Commentary

Kris Humphries working it

While flying under radar, backup center making big contributions for Celtics

Updated: December 29, 2013, 7:48 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

As the Boston Celtics broke the huddle at the end of a recent practice, some players scurried off to the locker room, others grabbed a ball and an assistant coach then dove into some light shooting drills. At one end of Boston's training facility, Kris Humphries positioned some cones and lined up some competition.

Humphries soon launched into a series of 17s, a grueling conditioning drill in which players attempt to run back and forth on the 50-foot baseline 17 times in the span of a minute.

[+] EnlargeKris Humphries
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKris Humphries has averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds while playing stellar defense in his past 16 games.

Humphries often found himself running next to smaller, quicker guys, from rookie point guard Phil Pressey to coaching associate/head video coordinator Kwame Graves-Fulgham. The same sequence often played out: Humphries lagged behind his running mate early, then seemed to explode to the finish line on the final sprint.

Everyone watching just shook their heads. Typical Hump.

Humphries is one of the hardest workers on the Celtics. When his playing time was limited at the start of the season, the 10th-year veteran would hop on a treadmill after games to simulate what he had missed on the court.

When rookie Kelly Olynyk sprained his right ankle in late November, it opened up a door for Humphries, who has carved out a role as one of Boston's key bigs over the past 16 games.

On Saturday, Humphries was the first player off the bench for Boston and chipped in 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting with three rebounds over 17:19.

What's more, he might have provided the most under-the-radar play of the game when he switched onto Kyrie Irving late in a two-point game and denied him the ball coming off a stagger screen. Humphries alertly switched when Avery Bradley got pinned by Anderson Varejao, and he shuffled out beyond the 3-point arc on the weak side to prevent Dion Waiters from putting the ball in the hands of Mr. Fourth Quarter.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Humphries quietly has been making a lot of quality plays lately.

Humphries is averaging 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 17.4 minutes over the past 16 games. He has shot 56.3 percent from the floor, including nearly 50 percent from midrange over that span.

Humphries doesn't shoot a lot, but he's efficient when he does. In fact, only Courtney Lee has better points-per-play numbers than Humphries, who, according to Synergy Sports data, is averaging 1.014 points per play (140 points on 138 possessions) this season.

Those numbers are even glossier on the defensive side. Humphries is allowing 0.771 points per play, ranking in the 80th percentile among all NBA players. Narrow it down to players with at least 140 possessions defended this season, and Humphries ranks 30th in the league in points allowed per possession. That's the best mark on the Celtics at the moment -- not too shabby on a team that's been in the top 10 for defensive rating for much of the season.

Maybe it's because of his limited on-court role, but Humphries' numbers are practically staggering. He's second on the team in plus/minus at plus-39 (Jared Sullinger is the only regular in the positive at plus-76). By making Humphries the first big off the bench on Saturday, coach Brad Stevens essentially had the two passing the (undersized) center baton to each other.

For the season, the Celtics own a team-best offensive rating of 106.3 when Humphries is on the floor. That number dives to 97.4 when he's off. Humphries owns a defensive rating of 101.7 (nearly a half point below Boston's season average of 102.1) and his plus-4.6 net rating is best on the team.

If that's not enough, Humphries tops the team in defensive rebound percentage (23.1) and total rebound percentage (16.4). His ability to consistently put a body on other bigs and allow guards to help out on the glass has drastically improved Boston's team rebounding this month.

What does it all mean? In moderate minutes, Humphries is playing some excellent basketball, the sort that has Stevens trying to find ways to get him on the floor more (and when Sullinger struggled at times Saturday, Humphries stepped up).

Humphries is in the final year of a contract paying him a team-high $12 million this season. As an expiring deal, and being a serviceable big, he's likely to have a healthy trade market. The Celtics must decide if it's more valuable to hold onto him for the season, then figure out his future after the 2013-14 campaign.

For now, the bottom line is that Humphries deserves more attention. But every time he's been asked about his production this season, he downplays his role and keeps the focus on the team.

Humphries seemingly would prefer to go run another set of 17s than discuss his part in a win.

Typical Hump.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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