Kris Humphries was unsure of his role last year when the Nets, a contender, shipped him to the rebuilding Celtics as part of a package to land Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Previous experience informed him franchises in rebuilding mode usually opted to play young players over veterans.
But Humphries was surprised to find playing time. The team was dismal, finishing with 57 losses, yet he used the year to improve under first-year head coach Brad Stevens.
“I talked to Brad all the time and it’s just one of those things where, ‘Man, you got me a lot better,’” Humphries, 29, recalled in a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “Handling the ball, making plays, things like that. Shooting. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep playing in a lot of situations like the one I was in.”
Humphries’s final numbers were not his finest. A double-double machine during the 2011-12 season with the Nets, when he averaged 13.8 points and 11 rebounds per game, Humphries averaged 8.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in 69 games last season. But he compiled those statistics while playing just 19.9 minutes per contest and splitting time between the four and five spots. He honed his versatility and, as he put it, “I think I showed I can be really efficient.”
And after the Celtics sent him to Washington as part of a sign-and-trade deal for a conditional second-round pick and a trade exception last month, the newfound efficiency should help a suddenly deep Wizards frontcourt that includes starters Marcin Gortat and Nenê plus Humphries, DeJuan Blair and Drew Gooden off the bench.
Humphries shot 50.1 percent from the field last season — the second-best output of his career — and a career-high 81.3 percent from the free-throw line.
“The one thing I know is that in the time that I play I can be efficient and help people win,” said Humphries, who had just completed a workout alongside Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried in Los Angeles.
In addition to his rebounding prowess and physical play, the 6-foot-9 Humphries’s improved jump shot should help spread the floor in head coach Randy Wittman’s system. Humphries shot 46 percent (80-for-174) 15-19 feet away from the basket. The Wizards hoisted 1,344 shots from that range last season, second only to Charlotte, but shot just 37.7 percent.
“That’s just work over time,” Humphries said. “I came into the league, I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to play. I struggled, struggled, worked on my game, kept working on my game. And I think it shows. Guys improve. It doesn’t just happen because you’re just alive longer. You got to work at it. I’ve been working at it.”
Having spent the last four-plus seasons in the Eastern Conference, Humphries is familiar with the Wizards and their uptempo style of play. He has known Wittman since the coach’s days with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the two even lived in the same condo building in Florida for a time. He believes Wittman’s style suits his talent.
“It’s exciting because you look at the success the Wizards had last year and really with their style of play and being able to come in the game, run, rebound, defend, space the floor a little bit and do the things I’ve done,” Humphries said.
And after advancing to the playoffs just three times in 10 seasons, he also knows he’s joining a team ascending to the top of the Eastern Conference.
“When you’re on a team like this, which I feel blessed to be in this situation, everything you do is important and you feel important,” Humphries said. “Whatever you do on a winning team is magnified. You feel better doing stuff when you’re working towards something. It’s a little tougher when you’re playing the right way, making sacrifices, and your team doesn’t have a chance to make the playoffs.
“So being in this situation, it’s great and I really couldn’t have asked for a more up-and-up team. I just thought the style would be great. Get out going, and guys that can pass all the way around. (We) got shot makers, got bigs that can pass and play. It’ll be fun.”