It’s a question that seemed unimaginable all the way back in October as the Boston Celtics tried to cobble together a big man rotation to replace the void left by Al Horford’s departure.
But where would the Celtics be this season without Daniel Theis?
Sure, he isn’t a complete game-changer like Jayson Tatum or have the same type of impact like Kemba Walker can have, but Theis knows his role as the Celtics starting center. And it’s gone somewhat under the radar, but he’s performing that role better than anyone could have imagined.
Theis was at it again Tuesday night in Boston’s 114-111 road win over the Pacers as he was the Celtics third-leading scorer with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting to go along with six rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Theis was a key not only in the C’s latest win, but all season. Boston lacks depth at the center spot and Theis’ strong play has given the Celtics a much-needed presence at the position.
Theis with good court sense, solid defense and a developing offensive game has shown capable of providing much more than backups Enes Kanter, a complete liability when trying to defend the pick-and-roll, and the oft-injured Robert Williams.
While seemingly everyone gawks over Williams’ athletic ability, Theis possesses a sneaky athleticism that doesn’t get as much attention. Look at the play below versus the Pacers. Theis looks like a wide receiver winning a jump ball as he comes down with a pass in-between Myles Turner and Justin Holiday before finishing a reverse layup.
Theis’ athleticism has also been key on the defensive end where he is an above-average shot blocker, averaging 1.3 swats per game, and he can actively defend switches on the perimeter unlike Kanter.
And while most of Theis’ offensive game comes from being the beneficiary of playmaking from him teammates like Tatum, he continues to improve on that side of the court into a reliable option, which is why Gordon Hayward trusted Theis in one of the game’s biggest moments against the Pacers.
After the Celtics had squandered a 19-point lead and fell behind by three with under two minutes remaining, Hayward was in position to finish a layup, but kicked it out to Theis, who looked like he was going to pass to completely fake out Aaron Holiday before drilling a game-tying 3-pointer.
“I’m happy he hit it because at the time when I passed it I thought, man, maybe I should have shot that layup. I was pretty open,” Hayward said. “But down three, I have confidence in him. That was a big-time shot.”
Theis factored into the Celtics next bucket as he cleared a lane with a seal (I swear Theis must average the most seals per game in the NBA) for Tatum to come barreling down and throw down a slam dunk to level the score once again. It’s those little things that Theis has consistently brought to the court that has made him so valuable this season.
For Theis, who has started in 57 games this season, his production has nearly doubled in points and rebounds — he’s scoring 9.1 points on a career-best 63.2 percent shooting despite taking 2.5 more shots per game this year — since last year with him getting almost twice as many minutes now in his third NBA season.
In 10 games since the All-Star break, Theis has been averaging close to a double-double by tallying 13.9 points and 8.1 rebounds.
That production he continuously brings has been a luxury for the Celtics and something that shouldn’t go unnoticed anymore.