Why the 12th man matters

Updated: February 3, 2005, 5:24 PM ET
By Brian James | ESPN Insider
Everyone has his favorite players on each NBA team. But you would be surprised that many of us root for the player who always seems to be wearing his warmups.

He's the ultimate understudy, the role player.

When his name is called, he's the guy who sprints to the scorer's table amid the hoots and hollers of scattered voices in the crowd. Until that time, he sits on the bench seemingly for an eternity. But when he's used, he's expected to play well.

An NBA team's 10th-to-12th man might play anywhere from 1-10 minutes per game – or he might log 10 DNP-CD's (Did Not Play-Coach's Decision) in a row. For this guy, when his name is called, he had better play like it's his last NBA game. If he does not have a long-term contract, these precious minutes just might be his last in the league.

But these role players are not just practice fodder or seat fillers. The best benchwarmers are important to NBA teams. I'm going to tell you why these role players matter, name some of my favorites this season and list a few former 12th men who have become "successes" in the league.