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Daniel Theis’ defense continues to defy expectations

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Theis has started twelve games this season, impressing with his defense throughout.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Boston is only fifteen games into the season, yet Daniel Theis has already started more games than the last two years combined. Throughout his first two seasons, Theis participated in a combined 129 regular season games. He started just five of those.

Boston currently has a plethora of big’s on their roster, yet Theis is proving himself to be the best among them. While there are still weaknesses to his game, he is negating them with smart decisions and intelligent defense.

Heading into the Nuggets game Theis was ranked in the eighty-fifth percentile for defensive rebounds. He is pulling down 23.7 percent of available boards on the defensive end of the floor per 100 shot attempts, almost 10 rebounds per 100 shot attempts more than last season.

His rebounding performance against the Clippers earlier this week was inspired. He totaled 14 rebounds in 31 minutes, splitting them evenly on both ends of the floor.

His positioning and movement are excellent. He starts by setting a screen for Kemba Walker and then splitting the defense on his cut towards the basket. Kemba is closely guarded so feeds the ball to Jaylen Brown on the strong side shoulder three position. Theis reads this and reacts by sealing his man, creating tons of space for Brown.

As Brown drives, Theis moves to the low block and boxes out Paul George which provides Brown a passing option should he need one. Opting to shoot, Theis moves into the center of the paint to box out the incoming Patrick Beverley. By doing this, Theis has created space in the paint behind Ivica Zubac. He uses this space to close in on the ball and grab the offensive rebound.

That’s a screen, a seal, and two box-outs leading to this offensive rebound. He is moving more intelligently on the court, causing teams to react to him more regularly. He is doing it on the defensive end, too.

Starting at the nail, he is defending Frank Kaminsky. Frank leads Theis into a screen as he curls under to receive the ball on the strong side baseline. Generally, this is a tough play to recover from, but by the time Theis begins to rotate towards his man, the ball is already in his hands.

Showing grit and determination, Theis goes over the screen and begins to close out on Frank. He meets him at the basket in an picturesque defensive stance, applying pressure to the shot. Frank reads the pressure and goes under the rim for a reverse to avoid being blocked, but he can’t finish.

Theis gets the rebound due to his recovery and solid defensive. This is becoming more regular as of late, contributing to his solid start to the season.

Rebounding may be his biggest improvement to start the season, but it’s not the only one. You just need to look at his average blocks per game to see his improvements span further than the backboards.

NBA Stats shows him as averaging 1.6 rejections per game. That’s a whole block per game more that last year. For a player who was seen as a floor stretching big coming into the season, he is really putting people on notice on D.

Theis closes out on the corner three shooter, leaving LaMarcus Aldridge unchecked on the post. This is how the Celtics play defense this year: they challenge the shooter and then scramble back to their man.

Theis does a great job of this. He makes himself big to discourage the three then as the ball moves inside he gets in Aldridge’s air space. Due to his speed and length, the rotation works as designed and ends with a blocked shot for Theis.

He has been doing this for most of the season.

Cleaning The Glass has him ranked in the 88th percentile for blocks per 100 shot attempts and the 83rd percentile for defensive rebounds per 100 shots.

Theis defensive numbers
cleaningtheglass.com

His foul percentage is also down compared to previous years, only fouling players 6 percent of the time per 100 possessions.

It’s true: his offensive output has been patchy to start the season and his threes just aren’t falling at the moment. Ironic really, considering that’s the one aspect he was expected to bring. Boston has firepower elsewhere though. They needed a reliable option at the center position who could rebound, run the floor, and set solid screens.

Theis has provided that for them early on. He is fitting with the starting unit well, providing the right blend of speed and defensive intensity which has helped propel the team to third in team defense.

With his contract for next season non-guaranteed, Theis is providing himself with the best possible opportunity of stability, earning just $5 million this year and next, should the team opt against waiving him. He is proving to be a bargain of a contract.

If he can bring his three-point percentage to around 35 percent while improving his percentage from the field by a shade. Then the Celtics have a solid big to rely on moving forward. He will never be an All-Star, but he doesn’t need to be.

Right now, he is the starting center on a Celtics team that has started the season 11-4. Not bad for a player every assumed would come off the bench to provide room for the slashers on the team to operate. He’s another player showing a surprise jump to start the season, providing Celtics fans further reason for optimism.