Thanks to a Kardashian scandal and its caustic off-court fallout, few NBA players have weathered a more polarizing, paparazzi-hounded basketball existence than the Boston Celtics’ Kris Humphries, who nevertheless has managed a measurably solid 10-year NBA career.
So far this season, however, Humphries—a centerpiece of the trade that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets this past summer—has found himself the odd man out on a Celtics squad struggling for an identity amidst a heady mix of early season success and the team’s more long-term grand strategy.
Through Boston’s first slate of games, Humphries’ per-game minutes (11.4), points (4.0) and rebounds (2.8) are at their lowest since 2009, his final year with the Toronto Raptors.
More curious still, Humphries, who won’t turn 29 until next February, has seen his minutes yo-yo without much rhyme or reason: 19 minutes in a thrilling 111-110 victory over the Miami Heat; zero two days later in a home loss to Orlando; 10 in a loss to Charlotte two nights after that.
All the while, Humphries’ production in Boston has remained largely unchanged when viewed through the lens of many a per-36 and advanced statistic.
|Points per-36||Rebounds per-36||FG%||PER|
So, why the sudden drop in playing time? Let’s look at the four most likely explanations for why rookie Head Coach Brad Stevens has taken to stashing such a perennially productive player.
Few teams in the NBA boast a more drastic disparity between the depths of their front and backcourt than the Celtics. With Rajon Rondo still recovering from last year’s season-ending knee injury, Boston has adopted a policy of point guard by committee—neither Avery Bradley nor Jordan Crawford boast pure point pedigrees, while rookie Phil Pressey is simply too inexperienced for Stevens to rely on.
By contrast, the Celtics boast an embarrassment of youthful riches in the frontcourt, where Brandon Bass (28), Jeff Green (27), Kelly Olynyk (22), Jared Sullinger (21) and the surprising Victor Faverani (25) have each shown flashes of productive potential as they audition for the much-discussed rebuild to come.
With the exception of Faverani, Humphries is the only one of the group whose contract doesn’t go beyond this season, suggesting the Celtics may end up trading the mercurial forward in an effort to let the team’s young frontcourt core blossom. Which leads us to our next point.
On the [trade] block:
All it takes is one look at Boston’s near-future financials to appreciate this glaring fact: The Celtics would love to find a way to move one or both of Humphries (an expiring contract making $12 million this season) and Gerald Wallace (due a whopping $30 million over the next three seasons).
But given the sheer length of the latter’s deal, it seems unlikely that General Manager Danny Ainge will find a taker before next season, when Wallace’s looming expiration might make him a more valuable chip at the trade table.
But if Humphries remains the more attractive of the two trade pieces, why hasn’t Stevens given him more burn, thereby boosting the burly forward’s bona fides?
Stevens could be operating under the assumptions that rival coaches and GMs—who, after all, have the same access to the numbers—will see that Humphries’ dearth of playing time is less about ability than it is Boston’s desire for long term cohesiveness.
After all, Humphries is still an expiring contract, which as many know can often be a much more attractive commodity than any real-time stats or specs.
Early fun and long runs:
Through the first few weeks of the NBA season, fans and management alike have been treated to something of a logic-defying phenomenon: The plucky play of the league’s youth-laden, seemingly draft-destined squads.
The Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic, the Phoenix Suns, Boston: each has easily bested expectations in the early going. Not surprisingly, much of the attendant credit has gone to a new crop of coaches, each of whom look to be challenging—if not openly defying—their respective front offices’ tanking templates: Brett Brown in Philly, Jacque Vaughn in Orlando, Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix and Boston’s Stevens, perhaps the most touted of the group.
When it was announced back in July that the Celtics had inked Stevens—at the time a rising star at Butler University renowned for his creative basketball mind and reliance on advanced statistics—to a six-year, $22 million fully-guaranteed contract, many bristled at Boston's gambit.
But regardless of the public perception, the message from Danny Ainge and the rest of the Boston brass couldn’t have been clearer: The Celtics were rebuilding, and they were doing it around Stevens. Kris Humphries was merely one piece in one move of many to bring that transformation about.
A question of fit:
Setting aside for the moment matters of fiscals and franchise direction, one simple fact remains: Kris Humphries isn’t a Brad Stevens player. In six, increasingly storied seasons at the helm of the Butler Bulldogs, Stevens cultivated a basketball culture predicated on intelligence and fundamentals.
And the most successful Butler teams were the ones in which positional versatility was of the utmost—particularly in the frontcourt, where the likes of Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard wielded a combination of perimeter savvy and deep-post deftness to terrorize opposing defenses and create optimal spacing for teammates.
For all his tangible skills and serviceable shooting, Kris Humphries simply doesn’t mirror that template in the same way that a Bass, Olynyk, Faverani, or Sullinger does.
Being so early in a long and winding season—and with a coach who has staked his claim on a calling card of creativity—all of this is subject to change. But even if Humphries’ Boston stint ends absent much fanfare, his youth and longstanding statistical production should land him another gig.
Such as it is with today's NBA, where fitting in so often trumps putting up.