clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Signs for the Future

New, comments

Three Play “The Right Way”

During a difficult season for all Celtics fans, it’s important to find the positive elements and focus on them when looking for hope in the future. The message board has been ablaze with all sorts of argumentation over the prospects of this club going forward.

The multitude on injuries this team has had so early in the year has negated any ability to accurately gauge their capability as a unit. Even during the brief stretch of success before Paul Pierce went down, the team as a whole was still below full capacity.

The central factor going into this season was whether or not the younger players on this team could “separate” themselves from their peers and turn potential into production. Patience on this front has varied greatly amongst the constituents of the board but regardless of opinion, Ainge’s rebuilding plan is reliant on player progress.

The strange irony within the injuries this team has endured is the fact that all of the youngsters have gotten extended minutes. Those minutes translate directly into situations and responsibilities on the court that they wouldn’t have been afforded in such volume without the veterans going down.

Those opportunities have begun to yield results. Tony Allen’s loss was unfortunate, but there are a number of other players beginning to show their worth.

Three players displayed exactly the type of situational role responsibility that will be needed to make this team successful going forward.

Al Jefferson

aljeff2.jpgLast years favorite whipping boy has silenced all but the harshest of critics with his play over the past six weeks. Jefferson had the mantle of “the man” thrown on him when Pierce went down and that responsibility has been handled with varying results.

Jefferson’s game is still primarily from eight feet and in. Being the only credible double team threat left standing has allowed opposing defenses to throw looks at Jefferson that almost no player in the league faces.

Last night, West’s outside shot really helped to keep the wing defender off him, which left Brad Miller as the primary help man. Miller is not known for his defensive prowess and that showed consistently on the floor all night.

But, it was Jefferson’s face-up shot that really helped to open up his offensive options last night. More than just the actual attempts, it was the threat of those shots that froze the secondary defenders on more than one occasion.

When Jefferson is on the court with Perkins, his face-up shot creates space for both to operate inside and sets up an opportunity for an uncontested put-back on the weak side. If the other interior defender rotates over, a jump shot or a quick pass over the top are now available options for Jefferson with Perkins open on the opposite side of the paint. Even coupled with Gomes, Jefferson’s face up shot can create a lane for Gomes to cut to the basket if the help defender commits early to the threat.

If the defense chooses to stay at home, Jefferson has only a single defender to contend with. “That’s his next step. He can make [the face-up] but it’s not his shot yet. When he adds that part to his game I don’t know if you can guard him anymore.” Rivers said.

Tonight that shot was going down, but even as he works on making it “his shot” there are other things Jefferson is beginning to do that help him to contribute on the nights where the opposition limits his quality offensive looks in the post.

“I think he learned early on that if [the other team] is going to trap him, he’s got to find a way to stay on the floor. He knows that he still has to improve defensively. He knows that if he’s not scoring offensively and he’s not doing anything else, then he’s probably coming out. I think he’s a pretty smart player. He figures if he rebounds well, he stays on the floor.” Rivers explained before the game.

One of the final missing elements in his physical progress that Jefferson has realized this year is his body strength. Jefferson has spoken about how his loss of body fat has helped him with conditioning and quickness, but he realizes that greater upper-body strength can help him be more dominant on the inside.

“Last summer I worked on getting the weight off and getting in shape, this summer I’m going to be building muscle and getting stronger. You look at a guy like Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard has both.” Jefferson explained.

Jefferson isn’t considered amongst the elite big men in the league yet and he has a lot to work on, but the progress-under-fire that he’s made thus far should bode well for the future of this team.

Ryan Gomes

gomes1.jpgGomes is a player that has also elicited a small amount of criticism for a perceived regression in play of late. There are certainly limitations to Gomes’ game as an NBA power forward, but Gomes is aware that match ups and versatility will lead to effectiveness on the court in his future. This was never more evident than in his match up with Ron Artest, arguably the best defender in the league.

“You know he’s a tough defender. He guards the toughest guy on the opposing team every night. That will just help me out because I’m not at that level yet and I don’t get that much respect [from the officials], but he still plays the same every game so I can use this as motivation to get better.” Gomes explained.
Gomes talked about studying film and recognizing the differences in playing against perimeter players as opposed to strictly going against power forwards. He understands that his success at each position is predicated on identifying the match up on a given night and knowing what spots on the floor to focus in on both offensively and defensively.

“It was a good match up and I think I can learn from that. I’m going to break down the tape and see how I can get into some of the positions that he did on a lot of his plays. It’s a physical game in the NBA and once you have a reputation of being a certain type of player they’re going to let some things slide.”

Gomes looks at Artest as an excellent player to try and emulate in terms of on court play. Their size, strength, and athleticism are virtually identical to one another and both have played at the three and the four spots at times.

“I did well against [Artest], and if I do well against other guys guarding the perimeter playing the three after spending all of last season playing the four it can only help. Offensively it will probably make me a more versatile player because I’m doing things against small forwards and power forwards are much slower, so I can get away with a little more there too.”

Doc Rivers has also been quite pleased with Gomes and his play at the three. Since Allen went down, Gomes is averaging over 42 minutes per game and his role responsibility offensively has significantly increased, as has his confidence.

“You put him on Artest all game and that’s not easy for anybody. Those last two jumpers that Ryan missed front rim were probably a result of fighting the Mohegan guy.” Rivers quipped after the game.

Delonte West

West did exactly what will make him an effective player in this league during the Kings game. His best attribute is by far his ability to score the basketball, particularly his outside shot.

When West is taking open shots without conscience he becomes a player that the defense must account for and this enables him to get into the lanes and create opportunities for himself and others.

West will never have the pure speed or two-handed dribbling ability to simply break down his defender straight up. However, West is a dangerous playmaker when he’s looking for his own shots instead of trying to prove how much of a point guard he is.

Last night West didn’t hesitate to take what was given to him and once the shots started dropping it helped get Al Jefferson some room to operate as the strong-side wing defender couldn’t come down and trap Jefferson indiscriminately.

West’s defensive foot speed isn’t going to be exceptional against quicker point guards in this league and his playmaking off the dribble isn’t ideal for a starting point, but for a team that is basing its offense around Jefferson, and Pierce once he returns, West’s game is the furthest along of any of the other options at his position.

Ainge didn’t bring in two young point guards for no reason, but West will always have a role on this team as long as he shoots first and asks questions later. The more the team runs two point guard backcourts, the more useful West can be when he shoots to kill and stops trying to prove himself as a primary ball handler.

Looking Ahead

It’s painful for all Celtics fans to endure another losing season, but there are plenty of reasons to remain engaged in what the team is doing this season while keeping an eye toward the next.

Going into next season, Pierce will have the benefits of a developed low-post presence in Jefferson. Jefferson may still be in developmental mode, but the experience of this season will enable him to provide the necessary production and defensive attention to dramatically open up things for Pierce on the perimeter. With a true inside/outside offensive tandem, the rest of the team will find it much easier to execute what it is they do best.

Ryan Gomes is the quintessential example of a complementary player whose game can take off with two double-team worthy options to play with. Gomes stated a few weeks ago how much his game is predicated off of taking advantage of the seams created by opponents focusing their attention on Pierce.

The time spent without Pierce is enabling Gomes to develop other elements of his game as he is now a feature player in the Celtics current attack. When Pierce returns and couples with Jefferson to draw the opposition’s attention, Gomes should be substantially more dangerous because of the expansion of his own game.

West is much the same. He has mentioned in the past that it is more difficult for him to get his shot off against heavy pressure from larger defenders and he doesn’t have the innate skills to create as well as other players might. But West is an intelligent player who knows how to take play off of others. He is at his best when he is forgotten about or when the opposition gambles off of him, and so neglect becomes his ally.

There are others on this team that are benefiting from the chances that adversity has presented, but that doesn’t guarantee future success for this team. However, even the most pessimistic fans should be able to see the strategic position this team is in going forward into the off-season.

The final record of this team is not going to be indicative of the personnel that it possesses. Regardless, a high pick in this years draft holds substantial value to the franchise going forward.

Most on this board concur that another frontcourt player would be a boon to this team. “Defense” is the word thrown around most often by those that adamantly argue against this team’s direction. The 2007 draft is ripe with players who can step in and provide a frontcourt presence on both ends of the floor.

While no rookie drafted is going to step in and make this team a contender right off the bat, they will be able to contribute to the rotation and improve the team’s performance because of it.

In addition to any drafted lottery player, the team will have acquired another trade asset for playing the market this off-season. It has been stated quite clearly by Ainge that his objective is to build around Pierce by bringing in developed veteran help.

This past off-season didn’t provide the type of value that the team felt represented the talent on their roster. Instead of making a quick concession to placate the fan base and put and aesthetically more pleasing product on the floor, Ainge bet that he could improve the team’s bargaining position by standing pat and waiting for his hand to improve.

With over 50 games to go, it seems that the team’s valuable commodities are improving every day. Wins and losses shouldn’t be the central focus for anyone at this point. As long as the players on this team continue to increase their effectiveness and value to this club and others, the Celtics will be in a position to finally put a team on the floor that everyone can be satisfied with.

With the east the way it is now, contention becomes a much more palpable prospect going forward. Most of the teams in the East are flawed in some way shape or form. Few teams posses a legitimate inside/outside tandem to play around and with another substantial talent to added to a team deep with complementary talent, it shouldn’t be difficult to take the next step toward building a winner.