At the end of the day, Daniel Theis is vastly underrated.
He’s been the guy who wrestles in the post with other big men and plays bigger than he really is. He does all the dirty work, sealing off defenders for guys like Jayson Tatum to get uncontested layups. He facilitates from atop the key and sprints in transition every trip down the floor.
This season has presented a new challenge for Theis: masquerading as a perimeter player. To make the two-big lineups with he and Tristan Thompson work, he’s had to slide into that role and be competent. As the shorthanded Celtics battle through injuries early in the year, head coach Brad Stevens has few reliable places to turn, and continues to try Theis at the 4, often with mixed results.
But what we don’t discuss nearly enough is how valiant and admirable Theis has been in his new role. He rarely makes mental mistakes despite playing completely out of position on offense.
What Wednesday night in Sacramento showed us was that Theis doesn’t just memorize plays and stand in the corner. He knows what to do when plays break down so he can function like a wing and keep the lane clogged.
The whole point of organized offense is to create what I call a scramble situation, where the normal matchups are broken and the defense has to scramble to prevent a basket. Sometimes those situations are started by brilliant set plays and screens. Other times, it is dribble penetration.
Once a scramble is created, the patterned play from the offense is abandoned and concept-based basketball takes hold. Guys need to learn to appropriately space the floor, read the movements of their teammates and ensure the defense is unable to stop the ball from finding the highest-percentage look.
Theis flashed skill on both ends of the equation. He made an adept skip pass out of the short roll to begin the defense’s scramble, then relocated to the perimeter to keep the floor spaced before knocking down a wide-open three. Credit Jeff Teague for his patience on the re-penetration and finding Theis on the cross-court look:
Theis has been sensational all year long as he ad libs his way through playing out of position. He’s shooting over 40% from deep this season and has a made 3-pointer in nine straight games. The fact he can improvise offense out of position speaks to his tremendous basketball IQ, perhaps the biggest reason the Theis-Thompson frontcourt is hanging around.