One of the most important (and underrated) pieces to an NBA championship team is the do-it-all “glue guy.” The role of this glue guy is to willingly take a back seat and use his rare, diverse skill set to fill any holes in a championship contending team.
In the 90s, Scottie Pippen played this role to perfection. Pippen was always talented enough to be a MVP candidate and win on his own. He proved this by finishing 3rd in the MVP race during a time when Michael Jordan left for baseball after being forced out of the league (according to conspiracy theories) amid gambling allegations, but Pippen willingly took a back seat and filled the gaps of those Chicago Bulls’ title teams.
He became a player who focused on defense and took fewer shots for the betterment of the team. During those years, he had seasons in which he averaged seven assists (otherworldly for a small forward, unless your name is LeBron or Oscar) and close to nine rebounds per game. He was also an eight-time All-NBA 1st team defender!
Since the Pippen years, there have been a number of teams that have tried to build a similar dynamic. The Lakers brought in a surprisingly capable Ron Artest to be Kobe’s sidekick. KG humbled himself and joined the Celtics to take care of all of the intangibles, and the list goes on.
Last summer, one of the most coveted glue guys in the league was Andre Iguodala. Over his career, Iguodala has had seasons in which he dropped 20 points a night while dishing out five assists and grabbing five boards. Those are elite glue guy numbers. He’s also been an All-NBA defense team member and taken on the challenge of guarding the best players on opposing teams. Adding to this is a resumé that includes helping several lowly 76ers teams become legitimate, turning the Denver Nuggets into contenders, and being a vital part of Team USA winning gold medals in 2010 and 2012. Basically, Iggy’s mode of operation has always been about winning and helping the team in whatever way possible.
That’s why the budding Golden State Warriors had no reservations about signing him to a four-year $48 million dollar contract. In a released statement, Warriors GM Bob Myers said:
“Andre Iguodala was a free agent that we targeted from Day One…His versatility as a player should help us tremendously on both sides of the court and we feel that his specific, unique skill set blends very well with the players already on our roster.”
So far this year, Iguodala’s impact on the Warriors has already become apparent. With him, they look like legitimate contenders. Without him, there are too many holes in the Warriors style to compete.
Unfortunately, there are and have always been players that refuse to recognize the value in becoming a glue guy. Today in the NBA, there isn’t a single player with more “glue” potential than Rudy Gay. Gay has the athleticism and length to be an elite defender and the skills to do a little bit of everything out on the court. Gay, however, only seems fixated on one facet of the game, which is scoring. He has been known for jacking up low percentage mid-range shots during critical moments in a game and ignoring teammates out on the court. Amazingly, Gay has never averaged three assists per game in his entire career.
Because Gay refuses to acknowledge his potential as an elite glue guy, he has been traded from team to team. The fact that his talent was traded from the Grizzlies to the Raptors during a title run is evidence as to how bad the problem had gotten. Even crazier, he was traded for AARP member Tayshaun Prince. In Toronto, Gay’s problems only became worse. He amped up his scoring mentality to a new level and fell hard, shooting a miserable 38 percent during his stint there.
Now in Sacramento, the 27 year old Gay still has a chance to be part of a team that could contend in the near future. They are loaded with talented players like DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. But in order for them to succeed, they need a guy that can fill in the holes. In an interview conducted by Jonathan Santiago, Sacramento Kings head coach Michael Malone said:
“In Rudy Gay, you get a 6’10, versatile scorer…He’s a very talented player. End of games, he can make plays for you. He’s versatile. He can score in the post, handling the ball, catch-and-shoot, isolation, so he’s talented and we’ve become a much more talented team with him.”
Coach Malone is definitely right about the Kings being more talented. The Grizzlies and the Raptors were more talented with him, too. But they didn’t win until he was gone. If the Kings want to do something more, Gay will need to learn from Pippen and Iguodala and recognize the importance of being a glue guy.