I’ve been critical of Von Wafer. I’m not going to hide that fact. He’s done a few things to piss me off, and those things were compounded because I began the season with Wafer on a short leash. Blame me for that, but locker room problems (read: Wafer with Rick Adelman and/or Wafer in Greece) tend to stay locker room problems.
But I have to give credit where credit’s due: Wafer seems to be getting the proverbial “it.”
Yesterday night, Wafer played five minutes and registered zeros in every statistical category. When Wafer doesn’t score, that normally means he makes no impact, or maybe even a negative one. This is a man whose one real NBA talent, entering this season, was his ability to throw a basketball into a hoop. Sure, Wafer possesses all the athleticism to play lockdown defense, but let’s just be kind and say lockdown defense was never what he was known for.
I still wouldn’t call defense Wafer’s calling card, but yesterday was a big step away from the doghouse.
“I thought his defensive energy was phenomenal,” Rivers told CSNNE. “It was great for Von in the locker room. Everybody was grabbing him . . . because ‘defense’ and ‘Von’ can now go together. And that’s a great thing.”
Before the season, Wafer said just making the Celtics wasn’t enough for him — he wanted to play minutes, real minutes. What does he say now, averaging only 5.6 minutes per game and already having received five DNP-CDs?
“I’m just happy to be part of this. There’s something special going on.”
What type of special?
“It’s not about you, it’s about us,” Wafer said. “Just stay ready because you never know what could happen. That’s what they preach here and I believe in it. Everybody has one goal and whether you’re playing or you’re cheerleading, you’ve got to be ready.”
Last night Wafer was ready, and it paid off when Rivers praised the young shooting guard following the game. Rivers tapped Wafer and said, “See what I told you?” Wafer’s contributions aren’t going to be measured by made jumpers or fast-break dunks, not in Boston. This is a championship-caliber team he now plays for, one that can’t tolerate porous defense, can’t tolerate anything less than team ball.
And so the veterans have schooled Wafer on what it means to be a Celtic.
“I’m really learning how to become a professional here,” he said. “I’ve learned so much. People have a lot of negative things to say about me. I just didn’t really know, but these guys have really taken me under their wings and they’re showing me. I think I’ve gotten a lot better. It’s just part of staying ready and being part of this culture.”
What type of culture? The type where five minutes of all zeros can be celebrated in the locker room. The type where a man who didn’t score a single point can be grabbed after the game by all his teammates – teammates who simply wanted to congratulate him, to praise him.
The chance to play won’t always come. The Celtics have a deep bench stocked with talented players. Even in Delonte West’s absence, the Celtics have plenty of players capable of absorbing West’s minutes.
But when the chance does come? When Doc Rivers does call Von Wafer’s name?
Wafer says he’ll be ready. And you know what?
I’m starting to believe him.