5 Role Players on the Oklahoma City Thunder Who Need to Step Up

Luke JohnsonContributor IIINovember 9, 2011

5 Role Players on the Oklahoma City Thunder Who Need to Step Up

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    What matters most in the NBA, are the countless role players who lay it all on the line, night in and night out, in order to help their team win.

    Some of the most talented players in the league are role players.

    Not because they would be unable to act as an ongoing superstar, but because of an unselfish desire to commit to team-oriented play.

    When it comes to Thunder basketball we already know about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Both are old news. But in order to for them to get over the hump and win a championship, a few others are going to have to shine in their specified roles.

Kendrick Perkins, Starting Center

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    So normally, we define "role" players as bench guys—players who come off the bench and play a certain position, or act as a defensive or offensive sub, validated by their singular superior skill set.

    But things are a bit muddier than that.

    Considering NBA style of play is a one-on-one show, many starters take on this cult-like role as well. The same goes for starting center Kendrick Perkins.

    Perk might be 6'10", 280 pounds, with an insatiable will to lock down defenders and rebound. But reality would say his 6.4 points per night over the span of his eight years in the league proves such a role.

    If the Thunder expect to go anywhere in 2012, they will need Perkins feisty defensive play to set the tone on both team defense and in the locker room.

James Harden, Starting Shooting Guard/Sixth Man

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    James Harden made quite a leap last year. After a disappointing rookie season, the 6'5" combo guard with gritty poise proved his ability to take on a larger role.

    Despite growing into what seems like the Thunder's third scorer on offense, Harden's 12.2 points per night and inconsistency proved he is still far away from becoming more than just a bench spark.

    I suppose he can be counted upon, coming off the bench as a supreme sixth man. Though that is not something to be taken for granted.

    A player like Harden is the type of player who can win a game. His speed, athleticism, defensive presence and ability to knock down threes, give coach Scott Brooks quite a specialized weapon.

Thabo Sefolosha, Starting Shooting Guard/Sixth or Seventh Man

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    The long and lean defensive specialist out of Switzerland is the modern day Bruce Bowen, but better. If given Bowen's kind of starter minutes then Thabo would also be scoring at a decent rate.

    For now, he is looked upon to get steals and lock down the opposing team's superstar.

    Thabo is gifted with long reaching arms, a wide wingspan and a tremendous vertical. This makes him a sure-handed defender with an ability to get up the floor and rebound.

    Having a player who can shut down a superstar is worth more than gold. Remember, a good defense is a better offense.

    He has averaged 2.7 steals per 48 minutes the last four years.

Eric Maynor, Point Guard, Seventh Man/Backup Point Guard

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    Eric Maynor earned his stripes in college. Playing four years for Virginia Commonwealth gave him poise and experience. His heroic games during the March tournament proved his killer instinct as well.

    Now, playing behind rising star Russell Westbrook, the one-time supreme college talent is a role player with starter material.

    Last year in the Western Conference Finals, Scott Brooks benched a hot-tempered Westbrook for the quiet and calm Maynor. The result was an unselfish performance in the fourth quarter and a much needed postseason win.

    Maynor is and will be Scott Brook's bargaining tool when it comes to Westbrook's immaturity. If Westbrook does not demote his shot to Durant, Maynor will be a pliable option.

Nate Robinson, Point Guard, Ninth Man

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    Just two years ago, the miniature guard was dropping nearly 20 a night with the Knicks. Now he has been shuffled from Boston to OKC, where he's been tossed to the wayside.

    But not so fast. Why? Why throw away a player with lightening quick speed and a true scorer's mentality?

    The best part about Robinson is that he can play the two in a small set. If Westbrook is needed to score and the team is down, Brooks can pull Maynor and insert Lil' Nate at the one.

    If Westbrook is being Westbrook and Brooks wants a scorer to hit shots alongside assist-leading Maynor, than inserting Robinson makes all the more sense.

    Nonetheless, whether or not Brooks has problems with rotating Westbrook and Maynor, the reality is that there is always a spot for someone with game-changing abilities like Robinson.

    It is just a matter of where. I say start Harden with Westbrook, rotate Maynor in for Harden and Westbrook, playing much of Harden's minutes, rotate Thabo at a three role behind Durant, and then use Nate to balance the rest of the minutes alongside Harden and Westbrook.

    If the Thunder can give Nate 20 minutes a night, you better believe he'll vie for sixth man of the year.