The 'glue guy': the value, and role, Mitch Creek can help bring to any NBA team

Creek: I can be NBA 'glue guy' and help team culture (1:50)

Boomers and SEM Phoenix wing Mitch Creek believes he would bring on- and off-court value to an NBA team. (1:50)

There's a sense that a different Mitch Creek has entered the new NBL season.

After starting his 2019-20 campaign with MVP whispers, things quickly went downhill; shouldering a monstrous load put a strain on Creek's ability to play at a high level, which led to fatigue, naturally an injury, and ultimately the derailment of what could've been another significant career move.

Of course, the pandemic didn't help but, notwithstanding, Creek wasn't completely himself the last time we saw him suit up for his South East Melbourne Phoenix.

"I think last year, I felt like I never played as good as I could," Creek tells ESPN.

"I never felt like I had game where I just was, like I felt unstoppable or felt like I saw everything, or my passing was on point, [and] I was making great reads on both ends of the court; communicating effectively, quickly, precisely.

"I never have a game where I was like, 'that was pretty damn good', [the] team was clicking, you feel good yourself, and you really can continue to build on this.

"This year, I feel in great shape, I've had a long time to prepare, my knee was the biggest pain in the leg; it was just a nightmare recovery for that. To be back, healthy, to be in a good headspace, it's been a treacherous offseason for a lot of people. The lockdowns... there's been troubles along the way. But you get to play basketball. And I feel like I'm just in a great headspace because we get to play basketball after 11 months of layover."

The Phoenix were among the NBL teams most harshly affected by COVID-19. The significant breakout in Victoria around August led to four training players contracting the virus, with the team's practices then shut down for a period of time.

Then came the relocation. It was the last day of 2020 when Phoenix players got the call telling them that they'd be flying to Hobart, Tasmania the following morning for an indefinite period of time. On top of all of the disruption the pandemic caused, Creek said he had two close friends die by suicide - an unimaginable hardship amid already unprecedented and harrowing times.

The adversity hit Creek and his team particularly hard, but he says the key to overcoming it is to turn those obstacles into opportunities.

"I think people look at it and go, that's such a negative and bad experience..." Creek said of the COVID-related disruptions.

"It's tough, but, at the same time, we have to learn from everything that comes across us and puts itself in front of us, we have to understand that we can beat this, we can overcome this, we can use this to build ourselves into a greater version of ourselves, of the team.

"I think, so far, the team's been super adaptable: [we have the] ability to change on the fly quickly without complaint, without hesitation... the team came together incredibly. The boys have been fantastic. The club's been awesome. It's been hard, but it's really helped shape us into the team we wanna become.

"A tough first double-overtime game was a great way to test us, but we know there's a lot more tests along the way, but we're gonna overcome those tests. We're excited to keep the challenges coming forth, because we've been through the hardest part. If other teams have to start to go through that, I feel like that's gonna give us a big advantage."

The Phoenix did rebound from that double-overtime loss in Adelaide, coming back just a few days later to down the 36ers for their first win of the new season.

And Creek is looking like he's in the best shape and playing the highest quality basketball of his career.

The goal directly in front of him is to lift this new Phoenix team. Alongside Creek is a new elite point guard in Keifer Sykes, a fellow hustling forward in Ben Moore, and a pair of wings -- Cameron Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi -- who appear to complement his game perfectly.

There's hope that the balanced roster can come together for a finals push, thrusting the organisation into the postseason for the first time in its young existence.

Beyond the NBL season, though, the NBA aspirations are still bubbling for Creek.

In 2019, the 28-year-old had a short stint with the Brooklyn Nets, before jumping to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a brief period of time. At the end of the most recent NBL season, Creek said he had an agreement in place to join an NBA team for the remainder of the season, but a combination of his knee injury and COVID-19 forced the circumstances to change.

Now, he has a renewed perspective. It's taken different experiences, good and bad, for Creek to decipher how he'd be able to get back to, and stick in the NBA. In his eyes, he knows what he has to do to win over the confidence of NBA teams.

"It's going out there now and showcasing that: one, I'm fit and healthy; two, I can play at a high level; [and] three, I can make my teammates better and help build a winning culture," Creek said.

"I think that's one thing I can bring to any organisation is the ability to make whatever is in place there even better, to build great habits, and to build great culture; which, a lot of guys need when they have a lot of superstars, they need that glue guy.

"[I] don't have to play big minutes, don't have to play at all, but I can have a positive effect on any game, any training, on any day, and that's what I think can make me very important. But, when I get my number called, I'll be ready to play. You watch Jae'Sean Tate go out there and do work, put in effort, play harder than other guys, and he gets rewarded with minutes and game time, and good stat-lines.

"I had a few chances in the States when I was there and did the same thing. It's just time and place, and I just wanna try to be as healthy as I can, and give myself an opportunity.

"That's the number one dream, behind playing in an Olympic Games. For me, that's why you get up every day and you work so hard."