Greg Stiemsma brings defensive presence to New Orleans Pelicans

Greg Stiemsma brings defensive presence to New Orleans Pelicans

August 14, 2013

When Pelicans Coach Monty Williams spoke to Greg Stiemsma in early July about the possibility of the free agent coming to New Orleans, it was déjà vu all over again for the two men. Almost exactly one year earlier, Williams and Stiemsma had a similar conversation, but the 6-foot-11 center opted to sign with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

This time, Williams got the answer he was looking for from the Wisconsin native, who officially became a Pelican on July 10. But first, the fourth-year coach couldn’t resist giving his new player a little good-natured ribbing.

“He said he was happy that I made the right decision this year,” Stiemsma said of his phone call with Williams. “We joked about it and had a few laughs about how close we were last year (to Stiemsma signing with New Orleans).”

In retrospect, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the third-year NBA big man eventually decided to play in the Crescent City for Williams. In Stiemsma’s first NBA game with Boston on Dec. 28, 2011, his impressive debut featured six blocks in the New Orleans Arena against the then-Hornets. That still stands as his single-game career high in rejections.

“That was one of my favorite games I’ve played in my basketball career,” said Stiemsma, who has also played professionally in Turkey and South Korea. “To finally get a chance to step onto a real NBA floor, in a real NBA game, it was definitely a lot of fun. And to get a couple blocks was definitely a good way to start my career, letting people know that this is what I do, and to prove that right out of the gate.” “We couldn’t make a shot in the paint, because he was distracting or blocking every shot we tried to attempt,” Williams said.

The University of Wisconsin product finished his rookie NBA season ranked second in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes (5.33). As an occasional starter for Minnesota last season, he was sixth in the category (3.57), behind only well-known defensive intimidators JaVale McGee, Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan.

For a coach such as Williams, who constantly emphasizes the importance of defense, adding a player like Stiemsma was a welcomed acquisition. New Orleans has received attention around the league this summer for significantly increasing its offensive firepower, but must improve its ranking from 2012-13 of 28th in defensive efficiency.

“Everybody I’ve talked to likes his game,” Williams said of Stiemsma. “I like him because he’s defensive-minded and can block shots.”

For his part, Stiemsma says he’s comfortable with the role he’s been given in his previous two NBA stops with Boston and Minnesota. He’s compiled career averages of 3.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 15.1 minutes. Williams’ defense-first approach was one of the reasons Stiemsma weighed signing with New Orleans for two consecutive offseasons.

“Defense has been my go-to, my foundation,” Stiemsma said. “When you get a coach who appreciates guys who play defense and preaches that from Day 1, that’s a team I want to be part of. First and foremost, I’m a rim protector. I block shots and defend the paint. I have a defensive presence and mind-set, and try to make sure nothing comes easy (for opponents).

“On the offensive end, I try to be solid, knock down 15- and 17-foot jump shots, take care of the ball, make the extra pass, set good screens, get the other guys open and clean up on the boards. I’m definitely alright with that role.” Another factor in Stiemsma’s decision to sign with New Orleans was the Pelicans’ array of summer additions, such as All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and potent scorer Tyreke Evans.

“Those guys can flat-out play,” Stiemsma said. “They’re guys I’m excited to be teammates with, because you know how good they are. I think we’re going to be a pretty fun team to watch. We’ve got a lot of guys who can get up and down the floor. We’re excited to put it all together.”

Although Stiemsma’s signing did not generate as much notice as some of the team’s other moves, the 27-year-old’s defensive skill set could prove to be invaluable. He looks forward to making contributions to help improve the Pelicans at that end of the floor.

“Everybody in this league can score,” Stiemsma said. “The good teams are the ones who can stop you. We have to get to be one of those teams that can get stops.”