Kevin Garnett’s Influence Could Lead to Improved Defense by Ryan Hollins, As It Has for Greg Stiemsma


Kevin Garnett's Influence Could Lead to Improved Defense by Ryan Hollins, As It Has for Greg StiemsmaRyan Hollins, who tangled with Kevin Garnett a few times as a member of four different NBA teams in his first five NBA seasons, did not mince words when asked about the Celtics center.

Garnett, known for his intensity, is beloved in Boston and Minnesota but not so revered by opponents or opposing fans.

"You hate him," Hollins admitted, "when you're playing against him. You love to be on his team. You see how he's kind of the model for bigs around the league when you talk about talking, communicating, rotating, things like that.

"He's Kevin Garnett. He's always the example, the ideal. Now I have him as a teammate, and I'm glad to be on his side."

Garnett's impact goes beyond his nightly double-double and textbook defensive positioning. Through osmosis, trickle-down economics or some other unexplainable phenomenon, Garnett has long managed to make the players around him better.

That applies on the offensive end, but the influence is most noticeable defensively.

Brandon Bass came to Boston with a reputation as a below-average defensive player. More than two-thirds of the way into this season, Bass has availed himself fairly well as an on-ball defender, although at times he is still late with his rotations away from the ball.

While there may still be gripes with Bass on the defensive end, each game brings fewer gripes with Greg Stiemsma. The rookie center has been an unmitigated success relative to what he was expected to contribute, even if he is still more foul-prone than coach Doc Rivers would prefer. When the Celtics opened their abbreviated training camp, Stiemsma was a long shot to make the team. Then he was a long shot to see any playing time. Then he was expected to see no more than five to 10 minutes of non-garbage time a game.

Entering the stretch run of the regular season, he is now a crucial part of the Celtics' rotation and often the first man off the bench.

Orchestrating the same type of improvement in Hollins would be difficult. Although he is only 11 months older than Stiemsma, Hollins is in his sixth year as a pro, well past the time when players typically make the necessary improvements to become more than just big bodies on bigger contracts.

But, while Hollins is not known for his rebounding or for a polished offensive game, he is known for his intense personality. That was on display Friday, when he picked up a technical foul mere minutes into his debut with the Celtics.

Some have even compared Hollins' intensity to Garnett's — which prompted Garnett to issue a warning to his new teammate.

"I told him to be careful about my intensity," Garnett said. "He might get kicked out of the league."

Garnett became attached to Hollins last summer, when he trained in California with the UCLA product along with Inglewood, Calif., native Paul Pierce.

If playing against Garnett in a controlled, organized environment is aggravating, one can only imagine what it's like to play against him without any coaches or referees to keep the proceedings PG-13. Still, Hollins and Garnett actually developed a liking to each other in the summer workouts.

"I don't make a lot of friends, but I can say that I made one in him," Garnett said. "I like the way the kid approaches the game. He wants to be more than good. You see it in his face. You see it in his work ethic. I'm a big fan of his. I'm glad he's here. Like all the young guys that are here, whatever he wants to know, I'm here for him."

Many are the players who took for granted Garnett's willingness to teach and drew KG's ire. The ones who listened, though, became better for it.

Stiemsma, whose stall is catty-corner to Hollins' new spot in the Celtics locker room, is already talking as though Hollins will be one of the latter.

"We're in this thing to make a real good push toward the end of the year," Stiemsma said. "Ryan's going to come in and be somebody who's going to help us do that. He brings another athletic, active big who can do some big things on defense, and offensively as well."

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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