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How Daniel Theis fits into Boston’s big man rotation

The fan favorite is back and ready to help the Celtics continue their winning ways.

Atlanta Hawks v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The War on Theis is back.

Brad Stevens pulled off a flurry of trade deadline deals on Thursday, but the one that stands out is the deal that brought big man Daniel Theis back to Boston.

The Boston Celtics sent Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom, and Bruno Fernando to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Theis. And according to The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach, this trade was thrown together at the last second, and Theis is thrilled to be back in Beantown, but how does he fit into Boston’s plan for the rest of the season?

Seeing as they are on a six-game winning streak and have won 11 of their last 15, it’s highly unlikely the starting lineup changes. And even if it does, White would probably be the one getting the nod. However, having Theis as the fourth big on the roster should prove advantageous, too.

This season, Theis is averaging 8.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks while shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 29.1 percent from three-point range. For what it’s worth, during his time in Boston, he shot a lot better from behind the arc.

One of the most common complaints from Celtics fans on Thursday was that they downgraded their shooting by trading Richardson. And while White is certainly not a better shooter than Richardson, they did add another floor-spacing big in Theis.

Again, he’s having a down shooting year this season, but here’s a look at his catch-and-shoot three-pointer numbers from years past:

  • 2020-21: 33.8 percent
  • 2019-20: 34.4 percent
  • 2018-19: 39.1 percent

Not all of those numbers may seem great, but considering the Celtics only shoot 34.8 percent on catch-and-shoot threes this season, adding more spacing at the center position could be huge.

Last season, Boston ran a double-big lineup of Theis and Tristan Thompson for the majority of the season. Most C’s fans got sick of that idea fairly quickly, but now Theis, will have the opportunity to play alongside three big men who fit alongside him beautifully.

In a lineup with Thompson, Theis was forced to be not only a floor-spacer, but also the primary rim protector. However, with Boston’s current core of bigs, Theis won’t have to take on nearly as large a role.

With Robert Williams and Al Horford starting, Theis will get the chance to play with Grant Williams a bunch. In that case, Williams could space the floor while Theis focused on protecting the paint and guarding opposing centers.

He’s also a fit alongside Robert Williams. When sharing the floor, Theis would be the floor-spacer. But on the defensive end, while he’d probably still guard the opponent’s center, Williams would be right there to help from the weak side. That’s the role Horford plays next to Williams too, and Theis is the perfect guy to back him up.

The pairing of Theis and Horford is far less likely to see court time, but both are versatile on both ends of the floor that sharing the court shouldn’t be a problem.

The main issue with double bigs last year was the lack of overall versatility. Thompson was an above-average rebounder, but he didn’t provide any floor spacing and wasn’t a great interior defender. He was a big body, but that was about it. Now, the Celtics have four big men who are perfectly comfortable playing in any role they are put in.

Theis played well as a starter in Boston, but now he’ll be able to transition seamlessly into a bench role. If nothing else, this will take some of the load off of Horford. Depending on which is playing/shooting well on any given night, Udoka should feel comfortable leaving either in.

Plus, Theis’ contract gives the Celtics plenty of long-term financial flexibility. He’s on the books for roughly $8.4 million this year and is under contract through the 2024-25 season. His salary increases each year, eventually reaching $9.2 million in the final season.