Sometimes he’s the enforcer. Sometimes he’s the fullback. Sometimes he’s the safety outlet. Sometimes he’s the emotional center. Whatever you want to call him, he’s usually not the star of the team; he’s the guy the star can’t win without.
The NBA is set up for each team to have its superstar (or two), who is then surrounded by role players. And truth be told, there isn’t that much difference between the superstars — Kobe and Brandon Roy can go shot-for-shot on any given night, same goes for Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki, and so on — but what separates stars with rings to stars without are the role players.
And while each superstar is his team’s go-to guy, ideally, each star has his own go-to guy. He’s not always the #2 scoring option on paper, but he’s the first teammate the star would take into a foxhole with him when everything is on the line. Here’s the All-Foxhole Team:
Derek Fisher, PG, L.A. Lakers
Minus a three-year hiatus in Utah and Golden State, Fisher has been in the trenches with Kobe since Day 1, when they were both drafted in ’96. He won three ‘chips with Sidekick Kobe from ’00-02, he cried on the bench next to Kobe in ’03, lost in the Finals with him in ’04 and ’08, and reached the mountaintop again with Kobe in ’09. Sometimes he’s a jacker, and his defense has slipped over the past couple of years, but he still hits clutch shots and is still one of the veteran leaders of the Lakers. Last week, when Kobe was single-handedly trying to erase a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit in Portland, I noticed the few times he did pass, it was to D-Fish.
Thabo Sefolosha, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder
When I interviewed Kevin Durant for his DIme #51 cover story over the summer, he told me that Thabo was the heart and soul of the Thunder. The designated defensive stopper and one of the oldest guys on the team that actually plays, Thabo can stick anybody from Danny Granger to Kobe Bryant to Rodney Stuckey from game-to-game without a double-team, using his quick feet, active hands and long limbs to make them work for everything they get. While he isn’t much of a scoring threat, you hardly see OKC playing in crunch-time without Thabo on the floor.
Carl Landry, SF/PF, Houston Rockets
The NBA’s John Henry is compiling tall tales in just his third year in the League. He got shot in the leg, and played three weeks later. He got five teeth knocked out — with two of them lodged in Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow — and didn’t miss a game, reappearing with a mouthful of teeth. The superstar-less Rockets are full of role players and glue guys, and Landry (16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is the second-leading scorer and a top candidate for Sixth Man of the Year.
David West, PF, New Orleans Hornets
Like D-Fish is to Kobe, D-West is the one guy Chris Paul still looks for after he’s gone into “I’m scoring all the points now” mode. As the Hornets have slipped from a darkhorse championship contender to a fringe playoff team, West has remained a reliable option on that deadly pick-and-pop, is good for a few game-winners and 40-point scoring nights every now and then, and is N.O.’s designated tough guy, whether it’s slapping an opposing star in the face or smacking his own teammates around when they need it.
Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
You hate him for his flopping, his hair, and the whiny face. LeBron loves him for his post defense, rebounding, basketball IQ and willingness to lay his body on the line even if it means getting dunked on or catching a sack in his face.
Honorable mentions: Kenyon Martin, Denver; Shane Battier, Houston; Will Bynum, Detroit; Udonis Haslem, Miami; Matt Barnes, Orlando.