One of the most obvious truths that you will ever read here at FB&G is that not all role players are created equal. How could they be right?
Some have unique skills that can elevate them over other players in a team’s pecking order while another batch might just play with more energy, grit and hustle, which also can help a team reach its goal.
Once again, these are somewhat evident facts, but then we have another batch of role players that come with decorated careers. Indeed, a player may have flourished individually in a previous situation but failed to achieve team success; and then joins a contender and takes that new team to another level given the things he brings to the table but also the sacrifices he chooses to make to help them win.
Not to pick on him, but this is how many thought Tracy McGrady’s career would eventually unfold. But if T-Mac is the version of how it went wrong, Bob McAdoo is the McGrady version of how things went right.
Our eighth best Lakers role player of all time…
Before joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982, the former Tar Heel was viewed as one the league’s best players; one that had enjoyed considerable individual success with his immense basketball skills.
Early on in his career, he was a scoring and rebounding machine, putting up double doubles with much regularity. His knack for snatching balls around the basket and scoring made him a three-time scoring champion — he averaged over 30 points per game in those three seasons in succession — and league MVP.
Mind you, for all of his talent, his teams rarely accomplished much. In his first nine seasons in the league, McAdoo’s teams made the postseason four times and he played on five different teams.
He bounced around in the late 70’s and early 80’s, going from Buffalo, to New York, then Detroit and New Jersey.
He finally joined the Lakers in December 1981 in what became the perfect situation for him.
Instead of being asked to carry a franchise or take on a heavy burden all the while doing things outside of his comfort zone, the North Carolina product was simply asked to come off the bench, feed the post on occasion and score.
And just to make sure things didn’t get too complicated for him, he had Norm Nixon and Magic Johnson feeding him whenever he got into scoring position.
Mind you, given that he joined the Lakers about a month after the season started, the task of including him into the team’s scheme was not an easy one.
Bob McAdoo was a 6’9’’ forward with a great knack for scoring, but at that point in his career, he was no longer an elite rebounder nor was he a great defensive player. Given that the Lakers already had the likes of Magic Johnson, Norm Nixon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes on the team, it was important that the team had a few bangers on the interior as well as defenders on the perimeter.
Cooper was the wing stopper while Kurt Rambis and Mitch Kupchak did the dirty work on the interior. This meant that the Lakers often used three-guard lineups consisting of Cooper, Nixon and Magic for defensive purposes but also to run opponents off the court.
Thus, McAdoo did not see many minutes during the regular season. In his first season with the Lakers, he averaged 18.2 minutes per game but an event during the course of the season changed the dynamic of the team: Kupchak was lost for the year due to injury.
Consequently, by the time the playoffs started, Riley had to rely more on his new forward. This meant that McAdoo’s minutes increased, and the same thing happened to his scoring.
The Lakers liked to have the North Carolina product play small forward catch the ball at the pinch post or on the low block where he could make just one move — Mac was an at best average ball handler — and get to the rim or just shoot it from there.
The McAdoo wrinkle in the Lakers’ offense instantly became problematic for opposing teams that were already worried about the myriad of other scoring options for the purple and gold.
Riley liked to have Mac come off pin down screens set by Abdul-Jabbar where he drifted to the perimeter, caught the ball and fed the post. If McAdoo’s man sagged a little, the former Buffalo player just cut straight to the basket where the league’s all time leading scorer dished the ball for an easy basket.
As problematic as things were when opponents defended the Lakers, they became infinitely more complex when McAdoo went to the pinch post and the team ran some action on his side of the court. One of the most famous plays in Lakers history resulted from McAdoo’s sheer presence on the court: the 6’9’’ forward would set up on the pinch post with Cooper standing at the wing on the same side of the court; Coop would act as if he were going to set a pick on McAdoo’s man only to sprint to the basket as the former Tar Heel would set a sweet back screen for the “Coop-A-Loop”.
Bob McAdoo understood his role and fit in quite well playing alongside his talented teammates and never really got in their way. He shot the ball when open and mostly attempted field goals that were within his range, thus resulting in his high shooting percentage as a member of the Lakers. He consistently scored in the teens and provided some scoring punch off the bench when his team needed it.
On the other side of the ball, McAdoo was hardly a stopper, but he did just enough to help out defensively. Indeed, players could get by him off the bounce but his long arms allowed him to recover and contest shots. Also, he could get himself into help position off drives and clog the paint or make it difficult for players driving down the lane to convert shots.
In essence, Bob McAdoo does not often get mentioned for his contributions to the Lakers, but his scoring and rebounding were undeniably a huge plus for the team and he made the jobs of his teammates easier because defenses had to account for his presence given his ability to score.
In his four seasons in Los Angeles, the Lakers made the NBA Finals every time, winning the world championship twice along the way. He had modest averages of 12 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game on 49.4 percent field goal shooting and stepped it up with a little increased playing time during the playoffs to 13.4 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game on 50.7 percent field goal shooting.
By the end of the 1985 championship run, McAdoo was 33 years old and still had a little game left. But with thoroughbreds such as James Worthy and Byron Scott now on the team, keeping the former Tar Heel no longer part of the plan.
Mac joined the Philadelphia 76ers and then retired the following season.
Although he did not retire as a member of the Lakers, McAdoo contributed to the franchise’s dominance of the decade. Granted, the former league MVP was not part of the ’87 and ’88 championship units, but the Los Angeles Lakers were still an impressive 231-97 during the regular season from 1981 to 1985, and they also sported a 49-20 postseason record during the same span.
Needless to say, Bob McAdoo had something to do with winning time.