I would suggest that Semih Erden is already better than any backup center during the first three years of the New Big Three era. Let’s call Glen Davis an under-heighted power forward. Leaving Big Baby and Garnett as forwards (as well as Scal and Powe), the con(pre)tenders at backup center for the past three years were:
07-08 PJ Brown, Scot Pollard
08-09 Mikki Moore, Patrick O’Bryant
09-10 Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams
Now I’ll concede that in, or near, their prime, Rasheed and PJ were far better than the Turkish Terror is today; but neither were anywhere near their heyday during their stay in Boston. With surprising mobility, a willingness to mix-it-up, and a sweet hook with either hand near the basket, Semih is already factor. Too often he is out of position and/or late to react but he is improving rapidly and responds to any incursions into the paint with the same nasty resentment found at a kicked fire ant mound (y’all Yankees just be glad you don’t have the experience to appreciate the metaphor). He’s drawing fouls like a magnet but that will abate as he improves his positioning and anticipation so that he is not reaching and swatting from behind. He looks for, and makes, the pass to cutters or around the double team. His sweet free-throw stroke hints of a mid-range game from the top of the key that will further open up his teammates for his accurate passes. He sprints down court. Like a sponge and heavy bag, he absorbs blows, and advice, from a trio of all time greats. Yup, he’s going to do just fine.
And that’s a very good thing. His fellow centers, those of numerous All-Star games and miles of court-wear on their treads, will man the pivot well but already show signs of limited availability. Perk may be ahead of schedule but many a knee-ligament injury has taken more than a season to recover. Going in, I think most envisioned Jermaine getting 23-28 minutes per game and Shaq filling out the remaining 20-25, with Semih at the end of the bench behind the pane of glass bearing a Break In Case Of Emergency sign. I think now it is more likely to split out around 25 to JO, 15-20 to Shaq (but only playing 70% of the games), and the rest to Erden who is looking less and less like he just fell off a Turkish turnip truck. It won’t even surprise me if he plays the most minutes in about half the games.
Nate has been a pleasant surprise, as has Delonte. Marquis looks calm, settled, competent, and is flashing a surprisingly consistent shot with range. Big Baby may say he doesn’t know his role, but he is playing it to perfection. Amidst a bevy of nice surprises, Semih Erden has been the biggest (and BIGest) and best.