This is a comprehensive study of the Boston Celtics from the Department of Redundancy The Boston Celtics are a flawed basketball team. Fans have cited different reasons for the team's woeful record over the past few seasons - laying the blame at the feet of a sub-par coach, key injuries, and inexperienced players. Others have called out GM Danny Ainge for his role in the whole affair. Although he has done well in the draft, acquiring quality talent in the middle to late rounds, Ainge's trades and free agent signings have certainly been questionable. Although I believe that Danny has significantly upgraded the roster that he inherited from the O'Brien / Wallace regime, the Celtics are now faced with a different problem: Years of drafting the "best player available" and attempting to correct prior errors in judgment through sideways trades have turned the Celtics into a case study in player mismatching and roster redundancy.
What does this mean? Contending basketball teams are often comprised of anywhere between one and three exceptional players with everyone else in the rotation providing some kind of specialized skill (role-players). These teams have areas of strength and overlap, but where they really succeed is in being able to mix players on the floor that complement one another and atone for each others' weaknesses. Although the Celtics have "talented" players (obviously some will debate this point), their skill sets tend to duplicate one another relative to position and available court minutes. Unfortunately, this issue goes far beyond the classic observation that Boston has too many players of similar size on the roster. Phoenix can get away with having James Jones, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, and Boris Diaw on the court at the same time even though they're all between 6'5 and 6'8. Size is not the issue.
I could spend a lot of time tracing the lineage of how these current C's came to be, crying in my beer about how we got into this mess, but I'm more interested in what's needed to get out. With the draft just a couple of days away and trade rumors changing on an hourly basis, it seems like a good time to step back from the insanity, take stock of the Celtics, analyze our players on the whole, and see what can be done about further uncovering the team's needs. In order to do this, I evaluated each of the Celtics in 20 categories, ranking each on a scale of 1-5. Why 5? Because 10 would make The Man a little nervous.
1 - Poor
2 - Below Average
3 - Average
4 - Above Average
5 - Excellent
I apologize to anyone hoping for a system with snappier adjectives. The ratings were determined by both categorically analyzing the player against his peers on the team and then filtered once more against what I'd consider to be the standard-bearers for that particular skill in the NBA. For example, the standard bearers in the three point shooting category might be Mike Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Ray Allen, etc. The categories are largely self-explanatory but I'll cover them briefly:
Handle - Overall ballhandling ability with particular attention paid to in-traffic dribbling. Orien Greene graded out at a -5, in case anyone was wondering.
Awareness - General court sense on both offense and defense. Executing of diagrammed plays, proper recognition on pick and roll, and clock awareness are just a few examples. My rating of Gerald Green was generous.
Passing - Court vision of course, but also recognizing what passes can and cannot be made. Also measures utilization of different types of passes to achieve the desired effect. Attempts to measure Steve Nash using this scale displayed an E on my calculator.
Creates Own - The player's ability to create offense for himself. For smaller players, generally refers to ability to create a high percentage shot attempt in an isolation or pick and roll situation. For big men, generally refers to the ability to create a good shot in the low or high post area.
Short - Shooting efficiency from 4-15 feet.
Medium - Shooting efficiency from 15 feet and beyond.
Three-point - Three point shooting accuracy. Peers were tough here, I discounted a lot of the one season wonders and did a weighted attempt to percentage analysis… which was probably overkill, but hey.
Shooting off dribble - Measures ability to generate shots off the dribble: pull ups, fadeaways, step-backs, ball-fake sidesteps, or driving layup attempts.
Shooting off screen - Measures how effective the player shoots from behind a screen or in a pick and roll situation.
Finishing at rim - Finishing at the rim definitely deserves its own category; how effective a player is at dunks, layups, and putback attempts.
Draws fouls - Self-explanatory - the ability to get to the foul line by creating contact on a shot attempt.
Post up effectiveness - Ability to get a good shot from the low post area and general back to the basket skills.
On ball defense - How well a player guards his assigned man, staying in front of him. Recognizing proper distance and discipline (not fouling jumpshooters, giving certain players a lot of room but playing chest tight on others, etc.) as well.
Off ball defense - How well a player helps in the team defensive concept, which includes rotational help when a teammate is beaten off the dribble, giving fouls, playing passing lanes, ball denial, and ability to get through screens.
Offensive rebounding - Obvious. The Moses Malone category.
Defensive rebounding - Also obvious. Trust me, I'm exhausted going through these, too.
Blocking - Player quality as an administrator of Spalding tattoos.
Altering - Ability to challenge shots, altering the opponent's attempt. Get a hand up, already! This skill really deserves its own category since there are many players that are excellent at challenging shots but don't get many blocks. Bruce Bowen, Ron Artest, and most other stud perimeter defenders would earn 5s here.
Hustle - Tommy points, quantified.
Intangibles - Leadership, locker room character, passion and desire, and of course, Celtic Pride.
When considering these ratings and before screaming, "Dobbs you idiot, Allan Ray is clearly a 4 in xxxx" or similar profanity laced attack on my mental faculty, realize that minutes on the court are a fixed commodity in basketball. There are 48 minutes available at each position per game. In my estimation, the best players should always receive the bulk of the minutes at a position. It seems crazy, I know. Matchups, foul trouble, and fatigue all have to be considered during the flow of a game, but it just seemed so rare that the Celtics ever used such a simple maxim as a starting point. Once the best individual players per position are determined, finding chemistry within lineups and matching players with complementary abilities on the floor together is the next task. Our coach never was able to determine this, partially due to injury, partially due to the redundancy issues I'm about to discuss, and partially, of course, due to his own ineptitude. Some of the lineups thrown out there last season had to be seen to be believed. It's almost as if they were trying to …
Let's begin with the team's second most visible problem (the first one rhymes with Brock Slivers, for anyone left guessing) and that is the "glut" at the swingman spots:
[Insert rows 4-9]
The most glaringly obvious conclusion from even a cursory glance at the ratings: Allan Ray should not be under any kind of consideration for court time. I'd like to believe that the only reason he saw any at all was due to injury, but I'm sure Doc would have discovered a way to gift him 15 minutes a game, regardless. Ray can't be lumped in with the point guards since he is far below average in all meaningful categories there, and his only NBA quality skills are duplicated by every other player competing with him for minutes. If he has a place in the NBA, it certainly is not with the Boston Celtics. This isn't to say he's a terrible player, but his skills certainly do not fill a need for the C's.
Next up the tree is fan-favorite Gerald Green. I realize that he is still young and possesses a good deal of potential, but I feel I have rated him accurately and fairly given his body of work. Right now, he is not deserving of much court time [cowering]. He is a disaster on defense and has the poorest court awareness of any of the swingmen. This is not new news, but what may be (to some) is that he is the possessor of one of the most redundant skill sets on the Celtics. Gerald's effectiveness is limited to taking wide open three pointers and shooting behind screens, mostly due to his subpar ball-handling ability. He shies away from contact on dribble drives, preferring to force a low percentage but "clean" shot instead of going hell-bent to the rim and forcing contact. In other words, he is the anti Tony Allen. Gerald can't get a lot of minutes at the shooting guard spot due to his defensive inadequacies, which force him to the small forward where he must compete with Pierce, Szczerbiak, and Gomes for minutes - all of whom are superior players right now. I'm fairly certain that a fully healthy Wally Szczerbiak is still a better option; he is just better than Green in all of the categories where Gerald contributes, and he is as equally limited on the defensive end. Of course, whether Wally will ever return to his All-Star form is open to debate, and again, Gerald has the capacity to improve in many of his deficient areas.
Prior to his injury, Tony Allen enjoyed a breakout year and gave the team exactly what it lacked from the shooting guard position. He overcame fear of reinjuring his knee and a spat of absolutely dreadful play at the very beginning of the season to become both a consistent scoring threat and a lock down defender. Though still a below average ball-handler, Allen's first step and speed allowed him to get to the rim consistently for a high percentage shot or, quite often, a trip to the free throw line. His overall hustle and demeanor on the defensive end made fans much more forgiving of the occasional boneheaded pass or dribble off of his foot because his intensity was the fuel for both good and bad. I recently revisited Tony's final game before the injury on DVR and he was absolutely dominant prior to going down. I'm not sure that he will ever be the same after the total destruction suffered to his knee, but if Allen returns to form, it would certainly solve a lot of the redundancy issues - the redundant guys simply wouldn't play much with TA prowling the court.
[Wait, Doc's still the coach, right? Uhhh….]
A healthy Allen is naturally the team's best perimeter defender and he would earn minutes based on this alone, but it's his newfound offensive talent that vaults him over the top of Delonte West and Gerald Green for the bulk of the minutes at the two. Creating one's own shot, getting to the free throw line, and defensive prowess are places where no team minds redundancy.
Delonte West is a bit of an enigma, both on and off the court. He can do spot duty at the point, but he's not really at his best there, as fans witnessed through his early season woes. I will say this, though - nobody, and I mean nobody was jerked around more last year than D. West. Doc had Delonte changing his game on a half-by-half basis, and the poor guy didn't know who he should be each trip down the court. West is regarded highly around the league for his basketball IQ, hustle, and intangibles fused with above average shot making ability. Unfortunately, he's a little too small to match up with most NBA two guards defensively and getting away with him at the point guard isn't going to work as a long term solution. As to whether he's someone that the Celtics could afford to trade, I honestly do not know. The team would surely miss all of his aforementioned traits, but should Allen return to form and especially if the Celtics draft Corey Brewer (whom I believe is their first or second choice, simply because they aren't sure about Tony), then Delonte is left with relatively few minutes as a result. I'll leave this one for the forums to debate, I suppose. His offensive skillset appears to duplicate that of Tony Allen and Gerald Green, but he has enough over them in other areas that if push came to shove, I'd rather see Gerald included in a trade instead of Delonte. [ducking thrown objects]
There's not much to say about Wally; he was playing up to his usual Szczerbistandards in November, averaging 20 PPG on 46% shooting and then once he got hurt, that was it. Attempts to return from the sprains were unsuccessful, to put it mildly. I am not sure that he is an NBA starter anymore, but it's clear that he still possesses well above average ability in shooting the basketball. He would be wise to settle into a 20-25 minute instant-offense role off the bench where he can carry the scoring load while not giving up too much defensively against the other team's second line guys. I think the team was hopeful that Gerald could step in and become the "young Wally" as they essentially score in the same ways (one is just more evolved), but clearly that has yet to happen. That's right; I said it. For all his athleticism, Gerald can't utilize it in areas where it would matter (dribble drives, earning free throws, defense), so he is effectively a younger Wally Szczerbiak.
We arrive now at the captain, Paul Pierce. I'm not sure what else needs to be said about him, but the ratings naturally indicate that he is far and away the best player on the team. Let me also publically state that it would be foolish to consider trading him for anything less than full value. The injury concerns are extremely overblown; Pierce has been incredibly durable through his whole career. The nonsense I've been reading about how he's on the decline because of the stress reaction in his foot and his leaky elbow is utterly ridiculous. He was playing the best basketball of his career prior to going down, averaging 27.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 3.9 APG while shooting 46% in November, and in ten games in December he was even better, posting 25.4 PPG, 5.8 PPG, 4.9 APG shooting the same FG% while rediscovering a 45% three point stroke not seen since his rookie year. What most do not realize about P-squared: the way he plays basketball will make him effective far longer into the later years of his career than his peers who are more reliant on pure athleticism. When Vince Carter or Allen Iverson's wheels go and they lose their trademark explosiveness, they will decline rapidly. Paul Pierce can score in the post, he can score off the dribble, he can score behind screens, he finishes well at the rim, he has an array of up-fakes and moves that perennially put him atop the league leaders in free throws attempted, and he is cagey enough on the defensive end that he'll still be able to guard small forwards late in his career. Pierce is not a one trick pony that is going to be used up at age 34, it just won't happen. Unless he honestly and truly asks out publically, trading him would be moronic. Yes, the Celtics are not close to contending right now, but it's Ainge's duty to acquire help for his franchise player and not trade him away because it's perceived that the window for the Celtics contending is too far in the future. Pierce still has many more years left as an elite player.
It's clear that the guard spots have the largest pool of skill duplication on the team; at least two and possibly even three players here need to be replaced with different types of talent. I remember Doc's comment last year: "We don't have a set rotation." It's easy to see why, frankly.
[Insert rows 13-19]
The problem of skill redundancy isn't nearly as pronounced at the big man positions - rather it is one of a pure lack of talent and depth. The team could easily do without the services of four of them, and it's pretty easy to figure out who they are.
I'm not going to waste much space here on Ratliff and Olowokandi - at least not much more space than they wasted at the end of the bench last season. It's clear that neither will have a place on the team next year, although I will say that Ratliff could have provided spot duty for about five to ten minutes a game as a defensive center if healthy in 06-07. Leon Powe has value as a rebounder and as a classic garbage man, but he really shouldn't try to do too much on the offensive end. His size makes it extremely difficult to get his shot off against bigger players in the post (I saw him eat a tremendous amount of leather last year) and poor Leon really has no face-up game to speak of. Powe should stick to doing what he does best - getting under the other team's skin and hitting the offensive glass with abandon. He's ideal as an 11th or 12th man, no more. He should get a certain redhead's minutes.
Scalabrine was a lot better last year, but that isn't saying much. On offense, his areas of specialty include making the occasional three, setting screens, and firing the ball right back to the man who just passed it to him a second ago. Outstanding… only three more years on his deal, by the way! I'm giving him a bit of a bad rap; Scabs did show occasional prowess on the defensive end and he does know exactly where he needs to be in most situations on the court. What's that saying though - the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak? Yeah. Hey, when all you've got is hustle and a dream, it's a hard knock life.
Last year was rough for big Kendrick Perkins; he could never find a rhythm and consistent playing time. Plantar fasciitis robbed Perkins of what little mobility he had, crippling him in areas where he is classically strong: low post defense of opposing centers, rebounding, and altering shots on penetration. Offensively, he is a bit of a disaster, having only one go-to move (the right handed laser hook), but thankfully it isn't on display too often. Perk is one of the least redundant players on the Celtics, as his skills at the defensive end are not duplicated by any of the team's big men. However, it has become clear that he may not be starting center quality for a playoff team. Foul trouble is still a major issue with Perk - a shame considering that he's generally an effective player when measured on a per minute basis. I'm willing to give him a pass for last season, but the upcoming year is make or break - if the team manages to acquire a Jermaine O'Neal or Pau Gasol, Perkins' deal is going to look awfully expensive for someone playing so few minutes. That's a good problem to have, because it means the C's landed one of those two whoppers, but I digress… It's going on Perk's 5th year and he needs to show that he can excel again in the aforementioned areas.
I'm not sure if there's anything bad that I can say about Ryan Gomes. A quick scan of the ratings reveals that he's average in just about every area as a basketball player. What the numbers can't show, however, is how much Ryan has improved in the areas he was deficient in from his first season to his second. In his rookie year, after Doc Rivers discovered, "Hey, this guy is better than Scalabrine! Heck, he might even be better than Mark Blount! Maybe I should give him a look?", Gomes was playing as an undersized power forward that scooped up a ton of points on the offensive glass and could hit the wide open shot off the pick and pop. He was also a terror on the glass before teams put him on the scouting report, and the 15 and 16 rebound games disappeared. Over the summer, he was given a mandate to work his small forward skills and develop an outside game. Ever the good soldier, he obeyed and returned to camp displaying an improved handle, a better array of face-up moves, and extended range on his jumper. He learned that he could swing the ball low under a defender's outstretched arms and then flail upwards in a shot attempt, drawing a cheap foul. Ryan then showed that he could hit the three-pointer in the final chapter of last season, a revelation that I never expected. I'm interested to see what he has in store for Celtic fans this year - remember this is a second round draft pick we're talking about. Gomes does everything adequately and isn't superior at any one skill, but he isn't incredibly deficient at anything either. He's just a solid basketball player - a good glue / rotation guy that is outperforming all expectations.
It's no secret that Al Jefferson is the future of this franchise, but whether it's as a player in uniform that continues to produce for the team or as a trade chip that nets the C's something else… nobody can say with certainty right now. Why the team is putting their best asset on any kind of block that doesn't exist on a 94 foot basketball court is beyond me. This is a 22 year old kid that the team drafted, groomed, and is just now beginning to reach his potential… and he's being shopped? Jefferson is a one of a kind big man with an array of moves that haven't been seen in the NBA since McHale was lacing them up, a player who's sure to be an All Star for many seasons in the future, and he's being dangled like an air freshener on a rear view mirror? I could go on for hours about his up and under, feathery jump hook, left and right spins, jab step…
If I seem incredulous, it's because I am incredulous. He's already developed into a big time offensive presence, and he has a lot of potential still for improvement, particularly on the other end. It just doesn't make any sense to hear his name in trade rumors. My nagging fear is that ownership is worried that he will ask for a max extension this summer and that Wyc and co. don't want to give it to him at this stage of his career - thus opening the possibility of getting something for Al before he walks in free agency. I'm guessing that if the team can't get an extension done this summer, Al will go into year 5 as a very unhappy restricted FA. That's the only reason I can even contrive of Big Al's name being thrown about in trade rumors. This is one of the three best young big men in the game today with his entire career ahead of him. Don't do anything stupid, Danny.
[insert rows 23-24]
Does Sebastian Telfair still get to play basketball without a nameplate on his locker? Can we get a ruling from someone? His status with the team is in doubt and though I'm sure the C's are trying desperately to move him, he's likely to have very little value around the league. When I first heard that the Celtics were acquiring Telfair, like many, I was excited that the team was finally getting a true pass-first point guard. After about twenty games, it was evident that he was not a pass-first point guard at all, but a much poorer shoot-first version of his Coney Island cousin. Never before have I seen a player with such speed misuse it so egregiously. Wait, I forgot about Marcus Banks. There's still some time left for Telfair to 'get it', but I doubt that he ever will. He's a poor shooter, a poor finisher at the rim, and an even worse defender. The coaching staff rightfully buried him after all of these things became evident. Acquiring this knowledge only cost the Celtics Brandon Roy, who in my opinion would be another totally redundant player on this team, but at least he'd have trade value!
Rondo has a ton of natural physical gifts and is with all likelihood the point guard of the future for the Celtics. Really. This time, it's for real. He has all of the skills necessary to succeed at the position except for that one tiny small insignificant miniscule problem of not being able to shoot a lick. I posit the following though: is it possible to be an effective scorer in the NBA without being an effective shooter? I don't mean adopting the Antoine Walker methodology of "take em' till you make em'" either. I think that R-squared might be able to get away with it - he just needs to develop one shot: a pull up jumper/floater in the lane. Since Rondo is so adept at getting to the rim even when the defender is playing off him, he'd only need to possess this one shot to make everyone forget that he can't hit a mid-range jumper or three-pointer. Pair that one shot with an improved stroke at the free throw line and suddenly he's in double digits with ease and isn't someone Doc is afraid of "gumming up the offense" (one of the more ridiculous comments he's ever made, by the way). Although Rondo definitely needs to get better at execution in the half-court, he is one of three players on the team that can actually create for other players (Pierce and Jefferson are the others). Defensively, he is already well ahead of most rookie point guards. Rondo needs to add some strength so that he can recover from screens more quickly, but when he does, I can easily see him developing into a second or perhaps first team All-NBA quality defender in two or three years. No, MikeDFromNP did not just commandeer my keyboard.
Now we can assess the team's needs, having a clearer picture of our individual talent. The needs most often cited by fans around the blog, purely from a positional standpoint without any special attention paid to skill sets are:
" A backup point guard
" A face-up style high-post big man
" A more consistent presence at the center position / overall big man depth
" A defensive SF/PF type
" A defensive SF/SG type
Do any of the Celtics draft targets fit any of these archetypes? Surely, Yi fits the face up big-man mold and Brewer certainly appears to be the defensive SF/SG type. Horford, if he's available, would bring overall big man depth, allowing Jefferson to switch to the C spot (for better or worse). Jeff Green would add depth here as well, though not as well as Horford. Noah falls nicely into the defensive PF/SF niche. As far as a backup point guard, the team desperately needs a veteran presence there. It certainly appears that the Celtics will fill a positional need with whomever they draft, but I feel that it's genuinely difficult to rate or categorize these players until they have played against NBA competition. I could have worked up ratings for all of the Celtics potential draftees, but it'd be a pointless exercise. They have not played against their new set of peers yet, and I firmly believe that basing ratings on their collegiate body of work wouldn't be of value. If anyone cares to rate these players using my system, then have at it.
The team clearly wants:
" A passing big man that can facilitate the offense (think vintage Sabonis, Divac, Brad Miller)
" A more mobile defensive presence in the middle (would Greg Oden have worked here?)
" Another wing defender as a Tony Allen insurance policy
" A veteran point guard to spell Rondo and teach him new dirty tricks
So, my opinions are pretty in-line with most on the blog. Taking the player ratings as a whole and looking at them holistically, we can further assess areas of strength and weakness at the team level.
" When healthy, plenty of shooters from medium to long range, creating good spacing
" Three players capable of creating their own shot and break down a defense
" Long on hustle and intangibles - good locker room atmosphere even amidst a lost season
" Decent in getting to and making free throws at the line (11th in FTA and 10th in FT% as a team)
" Very poor ball-handling and passing on the whole with many players below average in these areas
" Too reliant on screen based jump shooting, largely the fault of redundant personnel
" Lack of defensive specialists both on the interior and perimeter
" Low awareness in general but especially in defensive situations, particularly on pick and roll defense (youth excuse goes here)
Can these weaknesses be addressed through trades? Trades where we don't get fleeced? Let's see!
[insert rows 28-33]
Everyone's dream scenario is finding a way to get Garnett to Boston without giving up Al Jefferson in the process. It's not going to happen, but it is indeed a nice dream. KG would fill so many holes for the team; I get dizzy thinking about it. Unfortunately, the rumored deal would gut the Celtics quite badly, and he obviously doesn't want to come here, anyway. The next best fit for the team is Pau Gasol, but there's been nothing on that front for a long time. He would be the essential yin to Jefferson's yang - a true high-post big man with passing ability, touch from the outside, and solid interior defense. Perhaps Chris Wallace will repay Danny for all those years of gainful employment?
"Chris, did you know it's a deep draft? Man, have I got a crazy idea for you. How would you like back to back draft picks? Wow, it's so loony I can't even believe it. The fifth pick and Theo Ratliff can be yours for that Spanish guy on your team. What's his name, again? Man I can't even pronounce it, but Chad Ford said he's looking for a change of scenery. He'll love it here in Boston, just love it. Hey, who's that on the other line? Jerry? JERRY HANG UP THE PHONE, CHRIS AND I ARE TRYING TO TALK, HERE. No, no Chris, don't… that Jerry, he doesn't know what he's saying, he doesn't Know The Draft Like I Know The Draft [tm] "
Marion has already said that he won't play in Boston, but again, he'd be a nice fit as well. I'd be on board for Jermaine O'Neal provided that he didn't cost too much, but there are injury concerns there. The same is true of Andrei Kirilenko, but the Jazz claim he's not available. Like an Ornette Coleman solo, that tune is subject to change at any moment. And like any sane person, I'm 100% diametrically opposed to any trade that brings Zach Randolph to Boston. He is a total duplication of Al Jefferson on the offensive end and a certified nutbag headcase malignant lesion to boot.
Free agency? Nah. The Celtics aren't going to be players in free agency at all this season. The team is not close to contending and the owners don't want to pay the luxury tax. There are some quality names out there that could help the team like Rashard Lewis and especially Gerald Wallace, but I don't think the Green can throw enough green at them for it to matter. I look forward to the team making a big splash this year by announcing that they have inked Chucky Atkins to a 3 year contract. Somewhere in the distance, I hear Bill Simmons lighting himself on fire.
If you've just reached the end of this epic, congratulations! And if you just finished a long session on the throne, please do me the courtesy of at least using the blank side of the printout. The next couple days are going to reveal much about the course of the Celtics for the upcoming years. Heck, 50% of the team I just wrote about might be gone. I just hope that the brass realize that building by stockpiling players of one type is never a recipe for constructing a winning basketball team. Hopefully, the franchise has learned a few valuable lessons in this regard and won't repeat their mistakes in the next 48 hours.
Until next time, pass the kool-aid, but keep a cyanide pellet handy. You know, just in case.