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Quiet Heroics: The NBA’s Best Glue Players

Shane Battier is the Quintessential Glue Player

Shane Battier Photo Credits: Icon SMI

We all use the term, but everybody’s definition of a “glue player” is different, so I was forced to come up with a few of the rules when generating this list. First, players who are among their team’s top two scorers were not considered. Those are the team’s stars. Second, the glue player must be solid defensively, so no three-point specialists or instant offense guys have been included. Third, this award is about generally unsung heroes whose play leads to team success, so only the guys on playoff-caliber teams are included (Devin Harris got the shaft).

While these qualifications eliminate a multitude of great players who are integral to their team’s cohesion, this article isn’t about the Steve Nashs, Ray Allens or David Lees. It’s about the guys who don’t take all the shots, don’t get hyped as one of their team’s best players and often aren’t even considered for the All Star team — and yet they manage to be pivotal in a good team’s performance each night with hustle, defense, leadership, selfless play, grit and all-around games that complement the big scorers and big names on their squad.

There are going to be some potentially deserving players who didn’t make the cut. I know there were plenty more I wanted to add but didn’t have the space for. As always, we encourage you to suggest them in the comments and we’ll put them at the bottom of the article in the Reader Recommendations section.

Without further ado and in alphabetical order, eleven of the NBA’s best glue players:

Shane Battier, F, Houston Rockets:

2007-08 Salary: $5.883 Million

Shane Battier is the best “glue” player in the NBA. He wasn’t much of a secret among serious NBA fans, but any anonymity Battier may have had went out the window on March 16th in that nationally televised win over the Lakers. Battier’s stellar defense of Kobe Bryant held the MVP candidate to 11-of-33 shooting and helped keep Houston’s historic winning streak alive. Battier’s modest line of 14 points, 3 boards and 2 assists was overshadowed by Rafer Alston’s flashy 31-point outburst, but he was the MVP of the game. Shane had a hand in Kobe’s face on every field goal attempt and played effective, intelligent two-way basketball — and that’s modus operandi.

“I try to prepare for my opponent as thoroughly as possible. I want to know every angle on the man I am guarding to give me an edge. I read many, many pages and go over strengths and weaknesses many times before a game. Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. That is a motto I like.” – Shane Battier

Battier has been the most important Rocket after Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady for a few years now. He keeps possessions alive with his hustle, ignites the break with his outlet passes, and prevents opponents fast breaks by getting back on D. Battier has the size and discipline to guard anybody from shooting guards to power forwards, and usually draws the opponent’s best swingman. He’s also a capable outside shooter (126 treys on the season) who can run on offense and is one of the best in the league at drawing offensive fouls. He plays an infectious brand of egoless, team-oriented basketball that is exactly what you look for in a glue player.

Raja Bell, G, Phoenix Suns:

2007-08 Salary: $4.750 Million

Love him or hate him, Raja Bell is a key cog in the Suns basketball machine, a machine that has been extremely competitive for a few years now. Since making a name for himself in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals, Raja has earned more and more playing time by playing cagey defense and markedly improving his outside shooting. He’s known for his tenacious man defense against the NBA’s more explosive shooting guards, but last season Bell managed to lead the league in three-pointers as well, finishing with with 205.

Raja is also one of the premier flop artists in the game, something I frown upon but the value of which cannot be denied. He lives to get up in the grill of Kobe Bryant, making their Pacific Division battles in the regular season and playoffs some of the most entertaining in the NBA. Bell is also very careful with the basketball, never forcing it, and thus has averaged 1.1 turnovers or less per game since joining Phoenix for the 2005-06 season.

Nine more quiet contributors after the jump…

Andris Biedrins, C, Golden State Warriors:

2007-08 Salary: $2.636 Million

Andris is still just 22 years of age, but he’s already come a long way from being the “The One Minute Man” (a moniker earned for his inability to last more than a minute without committing a foul). Biedrins could still use some work on his man defense and gets overpowered by the stronger power forwards and centers, but he’s a strong help defender and rebounder on a team sorely lacking an inside presence on both ends of the floor.

Averaging a near double-double for the second consecutive season with 80 blocks on the year, Andris makes it happen without the ball for a Warriors squad that has plenty of mouths to feed and players who dominate the rock. That’s part of what makes him so efficient as well: cleaning up after Baron Davis and the rest, he leads the league in in shooting with 62.6% FGs and turns the ball over just 1.1 times per game. With Chris Webber now retired, this team needs all the help it can get on the glass and in the post against a Western Conference loaded with imposing big men.

Bruce Bowen, F, San Antonio Spurs:

2007-08 Salary: $4.125 Million

Bruce Bowen is Dirty, But EffectiveI hate Bruce Bowen. He may be my least favorite player in the league, and I’m far from alone in that sentiment. His ability to engender such a strong, negative reaction in everybody outside of San Antonio is a testament to Bowen’s ability to play aggravatingly effective basketball that is so aggressive and belligerent non-Spurs fans can’t help but get upset. But it’s not limited to fans: Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen absolutely despise playing against his suffocating, rule-bending brand of defense.

Bowen doesn’t have a prototypical game, so he bounced around for a long while from the Miami Heat to the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers to the CBA’s Rockford Lightning and the French clubs Le Havre, Evreux and Besançon before settling with the Spurs. He became a full-time starter in 2001 and was an integral member of those San Antonio title teams in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Bruce Bowen Photo Credits: Icon SMI

It’s all about D with Bruce, as he’s been elected seven times to the NBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams. He also finished second in voting for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award from 2005-07. His offensive game is extremely limited, but Bowen has mastered that three-point jumper from the corner, which is just enough to keep his man honest. Bowen is an iron man, playing in 500 consecutive games before being suspended last month for kicking Chris Paul while he was down — if there was a more fitting way for that streak to come to an end, I can’t think of it (except perhaps Ray Allen spraining Bruce’s ankle by stepping under Bowen on a three).

Ronnie Brewer, G/F, Utah Jazz:

2007-08 Salary: $1.715 Million

After a quiet rookie year Brewer has been a revelation this season. He’s gone from just 12 minutes a contest to 28 minutes this season, and his numbers have risen accordingly across the board, nearly tripling everywhere. Looking at that improved line, a few things stand out. First, Brewer is tenth in the NBA in steals with 122, tied with defensive stalwart Ron Artest. Second, he’s starting at guard and shooting over 55% from the field (seventh-best in the NBA), a remarkable achievement even if most of his baskets come in the paint. Third, he averages less than a turnover per game in those 28 minutes of action. That adds up to a two-way player who harasses players on defense, pillages passing lanes, gets back on fast breaks, and doesn’t make many mistakes.

He’s learned to be extremely efficient without the basketball, deferring to Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams while showing a knack for finding open spaces on the floor and making the right cuts to the basket. With Andrei Kirilenko struggling of late, Brewer’s defense and hustle has been a key ingredient in the Utah Jazz’s run to the top of the Northwest Division.

Marcus Camby, C, Denver Nuggets:

2007-08 Salary: $10.000 Million

You know that Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are going to bring the offense every night for Denver. They’re the stars and they’ll easily account for 50-55 points, but both leave something to be desired on the defensive end. They get beat by their man regularly, a big part of why the Nuggets give up nearly 106 points per contest. Enter Marcus Camby, the NBA’s best help-side shot blocker. Camby doesn’t play the fundamental man defense of a Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Rasheed Wallace, but there is simply nobody better in the NBA at discouraging penetration and compensating for mistakes on the perimeter. His 3.7 blocks per lead the NBA this season, but he also had the most blocks per game in last year’s playoffs (3.2) and regular season (3.3), the previous year’s playoffs (2.8) and regular season (3.3), and the playoffs the season before that (3.2).

On top of that, Camby is currently second in the League with 13.4 rebounds per contest, somehow manages to drop an impressive 3.2 dimes per contest, grabs 1.2 steals, and turns it over just 1.5 times a game. That’s doing everything you can ask of a big man outside of scoring, where his 9.3 points per game are far from pathetic.

Samuel Dalembert, C, Philadelphia 76ers:

2007-08 Salary: $9.680 Million

I’ve been a Bert fan for a few years now just because he shows such tantalizing potential around the basket. His length, athleticism and quick hands have always given him the potential to be one of the best centers in the East, and this year he’s fulfilling that promise. Philadelphia’s improbable run to the seventh (and perhaps sixth) seed is largely due to the play of Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller, but this energetic and strong defensive team is anchored in the middle by Dalembert, a big man who protects the basket and runs on offense. This year he’s made big strides with his timing, footwork, foul-trouble, and goaltending issues. He’s turned a corner this season, averaging his fewest fouls in four seasons and the most blocks of his career. Dalembert is also putting up a double-double to go with those 2.4 blocks per game, and doing it on just 8.2 field-goal attempts.

Derek Fisher, G, Los Angeles Lakers:

2007-08 Salary: $4.350 Million

When I started generating this list Fisher wasn’t one of the first names that came to mind, but it should have been. The big stories in LA are Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but Fish’s veteran leadership, clutch presence, and ball-handling abilities are a big part of the reason the Lake Show is winning 67.6% of their games this year, up from the 51.2% they won before his arrival last season. Derek has long been one of the best clutch performers in the game, something that makes it more difficult to double- and triple-team Kobe in late-game situations. I feel confident saying he will knock down a couple of huge shots this postseason.

His ability to handle the ball and make good decisions has also taken a ton of pressure off of Bryant, and will also show up once the postseason gets underway. And perhaps most important, Fisher is solid defender who is strong enough and cagey enough to (at least try to) contain the Chris Pauls and Deron Williams of the Western Conference, something nobody else on the Lakers roster can even pretend to do. Aside from tangible skills, the fact that he’s been there before will continue to be an asset to LA in their quest for a title.

Jamario Moon, F, Toronto Raptors:

2007-08 Salary: $0.427 Million

While his outside shooting has picked up as the season has worn on, nobody is going to be inviting him to a three-point shootout any time soon. But with 96 blocks and 73 steals on the season to go with just 48 turnovers, Jamario Moon is making a meaningful impact every night in other ways than scoring. The hustle on defense got this 27-year-old rookie a spot on Toronto’s roster this season, then it got him into their starting lineup, and it’s earned him a place among the NBA’s elite glue players. On a decidedly Euro Raptors team that has plenty of shooters, Moon is their only true defensive stopper and their best pure athlete. He shows great defensive instincts, the ability to get above the rim in a heartbeat, and tenacity around the ball. He’s not a complete liability on offense either, shooting 48.2% FGs and 74.0% FGs while only turning it over 0.7 times a night.

Tayshaun Prince, F, Detroit Pistons:

2007-08 Salary: $8.675 Million

The long-armed Prince is the least celebrated of Detroit’s star players. He doesn’t make the dramatic shots of a Chauncey, he doesn’t possess the impeccable mid-range game of a Rip, and he doesn’t display the effortless inside-outside game of a ‘Sheed — but Tayshaun Prince is absolutely crucial to these Detroit Pistons. He isn’t near the league lead in any categories, but he selflessly contributes across the board and is ready to step up in any way the team needs on a given night.

It was abundantly clear on opening night when Rip Hamilton was out and Tay picked up his offense, dropping a career-high 34 points and 12 boards. When Rip comes back, Tay goes back to focusing on defense and keeping the ball moving on offense. And a word about that defense: it’s very, very good. The lanky 6-9 Prince can stick with just about anybody. You look at his season line of 13.6 points, 4.8 boards, 3.4 ssists, 0.7 thres, 0.5 steals and 0.4 blocks on 44.7% FGs and 77.4% FTs and wonder, “So what does he do well?” The answer is another question: what does the team need tonight?

Rajon Rondo, G, Boston Celtics:

2007-08 Salary: $1.372 Million

If any of the Big Three were to go down in Boston they would be in a world of trouble, but I’m equally convinced that subtracting Rajon Rondo from this roster would all but kill the Celtics title hopes as well. When he isn’t on the floor Boston stagnates, unable to create any penetration outside of Paul Pierce. Rondo is fearless taking it to the hole, which makes up for his ugly jumper and allows him to shoot a strong 48.6% FGs. Rondo’s ability to break ankles off the dribble and get to the basket makes everybody on this roster look better, and it’s an essential ingredient to playing the kind of half-court offense a defensive minded team like Boston likes to. He’s their Tony Parker, but quicker, hungrier, and without the mid-range game or offensive polish.

On defense, Rajon has quickly become an elite guard, able to pick up the ball before half-court and harass anybody from the physical Chauncey Billups to the speedy T.J. Ford. As good as he is at penetrating on offense, he’s almost as adept at preventing it on the other end of the floor, which saves Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett a lot of fouls and effort. Rondo’s fast, strong hands are always active, and he has a nose for the ball as well, leading him to 115 steals this season and a ton of Tommy Points.

Reader Suggestions:

Devin Brown, G, Cleveland Cavaliers
Tyson Chandler, C, New Orleans Hornets
Andrei Kirilenko, F, Utah Jazz
Anderson Varejao, F/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Al Horford, F/C, Atlanta Hawks
DeShawn Stevenson, G, Washington Bullets
Keith Bogans, G, Orlando Magic
Louis Williams, G, Philadelphia 76ers
Eduardo Najera, F, Denver Nuggets
Stephen Jackson, G/F, Golden State Warriors
James Posey, G/F, Boston Celtics
Daniel Gibson, G, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kendrick Perkins, C, Boston Celtics
Andres Nocioni, F, Chicago Bulls

Tags: Shane Battier, Rajon Rondo, Tayshaun Prince, Marcus Camby, Bruce Bowen


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