There's been a whole lot of Shaq talk recently due to the fact that he's actually near a basketball court and traveling with a real-life NBA team. Celtics' fans have yet to see their team's finished product due to his injury and his week-long return that's now pushing a month.
Lost in the hustle and bustle that is Shaq is Nenad Krstic, the "throw-in" that many people thought was here to help Jeff Green carry his bags from the airport. For a guy who's been thrust into a starting role for one of the favorites to win the NBA championship, Krstic has more than held his own and has turned a lot of skeptics into believers. He's held down the fort admirably as the Celtics look to get healthy.
With that said, Krstic is playing the role of gap-filler right now. The starting center job is only his until the Big Band-Aid is healthy enough to get on the floor again. When that happens, Krstic will be joining Green on the bench, but at this point he's played himself into a one-of-the-first-guys-off-the-bench role. According to Krstic, he's fine with that.
"I think Shaq deserves to start," Krstic said. "He got hurt. He was a starter before he got hurt and I think he gets that job back."
Krstic has averaged better than 12 points and seven rebounds since arriving from the Thunder. He said coming off the bench will be an adjustment but he is up for the challenge. "It’s different. You prepare differently for the game," he said. "Pretty much all my career I’ve been a starter but I don’t really mind coming off the bench. Whatever it takes. Especially with this team, it doesn’t really matter."
Seriously, where do the Celtics find these guys? You know, just another unselfish guy who doesn't mind whether he starts or plays with the second unit. He just does whatever the team asks of him. No drama, no need for special attention and no complaints. Just going out there and doing his job.
But back to the point at hand. Krstic will be a huge addition to the Celtics' bench and it shows when he's out there with the starters. He hustles like there's no tomorrow, he isn't afraid to bang on the glass and he stretches the defense. Krstic knows what his job is and he's out there to do it, nothing more. Even more importantly, he's shed the "soft European" title that many Celtics fans (including yours truly) placed on him immediately after the trade.
Krstic's energy level makes him perfect for a bench role. The starters often look to the bench to bring up the energy level when they need to catch their wind. The second unit isn't out there to keep a game close, but to extend a lead and give the team a much-needed jolt during lulls and struggles. There's a reason why Glen Davis is a perfect bench player and seems to struggle when asked to do some spot-starting duty. The roles are different, as is the mindset.
As a starter, I think Nenad Krstic already plays in a bench role with the Celtics as he did for Oklahoma City. He's not called upon to be "the guy" or do anything special. That's not his game. The team knows his strengths and Krstic knows his strengths. He is a perfect change-up from Shaq, the big-bodied, earth-shattering man who grows roots in the middle. Krstic will force opposing coaches to change their defenses in order to guard him on the perimeter, opening up the middle for guys like Delonte West and Carlos Arroyo to run around and make plays.
Defensively, he's still not there. He continues to look lost every once in a while and is still slow on rotations and switches. Maybe that comes, maybe it doesn't. Regardless, a reserve frontcourt of Davis and Krstic is one that any NBA coach would love to have.
Luckily, the Celtics will.