The Celtics’ center position was always going to be a spot for experimentation this season given the fluid nature of the depth chart. Daniel Theis laid claim to the starting spot thanks to a strong preseason and an injury that sidelined Enes Kanter in the opener, flourishing early on as the C’s rolled out to a 10-1 start largely with Kanter watching on the bench.
However, as the C’s have fallen back to earth in the last few weeks without Gordon Hayward (5-4 in their last nine), the same has been true of the C’s with Daniel Theis on the floor. Out of all their centers, the C’s remain at their best defensively with Theis patrolling the paint, but the offense has stalled (102.0 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor over the last 11 games. He isn’t taking 3s (12 percent from deep), isn’t finishing much around the rim, and that combined with Hayward’s absence has contributed to Boston’s offensive struggles a bit.
A more glaring issue at center has come a bit further down the roster however with Rob Williams. The second-year center excites the masses with his shot-blocking and dunk finishes but from a team perspective, there has not been a lot to like about this season when he’s playing. Since his breakout performance in San Antonio, the Celtics’ defense has actually been at its worst (112 points allowed per 100 possessions) when Williams is on the floor out of all the rotation regulars in 127 minutes. When you combine that with his subpar offensive capabilities, the C’s have a dreadful -13.7 net rating with Williams on the court over the past 11 games.
In contrast, Kanter has been a source of easy offense for the C’s with his rebounding and finishing around the basket. In the same stretch, while playing predominantly with the reserves, the Celtics have a 120.2 offensive rating (10 points above their season average) with Kanter on the court. And while Kanter’s defense is unquestionably a liability individually at times, the team has been 12 points better defensively than Williams (101.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Kanter on the court.
Playing time remains relatively limited for Kanter despite this success though. Here’s a breakdown of big minutes in the 11 games since he’s returned from injury.