Early in the second quarter of the Celtics’ game against the Pistons on Wednesday, forward Jonas Jerebko caught a pass beyond the right arc, and Pistons forward Jon Leuer realized it could mean trouble.
Leuer had helped too far in the post on guard Marcus Smart, leaving Jerebko, who is in the midst of the hottest shooting streak of his career, open for an instant. Leuer took two quick but clunky steps toward Jerebko, and by that time he was just off-balance enough for Jerebko to offer a shot-fake before taking two strong dribbles toward the basket for a layup.
Recently, no one has been able to stop Jerebko from scoring. Since Nov. 16, the Swedish forward has made 20 of 24 field goal attempts for a startling 83.3 shooting percentage. And most impressively, his shots are not just layups and putbacks; Jerebko has also gone 8 of 10 from beyond the 3-point line during this stretch.
“I feel like everything I throw up there is going to go in, so that’s a good feeling,” he said. “I put a lot of work in this summer, so it’s good to see it pay off.”
Statistically, Jerebko has been on a surge the NBA has not seen in years. During this hot streak, he had a five-game stretch in which he shot at least 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line and 65 percent from the field overall in each game, a feat last accomplished by Spurs guard Brent Barry in December 2006, according to basketball-reference.com.
This streak ended against the Pistons on Wednesday, but only because Jerebko did not attempt a 3-pointer.
Furthermore, Jerebko has made at least 66 percent of his field goal attempts in each of the last eight games, the longest such streak in the NBA this year. Since 2011, only DeAndre Jordan, Cole Aldrich, and Mason Plumlee have had longer streaks, and all three of those players do the majority of their work within arm’s reach of the basket.
“I think he’s just making the right play,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “He’s taking the shots that are there. He’s not forcing anything. He’s in the right position. I think if he continues to do that, he’s only gonna help us. He’s been working hard.”
Jerebko said he worked diligently to expand his offensive game last summer. Since he made about 40 percent of his 3-point tries over the past two seasons, he knew teams would continue to try to take away that part of his game and make him score in other ways.
So he refined his one-dribble pull-up jump shots, many following a quick shot fake. Last season, according to NBA.com, Jerebko attempted one-dribble pull-ups 15.6 percent of the time but made just 27.3 percent of the shots. This year his attempt rate is nearly identical, at 16.2 percent, but he has doubled his field goal shooting to 54.5 percent.
“It’s something I’m going to do a lot more of,” Jerebko said. “If they don’t go for a fake, I’m shooting it. It’s something I’ve really put a lot of work into.”
Overall this season, Jerebko has made 50.7 percent of his field goals and 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers, both of which are above his career highs. His 61 percent true shooting — a metric that factors in the value of 3-pointers — ranks 30th in the NBA.
While Jerebko has strived to improve his game, he has not reinvented it. He knows that in the end, he thrives when his teammates move the ball quickly and crisply, usually leaving him with the slice of space that he needs. Jerebko said he has benefited from playing with forward Al Horford, the Celtics’ $113 million man whose quick passes have opened up opportunities elsewhere. Jerebko said that when he is on the bench and Horford is in the game, he studies his every move.
“I think as a team we play better when we move the ball,” Jerebko said. “We’re hard to guard when we move it, because we’ve got a lot of threats on offense. And I’m definitely a player who needs that ball movement. I’m not a ball-stopper; I’m a mover myself. So I’m just going to keep moving that thing and finding people, and help us not get a good shot, but a great shot, you know?”
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The Celtics called off practice on Thursday and the entire team visited patients at Boston Children’s Hospital. The players did crafts projects, sang with the children, and handed out gift bags. “As a new father of my second child, I know how important it is to do these things in the community with kids,” Horford said. “Now that I’m in Boston you can expect to see me more out in the community.”