The Semih Erden Project

With the last pick (number 60 overall) in the 2008 draft, the Boston Celtics selected a 7 foot center out of Turkey by the name of Semih Erden.  On that night in June of 2008, maybe four people were still tuned into the NBA Draft and heard this pick live. It is not often that a second round draft pick does anything of any consequence in the NBA, let alone the last pick in the draft.  The last 5 years these are the names that were drafted last: Will Blalock, Milovan Rakovic, Erden, Robert Dozier, and Dwayne Collins.

2008 was the first time in about ten years that I hadn’t paid much attention to the draft.  In years past the draft was the way for the Celtics to get out NBA purgatory and find someone who they could partner up with Paul Pierce to lead the franchise.  In years past I would have stayed up for the whole Draft hoping for a the Celtics to pull of some kind of miracle by the end of the night.  But after the Celtics traded for KG and Ray, the draft was no longer important to me.  As die-hard of a draft lover as I once was, I probably wouldn’t have even thought twice about the 60th pick of the 2008 draft.

I remember waking up the day after the draft and seeing the Celtics selected JR Giddens with the last pick of the first round, acquired Bill Walker for cash considerations in the mid to late second round, and picked a 7 foot center out of Turkey with the last pick of the draft.  I was semi excited about Giddens and Walker thinking they were great value picks for the Celtics got them.  I didn’t even form an opinion on Erden thinking he would never see the hardwood in the D-League let alone the NBA.

Erden wouldn’t play in the NBA the first two seasons after he was drafted as he stayed in Turkey.  He signed a one year contract with the Celtics in July of 2010 and it was then I first started to learn about him.  After being out-rebounded by a wide margin in the NBA Finals just a month before signing Erden, it was evident that Danny Ainge was looking for size and length.  No one would have ever thought that Erden would play any kind of role with the Celtics other than being a body in practice.  How times have changed.

With injuries to Kendrick Perkins, Shaq, and Jermaine O’ Neal, Semih has seen a fair amount of playing time this season and has been a pleasant surprise.  He has played in 31 games and is averaging 15 minutes game scoring 5 points and grabbing 3 rebounds.  Sure, those stats are not eye-opening. But the fact of the matter is he is a
raw project.  Another plus: When he checks into the game, fans aren’t saying “oh dear God.”  Yes, he looks more awkward than a white kid at a Wu-Tang concert when he’s out on the court.  But he provides solid minutes night in and night out.

Semih Erden is also not your prototypical international player.  The kid is tough and physical.  He doesn’t shy away from contact and he will most certainly body up anyone that comes into the paint.  It is cliché to say, but it really looks like he is getting better each time he is out on the court.  I think all of this has to do with the fact that by all accounts, he is a tremendously hard worker in practice.  He is playing against two hall of famers in KG and Shaq everyday.  He also plays against Jermaine O’Neal who, while certainly not a hall of famer, has seen his share of success in the league.

I remember reading somewhere that when the veterans are talking, Semih is all ears and has a burning desire to learn to be the best he can be.  Kevin Garnett has been especially complimentary toward Semih and thinks he can be a productive player in years to come.  It has been widely reported that Garnett will help younger players the best he can, but once the younger player shows any indication of not be willing to listen to KG, Garnett shuts them out entirely.  This had to have been the case last year and in years past with guys like Shelden Williams, Patrick O’Bryant, and even Mikki Moore.  These guys never really got off the bench in similar situations to now where Semih has seen as much as 41 minutes a night.

What Erden has done so far in his young career is pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.  Going from the last pick of the NBA Draft, to playing about 15 minutes a night, to now having a future in the NBA.  He was once labeled a project with pretty much no hope of ever making it to the league. He has become a prominent part of the Celtic roster, gaining valuable experience on the fly.  I am encouraged by the improvements he has made in just this season alone and look forward to his future but right now the 2010-2011 season is The Education of Semih Erden.

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