What’s great about the NBA training camps and preseason is that clubs get to bring players that are on the fringe to see if they can weasel their way into one of the best jobs in the world, NBA bench warmer. Some of the most secure jobs in sports have come watching games from the best seats in the house, while getting paid to be there! Peyton Manning’s backups, Bullpen Catchers and NHL emergency goalies are all in the mix, but the 14th, 15th guys on an NBA team have it made.
They may be the coach’s favorite, the liaison between the players and coaches, a veteran to teach a young superstar how to be a pro…there are plenty of reasons that guys catch on and make a career of, basically, being a good dude.
These are coveted roles as they pay pretty well; so let’s take a look at some of the guys that are on rosters that excel in this role. There is no set path to acquire this spots; aging superstars, glue guys, future coaches, locker room sheriffs are all steps in the right direction.
Nick Collison-former lottery pick who has only had 1 season making 8 figures. Collison has also never averaged double digits in points in the NBA. Clearly his talent is not what has kept him in an NBA uniform for 13 (entering his 14th) seasons. What coaches love about Collison is his ability to play his role. What executives love about Collison is that he’s relatively cheap. Essentially, he is the Gray Man. His teammates love him because he shows up every day and works. He holds guys accountable, and has their back. Perfect teammate, perfect role acceptance, perfect contract justification. There is a reason why Collison has played his entire career for the same franchise, they know what he brings to the organization and dearly values it.
Beno Udrih-another guy entering his 14th season! Probably 9 more than most people would expect. The Pistons are his 7th club in his career after initially being selected by the San Antonio Spurs…that should have tipped us all off. Udrih’s longevity is very different than Collison’s. He has been traded 4 times and waived 3 times. So he hasn’t been able to achieve the elusive Gray Man status. The only stretch where Udrih was statistically relevant was his time in Sacramento, where he averaged over 10ppg & 4apg and was a starter for the majority of games. Doesn’t stand out too much, but when you look at Udrih’s numbers per36, you can start to figure out why he’s continued to find employment in the NBA. He has always averaged over 10p36, which as a backup point guard is very important. He’s not a star, and at this point he’s a 3rd point guard but he’s shown that he’s been able to score in spurts. He creates his own shot and is good in the mid-range, which is a shot that is encouraged by defenses meaning Beno’s primary weapon of attack is an open shot from a distance that he’s extremely confident in. In the 2014-15 season, over half of Udrih’s shots were attempted in between 10′-3PT, and he shot over 50% in that area. So we can make the assumption that Beno Udrih’s mid-range jump shot has allowed him to stay relevant, even in the dawn of the analytics age where those shots are highly discouraged by the offense and applauded by the defense. Udrih’s skill set zigged when the rest of the league zagged.
Jared Dudley-Prior to looking it up, we would not have guessed that Jared Dudley was a CAREER 39.7% shooter from 3PT range!! Apparently that is good for 49th all time (basketball-reference.com)…Jared Dudley, 49th best 3PT shooter in NBA history. Dudley is a combination of the first two guys on the list. He’s moved around a little bit, but he’s never been an expensive player. Rarely has he provided a lot of scoring. Dudley brings consistency in shooting, and a good locker room presence. Extremely thoughtful and well-spoken, Dudley is a great teammate who is on the forefront of social issues. Like Collison, Dudley supports his teammates and NBA brethren, making him a sought after commodity for locker rooms with younger players who need to learn. Did we mention that he’s the 49th best 3PT shooter of all time?
Vince Carter-Half Man. Half Amazing. About to enter his 20th year on a roster! Vince has a career average of just over 18 ppg, but has seen a decline over the last few years as his minutes have gone down. Once the best in-game-dunker, his game has changed to feature more 3PT shooting to conserve and pace his output. Carter has hung on at above minimum contracts, including a whopping $8,000,000 for this upcoming season because of his demeanor, work ethic and shooting. The 8-time All Star will play for as long as he wants, his body is still in shape to be effective. His mentoring adds to his value. Once again, Air Canada has outclassed his peers, this time it’s in longevity.
So, as you can see, there are many roads that lead to finding that coveted last spot on the bench. You can be the guy that blends in everywhere. The guy who has a knack for making shots where the defense no longer defends. The guy who is the voice of the locker room, and deadly from 3PT range. Or the aging superstar who still moves like he’s a teenager and has revamped his game to fit a new role. The only commonality between these 4 pros is their team-friendly cap number. And that is the key to sticking around. Provide a value that is desired at a price that keeps the boss happy.