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Boston Celtics Would Be Wise to Make Jonas Jerebko a Part of Their Future

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2015

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 11:  Jonas Jerebko #8 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the first quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at TD Garden on March 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics made a splash at the trade deadline when they pried an offensive prodigy named Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns for pennies on the dollar. 

But lost in the immediate commotion was a second deal with the Detroit Pistons. Somehow, someway, Boston managed to turn a 643-year-old Tayshaun Prince into two foreign role players: 27-year-old Luigi Datome and 28-year-old Jonas Jerebko.

Both are free agents after this season. The jury is still out on whether Datome is worthy of an NBA roster spot, but Jerebko is a 28-year-old stud with size and a smooth shooting stroke. Boston would be wise to keep him around. 

Mar 4, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5) fouls Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Since entering the rotation on February 25, Jerebko has delivered the healthy dose of outside shooting Boston sorely craves.

He’s shooting 53.8 percent from beyond the arc, which is sustainable until it isn't, launching threes at a higher rate than at any point in his four-year career. His true shooting percentage is an unbelievable .632 and his player efficiency rating is 18.8—up from a career average of 14.4. 

Individual shooting numbers are great, but all they do is show that Jerebko is capable of being efficient in limited playing time through a 10-game sample size. Where his real value comes into play is as a versatile pawn in Boston's quirky lineup construction.

Mar 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) battles for a rebound during the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Celtics won 104-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. H
USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics don’t have any true centers on their roster not named Tyler Zeller, which has forced Brad Stevens to get creative. That’s great news for Boston, because Stevens is the type of coach who thrives on a losing hand. Jerebko has quickly turned into one of his most helpful weapons.

The 6’10” Jerebko helps space the floor, unclogging the paint for the Celtics' slew of speedy ball-handlers. Here's one minor example: After Thomas gets a step on his man thanks to Kelly Olynyk’s screen, he immediately attacks the paint. Why is the lane so open? Several reasons, one being that Jerebko has nearly dragged Anthony Davis all the way to the free-throw line. 

NBA.com

Sometimes he plays at his natural NBA position: power forward. And sometimes things get weird and Jerebko is asked to be a center. As of Friday, Boston’s second-most-used unit since February 25 (when Jerebko entered the rotation) has been him, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Thomas and James Young. 

That’s five capable three-point threats, and nearly all can either screen or run a pick-and-roll with the ball in their hands. The versatility is astounding, and it’s no wonder they’re averaging just over 112 points per 100 possessions in 22 minutes of action. 

Expanding these numbers out into a larger sample size, in the 68 minutes Jerebko’s shared the floor with Thomas and Crowder, Boston’s outscored opponents by 36.4 points per 100 possessions; the trio’s offensive rating clocks in at a NSFW 134.6 points per 100 possessions. 

According to the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge had this to say after getting his man:

Jerebko’s somebody that we’ve tried to get before. We like shooting bigs. I love guys that know how to play and can shoot 3’s and have length. As a spacer at the 4 position, I’ve always liked him. And that’s what he does well is spread the floor. He can shoot the 3 and he can attack close-outs. He just knows how to play.

Stevens later echoed his boss’s thoughts, courtesy of MassLive’s Jay King:

He's a big that can shoot, play the 3 or the 4, space the floor. I think what he's really good at is driving closeouts, so I like his skill set. The obvious thing is the size. (Jerebko has) size, he's got the ability to stretch the floor. He does fit well with what we're trying to do, so that makes a lot of sense.

Offensively there has been somewhat of a seamless fit, but defensively there have been a few growing pains. Jerebko is a large human but pales in comparison to NBA centers at 231 pounds, and his ability to hold things down as Boston's tallest player has been a mixed bag.

The positives are basic matchups. Most teams do not have backup centers who boast an array of devastating post moves. It allows Boston to throw Jerebko on guys who are taller and heavier than he is, without fear of them attacking him over and over again on the block.

In a recent win over the Memphis Grizzlies, this strategy worked perfectly against Kosta Koufos. When Boston had the ball, Jerebko would pull Memphis’ 7-footer away from the rim and let the offense breathe. When it didn’t, the Grizzlies ran their offense as they normally do and didn’t focus on dumping the ball down low to take advantage of a mismatch that could potentially throw everything out of its natural rhythm. 

But as a help defender—someone who can slide across the paint, contest shots and consistently have an impact on the glass—Jerebko is understandably not an answer. He isn’t supposed to protect the rim, though, and shouldn’t be viewed as a poor defender because he’s forced to anchor some of the smallest lineups in the entire league. 

He’s a solid well-rounded athlete who moves his feet, has great intuition and can switch on most pick-and-rolls. That’s a nice piece to have, and the Celtics have held opponents to three fewer points per 100 possessions when he plays

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 11:  Kosta Koufos #41 of the Memphis Grizzlies carries the ball against Jonas Jerebko #8 of the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at TD Garden on March 11, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Jerebko will make $4.5 million this season, which is a fair price for his skill set. The Celtics should be OK offering something similar (given the raised cap) on a multiyear deal. But if he continues to play this well and helps push Boston into the playoffs, there's a real chance that price tag goes up.

For the Celtics, despite Jerebko's relatively old age, he still makes sense as a quality role player who makes everyone around him better and can be utilized in several different ways. If the price is right, the Celtics should lock him up. 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.

Michael Pina is an NBA writer who lives in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.

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