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Von Wafer Coming on Strong

Every Celtics reporter will probably have something to say about Von Wafer today, and why not? The reserve guard, who's been playing better and better of late, gave the Celtics 15 vital minutes last night, putting forth his finest performance of the season: 10 points on 4-8 shooting to go along with a team-high (tied with Paul Pierce) six rebounds. 

Despite labeling himself as an "offensive player" back on Media Day, it's arguably been Wafer's defense (and a few injuries to other key players) that has earned him more time on the court lately. He's been especially adept at anticipating opponents' passes and streaking in for key steals, and he added another one to the books last night when he swiped Minnesota's sideline inbounds pass with 6:53 left in the second quarter, sprinted down the court, and laid in a tough layup in transition while being fouled by rookie Wesley Johnson. It was a classic example of turning defense into offense. 

Another surprising thing about Wafer, of late, is that when he has had success on the offensive end of the floor, his points are coming mainly off of drives to the rim, as opposed to jump shots, despite his reputation entering the season as a jump shooter and not much more. Last night, six of his 10 points were scored right at the rim - the aforementioned steal and layup, a putback off of his own miss (on a somewhat out-of-control drive to the rim) with 1:07 left in the third, and then a streaking finger roll in transition on a feed from Pierce, which all began with Wafer grabbing the defensive rebound and making the first outlet pass to Nate Robinson

Against Toronto on Sunday, Wafer's only two points of the evening came on an aggressive drive to the rim with 8:44 to play, which he converted into a layup. Later he attacked the basket again and managed to feed an open Jermaine O'Neal. Against the Hornets last Friday, Wafer's sole basket came at the rim off of an offensive rebound. He grabbed his own miss with 8:36 left in the second quarter and converted a very athletic up-and-under to put the Celtics up 26-25 at the time. Going back even further, against the Pacers a week ago, Wafer's sole bucket came on a Marquis Daniels feed in the fourth quarter as he was slicing towards the rim without the ball, and he put in a layup to put Boston up 72-67. 

In fact, his three-point shot has betrayed him ever since he started earning these extra minutes. He developed his reputation as a three-point shooter mainly throughout the 2008-2009 season, when he shot 39 percent from deep, primarily as a member of the Houston Rockets. However, he's made only three of his last 17 three-point field goal attempts, good for a somewhat appalling (for a supposed shooter) 17.6 percent. He last made a three-point field goal on December 22 against the Philadelphia 76ers. For the season, in limited time, Wafer's shooting only 21.1 percent from the nation, but that could be because of the restricted minutes. 

One thing I've personally noticed, is that at key moments in a number of games recently, Wafer has had open three-point attempts that would have helped the Celtics either erase a deficit they were facing, or help to build up a lead that was already mounting. Unfortunately, Wafer's missed all of these attempts. The latest came last night with 9:52 left in the fourth quarter. Wafer missed a wide-open three-pointer from the left corner that would have cut the Timberwolves' five-point lead to just two (78-76) had it gone in. 

The fact that Wafer has been able to rise above his long distance shooting woes, however, speaks to his growth as a player. During this stretch where he's provided valuable minutes he hasn't been the one-dimensional player we thought we signed in the offseason and, perhaps even more importantly, he hasn't been a liability on defense. Quite the opposite, actually. He's still finding ways to produce on the court (he led the Celtics in rebounds at halftime last night with four), despite the fact that his bread and butter (his shooting) is all but absent from his game right now. 

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