As an adolescent, I thought that being in the starting lineup was supreme in sports. My logic back then was that being a starter meant that you were the best player on your team at a particular position. As I matured and understood sports better, I realized that being a starter does not mean that you are one of the best players on the team. My perspective has changed. James Harden and Manu Ginobili are prime examples of the exception. There are many others, also. Some players are better suited to coming off the bench. Maybe, they feel less pressure coming off the bench. I don’t know. However, one thing I do know is that I finishing the game means a lot more than starting.
First, I want to discuss the significance of playing during crunch time. Being on the court during the last few minutes of the game means that the coach trusts you. It also alludes to a possible fact that you are dependable and efficient. Two former Tar Heels come to mind when I think about this. The first one is Danny Green. During the 2007-2008 season, Danny Green played three positions: shooting guard, small forward, and power forward. During crunch time, Roy used Danny Green at the power forward position over the starter Deon Thompson. Keep in mind that Danny measured at 6’6” 210 pounds and Deon was 6’8” 245 pounds. Based on size, Deon was a better choice to play at the 4 because he could bang with other power forwards. Deon also started at this position. However, Danny brought a lot more to the table; even at a smaller size. Danny was a better defender, better blocker, and he was savvier than Deon on offense and defense. Danny was a huge reason why the 2008 team made the Final Four. His versatility and instant scoring was key to the Heels’ run that season.
Another player who comes to mind is Marvin Williams. Marvin played at Carolina for one season, which happened to be the same year that Roy won his first championship as UNC’s head coach. Marvin was the 6th man, who backed up Jawad Williams and Sean May. Some people may argue that Marvin was more talented than Jawad. I’m 50/50 on that. Their styles of play were different, though. Jawad was more of a finesse player. Marvin was more of a banger down low. During the 2005 championship, Roy Williams played Marvin Williams down the stretch instead of Jawad Williams in many games. In the biggest game of the year, Roy went with the freshman over the senior when the game was tied up with Illinois. He went with the 6th man over the starter. Think about what I said earlier. There were many reasons why Roy did this. As a player, it may hurt when your spot is taken by someone else, but you must realize that a coach does things for the betterment of the team. That night, all three of these Williamses became champions, and Marvin went on to be the #2 pick in the 2005 NBA Draft.
There are several other Tar Heels I could discuss, such as Rasheed Wallace (backed up Kevin Salvadori during the 1993-1994 season until the Duke game in Cameron Indoor Stadium), Jerry Stackhouse (backed up Brian Reese during the 1993-1994 season), Pat Sullivan (combo forward who played key minutes during the 1993 championship against Michigan), Hubert Davis and Derrick Phelps (key reserves in UNC’s run to the 1990-1991 Final Four), Julius Peppers (backup to Kris Lang at the power forward position during UNC’s run to 2000 Final Four), Ademola Okulaja (played three positions at Carolina, while backing up Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison and Serge Zwikker in Carolina’s 1997 Final Four season), just to name a few. All of these players contributed towards Carolina’s success, while coming off the bench. Some of them eventually started, however. The next time you get in a discussion with someone over who should start, think about how the game flows when certain players are on the floor together. Also consider what particular players bring as far as their skill set and mentally. Being a starter is cool, but in my opinion being a finisher is better. What do you prefer?