Top 10 NBA SGs in the Eastern Conference (no particular order):
In a league devoid of superior talent at the typically robust shooting guard position, and in a conference particularly lacking the superstar abilities of Kobe and All-Star potential of Harden and Mayo, the NBA’s Eastern Conference is significantly lacking the game-changing players with which it once thrived (Jordan, Iverson, Carter, McGrady, Miller, Dumars, Petrovic, Hardaway). Even the recently successful albeit aging Ray Allen has seemingly cast himself into oblivion by going to the South Beach Heat. That leaves the rather underwhelming and highly subjective list of ten best 2-guards in the East as given above. Please keep in mind that two of the aforementioned (Redick and Afflalo) play on the same team, only four of the ten stand 6’6" or taller (including the generous measurement of 6’6" for JR Smith), and three of perhaps the top five (Wade, Johnson and Terry) are already on the wrong side of 30.
What does this very obvious and depressing introduction have anything to do with an aging Celtics team whose own best SG (Terry) has tremendously underperformed at the ripe age of 35? For a team struggling to find any sense of cohesion and to move beyond the .500 mark, the depleted stock of SGs in the East provides Boston with a chance to create mismatches and exploit a weakness common to many teams and inherent to the game today. While the Celtics may not have an ideal 2-guard in their own right, much to the early disappointment of Terry and younger acquisition Courtney Lee, they do contain a plethora of forwards. Much of the Celtics early struggles have been highlighted by poor rebounding and the absence of their seemingly trademark defense. Coach Doc Rivers has been tasked with solving this with a lackluster frontcourt beyond the stalwart defense of KG. Beyond pure size, Jason Collins does not offer a team much and the early injury to undersized C Chris Wilcox has only magnified Boston’s lack of depth at upfront.
It remains to be seen if, when healthy, a stouter frontcourt with Collins at C and Avery Bradley at SG will solidify Boston’s poor defense. In theory, by playing KG at the 4, the Cs can overcome diminished size at the 2 guard and can more than make up for rebounding all the while giving KG mismatches against a smaller crop of NBA 4s.
In the meantime, Doc ought to try mixing up his starting lineup a bit in order to provide additional scoring via mismatches at the 2. Jason Terry is a natural fit for sixth man and provides the scoring needed with the second unit and Courtney Lee has proved to be unworthy of a starting role. Rather than sacrificing a quality starting lineup or bench, Doc should look to start Pierce at the 2. The hesitation of course is that Paul is a natural wing – he’s bigger and longer than most 2s and much of his benefit comes from his defense on some of the league’s best wings like LBJ. However, as Doc as said time and again, PP is a natural scorer, both off the dribble and as a shooter from inside and beyond the arc. Of the ten SGs mentioned above, only two would give Pierce obvious trouble on the defensive end – Wade and Ellis – in which case the Celtics would clearly benefit from starting Bradley, upon his return. However, Pierce, given his size and strength would give the Celtics obvious mismatches over most teams and actually allow Boston to matchup better with both the Nets and 76ers, two intra-division rivals who already start bigger 2s.
The carryover effect throughout the lineup could very well be hugely beneficial. By moving Paul to the 2, it opens up additional minutes for Doc to utilize the team’s depth at forward. In particular, it gives Jeff Green the chance (perhaps his last) to show his talents, giving him more minutes with the starting unit and particularly Rondo to give him easy baskets and better defensive assignments. Where the Celtics might lose transition offense by starting Pierce at 2 over Lee or Terry, they gain transition offense with Green. Green is particularly effective at wing with his trademark corner 3 and electrifying baseline drives, two areas of lacking from Pierce’s arsenal and thus providing an ideal complement to PP.
With Green at the 3, it gives Doc the chance to dictate the frontcourt knowing that he has a size advantage at guard. He can go small and play a faster and more dynamic Bass or play the bigger Sullinger. Still it leaves Doc with the possibility of moving KG back to his more natural 4 and putting Collins at 5. By all means, a move of Pierce to 2 does not resolve the Celtics frontcourt weakness, but it can help alleviate the stress on KG and the ailing frontcourt with rebounding and on the offensive end with mismatches. Defensively, it also gives Doc the flexibility of playing the occasional 2-3 zone or even a 1-3-1 spearheaded by Rondo, with KG and Bass in the middle flanked by the length of Green and Pierce. Through the first 19 games, Doc had only given the Rondo/Pierce/Green/Sullinger/Garnett lineup 3 minutes and 19 seconds of gameplay and had never given a Rondo/Pierce/Green/Bass/Garnett lineup the chance to shine. Of all the lineup combinations that had at least 30 minutes of gameplay (6), however, the top in plus/minus per minute contained Jeff Green while the least effective was the most played – Rondo/Terry/Pierce/Bass/Garnett. Clearly a change is needed, and we cannot rely completely on Avery Bradley for an instant fix coming off of major surgeries and months removed from in-game action.