Celtics Center Watch 2019-2020: Theis Is Nice
Last week, I wrote about Robert Williams, the variety of ways you can spell his name and the odds of him becoming the Celtics starting center. On this edition of "Center Watch" we will study another candidate's chances of landing the starting gig. Let's dive into the detail and breakdown Germany's very own Daniel Theis.
The big man has started for the Cs during these handful of preseason games but, it he appeared as a starting candidate much earlier this summer. His performance for his national team this August accentuated his oncourt steadiness and offensive potential. Still, what Theis has done in his past two games that proves the most encouraging?
Entering his third season with the Celtics, Theis may be beginning to display the basketball IQ he surely soaked in from Al Horford and company. With five assists in only 25 minutes of total play, the bruising big man is clearly the best passing big on his team. Coach Brad Stevens does not shy away from involving Theis in the offense when he shares minutes with the starters. He trusts him with the ball and often allows Theis to maneuver far from the hoop.
Specifically, when Theis facilitates it comes via the short roll, pick and pop or dribble handoff (DHO.) This should come as no surprise, as Theis sometimes passes as an Ivan Drago look alike when he sets picks. A better screener than both Enes Kanter and Williams, Theis creates havoc on the court. He uses this to advantage. Defenders must work hard to stick with the ballhandler, with the help often over-rotating around Theis' big body. This allows Theis to receive the ball back with space to operate. His vision and IQ makes it easy to find the gap in the defense and hit an open teammate.
Is Theis the passer Horford was? Absolutely not. Still, he understands the concept of what Stevens is trying to accomplish. Against the Cavaliers Theis was often involved in horns sets with dangerous shooters in the corners. His timing on rolls were perfect, resulting in lobs at the rim. He is a capable pick and pop threat as well. Although he is not known for his floor spacing, Theis sank 38 percent of his triples last year. Additionally, he averaged 2.7 attempts per 36 minutes, which hints as to how he could be used when given more playing time.
For example, neither Kanter, Williams nor overseas acquisition Vincent Poirier are adept at perimeter shooting. In fact, it would be more appropriate to label those three players as non-spacing threats. Theis is another story, however. Look at how much room he clears up by dragging his defender to the top of the key.
There is no other center on this roster who can command that type of spacing. As Stevens looks to revive his ball-movement offense, expect him to lean on Theis to man the center position. Opportunities like this will result in crowd-pleasing dunks from cutters like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Plus, Theis has the passing ability to find these cutters.
There are reasons to be hesitant about Theis' starting chances, however. Theis stands around 6-foot-8 and does not possess one of those freakishly long wingspans we are used to seeing nowadays. How will he defend bigs like divisional rival Embiid? Won't Brook Lopez simply be able to shoot over Theis? These are legitimate concerns. Still, Stevens may sense the shift towards bigs spending less time in the post and decide to roll the dice on Theis (bonus points for rhyming.)
What should you look for next? Expect Theis to continue starting in preseason lineups and eventually the regular season lineup. Will it last? Perhaps. Stevens could grow at east with Theis' defensive IQ, spacing potential and atleasthewon'tscrewthisupedness (more bonus points for inventing a word) on offense. Or, the Cs get beat up on both the glass and the post, encouraging Stevens to switch things up. Regardless, there is a solid chance that the Celtics eventual starter is not even on their roster yet. Continue to monitor the situation and enjoy doing so.