2020 NBA Restart: Celtics big man Daniel Theis one of the NBA's best values


With steady two-way play and a not-so secret sealing weapon, Daniel Theis quietly morphed this season from reliable backup big man into a key cog on what Paul Pierce dubbed the NBA’s “best starting 5.”

The 28-year-old Theis does exactly what he’s asked: He sets screens and then paves a path for teammates to get to the rim; he hits open jumpers when defenders stray; and he competes on the defensive end.

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The result? Theis is now one of the best values in the NBA while earning a mere $5 million this season (the rest of Boston’s starters combine for $79.7 million and that’s before Jaylen Brown’s extension kicks in next season). Theis is content to do the dirty work, all while his new sealing prowess has allowed players like Jayson Tatum and Brown to see their scoring averages spike.

When the season paused, Theis was averaging a career-best 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.3 blocks over 23.8 minutes per game, all while starting 57 of the 58 games he played. Theis’ 3-point shooting is down from a year ago but it’s one of the few things you can quibble with.

ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus metric ranks him 18th overall in the league, sandwiched between Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.

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If Theis has a weakness, it’s jousting with beefier centers like Embiid and the Orlando playoffs could challenge him greatly depending on Boston’s postseason path. The Celtics will have to get creative with sending help when Theis is overmatched but he’s shown he can hold his own with Embiid under the right strategy.

Now further removed from the meniscus injury that ended his rookie season early, Theis is more spry. Teammates have raved about him returning in top shape for the restart. If he can make that 3-point shot a weapon again, it would really put stress on opposing teams to pick their poison.

The big question is how Theis will respond on the playoff stage.

He was a spectator during Boston’s 2018 run and played only 42 minutes last season behind the combo of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. Theis has done a good job not trying to do too much this season and, with Boston thin on reliable big-man depth, the Celtics will need him to continue to simply embrace his role and do all the little things that have made him so valuable to this year’s squad.

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