Glue guys are the binding component that every team needs, despite usually going underappreciated. In this article, we’re looking at what makes this season’s best glue guys stick.
Leadership, playmaking, the ability to make the right play at the right time and contentment within their role. These ideas constitute a glue guy in the NBA.
A glue guy is a player that helps mesh a team together. They help make both the defence and offence run smoothly and they consistently make the right play that viewers can almost take for granted.
Players like these are essential to an elite team.
These players are usually veterans — the rugged types that have seen their fair share of NBA minutes and high-stakes, intense games and know exactly what to do, when to do it and aren’t phased by the moment.
This archetype is rather utopian, but there are a few players in the NBA who exemplify at least a portion of these traits regularly. So, without further ado, here are the three best glue guys of the NBA season thus far.
Joe Ingles — G/F Utah Jazz
Joe Ingles is the steady force that has helped his team to the top of the Western Conference with a 27–9 record. He is a creative outlet that complements his teammates and provides a steady flow of productive offence and defence — helping the Jazz to a 118 offensive rating and a 109 defensive rating.
Ingles is the poster child for consistency and composure.
Alongside that, his numbers have been steady at 11.5 points, 4.4 assists and 3.3 rebounds. He is a true professional and shows up to each game ready to work. The positive tone he sets cannot go unnoticed, as his attention to detail has helped the Jazz elevate to contender status.
When Mike Conley entered the equation, Ingles slid to the second unit to allow the former Grizzly to interlock with the starters. Even with the change, Ingles is playing around 26 minutes this season as his importance on the team and its dynamics have not wavered.
In a sense, his transition to this new role has liberated his game. Ingles splits his time with the bench and the starters, bringing about flexibility and cohesion between them. He gives head coach Quin Snyder a bridge that links the starters and the bench.
His leadership when commanding the second unit has been a big part of Utah’s success. A bench unit that places pressure on the opposition is vital to consistent winning. He understands what the team needs — when to satisfy a big with a touch in the paint or when to make the extra pass to a player that is hot and needs a heat check.
Like past seasons with the Jazz, Ingles’ playmaking, especially assists, is steady. When using Cleaning the Glass’s metrics, Ingles is in the 96th percentile for forwards in assist percentage (23.9 percent), and points per shot attempt (140.8). His ability to adjust to each scenario is how all top glue guys operate in the league.
He just passed Pistol Pete Maravich for seventh all-time in assists in Utah Jazz history. While he’s not going to get to number one on that list (John Stockton leads the Jazz and the entire league with 15,806 assists), he’s as elite a passer as anyone on the list.
When congratulating his player, Snyder says that when Joe passes, he makes the team better: “He’s been passing the ball so well. It’s certainly emblematic of the career he’s had here and how unselfish he’s been.”
Ingles’ prowess as a glue guy has been on display all season long. He has great chemistry with big-men Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, especially when operating in the pick-and-roll. His manoeuvrability around screens is top-notch as he can react to all sorts of rolls and defensive coverages.
Ingles is having a great season in terms of scoring the ball, too.
The Aussie currently holds a career-high in effective field goal percentage (68.4 percent) and within that number, he boasts a 46.5 percent three-point percentage, which is tops in the league and a whole seven percent more than the previous season.
Being an accountable offensive release valve, like Ingles, is crucial once opposing defences start to hound a star player like teammate, Donovan Mitchell.
Ingles’ veteran leadership and consistency have made him a staple on the Jazz for the last few seasons, and this campaign is not any different.
Nicolas Batum — G/F Los Angeles Clippers
Nicolas Batum, the 6’8” Frenchman, is beginning a new journey in his career — becoming a complimentary piece to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in Los Angeles.
The forward was waived by the Charlotte Hornets in late November of 2020, and as soon as that happened, the Clippers swooped in and signed him to a cheap deal.
Batum wasn’t the highlight acquisition for the Clippers, but he has been their most underrated addition.
At 32-years-old, Batum has seen his fair share of NBA time. He was a great role player and defender during his early years with the Portland Trail Blazers but, looking for a bigger role (and paycheck) signed with the Hornets in 2016.
His time in Charlotte was…interesting. But with the Clippers, he is back in a similar role he had with the Blazers.
He has been a revelation for this rendition of the new era Clippers’ team. He is a steadying force that compliments the starting lineup of Leonard, George, Serge Ibaka and Pat Beverly. Batum’s teammates have trust in him, as he is a reliable ball-handler with a low turnover rate.
He is averaging just shy of 30 minutes a game and has played 34 games so far, starting in all of them.
He only takes around 6.5 shot attempts per game and is hitting just over three of them. He has a 63.5 effective field goal percentage and is in the 95th percentile for points per shot attempt at 130.9 (per Cleaning the Glass). What this data truly means is that Batum is a reliable shot maker when needed — a mainstay and a true glue guy.
Batum is taking most of his shots from beyond the arc (65 percent of them, per Cleaning the Glass) and shooting a cool 44.9 percent on those three-point attempts.
Really, he has altered his game to be more of a release outlet three-point shooter when George and Leonard drive to the basket and need a kick-out.
Batum has good defensive versatility — though he has begun to slow down with age. Head coach Ty Lue has at times placed Batum on point guards to suffocate them with his length, making it more difficult for them to pass or initiate the offence. He doesn’t even need to be a spectacular defender with the likes of Beverly, Ibaka, Leonard, George and Marcus Morris by his side.
The Clippers are looking more and more like a well-oiled machine and are sitting in third place just under the Phoenix Suns as well as the previously mentioned, Utah Jazz. The parts are finally finding some cohesion, and with a 24–13 record — things are looking smooth in Clipper land…so far.
Will Barton — G/F Denver Nuggets
Will “The Thrill” Barton lives up to his name, a flashy player who enjoys a highlight-reel play. He is a Swiss Army knife type of player who excels in many facets of the game — an optimal archetype for a glue guy.
On the season with the Denver Nuggets, Barton is averaging 11.5 points, 4 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Nothing crazy, but solid stats overall and they have contributed to winning basketball for the Denver Nuggets.
Barton has a nifty handle with the ability to use misdirection moves, crossovers and step-back jumpers. Since Barton is a threat as a one-on-one player, he sucks in help defenders which creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. When this happens, he makes the simple drop-off pass to the likes of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap or jolts the ball over to the weak side to a spot-up shooter.
The versatile guard can sometimes get blinders on but makes good decisions overall. He has great vision for seeing his teammates’ position and knows when and where to pass. He understands the motion of a play — when to rotate to the corner if someone drives baseline, when to become a release outlet on a straight-line drive, or when to crash the weak side glass for an offensive rebound.
The Nuggets’ guard is a threat to shoot, especially from three this year (37.8 percent), so defenders need to close out hard on him, which in turn gives him more options when trying to score. According to Cleaning the Glass, 37 percent of his shots are three-pointers and 31 percent of those attempts are threes taken above the break of the three-point line. His positioning in these areas could be a result of where head coach Mike Malone believes he can thrive — as they are good outlet spots for a kick-out three-pointer in the Nuggets’ offensive scheme.
Barton is good at attacking the rim. He enjoys creating contact, and for a guy with a slighter frame, he can finish through or around defenders. If there is a chance to dunk, he will go for it. He shows grit and tenacity towards opponents and does not back down.
Barton utilises his quick feet and hands while defending one-on-one. He can stay with players because of good lateral quickness and anticipation. Those fast hands allow him to reach in, poke the ball and agitate the offensive player. He uses these tools to intercept a player’s movement and catch them off guard.
The veteran has great knowledge of who he is defending and knows when to go above or below screens, and who is more likely to drive or shoot. Barton enjoys pressuring guards and will leave them no room to breathe.
Barton is a great team defensive player and is vocal when communicating with teammates on switches and rotations. He attempts to help group rebound with the forwards and centres if there is a bulkier offensive player inside, or he will box out guards trying to get in the paint for an offensive rebound. Barton also does a fantastic job of contesting shots. He can anticipate a rotation and go for a clean contest on an outside shooter or follow a drive for a chase-down rejection.