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CelticsBlog Player of the Week #10: Daniel Theis

The 30-year-old center stepped up in a big way to replace the injured Robert Williams III.

Boston Celtics v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Well, we’re finally here. The regular season has ended, and the playoffs lie ahead of us. The Boston Celtics concluded their regular season with a 2-1 week, beating the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies and falling to the Milwaukee Bucks to concluded their season with a 51-31 record, good for second place in the Eastern Conference. Now, it’s time to take a look at those games as we name our final CelticsBlog Player of the Week for the regular season.

One last time, our disclaimer: “Player of the Week” does not necessarily translate to “Best Player of the Week.” The idea of this award is to highlight difference-makers from the past week’s games, and to be honest, a strict focus on “best” would lead to this award pinballing back and forth between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’re the team’s star players, and the most important and impactful players on the court even on their worst shooting nights.

Repeatedly writing about those two, while deserved, would be just a little bit less fun. For that reason, we’re going to broaden our standards a little bit to introduce a little more diversity in the results. The two are eligible for the award, of course, but the bar for them is just a little bit higher.

CelticsBlog Player of the Week #10: Daniel Theis

3 GP, 29 MPG, 16 PPG, 60% FG, 50% 3PT, 7 REB, 2 AST, +35

A happy reunion! I won’t lie, I’ve been hoping for an excuse to talk about our German friend in this space since his return to Boston. After signing a four-year deal with the Houston Rockets this offseason, Theis returned to the Celtics at the trade deadline in exchange for Dennis Schröder, ending Schröder’s awkward half-season with the team and bringing Theis back to where he started his NBA career.

The move to reacquire Theis turned out to be prophetic, as he’s become a crucial cog in Boston’s rotation in recent weeks. Let’s get into it.

@ Chicago: 15 PTS (6-of-12 FG), 6 REB, 1 AST

First things first, the elephant in the room: Robert Williams III tore his meniscus. Prior to the injury, Theis was a luxury on this Celtics roster. Sorting out his preferred eight-man rotation after the deadline roster turnover, Udoka picked and chose his spots with Theis, occasionally leaving him on the bench as a DNP if he didn’t feel necessary to the matchup. With Williams out, that dynamic changed; after an unsuccessful trial run starting Grant Williams against Miami, Theis returned to the Boston starting lineup for the first time since March 2021.

It’s thanks to the efforts of Theis that Williams’ injury hasn’t hurt as much as it could have. Obviously, few players (if any) can replicate the impact that Williams has on both ends of the court, but Theis has proven he can still provide starter-worthy impact in the frontcourt. In five games since returning to the starting lineup, he’s failed to score double-digit points just once, and his defense has translated solidly to Udoka’s versatile scheme.

A small thing — I love Theis’ awareness when tipping rebounds. He’s very canny about getting the ball into his teammates’ hands when he can’t fully secure the board himself.

@ Milwaukee: 22 PTS (8-of-12 FG, 3-of-3 3PT), 5 REB, 3 AST

The return of one of my favorite Celtics tropes of the past few years: the random Daniel Theis scoring explosion! It feels as though Theis is good for a few big scoring nights every year, and indeed, he’s had at least two games scoring 20+ every season since his rookie year.

This was a timely one, as the Celtics rested both Tatum and Al Horford on the road against Milwaukee, leaving Theis, Grant Williams and Luke Kornet atop the depth chart in the frontcourt. They ultimately fell short, but battled against a full-strength Bucks squad in a game that came down to the closing minutes. At the risk of sounding cliche, it was a “moral victory” type of loss, not unlike their overtime loss to Toronto short four starters the week prior — a game in which Theis also stepped up admirably.

One thing about this season’s team is that their balanced roster construction allows Theis’ shooting to pop a little bit more. He’s merely a fine shooter and nothing more, shooting 34% on low volume in his Boston career, but as an ancillary piece, that knockdown shooting has value. The downfall of the ill-fated double-big lineups with Tristan Thompson last season came in part because Theis was expected to be a legitimate floor-spacer, but isn’t an effective enough shooter to draw serious defensive attention, bogging down the rest of the offense in the process.

This year, Theis behind the arc is basically a low risk, high reward proposition. It’s free real estate. The Celtics’ offense is significantly more diverse and their ball movement has improved so much that Theis three-point attempts are more often clean looks coming off of good passing rather than an out-of-options worst-case scenario after the main action of the possession has failed. You absolutely take this kind of play from your fourth-string frontcourt player.

@ Memphis: 11 PTS (5-of-8 FG), 10 REB, 3 AST

And the screens! This is less of a game-specific point, but we can’t go an entire column without talking about the screens!

The return of Theis’ screening has been a delight. Williams is perhaps the pre-eminent lob threat in basketball right now, but he still has room to grow as a screener. Theis can’t replicate Williams’ vertical spacing (though he’s still done nicely at the rim), but his screening offers a different route to grease the wheels of the Boston offense.

It is a delight to watch his activity off the ball, even when he doesn’t ultimately end up involved in the final scoring play. He’s constantly adjusting, bumping guys, relocating — all the little things you want to see from the fifth guy in the lineup.

Featured Highlight:

The total Theis experience, in one easy package. He sets the screen for Tatum and after Tatum is (of course) doubled, he bumps De’Anthony Melton to create a clean roll for himself. Tatum instead dishes to Marcus Smart, who misses, but Theis has wormed his way in front of Kyle Anderson and — with a little help from a fortunate bounce — brings in the offensive board and slams home the two-handed dunk.

It’s not sexy, and it’s certainly not a play that will stick in your brain among the team’s many other highlights in that 29-point win. But it’s a good, solid play that Theis did good, solid work in. I can’t think of a more appropriate play to put the spotlight on for the 30-year-old big man.

And that’s going to put a wrap on CelticsBlog’s Player of the Week. Since starting this weekly spotlight at the end of January, we’ve handed out 10 awards to what I feel is an appropriately diverse group of players on a Celtics team that has seen no shortage of heroic performances. To wrap things up, let’s take a look back on who we’ve featured over the past 10 weeks.

  • Jayson Tatum (#5 and #6)
  • Jaylen Brown (#4 and #9)
  • Robert Williams III (#1)
  • Marcus Smart (#2)
  • Al Horford (#3)
  • Payton Pritchard (#7)
  • Derrick White (#8)
  • Daniel Theis (#10)

As always, let us hear your thoughts down in the comments below, and stay tuned for lots of CelticsBlog coverage as the playoffs get underway!