All of these players fall under the general category of ROLE players. As my friend pointed out, any non-starring player has by definition an opportunity to become a solid role player under the right circumstances. Think of it this way, any time a non all-star player contributes in a big game, his reputation grows as a “role player”.
Every minute of experience a player gains during the regular season or in the playoffs prepares him to be a better role player. If someone were to just look at the career stats of Robert Horry and compare him to LaMarcus Aldridge, it would seem like Aldridge is a superior player and if he had been on any of the title teams Horry was on his team would have won the championship as well. This may be true, but since Aldridge doesn’t have any significant playoff experience we don’t know how good Aldridge is in the playoffs.
Robert Horry’s contributions as a ROLE player are immeasurable, and he made contributions to every single one of his seven championship teams. One simplified way to predict who could be considered a good role player is to look at the amount of playoff minutes he’s played. If he’s played a lot of playoff minutes that means he’s had a lot of experience in the playoffs which means he’s doing something right.
No NBA GM would consider picking up LaMarcus Aldridge to be a role player on an NBA team today, but in about 10 years regardless of his playoff success he’ll likely have logged enough minutes to be considered a good role player.
That’s exactly why Juwan Howard is considered a solid role player today. Every championship team needs a few role players, it doesn’t matter if those players are already established as role players whom have lots of veteran experience (like Derek Fisher now), or if he’s young but making contributions to good teams and playing deep into the playoffs, establishing himself as a good role player along the way (like Derek Fisher on the 2000-2002 championships teams).
Other qualitative factors such as attitude, locker room presence, reputation, respect, and leadership qualities are plusses, but the most important thing is experience.
The Lakers this year have a ton of good role players. Derek Fisher’s still Derek Fisher, and the addition of Steve Blake will help bolster the bench. Lamar Odom is essentially a versatile super-role player. Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff will provide more veteran experience. Much like Tyronn Lue and Jannero Pargo latched onto the Lakers teams and are now considered decent role players, Sasha and Luke Walton can now be depended on in big games as well (sometimes).
Next: The Big Man