Justin Reed Defensive Specialist
October 7, 2005
WALTHAM Justin Reed loves to make people uncomfortable. Not the I-can't-believe-he-just-said-that kind of uncomfortable. But the stop-bothering-me, get-out-of-my-face, stay-away kind. Reed wants to provoke strong reactions with everything he does. He sees that as the most important part of his job. Such is the life of the Celtics' second-year defensive specialist.
Usually, young players don't like to play defense. Usually, they go instead for the high-flying dunks. But not the 23-year-old Reed, who had coaches at Provine High School in Jackson, Miss., and the University of Mississippi drill defensive fundamentals until they became both second nature and fun. Watching an opposing player become so frustrated he cannot help but complain to officials provides its own rush for Reed.
"You really get to see what a guy is made of when you make him uncomfortable," said Reed. "Some guys don't like to be touched, so I touch him a little bit. Some guys like to get to their normal spots, so I don't let them get to their normal spots. I just do little negative things to keep them off balance, just to make my job a little easier. At the same time, it creates a little problem between us. But that's a part of playing defense. Some guys will start crying and complaining and asking the refs for a little help. If you play defense long enough, you start to pick up on the signals when your guy has had as much as he's gonna take and when he doesn't want it anymore. I always know.
"You have to be tough. You have to be willing to get bumped, bruised, kicked, scratched, and just bounce back from it. I know I'm tough. Really, I'm built for defense. That's what I was brought here for, so that's what I'm going to do."
On a team stocked with young, talented scorers, Reed knows how he can distinguish himself enough to earn significantly more playing time than the 5.3 minutes per game he averaged last season. Defense could go a long way toward winning Reed the starting small forward job, if coach Doc Rivers decides to start Paul Pierce at shooting guard and keep Ricky Davis coming off the bench. In any event, Reed hopes he can set an example that makes defense a priority among his teammates.
"My goals are to be one of the best team players I possibly can, to do whatever the team needs me to do," said Reed. "Whatever they call for me to do, whatever my role is, I want to be the best at my role as possible. I can bring intensity; excitement about playing on defense. Sometimes people dread playing defense. So, I think if the team sees me having a winning attitude on defense, it will kind of circulate through the whole team. Then we'll all start enjoying defense as a collective effort."
Reed's defensive development in the NBA has already been something of a collective effort. He credits Pierce and Davis for providing defensive challenges in practice. When asked who is the toughest player to guard in the league, Reed does not hesitate to name Pierce. And that is not an uninformed opinion. Although Reed saw limited playing time last season, Rivers trusted the rookie enough to match him with some of the most talented offensive players in the NBA when Pierce, Davis, and others needed a rest.
"He has the size, the quickness, and the strength to be a top-notch defender in the league," said Pierce of the 6-foot-8-inch, 240-pound Reed. "Only a few guys can come with that combination. He still has to prove himself. He still has a lot to learn, but he has the will for defense. Now, it's just about getting the experience. We come in a lot and practice one on one. I show him where I draw fouls and where he can become a better defender, knowing how not to pick up those fouls."
Rivers would have used Reed more last season if not for NBA rules legislating a five-game minimum stay on the injured list. Often odd man out when it came to the active roster, Reed was placed on the injured list with such questionable maladies as left hip pointers and right knee tendinitis. As a result, he missed long stretches of the schedule, though he continued to practice. In good news for Reed and other young players around the league, the NBA now allows coaches to add and remove players from the inactive list game by game. Reed should be able to better supplement what he learns from Pierce and Davis in practice with game experience.
But before Rivers gives Reed more playing time, he must build on his success from the Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 11.7 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and earned second-team honors at the end of the two-week competition. According to Rivers, Reed has struggled adjusting to tougher competition in training camp. Defensive gambles that were easy to recover from in summer league play are more costly in preseason. Recognizing he still has a lot to learn, Reed spent countless hours at the Celtics' training facility during the offseason, dissecting his play and that of his teammates and opposition. He knew how important making a good preseason impression would be.
"It's a big opportunity," said Reed. "I'm not going to say it's going to be a breakout [season], just hopefully I can take advantage of the opportunity that hopefully they give me. I've just been eating, sleeping, and breathing basketball, learning the ins and outs of NBA basketball. It's not so much the athletic part of it. It's learning the X's and O's. So, I just really focused in on more of knowing basketball than anything else, watching film and game tape, playing a lot of ball, and working on a lot of different aspects of the game."
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