The veteran big man returned this past week after a months-long absence due to knee surgery
After being traded to the Indiana Pacers in the offseason, center Daniel Theis missed the first four months of the NBA season with right knee soreness. The veteran big man had surgery in November to address the injury and rehabbed for the next several weeks.
After a lengthy recovery, Theis was able to return to action for the blue and gold this past week. He debuted for the Pacers on February 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers, and he has now played in three games for Indiana.
The big man's defense and screen setting abilities have stood out. Head coach Rick Carlisle has turned to Theis as his team's backup center in recent games, and Carlisle has liked what he has seen so far.
"I thought if you were going to give a game ball tonight, it would probably go to Theis, who showed the kind of player he is, the kind of impact he can have on our team," Carlisle said after the Pacers beat the Kings on Friday. "Gives us a different kind of big, a guy that has feel, has skill, but still has toughness [and] can protect the rim."
It wasn't clear where Theis would fit in on this Pacers team. Indiana has several young big men who are capable of giving the blue and gold quality minutes off the bench, including Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith, so it wasn't obvious that the German big man would get playing time. So far, though, Carlisle has turned to Theis as the Pacers try to figure out what he can do for them on the court and try to improve his conditioning level for games.
Theis said that he felt rusty in his first outing but felt much better the second time on the floor. His minutes jumped significantly from his first game to his second and third outings, which suggests that he is getting in better shape.
Theis is averaging 5.0 points and 2.0 rebounds per game for the Pacers so far. He had eight points and four rebounds in a win over the Kings on Friday night and has knocked down exactly half of his shots to date. He is already showing Indiana how he can help out after missing so much time with an injury.
"Yeah, definitely," Theis told AllPacers when asked if he's fit in well with the Pacers so far. "Playing fast, setting screens for those guys. I try to make it easy for them guards, whoever handles the ball, setting screens. Really hold them so they can do whatever they want."
The fact that Theis was able to play in a back-to-back as well as a three-games-in-four-nights situation over this past weekend is an encouraging sign for his long-term health. He didn't have much of an offseason between an NBA Finals trip in 2022 with the Boston Celtics and time spent playing for the German National team in Eurobasket.
In a miniscule sample size, the Pacers defense has been strong with Theis on the court so far, but their offense has struggled. Indiana has a +0.45 net rating with the 30-year old big man on the court.
"Just a vet man. Solid. Been to the finals, been on some good teams. Brings that experience to this roster," starting center Myles Turner said of what Theis has brought to the Pacers.
Once Carlisle and the rest of the organization has a better idea of what Theis can do and how he can help the blue and gold, it's fair to wonder if Theis will continue to get more playing time than Smith or Jackson. Right now, though, he appears to have the backup center spot locked down as he gets healthier and shows off his skillset.
"Pretty good progress. Just [learning] how to play with everybody out there," Theis said Monday when assessing his play so far. "Play the pace, play the defense."
As Theis gets more minutes, he should start to fit in better with an Indiana team that plays at a rapid speed. So far, though, the Pacers have only gotten a glimpse of how the big man can help them going forward.
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