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Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Semih Erden impresses in NBA debut

By Chris Forsberg

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Semih Erden admits he understands more English than he's able to speak since arriving stateside. That much was obvious Wednesday night as he sat on the Boston Celtics' bench, an impressive NBA debut behind him, and chuckled at the antics of teammates Glen Davis and Nate Robinson.

Davis playfully dubbed Erden, "Semih Automatic," singing the nickname as the three players sat huddled at the end of the bench. Robinson tried to demonstrate some American dance moves as Young MC's "Bust a Move" played over the arena's PA system during a timeout.

Semih Erden
Semih Erden had 13 points in a team-high 24 minutes of play in his NBA debut Wednesday.

Erden showcased his own set of moves by registering 13 points in a team-high 23 minutes, 44 seconds of playing time in his pro debut as the Celtics thrashed the Philadelphia 76ers 93-65 in their preseason opener at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

"Oh yeah, he can't really communicate with us yet, but we're teaching him a few things," Davis said with a smile after the game. "He looked good out there."

Erden connected on all three shots he took, but also got to the free-throw line, where he drained seven of eight attempts. He filled up his stat line with five rebounds and a team-best two blocks.

"Semih was terrific," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He played great. That's why I kept him out there. I told you before the game I was [going to play him extended minutes] anyway, but he knows how to play. He's very physical."

It didn't hurt that he got some gentle prodding from the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, who delivered the hit of the night in the first half with a vicious shoulder charge that sent Philadelphia's Marreese Speights sprawling to the floor.

At one point in the second half, after Erden didn't take advantage of a one-on-one matchup against Speights with a chance to back him down, Shaq called for the Turkish 7-footer's attention and screamed, "Semih, kill him." An incredulous Speights shouted back boisterously at the Boston bench, only to watch Erden get the ball, back him down and get to the foul line.

"He played well, he played aggressive," Shaq said of Erden's effort. "Going up against three great big men each day in myself, [Jermaine O'Neal] and [Kevin Garnett], he's going to be a force for us."

Just moments after checking in for Garnett late in the first quarter, Erden got a pass alone on the right block and delivered a monster two-handed jam, then hung on the rim a little longer than a rookie probably should. That didn't stop Garnett from tumbling off the bench in delight and raising his arm to salute the play from the other end of the court.

Without Jermaine O'Neal, who sat out the game with a sore left hamstring, Erden got extended minutes with the second unit and played most of the second half.

Rivers went into the game with that very plan, believing Erden will be an integral part of Boston's success this season. But his strong play gave the coach only more confidence to keep him on the floor.

"The guy I really plan on playing a lot of minutes [this preseason], besides Delonte [West], is Semih," Rivers said before the game. "We may need him. To think that Jermaine and Shaq are going to be healthy all year until [Kendrick Perkins] gets back is unrealistic, in my opinion. Semih would be the guy, so we have to move him along."

One game in, Erden made big strides. Sure, it came against a Philadelphia squad playing the second night of a back-to-back and doing so without stars such as Elton Brand, but Erden's natural talents shined through.

"You can see that he's played the game," Rivers said.

After being drafted by the Celtics with the 60th and final pick in the 2008 draft, Erden spent two seasons in his native Turkey honing his skills before agreeing to join the Celtics this season. This summer, he showed he was NBA ready by helping his homeland earn a silver medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championships.

Now he's only getting better with help from a veteran-laden roster.

"He has a high IQ and he's able to pick up the defense pretty well," Rivers said. "He had coverages today that were fantastic: bumps, then getting back out or finding his guy in the rotation. That takes a while to get, and he's got it already."

Erden remains raw and needs to work on his positioning and rebounding, but his talents are obvious. He catches the ball well in traffic and finishes nicely around the rim, a sore spot for Boston's big men last season. What's more, he is exceptional at passing the ball, and his second-quarter dish to a cutting Davis for an easy layup is the type of pass typically reserved for a point guard like Rajon Rondo.

Erden is trying to use his translator less and less, hoping the lack of that crutch brings his verbal skills along quicker, even if that remains the weakest part of his game.

"I was a little bit nervous," Erden said of his pro debut. "Every day, I'll be better."

Asked if going up against the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Garnett and Davis in practice were sharpening that learning curve, he nodded in approval and suggested that playing against opponents seemed like a break compared to working against his teammates.

After all, the learning curve might be as sharp as Shaq's elbows.

"I really think it's great for him to be playing against Shaq in practice, and I wouldn't wish that upon anybody because we don't call those offensive fouls in practice," Rivers said with a laugh. "He has to play through it. And so for him to play against somebody else was probably a joy tonight."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for Follow him on Twitter.