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NBA PM: Four Role Players Stepping Up This Season

Having talented role players can make-or-break a good team – so here are four that have played excellently so far this year.

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The NBA has a lot of talented, exciting players across the league – perhaps even more than ever – but that makes it easy for some players to slide under the radar nationally. But role players deserve recognition too, so we’ve decided to look at four players around the league playing at a high level, that maybe aren’t being talked about as much as they deserve.

Jordan Clarkson, Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz’s criminally underrated scorer has been putting together a strong resume for the Sixth Man of the Year – today, he’s the likely leader too. Clarkson is one of the most dynamic shotmakers in the league, averaging a career-high 17.5 points per game while playing 25.4 minutes off the bench. But the key to Clarkson’s sixth-man campaign is his improved three-point shooting.

Clarkson is attempting more three-pointers per game than at any point in his career – 8.0 – and knocking them down 38.7 percent of the time, both career highs. Better, the guard is also having his best season from the free throw line, knocking down an absurd 97.5 percent of his free throw attempts. Even making an impact on the boards, despite being just 6-foot-4, he’s tied for fourth on the team in rebounds per game at 4.4 this year.

Clarkson’s scoring has been a key factor in Utah’s success this season and the team sits atop the Western Conference with a record of 19-5 on the season. Best of all, Clarkson leads the league in scoring off the bench (min. 10 games) at 17.5 points per contest, per NBA.com.

Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings

With the Kings’ exciting young talents like De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, Holmes’ contributions to the team have gone rather under-discussed around the league.

Holmes is averaging career-highs in points (13.0) and blocks per game (1.8). Moreover, Holmes’ mark of 13 points per game puts him fourth on the team in scoring, but many of his counting statistics – including a robust 65.8 field goal percentage – are all the best numbers on the Kings. The center’s impact on the Kings is best shown by his net rating of +4.1, the best mark on the team – eight games min. – and the only positive tally, next followed by Harrison Barnes’ -.5.

But that success on the offensive end can be attributed to his incredibly-effective floater. Holmes has taken 40 floating jump shots this season and knocked down 29 of them, good for a ridiculous 72.5 percent. In general, Holmes is an incredibly effective shooter from two-point range, shooting 66.7 percent on jump shots from within the arc.

Holmes’ ability to hit floaters at such a high rate makes him an excellent pick and roll partner with Fox and Haliburton. As the roll man, Holmes is in the 85th percentile for efficiency, scoring 1.33 points per possession. Nuttier, 27.9 percent of Holmes’ shot attempts come as the roll man in the pick and roll. That effectiveness puts Holmes in the company of some of the most effective big men in the league like Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and Christian Wood.  

Holmes will be crucial for Sacramento’s playoff hopes – now seventh in the Western Conference at 12-12. If he can keep it up for the rest of the season, he will be owed a massive payday as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Alec Burks, New York Knicks

Another player making a significant impact off the bench is the New York Knicks’ Alec Burks. Since leaving the Jazz in 2019, Burks has bounced around the league, playing for six different teams in just the past three seasons. The Knicks picked up Burks on a one-year $6 million contract this offseason and he has played well above his pay grade.

Burks is averaging 13.3 points per game, which is good for third-best on the roster. The journeyman veteran is tallying a career-best 44.8 three-point percentage on a career-high 5.2 attempts per game. He leads the Knicks in three-point percentage, but he isn’t just valuable as a shooter. Burks averages 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a steal per game, a reliable contribution even when he isn’t scoring.  

Along with the play of Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett, Burks’ steadiness has put the Knicks into playoff contention and hovering around ninth place. Originally Burks’ name was brought up as a potential trade option for title contenders lacking points off the bench – but with the Derrick Rose acquisition this week, they’ll be pushing for a berth in the postseason.

Monte Morris, Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets have more young talent than they know what to do with and backup point guard Monte Morris is a sterling example. This season is Morris’ fourth in the NBA and he has cemented himself as one of the best bench guards in the league. This season, Morris is averaging 11.1 points, fourth-best on the Nuggets, and 3.5 assists per game, third-best. 

One of Morris’ best attributes as a player is that he seldom turns the basketball over. Morris only averages .7 turnovers per game and holds a turnover percentage of 4.8 percent. Among those eligible, Morris is seventh in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio at 5.4. On shots 0-to-3 feet, Morris is shooting 81 percent from the field, 13th best in the entire NBA. Narrowing that list down to only guards, the veteran jumps to fifth-best.

Denver signed Morris to a three-year $27 million contract extension this offseason and that’s beginning to look like a bargain.

With many star-worthy talents in the league, it’s easy to forget just how important role players are to NBA teams. These four players may not make any All-Star games or appear on any All-NBA teams, but their performances deserve to be discussed as they’re all reaching higher than ever before.

Zach Dupont is a staff writer with Basketball Insiders currently living in Chicago. Zach's work has been previously featured in The Boston Globe, Boston.com and The Basketball Tournament.

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