I have been lightly jabbing Ryan ever since the Sacramento game when he offered his not-so-delicate scouting report of Greg Stiemsma. I can only imagine his succinct, “Greg Stiemsma is not an NBA player” was a fueled by frustration. I don’t have any particular memories of Stiemsma from that night because the only thing I see when I close my eyes is Marcus Thornton raining threes from the left wing. Seriously, the image still haunts me to this day. The rest is just a green and purple blur.
I don’t know a single person who didn’t shake their head after that game, so let me be the first to say I’ve been unfair to my dear friend Ryan. First of all, that game against Sacramento was pathetically awful and no Celtic should have escaped the wrath of those who cover them (similar to the recap of a Raptors loss from earlier in the season that some idiot wrote). Second of all, clearly publishing those words had some cosmic effect on the StiemCleanah because he has been on an absolute tear since.
Here are Stiemsma’s stats from the nine games after the loss in NorCal:
I’m pretty sure the last time Jermaine O’Neal stuffed the stat sheet like that he was wearing Blue and Yellow. Perhaps even more impressive/encouraging is the spike in Stiemsma’s minutes. Surprisingly, Doc Rivers has consistently kept Kevin Garnett on the 5 on/5 off plan and Stiemsma is his primary (perhaps only) replacement. When the Celtics played Sacramento, Stiemsma was averaging a little more than 10 minutes a game. That number has risen considerably in this nine game stretch which has provided KG more rest and Stiemsma more opportunity to showcase what he can do; mostly block shots.
While Greg is primarily a shot blocker, he’s also shown all of us that he is a pretty deadly mid-range shooter with an extremely quick-release set shot. It’ll be interesting to see if he’ll ever be paired with Hollins going forward making him the primary stretch four. While I want to see it out of pure morbid curiosity, I’m not entirely sure how much Ryan Hollins I want to see, making this pairing problematic.
Along with the shooting and the shot blocking, Stiemsma has also proven to be quite the cerebral player. He’s picked up the Celtics complicated defensive rotations and recovers well for weakside blocks. Nothing has shown how well Stiemsma’s been able to pick up the defensive rotations more than the charge he took on Chris Bosh on Sunday. In the beginning of the season, that was a dunk.
Lately, the only complaint about Stiemsma has been his propensity to give up And-1s. Before the Heat game, Doc Rivers told the media that he laid into Greg for giving soft fouls and giving Minnesota some free points. I asked Greg about that after the Heat game, another one in which he gave up some And-1s:
Yeah, I’ve given up kind of a couple of And-1s lately and it bothers me as much as I think it does him. Not trying to hurt guys or anything like that but if I’m going to get a foul, I gotta try to get piece of the ball so I don’t let the And-1s go. I gotta kinda keep working on that and not pick up the cheap ones–a light foul–still, it’s a foul but you got to get a piece of the ball.
You can tell Greg is trying to avoid getting fined, and I don’t blame him. While it’s true he’s been giving up And-1s, I think a lot of it has to do with the “light fouls”. So much of those “light fouls” getting called has to do with familiarity. These officials just aren’t used to seeing Stiemsma at all, let alone be successful. Officials will always err on the side of blowing the whistle if a play is close and involves an undrafted free agent like Stiemsma. I asked him about that familiarity, and he wisely dismissed the notion:
It’s all part of the game, especially being a shot blocker I know I’m going to put myself in those situations to get fouls called even more. They call them. There’s nothing you can do. Just keep playing through it. That’s why you get six of them. I try to use up every one. As long as I’m not hurting the team getting too many fouls, I think that’s going to be my role.
Stiemsma’s saying all the right things and isn’t criticizing the officials because he can’t. Luckily, I can. Like a said above, Stiemsma’s only going to get the benefit of the doubt the more he plays. Right now, the officials aren’t going to give him an inch. Still, you have to admire the approach Greg takes. He understands the officials are going to call fouls and he’s going to continue to play hard, be aggressive, and soak up minutes.
And he’s going to have to if the Celtics hope to make any kind of meaningful playoff run. A lot of people will point to Mickael Pietrus being a bench x-factor going into the playoffs. They’re not entirely wrong, but the Celtics are incredibly thin up front and when the rotations shorten, Greg will be it off the bench. Luckily, he’s showing all of us now that he’s ready to be that big off the bench.