Before the season began, the future of Daniel Theis was a murky proposition. Tristan Thompson was signed by the Celtics to add some interior strength and rebounding while Rob Williams loomed as a young player with terrific potential waiting in the wings. That left Theis, who entered this season on a $5 million expiring deal, as a bit of a wildcard.
Would he remain starting center after running away with the job in training camp last season? Would there be enough room for him to play meaningful minutes alongside Thompson and Williams? These were all fair questions for the 28-year-old who had emerged as a crucial role player on this roster for the last two seasons.
Brad Stevens tried to get around a lot of these conundrums early on this year by moving Theis to the power forward spot in the starting five to free up big minutes elsewhere. He had played very little power forward in his career in the NBA but the move helped create more minutes for Rob Williams off the bench and allowed the C’s to work on a double-big lineup that Stevens believed the team could use down the line.
The early results were ugly (-18.7 net rating in 11 games) for that double big unit before an incredible turnaround during Boston’s last two wins (+62.7 net rating in last two games). That impressive swing in fortune makes it a unit that might not be put on the back burner just yet when this team gets a healthy core back on Wednesday night in San Antonio.
However, as the Celtics shift to a smaller starting five (with Marcus Smart presumably holding onto his spot) one thing has become very clear: Daniel Theis is far and away the best center on this roster at the moment.
While Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have received the lion’s share of the headlines (rightfully so) for their hot starts, Theis has quietly done his job at a very efficient rate. He’s thrived in his minutes without Thompson at center and has made the best of his time at power forward in the past two weeks as well, emerging as an offensive threat in all parts of the floor. His 3-point shooting has increased to a respectable 33 percent after a slow start but his far bigger impact has come inside the arc where he finds himself in a stellar spot: Best 2-point shooter in the NBA (among qualifiers).
Theis is shooting 76.1 percent from two-point range, which is far and away the best mark in the NBA among players that attempt six shots per game. Theis is shooting better than rim runners like Richaun Holmes, Mitchell Robinson and Myles Turner from short distance, helping prop the Celtics up to a top-8 NBA offense as of Tuesday in the process.
The most impressive part of Theis’ hot early start is how he is doing it. The 6-foot-8 center isn’t just taking all his shots at the rim among 2-pointers, he’s turned into a reliable jump shooter from all parts of the floor.
At the rim: 80 percent (40 percent of shot attempts)
3-10 feet: 62.5 percent (16 percent of shot attempts)
10-16 feet: 75 percent (8 percent of shot attempts)
16 feet-3-point line: 85.7 percent (7 percent of shot attempts)
These numbers won’t sustain over the long-term but Theis (when healthy) has always been an elite finisher at the basket (74