Even with his 14-minute stint Friday against the Knicks, Vitor Faverani is averaging just 9.5 minutes per game this month, an afterthought in Brad Stevens’s rotation after beginning his first NBA season in the starting lineup.
The Brazilian rookie, who has a propensity for shooting 3-pointers and picking up fouls, has watched his role change almost daily. In Wednesday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Faverani logged just five minutes, having nothing but a missed field goal to show for his evening.
Two nights later, Faverani was in the middle of an intense fourth-quarter rally. The Celtics have blown their share of leads this season but rarely have they come back. Friday was the exception. The Celtics, trailing by 11 with 10:32 left in the game, stormed back with a 20-5 run and Faverani helped with a monumental 3-pointer along with a pick-and-roll layup in Boston’s 90-86 win.
Faverani also grabbed four rebounds, and he did not record a foul in that pivotal fourth quarter, gaining the trust of his coach. With Kris Humphries out again with a bruised knee and Kelly Olynyk winded after missing the previous 10 games with a sprained ankle, Faverani was relied upon to play tough interior defense against Andrea Bargnani, who for flashes Friday looked like the player Toronto believed it drafted first overall seven years ago.
Faverani stood his ground and his defense, along with Jeff Green’s smothering of Carmelo Anthony, held the Knicks to 5-for-19 shooting in the final period.
His entrance in such a critical stretch is another example of Stevens injecting confidence into players whose roles are ever-changing.
“I really like that [giving a little-used player a chance] and sometimes I’ve done that in the past just to see where we are,” Stevens said. “Our talking point now is you have to be ready for your time. You put in your time to be ready for your time and you have to take advantage of it to the best of your ability. It’s given me more faith as a coach moving forward that it’s OK to ride the hot hand even though it’s not somebody who’s played a lot.”
Stevens brought up an example during Butler’s improbable 2010 run to the NCAA title game when he thrust freshman center Andrew Smith into the Elite Eight game against Kansas State and he scored 3 points with two rebounds in 12 minutes as the Bulldogs won, 63-56. For the season, Smith averaged 1 point and 4.9 minutes per game.
Don’t call Faverani Andrew Smith, but the point is taken. Stevens is going to trust his roster and give players a chance to prove their worth. He pressed third-year guard MarShon Brooks into duty Wednesday and he committed three turnovers in four minutes, so it’s not always effective.
But such a strategy does keep players engaged. Faverani said he knew he had to be ready for crunch time, regardless of the quick hooks he had been receiving of late.
“He has confidence in me,” Faverani said. “We talk sometimes and he wants [me] to come back and play like I did in the preseason or the first [few] games. And I try to work hard on defense and I appreciate his confidence in me.”
Faverani was signed to a three-year contract following an eight-year career in Spain, but that international experience offers little assistance for his transition to the NBA. He picks up a foul every 6.4 minutes, he’s shooting 43.2 percent from the field, and he has trouble guarding mobile big men.
Yet, Stevens’s faith remains strong, at least when Humphries and Olynyk aren’t available.
“It’s my first year in the league and we have great players,” Faverani said. “We have big guys, Kris Humphries played 10 years in this league. It’s my first year and I just try to work hard all day and do my best on the court and sometimes I have good luck, like [Friday], and sometimes no. It’s just one game. We have one more Monday.”
Stevens downplayed the reasons that went into favoring Faverani, but the move worked. Faverani worked the pick-and-roll perfectly with Jordan Crawford and scored a layup with 1:07 left for an 88-84 lead.
“Very little brain power put to it,” Stevens said. “All a vision of, ‘Hey, that guy’s really in a nice groove.’ Vitor made a huge three, made a huge catch-and-finish with a minute to go, but more than anything I felt like we had rim protection at a pretty good level down in the paint with him in the game and we were also rebounding. So, all gut, no math or science behind that one. That was just one of those lucky things that happened the right way.”
Stevens has done a masterful job of keeping his players interested and engaged. With such evenness on the roster, Stevens has had to communicate well with 1 through 14 and on nights like Friday, his motivation pays off.