<
>

Jonas Jerebko looking to earn his wings

After Jonas Jerebko finalized his contract, the Utah Jazz will also sign forwards Royce O'Neale and Eric Griffin. David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON -- At the conclusion of the 2014-15 season, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was asked about the possibility that the team might re-sign Jonas Jerebko.

"The Swedish Larry Bird, you mean?" Ainge interjected with a smile.

Ainge went on to praise Jerebko's play during Boston's surge to the playoffs, highlighted his ability to defend multiple positions, and playfully noted how he'd sign off on the #SignTheSwede hashtag that became popular as Jerebko blossomed after being acquired by Boston at the trade deadline.

In early July, Ainge backed up his talk by inking the 28-year-old forward to a two-year, $10 million deal. But even in a summer in which Boston was relatively quiet -- the Celtics' more noteworthy offseason activity being the additions of veteran big men David Lee and Amir Johnson -- the signing of Jerebko flew quietly under the radar.

During the Celtics' open scrimmage on Tuesday at TD Garden, Jerebko reminded those season ticket holders on hand why he nearly elevated to a starting role by the end of last season's brief postseason run. Running with a Green team that often paired him alongside Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, and Amir Johnson, Jerebko buried a quartet of 3-pointers and played his typical scrappy brand of ball as the Green team won the 24-minute competition.

Jerebko doesn't put up a particularly glitzy stat line, but he's exactly the sort of player that coach Brad Stevens files in the "impacts winning" category. He's a ball of energy on the floor -- his feathery golden locks morphing to sweaty bangs as he flies around the court. And after shooting 40.6 percent beyond the arc in 29 regular-season appearances for Boston last season, he's the sort of deep threat that can space the floor and create room for players like Thomas to operate going at the basket.

It's easy to forget now, but the Celtics essentially stole Jerebko last season. Boston had been debating a buyout with veteran Tayshaun Prince before striking a last-minute trade deadline swap that sent Prince to Detroit in exchange for Jerebko and Gigi Datome.

Jerebko's regular-season stat line with Boston was modest: 7.1 points and 4.8 rebounds over 18.2 minutes per game -- but that doesn't accurately reflect his impact. Running with the Thomas-led reserve group that spearheaded Boston's second-half surge, Jerebko posted some eye-popping advanced numbers that surely encouraged Boston to keep him around.

Jerebko owned a net-rating -- the difference between Boston's production per 100 possessions when he was on and off the court -- of plus-9.5 (only Datome, who played 335 less minutes, had a better overall number and Thomas was closest behind Jerebko at plus-7.3). During Jerebko's 527 minutes of floor time, the Celtics owned an offensive rating of 104.5 and a defensive rating of 95.1 (a plus-10 differential). Most noticeably, Boston's defensive rating skyrocketed to 103 when Jerebko was off the court.

Jerebko had a quiet postseason in terms of offensive production -- he scored just 11 points in 68 minutes of floor time and connected on just 5 of 15 shots. He utilized strong defense to make up for his offensive dip and often took on the challenge of defending the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Love. James actually sought Jerebko out at midcourt at the end of Cleveland's four-game sweep and the two shared a brief embrace.

Jerebko knows that Boston's overstocked frontcourt could put a squeeze on minutes. He's embracing that challenge and hoping his versatility gives him the opportunity to maintain a robust role. Stevens has pledged to put shooters around Thomas and Jerebko can make wandering defenders pay with his 3-point shot (and his hustle will create other opportunities).

But Jerebko's lunchpail play is unlikely to draw much attention. In ESPN's latest #NBARank, Jerebko landed at No. 245, tucked between two NBA sophomores in Nets shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic and Bulls swingman Doug McDermott. Jerebko ranks 11th of Boston's 15 players on this year's list.

Yes, the Swedish Larry Bird doesn't get a whole lot of respect. But if he keeps playing like he did last season -- and like he did at Tuesday's scrimmage -- defenses will have no choice but to pay him a lot more attention moving forward.