The Boston Celtics are old. The Boston Celtics will never win again. Paul Pierce has flabby arms and is an awkward excuse for a superstar. Ray Allen can't create his own shot anymore. Kevin Garnett never picks on anyone his own size. Just don't tell any of that to the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics are set to begin their 2011-2012 campaign on Sunday on the heels of a prolonged lockout. The mission is quite simple for this old squad: bring home Banner 18. The path to fulfilling that mission is going to be tough, though. Still, hope springs eternal in Boston because this year more than ever the Celtics seem to have a cohesive bench, a healthy (for now) Jermaine O'Neal, and an invigorated Rajon Rondo. As the Celtics prepare for to take on the Knicks on Christmas Day, let's take a quick look at what this year's team brings to the table.
Rondo is coming off an impressive season assist-wise that saw frustrating injuries and lackadaisical effort at times. He averaged a career-best 11.2 assists per game, and for much of the early part of last season Rajon mesmerized fans and NBA experts alike. At the same time, Rondo had his highest assist-rate (rate of assists against possessions used) of his career (79.00) last season. That was good enough for third-best in the NBA, and second-best of all regular starting point guards behind Jason Kidd. Yes, those are arbitrary statistics, but it is a true testament to the fact that Rondo played just about as well as any point guard could have last season with a team that was absolutely destroyed by injuries. He still managed to produce, and was able to find guys in their spots enough to help a hurting team continue to thrive. This season should be no different. Many people have been quick to assume that Rondo would struggle and allow the fact that his name has been in the midst of trade rumors to dampen his play. I don't believe this will be the case. Rondo has always been the type of player that uses tough situations and rumors to fuel his play. In 2010, with a struggling and injured Celtics squad, Rajon helped the Celtics come within a few minutes from winning Banner 18. If Rajon remains aggressive offensively while still looking to get Paul, Ray, and Kevin their touches in the spots where they are most effective -- then I expect nothing less than another fine season from a point guard continuing to develop many aspects of his game.
Ray Allen is a maniac. I don't think I have ever seen a player of his age in better shape year-in and year-out. Allen missed a total of 119 days due to injury during his time with the Bucks and the Sonics. Since he's been in Boston, Allen has missed only 24 days due to injury. Yes, you read that correctly. Twenty-four. Allen is 36 year old now. He isn't getting any younger, but if you look at what he has been able to accomplish as he has aged you could almost refer to him as the Benjamin Button of the Boston Celtics. His numbers actually IMPROVED last season -- he averaged 16.5 points per game, shot 49.1% from the field, and 44.4% from beyond the three-point arc. All of those numbers are improvements from the year before, and Allen's FG percentage was his highest in the past five seasons. Allen also became the NBA's leader in three-point field goals last season. All of that while he is
"too old, no longer effective, and is losing his touch." Right. Keep telling yourself that folks. And Ray Allen will keep proving you wrong. Ray is poised to have another good season, though it will be interesting to see just how great his body's shape is in during a 66-game season that will take place over the course of 124 days.
At this point in his career it's very obvious what Paul Pierce means to the Boston Celtics. He's the captain, and will most assuredly go down as one of the greatest Celtics of all time. His leadership means everything to this team, and without him the Boston Celtics just would not be the Boston Celtics that fans have come to know and love over the past decade. Last season, Pierce was able to remain consistently healthy throughout the season. He started 80 of 82 games (the only two he missed he sat our for "rest"). Pierce has been relatively healthy over the past three seasons for an aging veteran, and the Celtics will absolutely need him to be healthy during this shortened season. He is already doubtful for the opener against the Knicks, but don't be surprised if he takes the court at some point during that game. He's tough, he's seasoned, and he loves the spotlight. He toppled the Knicks last season (and Nate Robinson, too), and we all know he would love nothing more than to do it again on Christmas day. But remember, it isn't a rivalry game. Pierce averaged 18.9 points per game last season, and was yet again the player that drove the Boston Celtics to success for much of the regular season. However, he shot his lowest percentage from three-point range in five seasons last year (37.4%). That didn't seem to hurt the Celtics too much considering their success wasn't driven by their three-point production, but it is definitely something to keep an eye on this year. All in all, if Pierce heals from this nagging bruised heel and can get back into "game shape" and produce like he has in years past, then he will be the driving force behind Boston's scoring again.
Kevin has been the emotional catalyst behind this team ever since he arrived in Boston. His vocal leadership on defense combined with his fading array of offensive abilities has translated into great success for the Celtics. Sure, his offensive numbers have dropped almost every season he has been in Boston, but the fact remains that when he is healthy and on the court the Celtics are at their best. He missed only eleven games last season, and many of those were due to much needed rest. But if Kevin can stay healthy this season there should be no reason why he cannot continue to put up 14 or more points per game, 7 or more rebounds per game, and help bolster the Celtics' defense. Garnett will be asked to play the center position some this season (most likely), but Doc Rivers' has remained confident that he can be effective in that position for Boston. Besides, there are only a few Centers in the league that will be able to push a healthy Kevin Garnett around on a consistent basis. However, for the Celtics' sake, let's hope Jermaine O'Neal, Stiemsma, and Wilcox can man the 5, and not require Garnett's services. Rivers' has said he plans to play Kevin in 5-minute stints throughout the game in an attempt to augment his effectiveness, but reduce his minutes. If this is effective, and KG remains healthy for a good portion of this season then Boston should be in decent shape again.
Jermaine O'Neal is old. Jermaine is fragile, should have retired after the playoffs last season, and is the reason why the Celtics couldn't execute a sign-and-trade for David West. At least that's what everyone else seems to be saying. But O'Neal has given every indication thus far that he is healthy and ready to go for the upcoming season. Last year he was plagued by injuries to his knee, and only saw action in 24 games. He averaged 5.4 points, and 3.7 rebounds per game. In the playoffs he seemed a lot more effective, and he stated at Celtics' media day that he completely reworked his fitness routine during the lockout. O'Neal noted that he pushed his body harder than he has in many years past, and if you take a quick glance on Jermaine from preseason and Jermaine from last season it is evident that he has gotten into much better shape. In 2010 he played 70 games and averaged 13.6 points, and 6.9 rebounds per game for Miami. He started all 70 of those games. Yes, that was two years ago. Yes, he has gotten older. But if his knee is as strong as he has said that it is, and he is healthy for 50-55 games this season, then I believe Boston will be very pleased with what Jermaine will contribute. He has said numerous times during training camp that he is much more comfortable with the team this season. Last season he struggled to get a feel of the defensive schemes (primarily because he was injured so frequently), but having been able to jump into training camp with 100% effort and health, O'Neal seems to have a much better understanding of what Doc Rivers' and his staff want to see out of this team.
The Bench And Beyond
Glen Davis is no longer a member of the Boston Celtics, and that is sure to leave some casual Boston Celtics fans disappointed. After all, Glen Davis was great at a lot of things. Among other things: drooling, making weird faces, and taking tons of mid-range jumpshots. No, but really, the Celtics are surely grateful for Davis' contributions to the team over the past few years. He won a ring, and contributed greatly off of the bench. But adding Brandon Bass is an upgrade at the power forward position. Bass is a better shooter (more consistent mid-range jumper), a high-energy and no frills guy, and a decent rebounder as well. He averaged 15.5 points per 36 minutes compared to Davis' 14.3. Bass also had a higher TRB% (12.5% to Davis' 11.4%), DRB% (16.7% to Davis' 16.4%), and ORB% (8.1% to Davis' 5.7%). His effective field goal percentage was also greatly higher than Davis' last season -- .515 compared to Davis' .449. Bass also had a higher true shooting percentage last season -- .571 to Glen Davis' .499. Simply put, he should fit in just fine with the Celtics.
Dooling is a veteran combo guard that Doc Rivers has had his eye on for years. For the first time in a while, now, Rajon Rondo finally has a true back-up. Dooling is a feisty defender, and a player that is just ready to win. He has come into training camp with open eyes, and open ears ready to learn whatever is necessary to help the Celtics win. He will be relied upon to bolster the second unit for Boston, and based on his numbers over the past few seasons he should be able to do just fine. He averaged 7.1 points last season on a pretty pathetic Bucks team. He played in 80 games, and was very effective coming off of the bench for Milwaukee. Dooling has been a career bench player (for the most part), and at this point in his career (he's 31 years old) he is just ready to do whatever is necessary to win. As long as he plays solid defense and can take command of the second unit, he should be able to experience his fair share of wins.
Marquis is a bit of a success story. Just the mere fact that he is alive and walking is a miracle, but when you add that to the fact that he's playing basketball again you can't help but be thrilled for Daniels. He is coming off a scary injury last season in which he suffered a bruised spine that required surgery and intense rehab. Daniels even noted during training camp that he had suffered from side effects to other spine injuries before, but didn't realize that his physical deficiencies (weak hands, etc) were a result of the spine injury. But Daniels has stated time and time again that he is healthy and stronger than he ever was before. Health is a major concern with Marquis simply because of the condition of his recent injuries, but if he can stay healthy he adds a huge lift to Boston's second unit. He's a slasher, a great defender, a decent player posting up, and a guy who already knows what the coaching staff expects when he's on the floor. He will be a nice addition to have on the bench again this year.
Chris Wilcox just wants to win, you guys. After suffering through some frustrating years in Detroit, how can you blame him? That's why having Wilcox -- a guy who is a great big man off of the bench, a high-energy player, and someone who can rebound and grind it out defensively -- is a fantastic piece to an already pretty nice Boston bench. He's done a great job during the two preseason games, and seems to be getting a better understanding of what is expected of him defensively on this team. As that understanding continues to develop, he should be able to contribute even more. At the same time, he may be called upon to play some minutes with the starters throughout the season. He said during training camp that he feels as if he can play the 5, and we already know he can compete and run the floor at the power forward position. Chris is a vital component to the rotation, and a welcomed upgrade for the Celtics' bench.
Pavlovic is a player who Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge feel can still be very successful in this league. He was given another guaranteed contract by the Celtics during the brief free agency period, and Doc hopes to milk his potential out of him this year. He's only 28, and still could have some good years of decent contributions ahead of him. Sasha is a lengthy and decent defender, and if he is confident and stepping into his shots he can hit from a wide variety of places on the floor. He's become a bit of a journeyman since his "glory days" in Cleveland, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have skills that can be utilized. I look at it in the sense that the situations and teams he has been on have not been able to properly utilize his talent. Hopefully, Doc will be able to find out what he does well, and give him the confidence needed to translate that to production on the court.
We don't know a whole lot about Avery. We know he's a great defender. We know he's trying to do what is necessary to contribute, and we know he didn't look very good at all during his stints with Boston last season. Doc and Danny are counting on Avery to have improved and contribute for the Celtics. If nothing else, he may be utilized during the end of quarters, and as the type of player Tony Allen was for Boston. Bradley probably won't be playing much (if any) point guard, and that's a very good thing. He's seemed inept in his ability to run the Celtics' offense when he has been given the opportunity so far. If he can start hitting some of the many shots that he takes, and he can continue to play sound defense and nag whoever he is matched up against then he will be a great role player for Boston. Those are some pretty big "if's", though.
He's a rookie (from Purdue), but Moore has shown signs of flair already. Doc commented numerous times early on in training camp that Moore was the best player on the floor. He has the capability to become a combo guard and contribute in a ton of different ways. His shot is pure, and he's very confident already. During the first preseason game he led the end of the Celtics' bench to a victory over the Raptors' starting rotation, and he did so by hitting two clutch baskets. He is someone to watch as the season develops, but if his confidence remains high and he stays ready he very well could be the "steal" of the draft.
Johnson is another rookie from Purdue, and another big man to add to the Celtics' bench. It's not known how much the coaching staff wants him to contribute this season, but he's already taking the right steps to success. That's right, he's embraced the mentoring of the veteran Kevin Garnett. That's something that other rookies (or young players) have not done in the past, and will go a long way in his adjustment process. He has a great jump shot, and is a decent defender and rebounder as well. Johnson will most likely need to add some weight, and he will have to find a way to be effective as a power forward without being an overt physical presence, but it's possible. He has struggled a bit during training camp and preseason, but that's not unexpected. He shouldn't (we hope) be relied upon too often this season, so as long as he can learn, grow, and contribute when called upon he should be just fine for Boston.
Here's an unknown for Boston. Stiemsma is the only training camp invite that made the team, and for good reason. He has size to add to the frontcourt (7'0), and has shown off a great ability to alter and block shots. During the final preseason game, Doc let Stiemsma run with the starting rotation for a while and Greg impressed the right people. He received a nice pass on the inside and flushed it home, and played sound defense as well. He was a bit of an unknown coming out of college as well (Wisconsin), but he has gotten better every year that he has played, and is a very cheap and tall addition to Boston's depth. Leave your expectations at the door with Greg, because quite frankly no one knows what to expect. Just enjoy the ride, and embrace the big man from Wisconsin.
That's the Celtics' roster as it stands right now. Rivers and Ainge have indicated that the 15th roster spot will remain open in case someone is waived or becomes available throughout the season. It was reported a few days ago that Mickael Pietrus may be on his way to Boston, and if he is healthy that would be a fantastic addition to the rotation. Regardless, Ainge will likely add a veteran to the team at some point and fill the roster out at 15 players. It will be interesting to see what direction the front office goes with that spot, but one thing is certain -- the Celtics have a team that believes they can contend, believes they will contend, and a bench that has them primed for success during a short season. Let's hope Father Time holds off on this squad for just a bit longer.
UPDATE: It looks like Pietrus is coming to Boston after all.