BOSTON, MA - MARCH 02: Nenad Krstic #4 of the Boston Celtics heads for the net as Robin Lopez #15 of the Phoenix Suns defends on March 2, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Boston Celtics mostly call Nenad Krstic "Curly," because Lawrence Frank could never pronounce Krstic's Serbian nickname. Kevin Garnett calls Krstic "Kris," because Kevin Garnett's wired a little differently and believes Curly sounds too soft. Some Celtics fans unfamiliar with Krstic called him a throw-in to the Jeff Green trade, until they collectively realized, "Hey, this Curly Kris Krstic cat can play."
Boston's newest seven-footer does not provide the same contributions Kendrick Perkins did, nor would anyone ever expect him to. The thought of the balding Krstic, scowling, throwing elbows and talking junk with opponents, seems goofy rather than intimidating. Krstic has never been known for defense. He will never become known as Dwight Howard's toughest matchup, nor -- though his effort level remains impressive, and though he's actually a better defender than people give him credit for -- will he ever earn a reputation as one of the league's best low-post stoppers.
But Krstic can play. He's no throw-in.
Yesterday night, in the middle of Boston's big third-quarter run against the Phoenix Suns, Garnett caught the ball with a wide open jumper. Normally, he would let the shot fly. But Garnett saw Curly Kris Krstic standing just outside the elbow, and made an extra pass instead. Krstic's shot swished through the net, and the Celtics were left thinking, Hmm. Our center can actually score now.
"I said [to the team] you know, Krstic can shoot," Doc Rivers told WEEI. "I said it a good 50 times. He actually can make those shots. It was great when he made it [against Phoenix]. It just opened the floor wide open for us."
During his brief time in Boston, Krstic has also attacked the offensive glass. I would say he's had more offensive rebounds in three games than the rest of the Celtics have had all season, but, well, it only feels like it. The Celtics can't always expect Krstic to grab so many offensive rebounds -- his offensive rebound rate for Boston is twice what was for Oklahoma City. But when he pounds the boards, Krstic adds another dimension to Boston's offense; one thing we know about these Celtics -- they're allergic to the offensive glass.
Krstic turns the ball over less than Perkins (far less, actually), possesses a far more expansive offensive repertoire, and doesn't bring the ball down to his ankles every time he catches it. Those are improvements. But his defense still needs work.
Enter Boston's tried-and-true defensive system, which Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge hope can coax more 'D' out of Krstic. Though Rivers told WEEI Krstic is "not good at [the defensive system] yet," Garnett took no time taking Krstic aside and barking some orders -- err, I mean offering some advice. (ESPN Boston)
"It's just like [Kendrick Perkins] and my first day [together]," said Garnett, while relaying his first meeting with Krstic. "It's got to be something that both sides want to do and Krstic is open, man. I had a long talk with him [Saturday] when we had shootaround, and just trying to get into his head, teaching him all the schemes and different things. I just need someone to be verbal. I just need someone to communicate. You don't necessarily [have to] be the loudest, but we need you to know how to communicate and he did a good job of that tonight.
"[Krstic and Jeff Green are] open guys. First thing is you have to be open, too. Obviously, they're used to a certain something and, obviously, we tend to think we do things a little different here. The winning ways, we're professional at all times, so a lot of the stuff that we do, a lot of the stuff that we are the examples of, so they'll see it versus hearing it more than anything."
As Paul Flannery pointed out in a wonderful piece about the Green/Krstic trade, Danny Ainge rolled the dice almost solely to boost Boston's offense. The defense has always been steady, and, Ainge suspects, always will be. As long as Kevin Garnett basketball career is alive and Tom Thibodeau's defensive principles remain, the Celtics will stop opponents. But Green provides versatility and playmaking that the Celtics' bench hasn't had at any other point during the Big Three Era, and Krstic can do things Perkins could never dream of (specifically, make shots).
When you observe Krstic (and I don't say this to poke fun at him, just to describe him), he looks entirely underwhelming. His receding hair line makes him look somewhere in his early forties, and his wispy mustache doesn't scream "professional basketball player," either. His muscles don't ripple, not by any means, and - were he not seven feet tall -- he would like more like a stunt double for "Luigi" from Mario Brothers than a Boston Celtic.
But Krstic is a legitimate NBA center. Though he does have weaknesses, he can help the Celtics in certain ways Kendrick Perkins never could. Like Perkins, Krstic won't ever be confused for a star. But he'll play his role, and generally play it well. Even if that role is different than the Celtics usually expect from their centers, or, at least, different than what they expected from Perk.