It’s not often you hear someone say they enjoy setting good picks, but Aaron Gray does. And as one of the newest members of the Sacramento Kings, it’s an ability that’s earning Gray respect among his new teammates.
“You have to have a willingness to make contact,” Kings head coach Michael Malone said of what it takes to be a good screen-setter in the NBA. “And the reality is not a lot of guys in the NBA like to make contact, so they don’t set screens. Aaron’s a guy that embraces it. He knows his role is a guy that we’re never going to go to in the post so he has to make his mark rebounding, defending and screening.”
The 7-foot, 270 lbs. center knows exactly who and what he is as an NBA player. He relishes the opportunity to play a role and excel at it. Before the Kings took off for their four-game Eastern Conference road trip, Cowbell Kingdom caught up with Gray to get to know a little bit more about the seven-year veteran.
CK: We got a chance to see a brief offering of what you bring to the Kings last Friday against the Suns. But give us an overview of who you are as a basketball player.
AG: I just go out there, try and play hard. I don’t shy away from contact. I enjoy setting screens, getting my guys open, rebounding. They don’t need to find me in the post or anything like that. But I’m gonna be active, try to be as efficient as possible, try to play some really good post defense against guys that are bigger in the league and hopefully just continue to kind of be consistent.
CK: You don’t really hear too many people say they enjoy setting screens. For you, where does that come from – the desire to set good screens?
AG: It’s just something that I’ve had success with. It’s a skill, just like shooting free throws or doing anything like that. It’s a quick way to earn some respect from your coaches and teammates. I’ve got a lot of compliments and appreciative things from a lot of guys on the team and that makes me feel good.
CK: Have you always just known that being a guy who enjoys doing the dirty work is how you’re going to stick in this league? Has knowing that you have to playing a role always just been a part of who you are as a basketball player?
AG: You know, it just depends. In college, I was the guy. Guys looked at me in the huddle, down two with the ball, they needed me to do something. As I’ve gotten into the league, my role’s changed to where I was a second-unit scorer in Chicago to down in New Orleans, I was more of a screen setter/roller to just anything in between. But the things I’ve always been consistent with has just been my post defense and rebounding. I just feel like I’m a real cerebral player. I use my mind and I think that’s the reason I’m able as a second-round pick be in the league for seven years.
CK: When did you first get the idea that you might be on your way out of Toronto? Before the deal went down, there were rumors that you were being shopped for Jimmer Fredette. Was that the first time you heard your name popping up in trade rumors?
AG: Nah, I mean obviously I kind of realized my role in Toronto had been diminished and I know that my agent has been working really hard so he’s been talking to me. You know so I was just trying to stay ready. I didn’t know when it would come or even it would come. I was prepared to stay there in Toronto and continue that leadership role there. But obviously, we were in L.A., I was out getting my workout in and they came out and told us that we weren’t playing tonight. So I finished up my workout, went back to the hotel and here I am six, seven days later, playing for the Sacramento Kings.
CK: What do you know about Sacramento? Obviously, this city has been through a lot the last few years, fending off relocation attempts to multiple cities. But other than coming here as an opponent early on in your career, what’s your familiarity with this city?
AG: Yeah, I know there’s been a lot of buzz. I know the new leadership group or ownership group has been tremendous, man. We’ve gotten to meet a bunch of them and they seem real focused on doing whatever it takes to put a great product out on the floor. And not only that, but to have a great floor with a new arena and everything like that. They take really good care of the players not only as basketball players, but as human beings. (I’m) just excited to be here.
As far as the City of Sacramento, I’ve been here a few times, playing my career. I know it’s a huge outdoor community. I think it has like the most trees than any capital city or something like that. But it seems like a good town, a town, that I think with the things that I do, that they can embrace me.
CK: DeMarcus Cousins has suggested in the past that his best position on the court would probably be power forward, playing next to a true center. You coming to Sacramento adds some size to the front court and opens that scenario up as a possibility. If coach Malone went to a bigger lineup featuring you and DeMarcus, how do you see that working?
AG: Yeah, I think it’s definitely something that I think Mike’s talked about a little bit. I think it kind of just depends on the team we’re playing against. When you’re playing against a bigger team, like a Memphis or a Golden State, you definitely see it as an opportunity. When you play against a team like (the Rockets), they have Dwight (Howard), who’s obviously huge, but then they have stretch fours (so) it might not make as much sense. I think it’s definitely something that we can try out and try and get more familiar with. Kind of whatever has success on the fly is what we’ll stick with.