ll slot him in at #10 now.

    Kobe was #7 last year, and I see no basis for him moving up based on an all-time low in efficiency numbers and two straight 2nd round playoff exits.

  22. 17, if you could liberalize your requirements for the MSP award – Most Stupid Player – beyond missing a game (it’s not clear Blake will miss a regular season game, anyway), you could include my favorite two Laker or former Laker infractions:

    2. Perennial MSP candidate Smush Parker hurting a valet parking attendant’s wrist as he wrenched his car keys back from her because he was unwilling to pay the 6 dollar fee.

    1. MSP-GOAT Kwame Brown getting into an argument with someone holding a birthday cake, then stealing the cake and throwing it at him.

    Compared to those two, Blake’s injury is borderline-heroic.

  23. And before anyone mentions it, Gasol was the 3rd option last season because unlike the guy who was the second option last season, he’s a professional that could accept the role the coaching staff gave him.

    Sure, he’s eight years older and on the downside of his career (and probably has 3 more years at a high level left in the tank), but give me one series, or even one offensive possession, and I’d take Gasol about 98.3 times out of 100.

  24. lil pau,
    You have to include Lamar on that list: stepping inbounds with the ball and throwing it to Sasha, who was on the bench …

  25. All I know is with Lamar and Pau starting we won Championships. With Aaron’s favorite player starting we didn’t win anything.
    @BigCitySid, while Pau went 0-12 in the playoffs pre-lakers, please try and consider the teams he met in playoffs. All 3 of those teams would sweep(all games would be blowouts) the current Sixers

  26. Pau was the third option because he was an inferior offensive shot creator to Bynum. Again… You’re what the defense says you’re. Bynum was swarmed the entire year and Gasol was single covered by smaller players that pushed him out 15 feet from the basket. The idea was for Pau to be the main option with the second unit but at his age was unable to create quality shots for himself or his teammates. By the playoffs Brown switched up the rotation so Bynum was pkaying with the second unit so there wasn’t as big of a drop off. At one time Pau was an elite one on one offensive weapon… That time has come and gone. Having said that he can still create his own shot better than Blake or Love (I have no idea how Love is rated so highly for a spot up shooting rebounder) To me you need to be able to play defense or create shots to be an elite NBA player. Love and Blake are great role players.

  27. Aaron: Last we saw of Pau he was dominating the USA in the Olympics. Last we saw of Bynum we was coasting in an elimination game. It’s only a matter of time before Bynum quits on Philly.

    BigCitySid: Bynum was the 1st option when Kobe was out for 7 games. He looked like Demarcus Cousins. A headcase looking to chuck up shots.

    If Bynum succeeded this will be the 1st in a long time a player leaves the Lakers and has an impact on his new team. Van Exel and Shaq are the only players that come to mind.

  28. Bynum is going to have to do so much for that team to even be competitive. Looks like one of KG’s old rosters.

    Pau and Blake are the only players to avg. 17/10/3 shoot 50%. Not sure how long Pau can hold him off because Griffin keeps improving. But same thing with Paul Griffin now has to prove his worth in the playoffs.

  29. Fox was one of my favorites. Couldn’t stand his hair or lead feet when I was a kid, but he grew on me over time as I developed a better understanding of the game. Loved watching him and Christie go at it.

    I realize this post is about role players, but I thought that was a good article written by Kareem:

    http://espn.go.com/nba/halloffame12/story/_/id/8391038/basketball-hall-fame-observations

  30. Aaron, why is Gasol “lucky” to be rated 15th on some bogus, slow news day list?

    Does he get a cash bonus?

    More attention from the ladies?

    A plaque?

  31. Kevin,
    Not even Pau thinks he is a better player than Bynum. I just don’t think this is debatable. Btw, as Hollinger broke it down… Bynum was more productive and efficient with Kobe and Pau off the floor last season. That’s a bigger sample size than seven games in the middle of a condenced season.

    R,
    Hey… Kobe was pissed he was rated 7th last year ;)

  32. Pivot Foot Fox!

    The Defense of Rick Fox!

    & listening to Chick call him Foxxie…

    He’s a goofball, but I love seeing him at the games. Go Lakers.

  33. J.M., you nailed it when you highlighted Fox’s defense on Peja. Rick recognized that Stojakovic was the X-factor on those Kings’ teams and he made it his mission in life to hold Peja down. I’ve always thought that without Rick’s stellar defense in those series, the outcome would have been different. Rick was like a great character actor in that he supported the stars of the show to the max and brought a great level of professionalism to his role. And, like the best character actors, he was capable of stealing the show.

  34. I must be missing something about the player that was Andrew Bynum last year. In 66 games, I saw him sprint once. That was vs. OKC in the Metta elbow game. And, of course, it was on offense as he was running hard to complete an alley-oop dunk. I find his offensive game unpolished. Does he have a go to move? And on defense, he picked his spots to compete, IMO. Maybe that was his way of displaying a passive/aggressive desire to be elsewhere. I wish him well, but I wish Dwight better.

  35. I can’t believe there wasn’t one mention of what an awesome actor he was. Seriously, he was good :)

  36. Pre-training camp video!!
    http://tinyurl.com/9un6k94

    It’s so good to see Antawn, Blake, Ebanks, Hill, DJO and yes, Metta! Antawn seems to be very excited for Metta – and I have to admit, he does look visibly lighter on his feet. Great that the team got started early – I spotted Eddie Jordan in there, which means the second unit (sans Meeks, who I didn’t see) is getting trained on the Princeton O.

    I saw Hill shoot a mid-range J, and even make a half-court shot. Can’t wait to see Dwight, Pau, Kobe and Nash join them on the court !!

  37. 37,

    Thanks for sharing snap shots pre-training camp. It would also be great if FBG writers would shift their blog threads to the profile of new players like: JDO, Antawn Jamison, Meeks even Nash and Dwight. Essentially, we don’t really know them in the Laker nation. Isn’t this the best right time to introduce them to Laker fans? I don’t mean introduce them literally but more on news accounts that are unknown to us.

  38. Completely off-topic post, here it goes!

    @Aaron: if Pau doesn’t think he is better than Bynum, he is the humblest person in the world. I expected a lot from Bynum and what I saw most, other than freakish size, a soft touch and an understanding of getting deep post position, was what worries me about his future: he is a dumbass. Incredibly talented and physically gifted, he insists on being a unmotivated, self-absorbed and immature player. Getting millions of dollars to play the sport you love is not enough of a motivation factor? I honestly wish him the best, but I’m betting my money on him struggling for a few years until he gets his head right.

    That came off a tad critical of Bynum, but with great talent comes great expectations. And I’m not trying to say he sucks and you’re crazy to think he is that good, he is definitely top 15 in the NBA right now… he just bums me out with his attitude.

    My NBA Rank, from 10 to 1, considering DWill is already at 10 and Love has to be there somewhere: Williams, Love, Westbrook, Kobe, Rose, Wade, CP3, Howard, Durant, James.
    If I had my way, 10 to 8 would be Dirk, Westbrook, Williams.

  39. On Topic: Rick Fox was a great “glue-guy” type role player. He filled in all the holes.

    Off Topic: Gasol is more accomplished than Bynum, Gasol has achieved more than Bynum, and at age 32 we can still debate that he is better than the 26 year old 2nd best Center in the NBA.

    ESPN rank: Dwayne Wade is a SG (shooting) and he wasn’t even the highest scored on his team. Wade wasn’t even in the scoring title discussion and he was injured several times last year. These facts lead me to rank Kobe higher than him. ESPN got that one right, but they screwed up on ranking D.Rose at #5 and Kobe at #6. Why? Their averages for last year were VERY similar and Kobe accomplished more ( 2nd in league scoring, 1st team all NBA, All NBA defensive selection and his team made it to round 2 of playoffs). Other than that, I don’t really have any issues with LeBron, Durant, Howard, CP3 ranked ahead of him.