With a scruffy beard and a suave man bun, Gigi Datome has developed a cult following in his short time with the Boston Celtics. The raucous fans at TD Garden chant Gigi's name anytime head coach Brad Stevens gives him a chance to display his sweet shooting stroke, and they might get that opportunity again in the playoffs.
"He's our best shooter. I think he's one of the better shooters I've seen," Stevens said in early April, praising Gigi. "Hopefully we can continue to find opportunities for him, because he's earned that. He's a great worker and a great teammate."
In 18 games with Boston, the 6-foot-8 Italian drained 47.2 percent of his three-point attempts. While it's a small sample size, it's indicative of his true shooting ability, since he shot 47.5 percent on nearly 1000 attempts over a 10-year European career.
Gigi plays just over 10 minutes per game with the Celtics, but Stevens has turned to him when the team needs scoring. Against the high-powered Cleveland Cavaliers, there could be occasions Datome is asked to provide a spark, even if it's just for a short stint.
"He can sit for four quarters and I think he's gonna make [the shot]," explained Stevens when asked why Gigi's a great shooter. "And there's not many guys like that."
Datome was one of the best players in the Italian League; as a rookie in 2004 he won the championship, in 2009 he was named the Best Player Under 22, and in his final season in 2013 he won Most Valuable Player.
But Gigi knows that he can't be an elite player in the NBA, as his long-term goal is to be a consistent rotation player. With that drastic change in responsibility, Datome had to adjust.
"Overseas I played a lot, so I let the game come to me," Datome explained to CelticsBlog. "But here I may play 3 or 5 minutes, so I've had to learn how to contribute immediately if I want to stay longer on the court, so I put an emphasis on that."
Datome added that assistant coach Jay Larranaga has helped him a lot in practice, and that hard work has translated to the court. Gigi has been so successful when given chances that the coaching staff has started to integrate half court plays intended to create open looks for him.
In the past month the Celtics have used Datome similarly to how the Atlanta Hawks utilize Kyle Korver with off-ball screen actions that lead to threes. In the first two plays above, the Celtics set double down screens with one big and one guard to spring loose Datome for a triple.
"I try to add to my game every year. I used to be more of a set shooter, then I tried to be more effective off the dribble," Datome said. "I always try to add something and I put a lot of work in it. I feel comfortable when I get consistent opportunities to put up shots."
Now it's about receiving the chance to utilize his stroke, and the Celtics appear to see that, considering the actions they run for him. Gigi won't play heavy minutes for the Celtics, but he could exploit certain match-ups in their first-round series.
Cleveland's defense ranks 18th defending spot up shooters and 24th defending off-screens, according to Synergy, which are two play types Datome excels at. The Cavaliers also rank 25th in contested shot percentage (Contest+), per Vantage Sports, so Gigi could find himself open after racing through a series of screens, since Cleveland defenders have often failed to get a hand in the shooter's face.
Players like J.R. Smith and Mike Miller could relax if they're defending a bench reserve like Datome, so he could make them pay early in the series before adjustments are made. The Celtics will need to hit threes at a high rate to win, so they could try to unleash a barrage of screens to get their best shooter uncontested attempts from deep.
But the Celtics would have to hide Datome on defense, which means his minutes could be limited to when he can defend Miller or Iman Shumpert. Even if Datome plays only 25 minutes over the series, you can be sure that the Celtics will make good use of him by feeding him threes. And that stretch could be the difference between winning or losing the series, since every minute counts in the playoffs.
Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics gave us a glimpse of how they'd like to use Gigi Datome, and now it's about maximizing those opportunities. If they're able to find success, you can be sure that TD Garden will be rocking as loudly as it has all season.