Every good team needs a glue guy. An unselfish, low-maintenance player of equal parts versatility and veteran savvy. Someone who, when he walks onto the court, things naturally click into place.
After winning 39 games last season, finishing short of the playoffs, the Sacramento Kings went into this past summer understanding they needed a glue guy. Some have called Vlade Divac’s decision to sign Trevor Ariza to a two-year deal worth $25 million an overpay, but the Kings general manager needed a glue guy, and he went out and got one.
The past several NBA champions had their glue guys. Heck, the Toronto Raptors were basically built of them. The Golden State Warriors had Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. The San Antonio Spurs’ most recent championship iteration included Danny Green and Boris Diaw. The big-three-era Miami Heat didn’t win until they acquired Shane Battier, patron saint of glue guys.
Ariza, 34, has spent a career bouncing around the league—this will be the 10th time in 15 seasons he has switched teams. His career numbers aren’t captivating: 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. However, not accounting for his rookie season or last season’s money grab with Phoenix and Washington, Ariza has posted a positive plus/minus in nine of 13 seasons. Plus/minus is a flawed stat. Just ask Gregg Popovich. But, over the long term, for a player playing with many different teams and teammates, it does paint a picture. Ariza helps when he’s on the floor.
Not only is he a career 35 percent three-point shooter, which helps space the floor for ball dominate players like Fox, but also, at 6-foot-8, he has the length to switch on defense and guard multiple positions.
The question for Sacramento, however, is how often Ariza will actually be on the floor. He isn’t projected to be a starter, and will come off the bench behind Harrison Barnes.
Barnes will likely be joined in the starting lineup by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley and Dewayne Dedmon. Fox and Hield are Sacramento’s stars of the moment. Bagley is the star of the future. Dedmon helps space the floor, but he’s not better than an average passer and isn’t a versatile defender. He doesn’t have the skillset to be considered a glue guy.
Fox and Hield will get theirs. Bagley will be going through growing pains. Barnes will need to get his. Maybe Barnes falls back into a role more like the one he played in Golden State, but that could be a tough sell considering he’d be conceding to younger players who—even compared to those early Warriors—haven’t accomplished nearly as much.
It’s possible Sacramento’s best lineups could include Ariza. If that’s the case, what does head coach Luke Walton do then? Does he change the starting lineup? Does he bench Bagley or Dedmon at the end of games in favor of smaller lineups with Ariza?
What happens, then, to Bogdan Bogdanovic? Bogdanovic is an effective scorer, has guts during crunch time and showed flashes last season of being a long-term building piece.
With so many players needing the ball to be most effective, however, one of them is bound to sacrifice. Ariza won’t need to sacrifice. He’s most effective without the ball in his hands. That’s a glue guy staple.
Walton has a lot of lineup options to sort through, and he’ll have 82 games to find the most effective ones. If he does, Sacramento’s season could extend to the playoffs. Ariza is the most obvious candidate to help put everything together now, but the Kings young core will eventually have to find that fit amongst themselves if the future will be as bright as the organization hopes it to be.