Boston Celtics Player Review: Jonas Jerebko


While Boston Celtics fans brandish the #SignTheSwede hashtag, a clever little jingle coined by play-by-play man Mike Gorman, it’s paramount for Boston’s offseason plans that Danny Ainge be patient. Jonas Jerebko was a perfect complementary piece for the rampaging bench mob the Celtics found themselves with after the Isaiah Thomas trade.

The 6’10” Swede immediately caught on with Celtics fans, going 4 of 6 and then 3 of 4 from three-point territory in his first two games of meaningful action. He went 13 of 22 from deep in his first seven games, and that was all that was needed to get everyone in Boston hooked.

Jerebko finished a tidy 40.6% from beyond the arc in his time with the Celtics, and this dangerous shooting ability from the “4” allowed Isaiah Thomas to dart around ball screens with clear paths to the basket.

Jerebko played nearly all his minutes in lineups featuring Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Kelly Olynyk, and the majority of those with one of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, or Evan Turner. He’s a pure stretch four, and fits the “European guy” stereotype to a T: a big man who knows how to move the ball and knock down open jumpers.

Apr 15, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) dunks against Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) in the third quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Celtics beat the Bucks 105-100. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

He can scoot around pretty well on defense, and the Celtics actually became 8 points stingier per 100 possessions on that end with Jerebko in the game; the Celtics allowed only 94.7 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup, stiffer than Golden State’s league-best 98.2 mark by 3-and-a-half points.

His decent foot speed allows him to switch onto wing players during pick-and-roll scenarios as the shot clock is winding down, and he has enough meat on them bones to bang around with the big boys down low.

The Celtics’ offense totally transformed with Jerebko in the lineup; over 40% of their shots came from beyond the arc when he was on the floor, a substantial rate. That’s to be expected when you play most of your minutes alongside another stretch big man in Kelly Olynyk.

It was beautiful to watch, really, as Thomas wheeled and probed around pick after pick after pick. If even the slightest crease opened up, he’d attack full force and either put up one of those funky, twisting layups or find the open man spotting up on the perimeter.

As big men, Jerebko and Olynyk’s ability to draw their defenders away from the basket mitigated the presence of those daunting rim protectors in the paint. And the team didn’t appear to forfeit much on the glass with that pairing either, which is surprising since one of them apparently “can’t box out to save his life.”

If Isaiah Thomas were a pile of dry tinder poised to combust, then Jerebko is that first spark, ready to set him aflame. Thomas’ offensive rating (the amount of points the Celtics score per 100 possessions when he is on the floor) ballooned to a staggering 116.3 when he shared the parquet with Jerebko, up from (a still staggering) 109.2 across all lineups.

This all comes back to the Swede’s ability to nail trifectas; defenders simply must stay glued to Jerebko when he spots up around Thomas ball screens set by another teammate. Just watch Jason Maxiell at the 1:05 mark of the following Youtube clip; he can’t decide whether to crash in to bust up the pick-and roll between Thomas and Crowder up top, and when he finally lurches over late, it leaves Jerebko with a wide open look.

If the Celtics did so well with Jerebko on the court, why wouldn’t they want to lock him up for the future? I mean, if you just watch that Youtube video, he’s everything you want in a rotation big man: he follows up misses for easy tip-ins, keeps the ball zipping around the perimeter, and hustles after loose balls.

But the truth is, there’s a lot of noise in his statistical performance because Jerebko’s minutes primarily matched up against other teams’ bench units. That’s not to discount the guy or say his game isn’t translatable; if you’re 6’10”, can shoot, and don’t drag the defense down on the other end of the floor, you’re going to get playing time anywhere.

But Jerebko isn’t the kind of impact signing that’s going to get your team over the hump and into that exclusive club of contendership. Yes, it’s important to have quality role players if you want to compete at the highest level, but the Celtics are essentially a team full of solid role players, and that just won’t cut it for a team and city used to hanging banners.

And Jerebko has his limitations. Even though he has a solid first step for his size, he’s far from a scary finisher off the bounce, and he mostly attacks closeouts in order to draw defenders and kick to the open teammate. He shot a measly 37.1% on drives to the hoop last year, per’s SportVu tracking data.

On defense, he’s somewhat of a tweener: solid at most things, but not great at anything. He’s 28, right in the middle of what should be his prime years, so prospects for major improvement are minimal; for the most part, he is what he is at this point.

Jan 26, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge looks on prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The front office will likely renounce his Bird Rights — named after Larry Bird, Bird Rights mean that a team can re-sign one of its own players by exceeding the salary cap — and thus his cap hold, which would free up around another $5 million in cap space this summer to chase a max-level player (or two!).

Ainge likes what the Swedish marksman brings to the team — and Jerebko has reciprocated these sentiments in various interviews — but it will be wise to wait it out and see what the Celtics can acquire on draft night and in the early waves of free agency, when a lot of the big names will be shopping around.

It’s uncertain what kind of figure Jerebko will command on the open market, but if a team can lock him up for $6 million or so for a number of years, that will look like a bargain when the cap takes a hop-skip-and-a-jump (add in another couple jumps, for good measure) next summer.

No matter where he lands, Jerebko is bound to have a positive impact. He came into his own this season with the Celtics after departing from a weird situation amid a crowded frontcourt in Detroit. A fun player with an effective game. It’d be great to see him back in Boston!

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