One of the biggest compliments a bench player can receive is being called an “energy guy.” Over the course of an NBA season starters go through lulls or, even worse, injuries. Reliable role players that bring energy to the table every night may not catch someone’s attention in the box score, but their ferocious and relentless style of play can change the outcome of games.
Exhibit A: Chris Wilcox‘s production the last three weeks.
After starting the season poorly due to injuries, Wilcox turned the corner while helping Boston during its comeback win on the road against Orlando. The very next night he scored 14 points in a victory over the Pacers. A few days later, when the Celtics began a five game winning-streak, Wilcox began to flourish and Doc Rivers even attributed the dramatic 91-89 victory over the Knicks to his effort on the offensive boards. But the 6-foot-10 back-up center wasn’t scoring in bunches, or collecting every rebound in site. Instead, he was showing his worth with something intangible — his energy.
“He’s figured it out,” Rivers said. “I think this is how he should be every day in his career. I don’t think it should be inconsistent. I think this is who he is, this is a talent he has. Energy from a big is a talent. It’s who he should be every night. I tell him that all the time.”
The best part of Wilcox’s contributions over the period is the subtle way he tries to make a positive impact. Many bench players fall into the trap of pressing for more minutes. They may force shots or disrupt the flow of the offense to prove they belong on the floor. Wilcox has let the game come to him.
In the 12 games since his breakout performance against Orlando, Wilcox is only taking about four shots a game, but has shot an efficient 34-of-52 (65 percent) from the field. His focus has been largely predicated on the little things like boxing out, creating deflections on the defensive end and trying to get ahead of the pack to give the Celtics fast break opportunities.
“The fact that he runs the floor and he’s in front of everybody,” Rivers said. “And [Rajon] Rondo has trust that he can throw the ball up and he’ll go get it. Rondo made some tough passes tonight and Chris caught them and finished. No different than [Tom] Brady and [Rob Gronkowski]. You get confidence in certain guys.”
Wilcox has not only accepted the challenge of being a spot starter, but thrived in the role. On Sunday against the Bulls, he had 11 points (5-of-6 shooting) to go along with nine boards. Even though his role was enhanced, it was still an energy play which highlighted Wilcox’s performance. With the game still in the balance, JaJuan Johnson completed a thunderous dunk off a Rondo lob. After another Chicago turnover, Rondo pushed the ball forward and found Wilcox for yet another dunk. The crowd rose to their feet and the Celtics never looked back.
“I love playing with Chris,” Rondo said. “He’s probably one of the fastest bigs in the league. I tell him to get out there and run with me and he does a great job every night. We’re starting to get easy baskets in transition and that’s what we need offensively.”
Although the Celtics lost Wednesday night against the Pistons, Wilcox continued to impress in another spot-start performance scoring 17 points (8-of-12 shooting) and collecting nine rebounds in a season-high 32 minutes. The overall result wasn’t ideal for Boston, but Rivers and company know they got what they bargained for when they signed the veteran late in training camp.
“He’s giving us exactly what we hoped he’d give us when we signed him,” Rivers said. “Energy, athleticism, running the floor, finishing at the basket. If he can stay were he’s at right now, I’m very happy with that”.