Every kid, whether they're in elementary, high school or college, putting up shots in his driveway in the middle of the afternoon or late at night, or in the gym after practice, has envisioned some form of the following circumstance.
Down by one. Five seconds left. Takes the dribble, crosses over, pulls up, lets it go for the win...GOOD!!!
Anybody who has ever played basketball went through that scenario at some point in their lives. I used to routinely practice a jumper from the elbow on a nine-foot hoop in a heavily slanted driveway when I was nine years old.
It's a feeling that every player, regardless of age, height, build, talent, etc., wants: the euphoria and joy that comes from a last-second shot when all eyes are on you.
As great of a dream as it is, it's just that—a dream.
Very few get to realize it, especially on a stage as grand as the NBA. Most kids want to be the next Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James because they're the stars.
You don't hear many youngsters pining to be the next Robert Horry, Michael Cooper, Derek Fisher, Ron Harper or Steve Kerr, even though all of those guys have at least five rings.
When Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated pegged Ohio State forward Dave Lighty as the captain of his All-Glue Team in 2010 (for college basketball), the junior had some interesting quotes.
"People say the NBA is made up of 10 percent superstars and 90 percent role players, so if you want to make it in the NBA, you have a better chance of being role player. It's all about winning, not about individual accolades.
"You can't be selfish and win games. I guess a lot of players come out of high school and want to say it's all on me, it's my ball, but I tried to come in with the mindset to help my team win."
That's not to say all superstars or players coming out of high school are selfish and concerned with only their own play (far from it).
But Lighty's correct in the sense that not everyone can be a star and the players that realize this and carve out their niche as specialists in other areas have a much better chance of succeeding at the professional level.
In the above-mentioned article, Davis defines the qualities of what makes a "glue guy":
"A Glue Guy is hard to define but easy to spot. You certainly won't pick him out by reading the stat sheet. He's the guy who sets screens, dives for loose balls and makes the extra pass.
He embraces the chance to defend the opponent's best player and doesn't complain that he's not getting enough shots. He is a leader and a good teammate. He has an unusual combination of skills, like a big guy who can shoot or a guard who gets rebounds.
And lest you think that tabbing someone a Glue Guy is damning him with faint praise, he also demonstrates at times that he could be a featured performer if called upon. Why does he suppress those abilities? Because that's what his team needs, and it's a Glue Guy's job to hold everything together."
Davis writes about college hoops but these features can easily be translated to the NBA (the name Robert Horry should have been jumping off the page when reading his quote).
And it makes sense that most of the league's best teams (i.e. Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago) each have guys who fit the glue guy description to a tee.
Keeping the qualities of a glue guy in mind, let's go through each team and give credit to the guys that go above and beyond their roles to hold their respective teams together.
If this were any year dating back to 2007, I would have vehemently argued the merits of Al Horford for this spot.
But a problem arose this year: Horford's just too good to be called a glue guy.
He's shooting a career-high 57 percent from the field and is averaging 16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists. You could argue that he's been the MVP for the Hawks this season—at the very least, he's one of their top two.
So who's left for Atlanta?
Josh Smith seems like the logical choice but he's still too inconsistent. Jamal Crawford is a pure scorer and Mike Bibby has slipped too much defensively and has too many holes in his game.
By the process of elimination, it pretty much leaves Marvin Williams. A jack of most trades, Williams excels in several categories but isn't dominant in any.
But he's one of Atlanta's better shooters (48.0 percent for the season), is a decent passer, grabs rebounds, and routinely covers the opposition's better perimeter players.
And when he plays, Atlanta is 21-11. With him out, they're just 9-7.
Kind of like Al Horford in Atlanta, Rajon Rondo has progressed so much in the last two years that he's now consistently relied upon for Boston's success.
Glue guys can be team MVPs, but they typically don't have the ball in their hands a majority of the game and constantly create for others.
Aside from him and the big three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, it comes down to two names for Boston: Kendrick Perkins or Glen Davis.
Perkins is a strong rebounder and exceptional low-post defender—probably the best in the NBA. But the nod goes to Davis because of his infectious work ethic both on and off the court.
Whenever you see him fight for a rebound that he has no business grabbing, making a 15-foot fall-away jumper or somehow beating guys off the dribble and converting on reverse lay-ups, you can see the positive effects on his teammates.
They feed off his energy, especially at home where the Boston faithful love the hustle and effort he gives on a nightly basis (see: Game 5 of last year's NBA Finals).
He may not have the ability to take games over at will, but an undersized, generally unathletic forward that scores 12 points a game and cleans up the glass definitely fits the description of a glue guy.
Diaw fits almost all of the qualifications of a dynamic role player except for one: his contract.
At $9 million a season, teams typically would want a little more production across the board from their starting power forward.
But with Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace as the team leaders (and now the emergence of D.J. Augustin under new coach Paul Silas), the Bobcats don't really need Diaw to be a dominant force. They just need him to be able to stretch defenses with his mid-range game and provide another threat offensively.
When he does, the team is usually successful.
In wins he shoots over 52 percent from the field and scores almost 13 points a game, but in losses his field goal percentage drops significantly and he only scores about 10 points.
Dating back to his career at Florida, Joakim Noah has been known as a prototypical glue guy: someone who makes everyone else's job easier and does whatever is necessary (scoring, rebounding, passing, defense) to win.
He's not a centerpiece player and he's not going to be the best guy on a championship team. He's probably not going to be the second best player on that team.
But Noah has gotten better every year he's been in the league and his hustle, energy and defense are second to none.
Brad Goldbach said it best after the Bulls signed Noah to an extension this past offseason: "You hear about 'glue' guys who simply make everyone on your team gel and do all the dirty work. Noah is the perfect example of that type of player.
"He proved at Florida that he is a winner and knows how to take his team to the next level. It’s only a matter of time until he helps take the Bulls to the next step."
I've gotten a chance to closely and intently watch Varejao play since he first joined the Cavaliers in 2004. There was no more important player to Cleveland's success in the last six years...not named LeBron James, of course.
Those who still view him as a flopper haven't seen him play in the last two or three years.
He actually has an offensive game—it's nowhere near as polished as some other centers, but he can face up, attack off the dribble and is a strong finisher with both hands at the rim.
And he doesn't rely on flopping on defense but instead constantly fights for good position and uses his length to bother opponents.
It's not a coincidence that the Cavaliers haven't lost a game since it was announced he would miss the rest of the regular season with a torn tendon in his right ankle.
Granted they weren't winning many games with him to begin with, but he's shown his worth on a contending team dating back to '04.
Jason Terry is the obvious choice here but my initial choice was actually Tyson Chandler.
For this particular Mavericks team, I just loved the way Chandler fit in: He added another element to their defense, making them one of the top units in the NBA.
He has provided more athleticism than Dallas had seen at center in years and has the ability to put 20-10 games together when they need his offense to win.
But as I started writing the case for Chandler and against Terry, I realized that being the glue guy of the organization for the last seven years has to mean something.
Terry is a guy that has thrived coming off the bench for Dallas in the last four years, averaging at least 15.5 points and 3.2 assists as an energy guy who provides a serious spark for the second unit.
Oh, and he's one of the league leaders in fourth-quarter scoring, demonstrating his ability to take over games when his team needs him.
Nobody on Denver initially stands out as a traditional glue guy.
Maybe Chris Andersen, but he's missed a majority of this season with various injuries and he's more of an energy player anyways...and energy guys don't necessarily equate to glue guys.
But Arron Afflalo actually fits all the necessary categories.
The Nuggets are in the bottom third of the league in team defense, but Afflalo is by far their best perimeter defender, possessing quickness to keep in front of the opposition and strength to deny them in the post.
He hasn't missed a game yet this season and actually leads the team in minutes at 35.1 per game.
After averaging no more than nine points in his first three seasons, he's almost at 13 (12.9) this year and is shooting an impressive 51.4 percent from the field.
He's also No. 6 in the league in three-point percentage (44.7).
He's scored more than 20 points six times this season. In those games, Denver is not surprisingly 5-1—his offense gives their team another dynamic.
Labeling Tayshaun Prince as Detroit's best glue guy kind of goes against some of the arguments I made previously, saying guys like Al Horford and Rajon Rondo didn't qualify because they were too good and too important to their team's success.
Prince has been Detroit's best all-around player in 2010-11, leading the team in minutes played, points, field goal attempts, field goal makes and games played.
He's second in field goal percentage and third in blocks, assists and rebounds.
But in the right situation, Prince is the ultimately glue guy.
He showed this during Detroit's back-to-back Finals appearances in '04 and '05, when he emerged as one of the league's best defenders and averaged an impressive 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
And remember the glue guy's ability to take games over when needed? Well, the Pistons have needed him to take over this entire season and he's delivered as best as possible.
This probably wasn't the situation the Golden State front office envisioned when they gave David Lee an $80 million contract in the offseason.
They wanted the guy in New York that led the league in double-doubles a few years ago and looked like he could be one of the best under-the-radar signings of the offseason (you know, as far under the radar as an $80 million deal can go).
Mike D'Antoni's system and a lack of talent surrounding him in New York could have had something to do with his inflated numbers. His averages have dropped across the board:
2009-10: 20.2 pts, 11.7 rebs, 3.6 asts, 1.0 stls, .5 blks, 54.5 FG%, 81.2 FT%
2010-11: 16.0 pts, 9.7 rebs, 3.4 asts, .9 stls, .4 blks, 50.0 FG%, 77.6 FT%
He may not be a franchise guy, but is that really so bad?
Steph Curry and Monta Ellis will dominate the ball as long as they share the same backcourt. I don't mean that as an insult—I just mean that those two guys are strong ball-handlers and excel at creating for themselves and others.
And Lee has done what Golden State has needed: provided a low-post threat and a strong rebounder in the middle. When he's played, the Warriors are 19-19 (and he's averaged 17.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in wins). In games he's missed, they're just 1-7.
He may be a little pricey, but he's done a decent job in filling in the gaps for Golden State.
I could go on and on explaining the merits of Shane Battier.
Or I could just say that, even on his Wikipedia page, it says, "Battier has often been called 'the ultimate glue guy' for playing sound, fundamental, team-oriented basketball, making his teammates more effective without flash or padding his own stats, and for making the most of his skills with discipline and hustle rather than raw athleticism."
I think he qualifies.
Indiana's another team that doesn't have one or two guys that immediately jump out at you (for purposes of a glue guy, at least).
Danny Granger is their go-to guy, but after him you could argue for almost anyone.
Tyler Hansbrough is a great energy guy, Brandon Rush, James Posey and Mike Dunleavy are versatile players that can contribute in more than one area, and Jeff Foster is a solid defender who is adept at taking charges.
In the end, Roy Hibbert is the guy simply because his productivity generally is a good barometer of how successful the Pacers are.
In wins he shoots 48.8 percent and puts up 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists. When Indiana was playing its best basketball in October and November, he averaged 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds.
In losses, he shoots just 40 percent from the floor, gets to the line less frequently and tallies only 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Since the Pacers have started struggling recently, his confidence and production are at a season-low.
Rarely is a third-year player who is just now starting to see a majority of minutes in the starting lineup considered a glue guy, but for this season's Clippers team DeAndre Jordan has fit that role.
Paired with Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles frontcourt is the most explosive and athletic in the league...not to mention that both haven't hit the peak of what they eventually become.
A good one-on-one defender with long arms and the above-mentioned explosive athleticism, Jordan has emerged as a guy who rebounds well, blocks shots at a high rate and converts misses and alley-oops in a very aesthetically pleasing manner.
His numbers have improved every month, capped off by an impressive January in which he averaged 8.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
He's still a bit foul-prone, but when he avoids unnecessary contact it's beneficial for Los Angeles—they're 10-7 in games where he plays 30 or more minutes. In wins he averages about 29 minutes a game, compared to just 22 in losses.
Filling in for an injured Andrew Bynum as a starter this year, Odom has more than shown his value by putting up 15.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in the starting lineup.
He showcased his versatility on Tuesday night against the Rockets with 20 points, 20 rebounds (eight offensive) and four assists.
Odom perfectly fits the description because he could be a starter on almost every other team in the league but voices no displeasure about coming off the bench in L.A.
In some games they need him to score, in some they need him to defend, in others they need his court-vision and passing to facilitate offensive movement...and more times than not, he delivers.
Mike Conley is on the only point guard that cracks this list, and that itself is a bit surprising.
Since PGs have the ball in their hands a majority of the game, you would think that more would show up if they were facilitators by nature but could get anywhere they wanted to score if necessary.
More often than not, point guards are instrumental to team success...especially in today's league, which is full of talented, explosive, quick young guards.
Not to say Conley isn't as important as other PGs (he is) but a majority of the shots come from Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.
Conley needs to facilitate and defer to the two—at the same time, he needs to know when to attack and keep defenses honest.
Many criticized Memphis for giving him a $45 million extension and maybe it wasn't the best plan—only time will tell.
But he's significantly improved over the last few months, becoming a much better decision-maker and scorer (his floater and right-handed leaner are deadly).
Back-to-back double-doubles—including his first career 20-point, 10-assist game on Monday against Orlando—bode well for his future development.
Haslem has averaged more than 11 points just one time in his career—in 2007 on a Heat team whose leading scorers (after Dwyane Wade) were Jason Kapono, Jason Williams and Eddie Jones.
He's only averaged more than nine rebounds just once as well. He's never made an All-Defense team, he's never received any recognition or awards (aside from making second-team All-Rookie in '04) and his current Hall-of-Fame probability is listed at .001 (per basketball-reference.com).
However, he's been on a playoff team all but one year of his career ('08) and was the third wheel on a championship team in '06.
Haslem's an excellent defender who understands position and opponent tendencies as well as any power forward in the last 10 years.
He thrives in pick-and-pop situations—I'm sure he has but I can't remember any scenario where he rolled baseline or to the elbow and missed an open 15-foot shot.
His intangibles are so valuable, especially on a team with so many weapons like the Heat. Losing him may not hurt so much in the regular season but if he can't return, Miami will really feel his absence come playoff time.
Mbah a Moute is never going to put up numbers that make you say "wow."
His career-high points (7.2) and rebounds (5.9) came as a rookie and those numbers have actually declined over the last two seasons.
But he's an exceptional defender—he's never made an All-Defense team, but you could easily argue he deserves to.
He can guard multiple positions, from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Blake Griffin (he did cover Griffin at some points in Monday's game at Los Angeles).
His minutes have slipped as of late but he's yet to be placed in Scott Skiles' doghouse...and that is an accomplishment in itself.
Minnesota has several talented young players, yet they're still lacking in several areas. Despite taking three point guards in the '09 Draft, they don't have a franchise player at that position (to be fair, they did trade one: Ty Lawson).
They get inconsistent play from their wings and defensively they're not a sound group at all—in fact, they're dead last in the league, giving up 108.6 points per game.
One of the (many) reasons for their struggles is the lack of a true glue guy.
They don't have that one guy who moves fluidly without the ball, setting screens and getting guys open, or will say "Alright, this guy's killing us, let me D him up" outside of Kevin Love and Michael Beasley (the two focal points).
Darko Milicic shows flashes of being that guy but he's consistently inconsistent.
Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn either don't see enough playing time.
And Luke Ridnour has too many mental lapses at the most important position to be considered.
So really, all that leaves is Corey Brewer. He's a decent defender and has the athleticism to thrive in the league but has taken a step back this season and not really developed into the kind of player Minnesota has needed.
The Nets drafted Derrick Favors with the No. 3 pick in last year's draft with the hopes that he would develop a dominant frontcourt tandem with Brook Lopez.
Instead, it's been Kris Humphries who has not only been the most productive player at that position but also provided a nice spark off the bench.
In 16 January games, Humphries came off the bench in all but one game and was still just five rebounds away from averaging a double-double for the month.
He put up 10.9 points and 9.7 rebounds in less than 27 minutes a night.
He's not the best defender in the world, but he often makes up for it with tenacious hustle and energy. You can see how valuable he is in 15 Nets wins—he's shooting an impressive 61.6 percent from the floor while putting up 11.2 points and 10.6 rebounds in those games.
The obvious choice here for New Orleans might be Trevor Ariza. After all, he was a perfect glue guy for Los Angeles' championship team in 2009.
He was their best perimeter defender, averaging 1.8 steals in the Finals, and showed in Houston he had the ability to score—it just wasn't in the Lakers best interest for him to do so.
But this Hornets team has worked itself back into the playoff picture with efficient offense, intense halfcourt defense and rebounding. And Emeka Okafor has been the unsung hero, anchoring a top-five defense with 11.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
Okafor was more of a focal point in Charlotte's offense and took a bit of a backseat in New Orleans, as the Hornets love to run sets through their guards and David West.
So instead, Okafor has thrived in an enforcer role similar to one he defensively at UConn during its national championship run in 2004.
New Orleans is No. 1 in the league in opponent offensive rebounds per game, No. 2 in scoring defense, No. 3 in opponent fast break points, No. 4 in opponent field goal percentage, No. 8 in opponent points in the paint, and No. 2 in defensive rebounding percentage—all of which can be attributed (in large part or small) to Okafor's defensive presence.
All GMs should make their future second-round picks with someone like Landry Fields in mind: an under-the-radar player who brings about five different things to the table without taking anything off.
He shoots over 50 percent from the field (52.3 to be exact), is a capable three-point threat (38.3 percent, 46 makes for the season) and leads all rookie guards in offensive rebounds (1.6 per game).
The Knicks are second in the league with 24.6 three-point attempts per game, meaning there are going to be several long misses and fastbreak opportunities for the opponent.
But Fields reads missed shots better than any guard I can remember—as every shot goes up he instinctively knows where the miss is going to land. And he beats his defender to the spot.
He knows where to be on offense, knows when to drive and when to pull-up, and rebounds as well as any guard (one of the pluses from glue guys is having a strength not typical of your position).
The sponsor on his Basketball-Reference.com sums it up perfectly: "The force is strong with this one."
Any Thunder fan I've ever met or spoken to has nothing but praise and admiration for Nick Collison. And rightfully so—he always makes the most of his opportunities.
In terms of athleticism, he's (how do I put this nicely)...not of the elite guys in the league. But nobody will outwork Collison.
He picks and chooses his spots, rolls and dives to the basket at the right time, and always knows where to be on offense. He's got a terrific knack for positioning himself right underneath the hoop on outside shots as well.
He sets screens as well as any center in the NBA—ask Kevin Durant, who is shooting just 42 percent from the floor this season in games Collison hasn't played.
I don't think he can be a starting center that's good enough to consistently defend the rim and provide enough of a threat on offense in the postseason. But as a reserve glue guy who comes off the bench and gives 20-25 solid minutes of basketball a night?
My initial thought for this role was Hedo Turkoglu. But Turk may walk the line between glue guy and star (in Orlando only) closer than anyone in the league.
In Orlando, Turkoglu is almost more than a glue guy. Several of the offensive sets run through him and Orlando's pet play (high pick-and-roll with Dwight Howard) works most effectively when the ball is in his hands.
In Phoenix and Toronto, Turkoglu did not play with the same intensity and passion on a nightly basis. He wasn't even a glue guy in those spots—just an underachieving role player.
So the nod for Orlando goes to J.J. Redick, who has developed into much more than a three-point shooter over the years. He'll still do most of his damage from behind the three-point line (career-high 41.8 percent from there on the season, including a whopping 56.6 percent in the month of December) but he's displayed a nice pull-up game off the dribble as well.
His per 36-minute averages have been strong the last two years as well: 15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists in '10 and 14.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists in '11.
No one views him as an elite defender, but he's shown a lot of improvement in that department since he first came in the league.
And if he couldn't defend, there's no way Stan Van Gundy would find minutes for him.
It's not a good sign if you have to scour a roster for a glue guy—on a good team, at least one name will immediately pop out at you, if not two or three.
Even though they've been playing well as of late, no name on Philadelphia immediately stands out. Maybe Andre Iguodala, a strong one-on-one and help defender and exceptional athlete, until you remember that he's their best player (unlike Tayshaun Prince in Detroit, this was by choice).
Perhaps Evan Turner as well, but too often he's buried on the bench and leaves minimal impact on the game.
If you had to pick someone, it'd be Thaddeus Young. He's a solid sixth man, averaging 11.9 points and 5.0 rebounds off the bench, and shoots an impressive 55.0 percent from the floor.
On Inside The NBA a few weeks ago, Kenny Smith described Nuggets guard J.R. Smith as "living comfortably in a messy room."
You can say the same for Young—in games against up-and-down, fast-tempo teams, he's thrived (26 points, 11 rebounds vs. Cleveland; 24 points, seven rebounds, five assists vs. Phoenix, 20.5 points; seven rebounds in two games vs. Denver).
People will remember Grant Hill's career for what could have been, but he's done a phenomenal job redefining his career in Phoenix as an ideal role player.
Hill is everything you want from a veteran player: a true leader (on the floor and in the locker room), an efficient scorer, a versatile defender and an above-average rebounder and passer.
Last year's playoff run for Phoenix exemplified his value: He defended guys like Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili and Brandon Roy and tallied decent numbers (9.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists) but really stepped up when the Suns needed him.
He only scored more than 10 points four times—three of those games were Phoenix wins. In the closing game against Portland, he grabbed 12 rebounds and threw in two steals and two blocks.
In a crucial Game 3 against San Antonio, he went 7-of-11 from the floor en route to 18 points. In a must-win Game 3 against Los Angeles, he tallied nine rebounds and three steals.
I'm not thinking "what if" when it comes to Hill's career—I'll be thinking what if he were on an elite team. He easily could have been a difference-maker in the mold of Michael Cooper or Robert Horry.
Now this is a team with several quality role players. It's just too bad their star isn't around to play with them.
You could really pick any one of four players for Portland.
Marcus Camby is an ideal paint protector, someone who doesn't need touches on offense but changes the game with his defense and rebounding.
Nicolas Batum is a versatile, do-it-all type of player that can explode on either end of the floor. Even Andre Miller, at this point in his career with the way he picks and chooses spots, is a viable candidate.
In an ideal world, when Brandon Roy is healthy and LaMarcus Aldridge is playing at an All-Star level, it's Wes Matthews—he's got terrific range, can score in bunches, anticipates passing lanes well and is a strong defender as well.
But with Roy out, Matthews is forced to take on an increased role...exactly what a glue guy should do. When the team's best player is out, you step your game up—that's what Matthews has done in Roy's absence.
He averaged 18.6 points (46.2 field goal percent, 40.5 three-point percent) and 3.5 rebounds in December and 16.9 points (41.7 three-point percent) and 2.9 rebounds in January. Should Roy return, he'll ease back into a more contributing role.
Can't ask anything more from him.
Casspi's numbers aren't overly impressive (9.2 points, 4.6 rebounds in 25 minutes), but he brings several different things to the table for Sacramento.
He's a pretty good athlete, stretches the floor well from the three-point line (39.9 percent for the season) and is strong off the dribble as well.
When he plays well, Sacramento typically plays well.
In 11 wins, Casspi is averaging 12.4 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor (50.0 percent from the three-point line).
In their losses, he's at 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds on just 37.1 percent shooting.
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has called George Hill his favorite player.
Quite the statement from a man who has coached guys like Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Robert Horry.
When you watch Hill play, you can easily see why he's earned such high praise from Popovich. A fourth-year player out of IUPUI, he's in the Landry Fields mold—an intelligent player who understands concepts like floor spacing, patience on offense and the importance of keeping your man in front of you on defense.
He's a solid three-point shooter (37.4 percent for the season) but really loves the corner three, which is somewhat of a lost art in the league.
He has the potential to put up a big scoring night but his consistency off the bench is solid for San Antonio—he's scored in double-digits in 30 of 42 games.
Amir Johnson really started to shine and come into his own last season, particularly at the end of the year. In eight April games he averaged 13.4 points (73.8 percent from the field) and 5.6 rebounds and really proved his worth as an energy and hustle guy.
Despite relatively modest numbers for the year, the Raptors gave him a $34 million extension in the offseason.
Many thought that it was far too lucrative of a deal for a player who had yet to prove himself for an entire season and would more than likely be a backup.
But any concerns that Johnson wouldn't continue to develop and be a real asset in Toronto were quickly squashed at the beginning of the season.
An injury to Reggie Evans early in the season moved Johnson into the starting lineup and he's taken advantage of it, averaging 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in less than 29 minutes a game.
His offensive game has started to come into fruition as well—he's developing more confidence in his mid-range game.
His willingness to bang bodies inside complement's Andrea Bargnani's perimeter oriented game as well.
Kirilenko has been a strong contributing role player for the Jazz throughout a majority of his career, and this season is no different.
You know what you're going to get with AK-47: double-digit scoring, great individual defense and stats across the board—rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
This year isn't much different and Kirilenko has picked up his play in Deron Williams' recent absence, averaging 18.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.3 blocks in his last three games (he missed last night's game against Houston with an ankle injury).
Hopefully by now you've noticed the trend.
The teams typically located at the top of the standings in the last few years (Los Angeles, Boston, San Antonio, Utah, Portland, Dallas, Chicago) all have multiple glue guys (Lamar Odom, George Hill, Andrei Kirilenko, Wes Matthews, Jason Terry, Joakim Noah) who have the potential to put up impressive individual numbers but instead focus on whatever areas are necessary for their team to win.
On the opposite side, the teams at the bottom of the league (Washington, Toronto, Minnesota, Sacramento) don't really have identifiable versatile guys that can fill in the missing gaps.
No offense to Kirk Hinrich, who rounds out the list. He's a nice combo guard who can play the point or off the ball, connect from the three-point line or create off the dribble.
But the good teams remain good because they have guys who buy into the team system and mold themselves into really strong passers, rebounders, defenders or scorers.
The teams that struggle typically don't have these players.
The NBA is a league made famous by its superstars, but it's the unheralded glue guys that help get these elite players championships and build their legacy.