One of the biggest question marks for the Celtics entering the year had been their front court depth. Everyone had major concerns with what Boston would do without a major star anchoring the center position. The trade deadline went by with rumors and speculations, but few considered Boston’s bird in hand. If critics and fans just turned and looked within, they’d see the value of the current starting center, Daniel Theis.
Theis has started most of the year as a more versatile option to Enes Kanter and somewhat of a placeholder to Robert Williams who many consider to be the future at the 5. However, Theis has come into his own and has really found a way to impact games with his offense and more importantly, his defense. People do not realize that Theis won the Defensive Player of the Year in Germany the season before he came over to the Celtics in 2017. In only two short years, he has quickly transitioned to the NBA game and held his own against the best of the competition.
Recently, Theis has been crucial. Over the last five games, he has averaged 15.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. That has blown away his past numbers. Maybe more importantly, these numbers have all been during this past road trip against some of the more stout competition out west. He has adapted to Boston’s offensive system to make the smart high IQ basketball plays to get him on the stat sheet.
Specifically, it is Theis’ efficiency that makes him so valuable. He is either a garbage collector around the rim, or he takes a shot within his range. In that five-game stretch, he is shooting 62.5% from the field on 9.6 attempts per game, including 1.8 three point attempts a game. By no means is he a three-point shooting assassin at 31.3% on the year (33.3% in this stretch), but it still feels like those three-point attempts are within his shot profile.
One of the most underrated, sneakiest parts to Theis’ game is his ability to seal off the rim protector in the paint, creating a lane for others to drive through. Theis has been doing this all season, but as of late, it has been starting to catch on from announcers calling the game. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have benefited from Theis’ box out/screen many times and it’s these unquantifiable stats that Theis has racked up all year.
These clips show how sneaky this move is. It is an absolute joy to watch. If you are not looking for it, it just looks as if there was already a path to the basket before. The jockeying of position down low is much less regulated under the basket. Referees have always been more lenient with physical play in the paint which is perfect for the seal.
It will be interesting to see how Theis can continue his play against the Houston Rockets tonight. The Rockets have gotten much attention for going all in on small ball and having P.J. Tucker play the center position most of their games. Theis will have the opportunity to have an advantage down low to fill the stat sheet if he can stay on the floor against a smaller lineup.
All in all, this season has been a huge success for Daniel Theis. The solid play on both sides of the court has been a huge asset for this team. Smart, high basketball IQ plays are the baseline to any quality player in a Brad Stevens system. He may not be a household name yet, but with continued consistent play, Daniel Theis will gain the recognition he deserves.