Now in his tenth NBA season, there were few people happier with the June trade that sent Celtic legends Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets than big man Kris Humphries. After a career-best performance in the 2011-12 season where he averaged 13.8 points and 11 rebounds per game, Humphries found himself struggling for minutes in 2012-13 and endured his least productive season in years. He arrived in Boston as one of the team’s most experienced players, but along with fellow veterans Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans, who were also involved in the deal, their role on this rebuilding Celtics team was unclear.
After an inconsistent start to the season as new Head Coach Brad Stevens worked out his rotations, Humphries has found his role as the first big man off the bench for the Celtics and the results have been positive. Backing up the starting front court of Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass, Humphries has shown his productivity in December, scoring 8.5 points and pulling down 5.7 rebounds on over 60 percent shooting in 20 minutes per game. His ability to rebound, fight for position in the paint, finish with great efficiency and tremendous effort level on both sides of the ball has endeared him to both his new coaching staff and fans alike. Humphries has always been a gifted rebounder and a high percentage scorer, he has been making an impact when he enters the game and Stevens is showing more trust in the veteran big man as he quietly goes about his business.
Now 28 years old and in the final year of a huge contract paying him $12 million per season, it is important for Humphries to earn as much court time as possible as he works his way towards what could be his last contract while he is in the prime of his career. While he is unlikely to ever see that kind of money again, Humphries is proving to be a valuable contributor for the young Celtics and big men who can rebound as well as Humphries are always going to be in demand. His production per minute is still excellent, however while he is currently ahead of rookie bigs Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani in the rotation, there will be a temptation for the coaching staff to gradually increase the minutes on their young players and Humphries’ role may again come into question.
The re-entry of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Celtics line-up sometime in January is going to be a huge shake-up for the team and one that could have a cascading effect on the role and contribution of many players on the roster. If the team continues to surpass expectations the veteran role players may continue to see extended minutes as the team works towards a surprising appearance in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Rondo’s ability to create shots for teammates and work the ball in to his big men will be invaluable for players like Humphries and having highly efficient finishers in the paint will be huge for Rondo’s pass-first style of play.
In the meantime all Humphries can do is work hard, concentrate on helping the surprising young Celtics win games and show the natural ability that earned him that monster contract in the first place. In a league light on physical big men with Humphries’ combination of size, rebounding and finishing ability he will no doubt have a number of suitors in the off season but he appears to have found a certain level of comfort and acceptance with his role in Boston.