Of all the new players Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge brought in to briefly replace Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and six years of rewarding basketball, 25-year-old Vitor Faverani had by far the lowest expectations.
To most (meaning everyone who doesn’t regularly watch Spain’s Liga ACB), he was an unknown commodity, a player who figured to help more with Boston’s on-the-hush tanking mentality than the more traditional goal: actually winning games. But there he was in the starting lineup on opening night, either strictly because he was the team’s biggest body, or he’d actually impressed head coach Brad Stevens with some solid all-around play in the preseason.
There's really no other word but shocking to describe Faverani's first 60 minutes in the NBA. In those two games, he was a monster, tallying 25 points, nine blocks and 21 rebounds (including a truly impressive 12-point, 18-rebound, six-block performance against the Milwaukee Bucks and their deep, octopus-armed front line).
He displayed solid post moves (including a soft left-handed hook shot), he was a human roadblock setting screens for all Boston's ball-handlers on the perimeter, and he displayed excellent intuition for moving in space.
Dare it be said, but when he spent those first two contests as the hub of Boston's offense from the elbow, going down to the post to get good looks at the rim whenever he wanted, then stepping outside and knocking down mid-range jumpers, Faverani looked like Boston's own little Marc Gasol.
Here he is in Boston's opener, participating in a stagger screen-and-roll with Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley. After setting the initial pick, Faverani rolls to the basket and draws several Raptors into the paint. Meanwhile, Bass pops to the top of the key and, thanks to the space afforded by Faverani's movement, is able to make a quick scoring move.
It's a simple play the Celtics have run with Faverani a few times this season.
Understandably, Faverani's fallen back to Earth since his impressive start. During a November 6 victory against the Utah Jazz, he was pulled after six minutes of listless play and didn’t see the court again.
Defensively, he's smart but still adjusting to the NBA's blazing speed. As of Friday night, Faverani's 11 blocks placed him at sixth-best in the league, but since the second game against Milwaukee (where he tallied over half his total), he's sometimes found himself out of position on back-line rotations.
According to SportVU, opponents are making 49.2 percent of their 8.8 attempts at the rim per game against Faverani. League average on shots in the restricted area is just below 60 percent (subscription required), but it's still too early to gauge whether Faverani is a barbed wire barricade masquerading as a man or someone who coincidentally finds himself in the right place at the right time. (The former is more likely, but we'll see.)
Again, it’s really early, and benching a player who’s performed poorly in four games after thriving in two may be rash. But Faverani’s on/off numbers have been a nightmare. Boston’s offense is scoring 85.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court while allowing 105.1 on the other end, according to NBA.com (subscription required).
Faverani is also the only Celtic who watches his team average over one point per possession when seated on the bench. Everyone else on the roster is below that mark.
Boston is outscoring opponents by 12 points per 100 possessions when Faverani is sitting and getting outscored by 19.9(!) points per 100 possessions when he's playing.
Keep three things in mind. First, The Celtics have only played six games. Second, the Celtics are an atrocious offensive team. Third, Faverani has spent most of his time playing against opposing starting lineups that include Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Sanders and Nikola Vucevic.
He's still finding himself, and Brad Stevens is still figuring out where Faverani fits best on the court. Friday night against the Orlando Magic, he spent a good amount of his 17 minutes on the perimeter on offense, much to the relief of his defenders.
Look at how Jason Maxiell could not care less that Faverani is behind the three-point line. The Magic are much more concerned with packing the paint and, on this particular possession, cutting off Avery Bradley's drive to the basket.
Either Faverani establishes himself as a legitimate threat out there (he's currently shooting 22.2 percent on three-pointers), or Stevens needs to figure out a way to get him involved closer to the basket. Faverani can set screens, move well without the ball, finish around the rim and make quality interior passes well enough to the point where things should eventually work themselves out.
Back in July, Ainge signed Faverani to a three-year, $6.27 million deal, with the third year completely non-guaranteed. That’s fantastic money for a 6’11” big man who possesses touch, vision and basketball intelligence. Did they get a steal? Of course.
Faverani isn't Hakeem Olajuwon, but he can play at the NBA level. Given the market value of a serviceable starting center in today's league (and the probability Faverani improves throughout this season and in years to come), any team in the league would love to have him at that price.
The Celtics are lucky he's theirs.