Commentary

Mickael Pietrus flourishing with Celtics

Swingman brings smiles with energy and offense, but eyes improvement on defense

Updated: February 18, 2012, 11:56 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

CHICAGO -- Mickael Pietrus rarely stops smiling, but the ninth-year swingman turned serious earlier this week while assessing his recent play.

"Even though the team's happy with how I'm playing, I'm not happy with myself -- I think I can give a lot more," he said. "I think the second part of the season, you're going to see a different MP."

Pietrus is being a bit harsh in his self-evaluation. He's been just short of exceptional at both ends of the court since arriving as the Boston Celtics' best holiday gift after being inked off waivers on Christmas Eve.

[+] EnlargeMickael Pietrus
AP Photo/Amy SancettaMickael Pietrus has been the Celtics' No. 1 addition.

Sure, he's battling a mini-funk the past three games, connecting on just two of his past nine shots and missing his past seven 3-pointers, but it's hardly anything to get worked up about at the moment. Even still, it's caused Pietrus to reflect a bit on his offensive contributions, particularly as he continues to work his way back from offseason surgery on his right knee.

"When you hurt your knee in some kind of way, you're afraid that you'll do the same thing again to hurt the knee," explained Pietrus. "So you see me, I haven't driven to the basket the way I want to, so I'm basically trying to be a spot-up 3-point shooter, but this is not who I want to be. I can make 3s, but I want to shoot more free throws. And the other part of my game, I have to get better guarding the ball, defensively. That's the championship mind, and I want to give more. Even though [the Celtics are] happy, I'm not happy."

The idea of Pietrus as anything short of euphoric is practically unfathomable. He wears a permanent grin and spends most of his time making those around him smile with his joking nature.

Like when he walked through a crowded locker room one day last week lamenting the idea of having to buy gifts for Valentine's Day. "Fellas, don't date anyone until the 15th," he announced.

Or, after giving an in-house interview following a win earlier this month at TD Garden, Pietrus playfully -- if not unexpectedly -- grabbed the mike and let out a primal scream that rattled the entire arena.

That's just how he rolls.

From singing LMFAO in postgame interviews to inviting reporters over for French cuisine to showing off his dance moves, he's the Chad Ochocinco of the Celtics (though more restrained on Twitter and far more productive on the field of play).

Given the Celtics' veteran nucleus that's been in place for five seasons, this isn't exactly an easy locker room to step into. You never know how a team will respond to a bombastic personality like Pietrus', but his on-court production and championship determination made him an instant hit among teammates.

The coaching staff loves him, too. Last week, Doc Rivers used Pietrus' instant knowledge of the playbook to illustrate what a professional he is. It took just one appearance for Pietrus to leapfrog Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels on the depth chart, cementing his spot as a key rotation player.

We'd be lying if we didn't admit he's also a reporter's dream, willing to stand in front of the microphones and cameras any time he's asked and having fun with those chores. Before each game, TV crews are sent into the locker room to get generic game preparation shots that you see at the top of the game broadcast. Maybe you'll see Rajon Rondo tying his shoes or Paul Pierce walking to the trainer's room. Put a camera on Pietrus and he'll dance along to his iPod before emphatically pointing at the camera. Yes, he just gets it.

[+] EnlargeMickael Pietrus
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesMickael Pietrus maintains a championship mindset even while playing to the crowd.

What's more, Pietrus just genuinely seems to love what he does. It shows on the court as each 3-pointer at the Garden is typically greeted with him gesturing toward the fans in the front rows or puffing out his jersey in celebration.

Despite cooling lately, Pietrus is shooting 37.5 percent beyond the arc this season, adding a much-needed 3-point presence off the bench. According to Synergy Sports data, he's averaging 0.986 points per play, which ranks him in the 83rd percentile overall among all NBA players.

The Celtics have tried posting him up to limited returns (Synergy data reveals he's 0-for-2 on post attempts, but did get to the foul line for three free throws in seven total plays there). Pietrus once averaged two shots per game at the rim with the Orlando Magic, but he's at a mere 0.6 shots per game at the rim this season, according to HoopData. Hence his urge to diversify his offensive output.

Pietrus is also playing some inspired defense, potentially showing the ability to serve a Tony Allen-like role as defensive pest against opposing scorers (he thrives against shooting guards, but can handle small forwards). Pietrus is allowing 0.761 points per play this season, according to Synergy Sports, ranking him in the 78th percentile overall. He's struggled in isolation but fights through screens well and is stout when players post him up.

All in all, the Celtics have to be thrilled. Rotation players don't fall into your lap like Pietrus did the day before the season started. At his veteran minimum salary ($1.2 million), part of which is paid by the league because it's a one-year deal, makes him one of the top bargains in the NBA this season.

And you can't put a price on his personality.

Spotting a reporter's iPhone last week, he politely asked if he could borrow it for a moment.

"Can I ask Siri a question?" an excited Pietrus said, eager to try out Apple's virtual assistant. He proceeded to hold a humorous back-and-forth with the phone, trying to determine if he'd get his first taste of New England snow anytime soon (his accent working against him in that quest for weather information).

Neither Doc Rivers nor Danny Ainge needs Siri to tell them if Pietrus is working out in Boston. Like the player, they are all smiles.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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