If you had a time machine, which would you do first — go back two millennia, and witness the birth of Christ? Or go back two years, and put money on the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2008 NBA draft starting alongside four future Hall of Famers?
You should probably pick the latter. You'd be getting million-to-1 odds.
His name is Semih Erden, he was the No. 60 overall pick in the draft two summers ago, and you probably had no idea who he was until this fall. He showed up in Boston this season, he got to work, and he earned the Hub's respect overnight by playing hard and helping the Celtics win ballgames.
There was always the chance that Erden would be a contributor, but starting? Next to four superstars named Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett?
That's a surprise.
Kendrick Perkins is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, set to return sometime in early 2011. Jermaine O'Neal is working to rehab his knee. Shaquille O'Neal has a sore calf.
So for the moment, Erden's the guy. He's handled the pressure just fine — he made his first career start in Philadelphia on Thursday night, before his breakout game Saturday in Charlotte. Erden gave the C's career highs in minutes (41), points (10), rebounds (seven) and blocks (four). In other words, he was an absolute stud in only his second career start.
Erden still has a lot of weaknesses as a player. He's constantly getting into foul trouble. He's battling a shoulder injury that keeps him from being as aggressive as he wants. He's not tough enough to post up physical defenders and score.
But he still gets the job done in Boston. Playing next to the guys he's playing next to, he doesn't have to be a star — but if he plays D, protects the rim and crashes the boards, plus helps the C's move the ball on the offensive end once in a while, he can be a contributor. That's what he's done.
Erden still speaks primarily Turkish, and he's shy about speaking English to the media. But when he does talk, he knows how to say all the right things. He can handle the pressure, he knows that defense comes first and he's here to help the team. They're cliches, obviously, but they're building blocks toward being a great Celtic.
No one expects Semih Erden to be an All-Star. But two years ago, no one expected him to play in Boston at all, and now look at him. This guy is making a career out of expecting the unexpected.