WALTHAM, Mass. -- During the Boston Celtics' first five games of the 2015-16 season, backup forward Jonas Jerebko has been tasked, at various times (and to varying degrees of success) with defending John Wall, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Lowry, and Nerlens Noel. Some of these assignments have come after switches -- something that Jerebko's versatility allows Boston's second unit to utilize on the defensive end -- and Jerebko embraces each unique challenge.
The 28-year-old Jerebko is unlikely to sway any voters casting ballots in the all-defensive awards, but his ability to use his length and athleticism to stick with a variety of opposing players has endeared him to coach Brad Stevens ever since his arrival at last season's trade deadline.
"When I’m out there, I like to switch around and I like to be on a little bit of everybody," said Jerebko. "Being in this league for so long, you kinda know what people do. I take pride in defense. Of course you’re going to get beat, you’re going to get dunked on, you’re going to get scored on. But it’s all in how you respond to that. The players in this league are incredibly talented, everybody, so just try to make it as hard for the other guys to score as possible."
The day before games, Jerebko often sits down to watch film of the opposing team's top scorers and tries to get hints on ways he might defend them. When a reporter runs down the diverse list of players he's been asked to defend -- from trying to keep the speedy Wall in front of him on the perimeter, to fighting with Boris Diaw on the post -- Jerebko's eyes light up.
"I love it. That’s what you want to do -- you want to be in there and playing against the guys that want to score and the guys that matter," said Jerebko. "I watch some clips of them the day before the game and see what their tendencies are. For me, I’m 6-10, long arms, long wingspan, so I just try to use that as much as I can."
Jerebko is averaging 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds over 14.4 minutes per game. His role is essentially energy-giver and he's often zipping around the court at full-throttle speed. According to the NBA's player tracking data, Jerebko averages 4.4 miles per hour when he's in motion on the floor -- or the same speed shared by the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley. Jerebko averages 5 mph on the offensive end, which is as fast as rookie speedster Terry Rozier (and second on the team behind only Thomas at 5.2 mph).
Jerebko's impact is best reflected in Boston's advanced numbers. The Celtics are allowing only 84.1 points per 100 possessions when Jerebko is on the court and his net differential is plus-17.3 points per 100 possessions (both of those numbers are the second best on the team among regulars behind only Kelly Olynyk, who he often shares the floor with). That's a similar trend to last season when Jerebko was often on the court with Boston's stingy second-unit defense.
Jerebko knows his play at both ends of the court can be hot and cold, but his energy can't waver. Stevens keeps going back to him in an overcrowded rotation because of that versatility and it won't come as a surprise if Jerebko gets minutes Tuesday in Milwaukee while asked to defend the likes of the ultra-versatile Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"That’s why [players like Jerebko] are so valuable," said Stevens. "If you've got guys that can guard multiple positions, especially that can swing from the perimeter to the bigs, and vice versa, it’s huge. Especially the way the game is being played with so many skilled 4s and so many shooting bigs."
Jerebko, who even Danny Ainge playfully referred to as Swedish Larry Bird, has energized his career since arriving in Boston. He nearly elevated to the starting lineup during the playoffs last season and isn't overwhelmed by an overcrowded frontcourt this season.
"I’m always ready to play and I know it’s my job to always stay ready," he said. "I want to be out there 35 minutes per night, but we've got a deep team and some nights my name is going to be called less than others, so I just try to stay positive and help my teammates every which way I can. And be ready when my number is called."
When that call comes, he'll be ready for any defensive challenge.
"[Defense] doesn’t really show up in the stat sheet, so obviously people that don’t know the game don’t see stuff like that," said Jerebko. "They don’t really care about it. They want to see the ball go in the basket, that’s about it. It’s obviously something I take pride in and I’m happy that the Celtics notice that."