Jiri Welsch Reluctant Leader of Second Unit


WALTHAM - Jiri Welsch may vent his frustrations in Czech on the court, but his body language during games and unusually short answers to questions after practice yesterday need no translation. Although a team player, Welsch has been frustrated with his second-unit duties. In a system suited to his abilities and basketball intelligence, Welsch has struggled to make meaningful contributions, averaging 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game.

Asked if he was happy with his role on the Celtics, Welsch said, "I don't have anything to say to that right now. I might have, but it's personal and I'm going to keep it to myself. I think everybody thinks they can bring something to the team."

   Let's step back for some perspective.

Welsch is not a malcontent and his frustration should not create a divisive issue for the Celtics. There is no controversy here. Welsch is having the kind of growing pains that come with playing on a second unit made up of young, inexperienced players.

Coach Doc Rivers recognizes that. Boston's substitutes held their own in the first half against Portland Wednesday night, though no one scored in double figures. But Welsch (4 points, 2 rebounds) performed so poorly he played only 13 minutes. Just two games into the regular season, Rivers shifted the 6-foot-7-inch swingman to his natural positions, hoping Welsch would compete better without the burden of playing point guard.

"He's just got to fight through [the frustration]," said Rivers. "Right now, he's on the second unit. He's been up and down so far. There's no doubt about that. Playing him at the point was my fault and probably hurt him some. But since we've moved him full time to shooting guard and small forward, he's better. [Against Portland], he didn't play well and that's going to happen. I told the guys that. I don't mind that. So, I took him out early. Then, there's going to be nights when he's going to play 35 minutes because he's playing great. Once he gets into his rhythm, he'll be fine. I'm not worried about him a whole bunch."

But it may take time for Welsch to find his rhythm coming off the bench. He said it's difficult building chemistry with his fellow reserves because they "play only a few minutes on the court" and "sometimes don't read each other very well" on offense. No matter how much the second unit plays together, meshing with rookies, such as Tony Allen and Al Jefferson, can be a tough task.

"He has to trust [the second-unit players] a little better, more than thinking he has to do it and make the play," said Rivers. "Right now, sometimes Jiri feels he has to force the action and make the play, instead of just moving the ball. If you see Al on the post, throw it to him. If you see him cutting, throw it to him. Don't look at Tony as being guarded by [Zach] Randolph and think, 'Man, I don't know if he can score on him.' Well, we'll never know if you don't throw it to him. But that's a young group and Jiri is young. It's not like Jiri is a 10-year veteran. They've all got to learn how to trust each other on that second unit."

Welsch, who turns 25 in January and is in his third year in the NBA, is viewed as a leader of the second unit. But he may be somewhat reluctant to take charge.

"You're asking me how we get on the same page?" said Welsch. "I don't know how to get us on the same page. I don't know if it's up to me. I could be the one who tries to calm things down when things are not going well on the court. It's hard to figure out because we spend only a few minutes on the court."

At least Welsch has something to sit and think about.

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