Leandro Barbosa's contributions has largely been as an offensive player throughout his 10 NBA seasons, but it has been his work on the other side of the ball that has impressed Doc Rivers as of late.
Signed by the Boston Celtics late in the offseason (Oct. 18), Barbosa has had to play more minutes in the wake of Rajon Rondo’s torn ACL. Rivers has Jason Terry, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee to help absorb Rondo’s minutes and touches, but Barbosa has still seen an uptick in his minutes as he gets more comfortable in Boston’s defense.
“I’ll tell you what, he’s been better defensively. That’s one of the things that we kept hearing -- that he’s not been a defensive player,” Rivers said.
“I kept thinking, he’s beating everybody offensively, so he has to have some speed. He’s still learning, but he’s picking up schemes and he’s gotten so much better with his on the ball defense. His weakside defense still gets lost a little bit, but I think that’s been the biggest surprise.”
Barbosa has averaged close to 24 minutes per game since the team’s dramatic win over the Heat on Jan. 27 and played a vital role down the stretch in a road win against the Raptors on Wednesday. He has helped create shots for teammates, assisting three times per game over the stretch. He is averaging just 1.3 assists on the season.
His offensive game is largely based on penetration -- with some three-pointers thrown in so that he’s not too predictable -- which makes him Boston’s most Rondo-like option going forward.
“What you know is, he’s going to be aggressive. I want him to be aggressive and it’s my job, when I think he’s over that line, to take him out and reign him back in,” Rivers said of Barbosa. “I don’t tell him much. I really don’t do that with players a lot. I like to let them play and they’ll figure it out if they aren’t in that they need to fix something.”
With Rondo out, Rivers doesn’t have luxury of admonishing Barbosa every time he wants to, but the results have been much better over the last two weeks than they were early on when the Brazilian was barely getting off the bench.