BOSTON -- Daniel Theis is on board with the across-the-board messaging coming out of Boston Celtics training camp this year, centered around building team chemistry and good habits.
Lately, Theis has made it a habit of being in the right place at the right time for the Celtics since joining the starting lineup in the last two preseason games.
And the way he has played, the 27-year-old Theis is positioning himself to be the team’s starting center.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has acknowledged that this season may be one in which the starting center position is rotated on a nightly basis depending upon matchups.
But there’s no mistaking the play of Theis has, on many levels, elevated him to top-shelf status as far as the center position is concerned.
He has been in the starting lineup each of the last two preseason games, both resulting in blowout wins for Boston (3-0).
Indeed, it has not gone unnoticed by Stevens how well Theis has fit in with the starting group that includes Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
It’s particularly noticeable on the defensive end of the floor.
“If you watch closely, that’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Stevens said. “And obviously, when you don’t start (Marcus) Smart you have your best defender coming off the bench. So, it’s really important that that group starts, able to understand when to kick guys out, when to be up, when to be back, when to react to a threat and they’re really good at it, together.”
And as far as Theis’ role, Stevens added, “Daniel’s gotten better at that over time. That’s largely the result of being here the longest. We’ve had really good defenders in (Aron) Baynes and (Al) Horford, that he’s played behind. But he’s working on all that stuff, too.”
Theis says the only thing he’s trying to accomplish when he’s on the floor, “is to be myself.”
He added, “Coaches want us to pressure, run the court; I think all of us bigs, we can run the court and pressure and play hard.”
While that’s true, one of the advantages Theis has is among the team’s big men, he is the most experienced with the Celtics system.
And at 6-foot-8 with solid lateral quickness, Theis has shown himself to be effective when having to switch out on smaller players which is becoming a more common necessity in a league where big-man defenders are challenged to limit teams that often use more non-traditional, smaller lineups.
In Boston’s blowout win at Orlando on Friday, Theis switching out defensively led to a pair of Magic turnovers in the first quarter that helped set the tone in the victory.
His ability to contest shots at the rim has enabled Boston’s wings to swoop in for rebounds which has allowed the Celtics to get out in transition which they will have to do more of this season due to the team’s overall lack of size.
The other four starters - Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum - will assume the lion’s share of the scoring load, but that’s fine with Theis.
When it comes to scoring, he doesn’t need a bunch of touches to feel involved.
But he does want to do his part to make sure he’s at least seen as a scoring threat when he’s on the floor, especially when it comes to long-range shooting.
With Horford (Philadelphia) and Baynes (Phoenix) no longer on the roster, Boston doesn’t really have a 3-point threat from the center position.
And then there’s Theis, who has shown the ability to make that shot but hasn’t taken it too often in the past.
A career 35.2 percent 3-point shooter, Theis connected on 38.8 percent of his 3’s last season.
But here’s the catch … he averaged just 1.0 attempt per game.
Knowing that he might be called upon to be more of a long-range shooter this season, Theis said improving his range was something he focused on during the offseason.
But more than the shooting, Theis wanted to best ensure that he was in good health heading into this season.
Theis was playing some of the best basketball of his NBA career when he suffered a torn meniscus injury in his left knee in March of 2018 - just weeks prior to the start of the playoffs.
Since returning to the lineup, Theis has made strengthening that knee a priority. That involves additional stretching routines as part of his usual pre-game and pre-practice warm-up routine.
But it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to play significant minutes this season.
“Like I said, when I get out there, I just want to be myself and just help us win,” Theis told NBC Sports Boston. “Rebound, defense, score, whatever they need me to do I’ll do.”
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