BOSTON – Golden State’s Stephen Curry and his backcourt mate Klay Thompson, along with Draymond Green, hauled in most of the headlines this past season in the Warriors’ jaunt towards an NBA title.
But in the NBA Finals, it was Andre Iguodala who came away as the Finals MVP, proving yet again how valuable “glue guys” can be when it comes to winning at a high level.
Iguodala was a former All-Star, a known commodity prior to helping the Warriors win it all.
But every year there are players who emerge as “glue guys” who play a vital role in their team’s fortunes.
They don’t necessarily put up great stats and for large stretches of the season, their work flies below the radar of most fans.
If their respective teams win a lot of games, chances are you’ll hear the names of others being significant to that success before they are mentioned.
But that’s OK.
That’s what glue guys are about.
And as Green (five-year, $85 million to stay with the Warriors) and DeMarre Carroll (four years, $60 million to play for Toronto) proved to us all, you can still haul in a nice payday and not necessarily be the best or second-best player on your team.
That said, here are five players who won’t blow you away with their numbers but they may wind up being their respective team’s most important player when the games matter most:
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Last season: 6.9 points, 6.6 rebounds per game.
Kevin Garnett the perennial All-Star is long gone, folks. But the player he is today is still relevant, especially for a team like the Timberwolves with so much youth. Even at 39 years of age, Garnett is still one of the craftier players in the NBA who can impact games with his mind as well as his body. Having a player with that kind of basketball DNA is a huge asset for a Minnesota franchise that’s rebuilding around rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins and a host of other young but talented players. The Timberwolves will be better this season but certainly not a legit playoff contender in the Wild, Wild Western Conference. Garnett’s presence will play a prominent role in that on-the-floor growth. And as far as what Garnett brings to the floor, he can still hold his own when it comes to defending bigs, especially “stretch 4s.” According to NBA.com statistics, players defended by Garnett shot 7.3 percent worst from beyond 15 feet with him guarding them compared to their usual shooting percentage from that range.
Alonzo Gee, Portland
Last season (Denver and Portland): 4.5 points and 1.7 rebounds
Without LaMarcus Aldridge (signed with San Antonio), the Blazers will have to play differently and that change will likely mean becoming a more defensive minded, grind-it-out kind of team. That’s great news for Gee who came over from Denver and immediately showed that he could defend multiple positions on the floor and be effective which was evident by him leading the NBA last season in defensive field goal differential (minus 7.9). That means opposing players shot 7.9 percent worst from the field with him guarding them, relative to what they usually shot from the field. Those numbers aren’t going to fill up seats anytime soon, but it does provide hope that Portland’s Aldridge-less future will be brighter than most expect.
Terrence Jones, Houston
Last season: 11.7 points, 6.7 rebounds
Jones has been one of the more under-rated players out West the past couple of seasons, doing a good job of getting value out of his role gradually increasing. While the Rockets have benefited from his pick-and-pop game which has helped to create better shot opportunities for James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard (when healthy), Jones’ ability to finish while rolling to the basket is even more impressive. Last season he had the fourth-best effective field-goal percentage of 73.3 percent when rolling to the rim. You have to wonder just how good the Rockets would have been if Jones’ season wasn’t limited to just 33 games courtesy of inflammation in his left leg and later, a collapsed lung.
Kyle O’Quinn, New York
Last season (in Orlando): 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds.
The Knicks’ lack of an elite or even a proven point guard means good looks (i.e. open) at the basket will not be plentiful. That’s where the signing of O’Quinn becomes such an important one for New York and its quest to get out of the NBA basement and become somewhat relevant again in terms of winning games. Last season with Orlando, O’Quinn seemed to be at his best when faced with a defender tightly contesting his shots. In fact, the 6-10 forward shot 61.5 percent from 2-point range last season when he had two feet or less of space to operate with prior to shooting. That was the ninth-best field goal percentage under those circumstances in the NBA last season.
Jae Crowder, Boston
Last season (in Dallas and Boston): 7.7 points and 3.6 rebounds.
From being a trade throw-in in December from Dallas, to becoming an indispensable part of the Boston Celtics’ future. Look around folks. Nobody was going to get a five-year deal from Danny Ainge except Crowder (five years, $35 million), and the reason is simple. He is a guy that this franchise knows they have to absolutely have around if they are to continue climbing up the Eastern Conference standings. You don’t need to call on a search party to find players on this roster as it is constructed now, who can do some of the things Crowder does, better. But when you combine all those skills such as scoring, defending, rebounding the ball and then you throw in the two biggest intangibles to good play – leadership and toughness – the picture of Crowder’s value becomes very clear. The addition of Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline last season made Boston better, but it was the ascension of Crowder into getting more minutes was what made Boston one of the best teams in the NBA after the all-star break. He gets a full training camp to establish his role with the team, one that may involve him coming off the bench. But that doesn’t matter. Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Crowder has shown the ability to impact games in a big way at both ends of the floor, the kind of player Boston needs as they continue pushing forward with the goal being to build off the success of last season.