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After a torn meniscus ended his rookie season, Daniel Theis returns ready for the NBA grind

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Theis looks to be a key part of the Celtics’ depth chart in his second NBA season.

NBA: Boston Celtics-Media Day Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

One year ago, Daniel Theis was about to begin his first NBA season. He was in a new country, with a new team, learning to adjust to his new surroundings. Despite the unfamiliar territory, it quickly became clear that Theis wasn’t some ordinary rookie.

The relatively unknown German center fit perfectly into the Celtics rotation, giving them invaluable front court depth that many teams spend seasons searching for. He was efficient on the offensive side of the ball, strong on the glass, and an impact defender underneath. By late December, Theis was playing double-digit minutes virtually every night and quickly became one of the best minimum contract players in the entire league.

Things were going smoothly for the 25-year-old (other than a broken nose) until he went down on March 11th against the Indiana Pacers. Theis had a torn meniscus and would miss the remainder of the season. He may have been the third or fourth big on the Celtics’ depth chart, but Theis was extremely reliable and consistent off the bench. In 63 games, he averaged 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds, while shooting 54.1% from the floor in 15 minutes per game. It was an unfortunate end to a promising first NBA season, but Theis says he’s good to go for his second campaign.

“I have no issues with my knee,” Theis told CelticsBlog. “I’m good. There’s no pain. I still feel like I’m missing some explosiveness in one leg, but I think it’s going to come with time. More games, more practices.”

Theis played in all four of Boston’s preseason games over the last two weeks, averaging 2.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 11 minutes per game. Plenty of players make adjustments coming into their second season, many of which have to do with workout routines, daily habits, and particular areas of their game. For Theis, his main adjustment has to do with taking care of his body.

“I probably learned to take more care of the body than before. Not just when something hurts, or when you’re a little bit sore. Every day,” Theis said. “Doing some rehab stuff before so the knee and legs get warmed up, and then after practice, ice it, go to the ice tub. Just taking my time.”

Tearing your meniscus will certainly cause someone to focus more on taking care of their body, but for Theis, it was more than just his injury. The now-26-year-old learned a lot during his 63-game season, and realized what many young players do: it’s a grind.

“So many games, the traveling, you gotta take care of your body,” Theis said. “Even if its just stretching or doing some foam rolling in your room when you’re on the road. Just little things.” For a young center like Theis, who better to learn from than veteran big men Al Horford and Aron Baynes.

Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When the Celtics drafted forward Robert Williams with the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, many people were confident in how he would develop due to the presence of Horford and Baynes alongside of him. Theis was five years older than Williams when he arrived in Boston in the summer of 2017, but don’t let that deter you from the impact the Celtics’ vets had on the German big. “Seeing Aron and Al coming in last year early, and this year when I came back. I started at like 6 in the morning and Baynes was here already. ... It’s good to see even veterans, like Al or Baynes, in the league for so many years still doing the same stuff that they usually do.”

Theis has the ability to be a valuable big man in this league for years to come, and playing alongside Al Horford and Aron Baynes will only help his continued development. It’s very clear that Theis has learned the importance of taking care of his body after one year in the NBA, so what else can Baynes and Horford help him with? After watching Theis shoot threes prior to the team’s practice at the Auerbach Center last week, it’s clear that some of Baynes’ tendencies are rubbing off on him.

When I asked Theis if he’d been working with Baynes on his outside shooting, he laughed and said that he had been shooting with the 6th-year center a little bit. “I worked a lot this summer, so that is part of finding rhythm for the game again,” said Theis. He attempted 58 threes last season, knocking down 18 of them, but Theis sounded like he was looking forward to continuing to develop this portion of his game. “We’ll see. I think I’m gonna shoot it with more confidence. Hopefully I’m gonna make more than last year.”