I have always been a huge fan of bench and role players since I could remember. Around the same time I started watching basketball, I used to play on my brothers old GameCube, the games you may ask? NBA Live 03-05. I played those games constantly and even though I probably didn’t know what I was doing, I loved it. One of the first guys and what ended up being one of my favorite players in those games was Eduardo Najera, I really don’t remember why I liked him so much, but I’d be sure to get him every time I started a franchise on any of those games. That list of role players I loved kept expanding, Dasagana Diop, Vladimir Radmonovic, Mike Dunleavy, I pretty much knew everyone in the games by the time I moved up to the Xbox.
That same love I had for role players on those old NBA Live games slowly carried over to NBA games and the Thunder. When I first started watching basketball, I’d say 2009-10, my favorite players like any other kid were Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But over time I slowly started falling in love with the other guys on our team, first like many others, it was James Harden. The idea of him coming off the bench was so cool to me, and I think the “Fear the Beard” marketing campaign got to me too, I loved Harden. But eventually the players that I liked the most hardly even played.
I’d say the first real example of this was Byron Mullens. When the Oklahoma City Blue were located in Tulsa as the 66ers, my family and I went to the games as often as we could. The games were perfect, had everything my six-year old self could dream of: bouncy houses, concessions, and basketball. One of the best parts of the whole experience was after the game 66ers players would go up in the arena and sign some signatures at a table. One of those signatures I received, Byron Mullens. Not only was Mullens one of the best 66ers players on the team at the time, but he also signed my game program? I always wished Mullens would become something, he had a decent stint two year with the Charlotte Bobcats, but nothing else came of it.
After Mullens there really was no other role player who captivated my heart, that was until Kyle Singler arrived in 2015. His claim to fame when he showed up in OKC was having a good 3 point shot, and that was about all. He had a decent first season with us shooting 37% from 3 on 2.1 attempts. But his shooting numbers stumbled in dramatic fashion the following year going from 37% to 31%, with no consistent shot he didn’t really have alot to bring to the table, but Donovan none-the-less still threw him out on the floor every game. That was something that really attracted me to him.
In the 2016-17 season, my favorite player was Russell Westbrook, but in close second it had to be Kyle Singler, he may have even grown on me to the point I liked him more than Westbrook by the end of the year. He shot an absolutely abysmal 19% from 3 on 1.2 attempts, but either way, whenever he made a shot it seemed like he hadn’t missed all night. The Peake would erupt, players would get amped up, and the momentum would seemingly shift in OKC’s direction in the blink of an eye when he found his touch. Singler brought a real energy to the Thunder that I have not seen before from a player not named Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. He was a spark plug, throw him in for a couple minutes and if he is able to make a play or hit a shot the game completely changes. Obviously when you looked at his stat sheet it wasn’t pretty but his contribution to the team lied way farther than the box score.
After the Thunder acquired Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in 2017, Singler’s role diminished to the point he got waived and stretched. But his four year stint with OKC was special and made him one of my favorite players to ever suit up in a Thunder uniform, hence the name.