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The Boston Celtics spent roughly $73.2 million this offseason trying to give their bench an offensive jolt with the signings of Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee.
Yet it's Leandro Barbosa, on the books for the bargain-basement price of $854,000 and inked a week before the start of the regular season for additional guard depth, who has provided perhaps the most consistent offensive bench burst early in the 2012-13 season.
|Leandro Barbosa's speed has been an asset for the Celtics on defense as well as offense.|
Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked that Barbosa looked like he was going for an NBA record when he scored 11 points over his first three minutes of floor time during Sunday's overtime win over the Orlando Magic. Living up to his "Brazilian Blur" nickname, Barbosa lit up the scoreboard with his dizzying speed and soft touch.
"He's a scorer," Rivers told reporters in Orlando. "We don't have a backup point guard right now, so when we put him in, we're putting him in as a scorer. I tell our team that: 'When LB's in the game, and [point guard Rajon] Rondo's off the floor, we have two 2-guards.'
"When we run the pick-and-roll for him, he's running it as a scorer, and not as a passer. And he just understands that."
Barbosa finished with 15 points over a mere 10:33, hitting 6-of-8 shots as the Celtics emerged with a 116-110 triumph at the Amway Center.
Through 14 games, Barbosa is averaging 6.9 points and 1.6 assists over 14 minutes per game. The Celtics expected offense from the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, but the revelation has been Barbosa's effectiveness on the defensive end.
Just look at Friday's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, when Barbosa was held scoreless for just the second time since his arrival. Rivers couldn't have been happier with Barbosa's play because Barbosa still impacted the game as a serviceable part-time ball-handler (two assists in 11 minutes) and a full-time agitator to the opposing ball-handler.
"It's funny, he didn't score a point and I thought his defensive pressure was extremely effective tonight," Rivers said after Friday's game. "He has that reputation of being an offensive player. What we have found since getting him, he's a heck of a defensive player. He has the ability to put pressure on the ball. That's something we didn't know."
In small doses, Barbosa is providing a tiny bit of what the Celtics are missing without Avery Bradley. He's able to use his quickness to pester opposing ball-handlers without letting them create much separation. Sure, he's not the lockdown defender that Bradley is, but he's a nuisance.
Heading into Sunday's game, Barbosa was allowing a mere 0.797 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data, ranking him in the 69th percentile (he grades out as "very good"). Opponents are shooting a mere 37 percent (20-of-54) against him and turn the ball more than 15.9 percent of the time.
"A lot of teams think he can't play defense," teammate Jeff Green said. "But that guy's fast, that guy's quick, and he has active hands. When he's out there, he's a pest. I mean, our team is going to be trouble when we get Avery Bradley back. We're going to have him and Avery and that's an amazing duo in the backcourt with them two."
Watch Barbosa and you can't help but like his ability to fight over the top of pick-and-rolls. Rivers often talks about a need to hit the ball-handler before the pick hits the defender, and Barbosa does an excellent job of avoiding getting caught and recovering to his man.
Maybe Kevin Garnett said it best when he talked about Barbosa's "slither-ness." Garnett meant his ability to snake around on offense with his speed, but it's an excellent way to describe the way Barbosa is able to stick with opposing point guards.
"I think what he's known for is his slither-ness and being offensive-minded," Garnett said. "But what stood out about him is the competitor that he is. His IQ, obviously, it's the first thing you catch, but how well he is on defense.
"I don't think he's been in a situation like coming here with defensive players, defensive mindset, being a defensive team, and he's bought in. He's a team guy, great teammate, and in order for us to be anything, he's going to have to bring that."
What's easy to forget is that Barbosa is still getting comfortable in Boston. Signed after the exhibition season, he didn't have the luxury of training camp or any preseason games with the Celtics. Rivers admitted he's still trying to figure out how to best utilize Barbosa.
But even with Bradley pegged for a mid-December return, it's clear that Rivers envisions a greater role for Barbosa on this team.
"I think there's a better use for LB that we haven't figured out yet because with his speed, he puts so much pressure on the defense," Rivers said.
Just ask the Magic. If it weren't for foul trouble, Barbosa might have done even more damage. Like his offensive production in short minutes, Barbosa might be giving the Celtics the most bang for their offseason bucks so far.