BOSTON -- Most Celtics fans forget that when the team opened last season in Cleveland, Daniel Theis found himself doing what most of us were doing that night -- watching the game.
It would be Theis’ first DNP-CD (Did not play -- coaches decision), when healthy, all season.
But it didn’t take long for coach Brad Stevens and his staff to start utilizing the skills of the German big man, a player whose talent was among the keys to Boston finishing with the second-best record in the East.
A torn meniscus injury to Theis' left knee ended his season in March. He’s back on the court now and is expected to be cleared for all basketball activities by the time training camp starts Sept. 25.
So, what can we expect for an encore this season from Theis?
Like many big men on all levels of basketball these days, Theis is making the transition from being a low-post offensive player to one who can also stretch the floor beyond the 3-point line. This part of Theis’ game was indeed a work in progress last season. But the fruits of his labor began to pay off shortly before his season-ending meniscus injury. From October to December, Theis was 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) from 3-point range. For the remainder of the season, he was 13-for-32 (40.6 percent). His ability to pick up where he left off shooting 3’s will go far in him re-establishing a steady role this season.
While the NBA is certainly a higher level of basketball than the German League, Theis being the European league’s Defensive Player of the Year speaks to what the Celtics felt would be one of his strengths. It took him a little time to adjust to the size and speed of NBA frontcourt players, but he seemed to find a nice defensive rhythm after a few weeks. In the month of November, Theis’ defensive rating of 96.1 was second among Celtic frontcourt players to Aron Baynes. And after the All-Star break, he had a team-best defensive rating of 95.8. Like his 3-point shooting, Theis will look to build upon a strong showing near the end of his rookie season.
Minutes were not plentiful for Theis but to his credit he made the most of them, particularly when it came to being helpful on the glass. Although he averaged 4.3 rebounds per game, which ranked eighth on the team (all seven players ahead of him averaged more minutes per game than Theis' 14.9 average), his rebounding percentage (.160) was tops among all Celtics who played in at least half of the team’s regular-season games. There’s no telling how the knee injury he suffered in March will impact his play in terms of rebounding the basketball. But for him to have a solid season and build upon the foundation he set a year ago, rebounding will have to once again be one of his biggest strengths when he’s on the floor.
Last season was one in which Theis was doing all he could to soak up as much knowledge as possible from his older, more seasoned NBA teammates. Look for him to become more of a vocal leader this season. He came to Boston with a strong pedigree of not just good play, but with the kind of championship mindset you want as much as possible around your team. He came to Boston from Germany after having been part of championship three-peat with Brose Bamberg, two of which came with one of the newest Celtics, Brad Wanamaker. Knowing the goal this season is to win a championship and having a team that’s well-equipped to compete for one, players who have been through the battles that ended with a title take on even greater value and significance. Theis’ talent means a lot to this Celtics team, obviously. But having championship mettle, the kind that has to exist in order to win titles over and over and over again, is priceless.