Being an NBA player on a championship contending team seems like an eventful and challenging experience. I haven’t walked in those shoes, but one can only imagine the level of emotional and physical stability that is required. From superstar player, to energy guy, your role on the team is clearly defined and you are expected to thrive in it. The Clippers have that exact dynamic: Kawhi and Paul George are the superstars, and the rest of the players have their own roles that vary in importance. However, those roles can shift on a semi-regular basis, and the mental battle to succeed in this dynamic environment can make it difficult on even the best basketball player.
Speaking from a player’s perspective, it’s harder to succeed in your role if you don’t know when you’ll be called upon. While you’d love to have a detailed understanding of what your role is going to look like game in and game out, nothing is ever that cut and dry. In reality, it’s unknown. And that unknown can really impact the successes and failures of basketball players on a game to game basis.
So much of starring in your role as a player has to do with comfortability, and the best players have the most comfort. For instance, Kawhi and PG can sleep well at night knowing that they are going to play a lot of minutes every game; a right they have earned throughout their careers. With that security they are able to play freely. They take chances, make mistakes, and miss shots, but ultimately know they don’t have to worry about the next man eating into their minutes. Most players want to be that guy, but that position is reserved for a select few. However, even with those securities, those same players experience confidence issues at times. Quite honestly, a lot of it can be attributed to the inability to be mentally strong enough to advance past public scrutiny. Whether you find it excusable or not, it’s a real thing.
Some aren’t fazed by the outside noise, and some are. We are all well aware of what’s been happening with Paul George. An IN-HIS-PRIME perennial all-star has struggled mightily to put the ball in the basket all series long, and has struggled equally as much with not letting public opinion get to his head. It’s been really frustrating to see, as it has had a domino effect on other aspects of his game. The over-thinking, and overall lack of aggression, has essentially relegated him into performing like a role player.
Speaking of role players, it’s not all butterflies and rainbows for them either. You may think, “play a few minutes, provide a spark, and help the team win.” In other words: DO YOUR JOB. Easy enough, right? Well, actually, being a dependable role player is tough; key word being dependable. Whether the job calls for being a knockdown shooter, a pesky defender, or a game manager, you are expected to perform that job extremely well, regardless of the situation. However, what isn’t always visible is how often role players are in battle against themselves. It’s a mind game. When you don’t have that luxury of knowing when, or how much, you’re going to play, it can be a mental struggle that holds back your physical capabilities. That mental battle can lead to these questions as a professional basketball player:
“Should I shoot? I’m probably getting pulled if I miss another open shot.”
“When am I going in? I’ve been sitting here stiff all game long, I’m not going to be able to move well.”
“If I fail to do my job, will I lose everyone’s trust?”
These are real concerns that run through the minds of a lot of guys while on the court. The players who overcome these mental hurdles are usually the same guys who have been through similar situations in the past.
While the Clippers have had a number of rotational changes throughout the season, their role players have been fortunate in that most of them have come during non-meaningful games, and have therefore not had their roles truly questioned. The Clippers have had a few rotational players step up to the plate when called upon in this series. Landry Shamet has filled in nicely for the injured Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac has done well with his extended minutes, and Lou Williams has been his usual self. As for the other guys, well, they haven’t had nearly as much impact on the series. That can partly be attributed to the coaching staff not knowing when, how much, or how to utilize their players on a game-to-game basis, but also to the challenge of remaining ready in high-stakes playoff games. Every mistake is amplified, every indecision a potential embarrassment.
It’s a constant challenge to remain optimistic and think forward, especially in the heat of the moment. Some players are able to manage their insecurities better than others, but self-doubt is a real thing. There is no easy solution to overcoming self-doubt, but a confident player becomes a reliable player, which makes a world of difference when it comes to winning. The ones who excel are invaluable to a team’s progression, while the ones who don’t succeed become expendable, especially when you’re on a team with championship aspirations. The mental battle that Paul George might face as a basketball player is different from that of Terance Mann – yet each must overcome.
The Clippers have some top-tier role players, and two superstars. Yet those players are not immune from the self-doubt and lack of confidence that can strike any professional athlete. If they are to win a championship, those players need to face their mental challenges, triumph over them, and sustain the confidence necessary to be reliable in critical moments and games.