Commentary

Colton Iverson ready to bang heads

Danny Ainge, Celtics had eye on bruising second-round pick for quite some time

Updated: July 3, 2013, 12:40 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

It says a little something about the type of player the Boston Celtics drafted when some of the first results of a YouTube search on Colton Iverson includes him breaking a rim and setting a bone-crunching screen.

The just-turned 24-year-old Iverson (Saturday was his birthday; and he celebrated with a Celtics-themed cake) is a 7-foot, 265-pound bruiser who comes with a reputation of reveling in the dirty work. He rebounds, he sets (hard) screens, he delivers hard fouls and he does it all with a relentless intensity.

[+] EnlargeColton Iverson
AP Photo/Steven SenneColton Iverson took a chance by transferring from Minnesota to Colorado State, but his hard work made the move pay off.

Ask those who have watched Iverson play and they'll tell you about his mean streak and toughness on the court. Looking at the South Dakota kid with a happy-to-be-here smile during Boston's rookie introductions on Monday, it seemed impossible that he could be a particularly beastly baller.

Then you watch him bury an unsuspecting UNLV guard with a spine-adjusting screen last season and you understand where the reputation comes from (as the description so perfectly describes the clip, "Boooooom!")

The Celtics sent cash considerations to the Indiana Pacers to buy the 53rd pick in last week's draft. Available that late in the yearly pick-a-palooza, Iverson faces an uphill battle to prove he belongs in the NBA, but the Boston brass likes him an awful lot.

"Colton is a player that we were excited by in the draft and had him ranked much higher than he ended up going," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. "We were really fortunate to acquire a second-round pick to get Colton.

"Colton is a kid that we've watched since his freshman year of college at the University of Minnesota. We loved his intensity from Day 1 and identified him as someone that we needed to keep a real close eye on."

Iverson spent two seasons with the Gophers but elected to sit out a year and transfer to Colorado State with the goal of increasing his on-court opportunities.

During his senior season with the Rams, Iverson averaged 14.2 points and 9.8 rebounds over 29.5 minutes per game. He shot 59.6 percent from the floor and was one of the nation's most efficient offensive players (according to Synergy Sports data, he averaged 1.043 points per play, ranking in the 90th percentile among all Division 1 players).

Don't be misguided. Iverson's offensive limitations are a big reason that he was available among the draft's final picks. But his advanced numbers suggest a player who thrives in the post (1.013 points per play, 89th percentile), making the most of opportunities created in the pick-and-roll.

Still, Iverson's space-eating ability and rebounding talents are what will determine if he can carve out a role at the NBA level.

"When he transferred to Colorado State, you could see how his work ethic and intensity continued, his confidence grew with opportunities," Ainge said. "[Iverson was] one of the leading rebounders in the country. You know, for a guy to rebound at the level that he rebounded, it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of effort. He's put a lot of work into his body and he's gotten much stronger. And [he] just has a great intensity about him."

Soon after the draft, reports indicated that Iverson might consider a season overseas. Iverson denied that any such plan is on his mind, noting at Monday's introduction that, "The Boston Celtics drafted me and I have every intention of playing with them next year."

That means he'll have to put his best foot forward when the Celtics trek to Orlando for summer league later this week. With the team potentially facing a logjam in the frontcourt, it might benefit both parties if Iverson spends a season overseas (he gets a healthy payday and an introduction to pro ball; the Celtics save a roster spot while planning for the future).

At age 24, however, Iverson has made it a goal to latch on with Boston and plans to show what he can bring in Orlando.

"I think my best basketball is playing five-on-five; so if I can get in, get rebounds, get stops, set screens, get in the pick-and-roll -- that's what a lot of the NBA is nowadays, pick-and-roll, and that's my strength," he said. "Just do the little things and show the team that I'm ready to play right away."

Iverson appears to thrive against long odds. Many were leery of his decision to transfer from Minnesota to Colorado State.

"I wouldn't be [drafted] right now if I didn't make that decision to transfer," Iverson said. "I improved a lot in the season off, did everything I needed to work on in my game, and you could see my growth my senior year. It definitely paid off, I got drafted and I'm looking forward to a long NBA career."

Added Iverson: "I knew it was a risk -- high-risk, high-reward situation. Most people were definitely saying, 'You're crazy. What are you doing?' Now that I'm here, everyone's saying they didn't say it."

But Iverson has had supporters in Boston for some time, his agent, Adam Pensack, told The Coloradoan last week.

"During the season, maybe even before I even talked to Colton or his family, I spoke with the people in Boston, and they said they liked Colton back then," Pensack said. "[Celtics director of player personnel] Austin Ainge said all along that he really believes Colton is an NBA player. He has been probably Colton's No. 1 fan throughout the entire season and throughout the entire draft process."

Iverson knows the Celtics are in transition after dealing away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- a move that overshadowed his own draft night, as some Boston fans were unaware that the team had even bought Indiana's pick to nab him.

Iverson grew up a Garnett fan. Being from northeast South Dakota, he was a Minnesota Timberwolves fan and said his family sometimes made the five-hour trek to Minneapolis to catch games.

While learning under Garnett might have been an intriguing prospect, Iverson doesn't back down from the idea of going against him on the floor.

"Now that I'm here, I don't look up to anyone really," said Iverson, showing a bit of that confidence and toughness. "It's like, 'I'm going against you; let's go.' It would have been great to have him and learn from him, but moves happen."

One potential fallout from the trade: Iverson's preferred jersey number (45 -- get it, Colt 45?) might be earmarked for Gerald Wallace, who wore that number in Brooklyn. Iverson settled on No. 37; if he makes the Celtics' opening-day roster, he would be the first player in franchise history to wear that number.

"I guess if you can't get your number, you've got to go with something random," Iverson said. "There really is nothing left. Thirty-seven seemed like a pretty unique number. I kind of liked it."

Iverson seems pretty unique too. And the Celtics definitely like him.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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