As a basketball fan, I have always had a love for the lesser known, obscure and/or underappreciated. At school, when most kids were wearing Penny Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan jerseys, I was wearing Bobby Hurley, Derek Harper and Dino Radja.
This is my open tribute to the lesser known players in today’s game. This is Spotted on the Pine.
Name: Greg Stiemsma
Team: New Orleans Pelicans
Jersey Number: 34
Rookie Year: 2011-12
Drafted: Undrafted (2008)
Randolph, Wisconsin is home to roughly 1800 people.
Living in a small town, people tend to know each other. It is even harder to not stand out if you are a shade under seven foot tall, such as Randolph native Greg Stiemsma.
Stiemsma would rise to the occasion though, as he led his small town’s high school basketball team, the Randolph Rockets, to three consecutive state basketball championships.
Through his success, for Greg’s senior year he was recognized by scouting publications as high as the 37th top prospect in high school basketball. This ranking would see him rank higher than Dorell Wright and Andray Blatche, who would head straight to the NBA from high school, as well as future NBA lottery pick Jeff Green and future NBA All-Stars Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert.
Stiemsma stayed close to home and joined the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison.
As a Freshman on a very well regarded Badger team, Greg would not see much playing time. He started making waves in his sophomore season but in January 2006 was deemed academically ineligible. Not getting to play while also dealing with low grades, Stiemsma had a bout with some severe depression. Greg opened up about his issues to the team’s trainer and got help. This allowed him to get healthy and in the right frame of mind to enter his junior year in position to help.
Greg improved each year but really came into his own in his senior season. As a senior, with meaningful minutes, Greg totaled 40 blocked shots on the season, finishing his Badger career with 96, the fifth most in school history.
Greg didn’t hear his name called during the 2008 NBA draft, so he would begin his professional journey in Turkey. Playing for a first division club named Oyak Renault, Greg would make quite an impact. In 17 games Stiemsma would average 7.9 ppg and 6.7 rpg, while also having three double doubles.
This would garner the attention of those in the Korean Basketball League and in their international player draft of 2009, Greg would be the 2nd overall pick by the Seoul SK Knights.
The confidence of the former Badger grew and in sixteen games with the Knights, Greg averaged 14.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 2.8 bpg.
Stiemsma returned stateside to join the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the D-League and played 45 games in their 2009-10 campaign. While his point and rebound totals went down (8.8 and 7.1 respectively), his blocks would increase to an impressive 3.6 per game en route to winning the D-League’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Due to his impressive play, Greg would get his first NBA contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, as they signed him at the end of the season for the “remainder of season and the next”, however he was cut before training camp without ever appearing in a game.
Cut on September 10, 2010, it didn’t take long for another team to take a look into the talented big man. On September 24th, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him to a 10-day contract but Greg would not make it into the preseason.
After leaving the Cavaliers, Greg returned to Turkey, this time with Turk Telekom where he had a successful 29 game stint.
In October 2011, he was back with the Sioux Falls Skyforce but as the 2011 lockout ended, he received another chance in the NBA.
Four games into his second stint with Sioux Falls, the Boston Celtics signed Greg for the rookie minimum. Hurting big man help, Stiemsma would get thrust into playing 20 minutes with the Celtics in their season opener against the New Orleans Hornets. Not being a focal point of the offense, Greg only got two points. He grabbed four rebounds. But he also had an amazing six blocks, which happened to be franchise record for a Celtics player in their debut.
A three year journey to make it to the NBA and you set a franchise record in your debut for one of the greatest franchises? Not bad.
He would be a pleasant surprise in early Celtics games that season, capped off by a 13 point, 7 rebound and 2 block performance against Washington on January 2nd.
A week into the season, Celtics fans were loving their new big man. He was seemingly going to become a cult figure. I mean, a week into his career the video “GREG STIEMSMA ROOKIE BLOCKING MACHINE” was already on Youtube:
But suddenly, Doc Rivers threw him on the bench. Stopped playing him. Gave minutes to a worn down Jermaine O’Neal.
Stiemsma would play garbage minutes the rest of the season, one minute here, three minutes there. In the games he would get a chance, such as the 27 minutes he got against Indiana in April 2012, he had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks in the Boston victory.
Despite sporadic play, whether it was a sportswriter trying to be zany or feeling genuine, Greg got one vote toward the All-Rookie team.
In the 2012 offseason, the Celtics made the effort to put a qualifying offer for Greg, however after seeing the offer sheet the familiar Minnesota Timberwolves signed him to, the Celtics rescinded their offer and Stiemsma headed to Minneapolis.
Greg seemed like a potentially exciting wildcard for a promising Minnesota team. With Kevin Love missing the bulk of the season, Brandon Roy not being able to make a comeback.
Greg would have a solid season and get much more playing time than his rookie year in Boston but once again, the playing time was all over the place. The Wolves made a trip to Phoenix in March where Stiemsma enjoyed his first career double double with 14 points and 10 rebounds (along with 3 blocks) in 34 minutes, however the next game against Chicago, he’d only see eight minutes on the court.
Despite having a season of progress, only July 7th, the Timberwolves waived Greg. Maybe it was a money thing but when Kevin Love was healthy, he found creative ways to use The Steemer on the court:
It didn’t take long for another team to pick up his services though. As the New Orleans Pelicans continue to build a very promising team of young players, Greg Stiemsma was officially added to the fold. His recent press conference can be viewed here:
Greg has some talent that cannot be taught. He wants to start in New Orleans, which if they use Anthony Davis at the four, could be possible. If the Hornets run with Davis at center and have Stiemsma continue to develop off the bench, the dangerous duo of bigs could be lethal weapon for a franchise that is starting to show some promise.