Hey everyone. I had this idea to write some in depth NBA analysis articles in order to highlight some of the more unnoticed things that I’d like to dive into throughout NBA history. Through these articles, I’d also like to discover some more about the NBA myself! If this series flops, this will be my one and only episode. If it does well, I’ll write some more! In this inaugural episode, I’d like to first talk about who the GOATs are of intangible-play in the NBA. Without spoiling too much, these are the players who impact the game in massive ways on both sides of the floor, without much statistical impact. Let’s get into it!
One of the reasons I love the NBA is how many different ways you can approach the game, and how many playstyles you can use to accomplish that approach. A lot of guys will approach the game looking to fill the stat sheet with points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. This approach comes from the idea that stats are truthfully what wins games. While this is true, oftentimes the acquisition of these stats can actually have negative effects on a team, focusing on selfish play rather than doing everything to win the game.
Once in a blue moon though, you get a guy who truly works to win games and sacrifices individual accomplishments for it. These guys most likely have the talent to elevate their games to high levels and have individual accomplishments, but they realize that this is a team game. These are the players who fill every hole that the team has, without looking for the ball unless they know it’s the best decision. These players have been called “glue guys”, or they have been described having “great motors”.
The reason that these terms are as popular as they are is that you can describe a player’s work ethic and ability, something that is hard to do using stats and awards. While there have been many great players to do this, I chose a list of 3 players that I believe fit this bill. None of these players have ever averaged more than 15 points-per-game in their career, none of them have made an All-Star team, and obviously none of them have ever won MVP. Before I get into these players on an individual level, I have to mention some guys that won’t be on this list. Dennis Rodman would certainly be on this list if I could somehow erase his 2 All-Star appearances, or even just use his Bulls stint. Robert Covington, the Fantasy Basketball god, also misses this list, because while he possesses great defense, his shooting is streaky at best, and he has almost no other offensive skills. The final player I wish could make this list is Draymond Green. He would fit if he hadn’t been an All-Star, in a similar situation to Dennis Rodman.
From the early days of Battier’s career in Duke, he has been trained to “play the right way”. Shane was coached by Mike Krzyzewski, one of the best fundamental coaches in college history. This reputation may be misplaced in some instances, but definitely not in Battier’s. When Shane sets a screen, he sets it correctly. Starting with his defense, Battier pays attention to every little detail. He takes care into annoying his matchup, with his incredible ability to take charges and make sure to extend his fingertips fully when guarding a shot. That skill, the awareness to extend one’s own fingertips on every shot, is not one that could possibly be ever measured by stats, but guys like Kevin Durant have admitted to hating it. His ability to distract and annoy the league’s stars makes him a rare defender. Many players would do it with aggressiveness, or with trash-talk, but someone like Battier let’s his ultimate defensive awareness do the talking. Even on offense, Battier has extreme awareness that allows him to score at intelligent, efficient levels. In a graph made by the NY Times back in 2013, it placed hexagons onto the court, attempting to show where players shoot from and how often those shots go in. The larger the hexagon, the more shots taken from that area. The redder the hexagon, the more shots go in. This is Battier’s chart
As it can be seen here, Battier loves to shoot from the corner three. Players do not dribble into a corner three. Battier catches passes from teammates, sits in his spot, and takes a high-efficiency, high value shot. It does not take rocket science to understand how valuable this is to a team.
Next, I’m going to use a player that played well before the introduction of advanced metrics, shot charts, and the three-point line. Despite the relative lack of information, it is clear that K.C. Jones also deserves to be on this list. It is rare that a point guard is in consideration for an all-time great intangible player, because of how often the point guard handles the ball. Jones played in a different era though, one where there was an emphasis on team play and defense. This was a result of early offensive development, and no three-point line. K.C. emphasized this style of play, with his hustle up and down the court style. There are no stats to prove this point unfortunately, but watch any film of him playing and you’ll watch him get up and down the court faster than anyone else. Add to this that he was the primary defender of any guard on that Celtics team, and it is obvious that he had incredible drive when it came to basketball. So why such a low number of points? Well, the early Celtics were one of the first dynasties in NBA history, and their team style was to have 2-3 elite defenders (Russ, Satch, Jones) and have their 2 main scorers, Sam Jones and Tom Heinson, deal with most of the offensive responsibilities. It is also impossible to forget how great of a passer K.C. was, being the main facilitator for Sam Jones and Heinson. This isn’t reflected in stats, as there were often 2-3 passes made before shots were taken in this era, but he was one of the best passers in the 1960’s on top of his hustle and defense.
Finally, I am going to talk about the most underrated member of the Showtime Lakers. No, not James Worthy. Michael Cooper. To back his case, let’s start with some actual stats. Cooper played 28,379 minutes in his career over 1041 games. Cooper was an iron man. He played for a long time, and was almost never injured. Longevity and durability are underrated aspects of a player’s impact on a team, and for a “glue guy”, it’s essential to have him playing and performing on a nightly basis. Cooper was the first DPOY to ever come off the bench, and during the playoffs, his assignment was Larry Bird on an annual basis. Being this level of defender off the bench is incredible on it’s own, but many also forget some of his most important and clutch moments throughout his career. In game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Michael Cooper started, a rare sight. Many remember this game as the Magic Johnson “center game”. In this game, Cooper also scored an efficient 16 points to secure the victory alongside Johnson. In game 2 of the 1987 NBA Finals, Michael Cooper scored 21 points with 9 assists, including the infamous “20-10 run”, where he either scored or assisted every point in the second quarter. Not only was Cooper a great role player, he had the ability to rise to the occasion like nearly no other role player.
This wraps up the first episode of my in-depth NBA series! Let me know if you enjoyed, if you want another one of these, if it was too long for you to want to read it, etc. I would love to know! Have a good one, 2KU fam