Sure, it's a small sample-size to look at stats from the first six games of this season. However, that does not detract from the fact that there have been many nice developments with Celtics players. From the emergence of Greg Stiemsma to Avery Bradley's absolutely stifling on-ball defense, the C's have a lot of things to be happy about now that they are 3-3 and .500, finally. Here's a few of those stats, but proceed knowing that, again, this is a small sample-size.
Let's start with the most surprising player this season -- Greg Stiemsma. Greg came into training camp as a bit of a mystery. We knew he played at Wisconsin. We knew he never averaged more than 3.5 points per game and 3.1 rebounds per game while in college. We knew he moved on from college to play in the D-League and a few stints overseas. In the D-League he averaged 8.7 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game, and 3.6 blocks per game over three seasons. His numbers were even better in the playoffs. Stiemsma averaged 15.0 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 4.3 blocks per game during the 2009-2010 D-League playoffs. All of those stats can be found in a number of places online. What we didn't know was how Greg would translate his skills into the NBA. Better yet, we weren't even sure if he'd get a chance at the NBA. But Greg came into training camp and impressed all of the right people, and as we saw last night against Washington (and in his debut against New Orleans), he has a knack for doing things the right way and working hard. It's paying off.
Over the span of three appearances this season Stiemsma has tallied a total of 21 points, 17 rebounds (6 of them offensive boards), and 12 blocks. Yes. Twelve blocks in three games. And they haven't come in mop-up duty. He's been blocking veterans stone cold in their tracks. Paul Flannery of WEEI.com had this to say in his recent column on Greg:
Coming into Monday’s game, Stiemsma had blocked 10 shots in 49 minutes, a rate of 7.3 per 36 minutes on the court. Even in a small sample size, that’s a huge number and it provides a dimension the Celtics have sorely lacked over the last few years.
There have been 20 plays involving Stiemsma on offense so far this year. Out of those 20 plays he has taken 14 shots, and made 9-14 (64.3%). That's pretty good for a guy who, according to Flannery in his article, was told to stand in front of the C's in practice and proclaim that he is a shooter (because he was constantly passing up open looks). Looks like he's finally shooting like Doc wanted him to, and it's paying dividends. Stiemsma is averaging 1.15 points per play. 20% of plays involving Greg have led to spot-up attempts (that's four plays), and he's shot 3-4 (75%) off of those chances. Half of Stiemsma's involvement in plays have come off of cuts to the basket or a low-post positiion. He's shot 4-6 (66.7%) on those shots, and has been pretty surprisingly decent as an offensive player when he's cutting or close to the basket. Defensively speaking, Greg still has some work. Opponents matching up with Greg as the primary defender are shooting 10-20 (50%) from the field, and 7-11 (63.6%) of those shots have come from players posting Greg up. JaVale McGee, to put it bluntly, abused Greg in the post quite a few times. Still, his deficiencies defensively have been not quite as noticeable when you take into account his shot blocking skills. Remember, he has twelve blocks this season. Greg is second in the NBA among players playing 15 minutes or more per game with 3.00 blocks a game, and he is first among rookies. With the health of Jermaine O'Neal in question for the duration of this season it will be interesting to see how much work Greg gets with the first unit. He's shown that he can produce. Now, the question that remains to be answered is whether or not he can be consistent. Only time will tell.
Another player that came into this season as a mystery is second-year player, Avery Bradley. Bradley spent a good bit of time in the D-League last year, and it was obvious that he just wasn't ready for "the big time". He rarely took advantage of opportunities presented to him, and he was used mainly as a defensive weapon towards the end of quarters. This season, though, Doc and Danny have remained confident that Avery has developed enough to contribute to this team in some manner. During his nine games with the Maine Red Claws last season, Avery averaged 17.1 points per game, 5.2 assists per game, and 3 steals per game. On January 30th, 2011 he stole the ball nine times in one game. I don't care that it was the D-League. That's impressive.
We've seen those defensive skills at work this season, too. Bradley has been the primary defender 19 times this season, and he is holding his match-up to a pathetic 3-16 shooting. That's 18.8% from the field, and just .53 points per play. Again, yes, it's a small-sample size. Bradley hasn't been used in a lot of situations where he is having to make plays against big-time players. If you saw his work against Jordan Crawford last night during his second stint on the floor, though, you understand just how stifling he can be. Bradley has the potential to be as much of an asset defensively to Boston as Tony Allen was in 2008 and beyond. He doesn't have the size that Allen had, and is nowhere close to being as bulky and strong, but his defense cannot be questioned. He has handled the ball handler off of the pick-and-roll during ten plays this year, and Avery has held his opponent to 2-10 (20%) shooting. He's yet to tally a steal, but during the preseason he made quite a few good plays defensively and even stole the ball twice as the Raptors brought the ball up the floor. Hopefully, we will see much more of that this season.
I'm not going to even write about Avery's offensive performance this season, because quite frankly it's been non-existent. Doc Rivers stated that E'Twaun Moore had topped Avery in the C's pecking order after the blowout loss to the Hornets, but it seems like Avery's defensive capabilities have been able to keep him on the floor. If he can finally begin to understand proper floor spacing, and what to do with the ball in his hands on offense, then I truly think he can be a reliable asset for Boston -- even if it's solely for his defensive abilities.
Both Stiemsma and Avery are doing things (namely during the past three games) that are validating why they have been given roles on this team. They are young. They are energetic. They are hard workers, and with time I think both of them will play themselves into nice roles for Boston. Greg came into Boston as a no-name in the NBA, but he's quickly becoming a fan favorite and developing a nice name for himself in the C's locker room. If Kevin Garnett is praising you then you must be doing something right. As he and Avery continue to work hard and earn time for Boston this season there are sure to be as man "ups" as there are "downs." But sit back, enjoy the ride, and appreciate the hard work these guys are putting in, and watch them as they grow as contributors to this Boston Celtics team.