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Semih Erden: Surprising Early

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"You guys don’t really know what he’s capable of. We see him everyday in practice, but you guys (just) see flashes of it in a game."

Paul Pierce on Semih Erden

What a difference a few months make. Make that a few years and a few months.

Semih Erden could be the second biggest surprise addition for the Celtics this off season. With Shaq getting all the ink and Jermaine expected to start, Erden was initially viewed as little more than an after thought. Practice fodder. Make no mistake, that he is. But there are a few surprises occurring here.

No one knew what to expect and no one expected much. Even teammates like Paul Pierce admitted that he did not know how skilled he already is.

"Yeah, everything he’s done is a surprise because I really didn’t know what to expect from him. I watched him in the (Euro Worlds) Championship gold medal game and that is all I had seen. But watching just that one game I knew he had a high basketball IQ. I actually didn’t know his skill level, but he’s shown me a lot."

Danny Ainge chose 6’ 11", 240 lb. Semih Erden with the very last pick (60th) of the 2008 draft. He did it with the intention (and hope) to stash him away in Europe and…let him continue to develop there and then bring him here to the Celtics a few years later. It is now a few years later. But has Erden developed enough to truly be useful to the Celtics this season?

It was only June 24th, exactly one week after the 7th game loss to the longer Lakers, that the first rumors were out about Erden possibly coming over to the Celtics. With Perkins out with a long recovery time, and Rasheed Wallace retiring, the Celtics were short on bigs.

Still, Erden wasn't viewed as anything but a project by Celtic Nation. His career season high in Euro play was 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 minutes average playing time. That was in the lesser Turkish Basketball League. In the Euro leagues, his stats were even lower.

Just two days later, June 26th, Danny announced that Erden ‘was ready to be on an NBA roster'. By July 4th, Erden was in the Celtics camp and his signing was announced a day later. Semih turned 24 on July 28th.

In many ways that is sort of perfect timing, providing Semih’s game has progressed over the last two years. They say that big men take longer to develop anyway and he is now mature enough physically, mentally and emotionally to make that jump.

It was just a few months ago that someone wrote that Semih Erden wasn’t even the best player on his own team. That may or may not be true, but Semih is making believers here in Beantown with every pre-season game he plays.

He is not the second coming of Arvidas Sabonis. He isn’t Pau Gasol either. He’s not even the next Hedo Turkoglu, his fellow countryman. But his new Celtic teammates and fans are finding out that Semih can play this game pretty well. Better than expected actually. He is a mobile, agile big man. The best part is that he will only get better and better.

Doc announced early on that Erden would get as much valuable playing time as he could give him to get him the experience he will need to become effective as a player for his new team and in the NBA. Doc has been true to his word and Erden has been surprisingly effective.

On the defensive end Erden is aggressive, will give a hard foul, block shots, and help defends when he can. On the offensive end, he has a few offensive moves around the hoop, is setting fairly good picks, and passes very well. But make no mistake. Once the real season starts, the minutes will go to the vastly more skilled and experienced O’Neal brothers as long as they are healthy.

Seeing Erden make the most of his minutes now, we also know it is just preseason. The big question to ask and one I wouldn’t have expected a positive answer to a few months ago is: Can Semih Erden help this team this year?

Paul Pierce….

"Yeah. He gives us a lot of depth at that position. I think that’s our strongest position this year. Especially with Jermaine and Shaq having a history of having injuries so…you might never know what might happen so…I think he’s going to fit in nicely and he’ll be ready. It’s good that he’s getting this valuable experience here in the preseason and in the World Games. He’s getting better and better, man."

Living His Dream

Semih Erden is surprised at how much has happened in his life in the last few months. From a Silver medal with his national team in the Worlds to the Celtics a few months later…

"It was my dream so my dream came true. I came to a champion team from a champion team in Turkey, so it is amazing."

Accepted Into the Celtics Family

Joining an established team like the Celtics isn’t always an easy thing to do. Weathered, strong headed old veterans have come and gone with implicit acceptance. The vibrations of possible family squabbles last season have disappeared. New comer Jermaine O’Neal talked about the feeling of family with this team and how it was one of the reasons he came to the Celtics.

It doesn’t appear to always be quite the same for rookies, though. Maybe the talent level hasn’t been there. But the Celtics have embraced young Mr. Erden, apparently since he arrived.

"Everything was way better than I expected. The Celtics are like a family. All the players are helping me with (everything) and the coach, too. And they accept me on the team. They are really supporting me so…I wasn’t expecting that, honestly. So that really impressed me."

Even Semih didn’t expect to be getting the minutes he has been…

"Of course, I didn’t expect that. But in the practices, I felt it because coach (Rivers) really cares about me. He always supports me. So I am trying to use the chances he is giving me and to get better and better every minute.

I know the importance of every minute, starting with defense, trying to help the team."

Erden’s on court contributions will most likely be dictated by the health of his older mentors. Jermaine has already missed pre-season games with minor injuries. Shaq can't play big minutes in back-to-back games at a high level and has a few back and health issues of his own. But Semih is returning the love he is receiving from the childhood heroes he will now play behind.

"I hope they never get injured. They are also supporting me. It is amazing how they support me. I grew up watching those two big guys. And now I am practicing with them. It is very good for me. So I should be ready even if they are not injured. I have to make sure I’m not injured. I have to be ready. That is the most important thing for me. I hope we all have a healthy season."

Doc, Danny, Paul and everyone in Celtic Nation hope that.

Laker Answers

But Danny got on the phone to Europe one week after the final game of last season for a reason. A few years earlier, there was talk about the dearth of dominant big men. The success of the Celtics with a healthy Garnett and Perkins was followed by the success of the twin 7’ Lakers. Size still matters in the NBA.

This season the Celtics will go into battle with 4 players 6’11" or taller. And it now appears all four will be talented.

There is no doubt that it helps to have two of the game's savviest, biggest and best big men helping you, and supporting you in practice. When things go live at the end of month, it is nice to know that Shaq and Jermaine will have your back assuming they remain healthy. It wouldn’t be wise to depend on it for 82 games.

Last season Rasheed Wallace played through various ailments and then Perkins got hurt. Unlike last season, this season the Celtics will have a 3rd true center (not counting Kendrick Perkins). Should they call on him, we are seeing what might be possible. What Semih Erden lacks in knowledge, strength and experience he seems to offsetting with skill, energy and youth.

Paul Pierce….

"You guys don’t really know what he’s capable of. We see him everyday in practice, but you guys (just) see flashes of it in a game."

It is early, but it nice to know that kind of potential exists in a Celtics’ young back up center. It has been quite a while.