OK, let’s not go too far with the performance to date of Celtics rookie big man Greg Stiemsma—Jermaine O’Neal is no Wally Pipp and Stiemsma is no Lou Gehrig. But when O’Neal had to sit out Monday’s win over the Wizards because of a minor hamstring injury, it gave Stiemsma a starting role, something he could not have imagined when he signed a training-camp contract with Boston back on December 9.
But Stiemsma gave coach Doc Rivers very little reason to go back to O’Neal, providing strong interior defense, confident shooting and 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
An injury to Jermaine O’Neal gave Greg Stiemsma a chance. It could develop into a full-time starting gig. (AP photo)
“With every opportunity I’ve had I feel like I’ve tried to step up to the plate and come out and perform well, and tonight was another opportunity,” Stiemsma said. “I was happy to get the opportunity and to play well on top of that.”
Despite playing just 17.5 minutes per game over four games, Stiemsma is averaging 3.0 blocks, second in the NBA. That’s not a huge surprise, given that Stiemsma was the Defensive Player of the Year in the D-League last season. What is a surprise is that Stiemsma consistently made the Wizards pay for leaving him open. He was 5-for-7 from the field, including three perimeter jumpers. So if you’re writing up the scouting report on Stiemsma, he is a 6-11 shot-blocker who can knock down outside jumpers.
Of course, Rivers had to take some time to convince Stiemsma that he is a shooter. During training camp, Stiemsma looked around on the floor and saw guys like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. He didn’t quite feel like it was his place to shoot. It got to the point where Rivers had to stop practice.
“We had that silly day where he wouldn’t shoot and I made him stand in front of the whole team and say, ‘My name is Greg Stiemsma, I’m a shooter.’ And we kept making him repeat it,” Rivers said. “Everybody started. (It was) about two weeks ago, everybody was laughing. He said, ‘I can shoot. I’m a shooter.’ And he is. And it was good.”
Stiemsma went undrafted back in 2008 after four years at Wisconsin, mostly because he did not play much for coach Bo Ryan—he struggled with grades and was diagnosed with depression as a sophomore, which school doctors helped him overcome. In four seasons, Stiemsma averaged just 10.0 minutes per game and was not a starter, leading to a pro career in which he bounced from Turkey to South Korea and into the D-League.
But then he got his shot with the Celtics, and he is making the most of it—he has quickly become a crowd favorite. He just needs to remember to shoot.
“I’m trying to bring some energy every time,” Stiemsma said. “I take my shot when it’s there and not force anything.”