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Role Players: A Look at the "other" Starters

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rondo1.jpgI think that outsiders are about to get a major education in exactly what it takes to be a role player on a championship team...too many fans romanticize the ability level of championship team's bench players...

The Celtics are essentially getting doubted now for having "nothing outside the big 3" because most fans have only paid cursory attention to teams outside their areas and certainly don't study non-winning teams to any substantial degree...

The first place most of the outside world is lacking in accurate understanding is in the ability level of the Celtics other two starters: Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo...it's understandable to not be awestruck by these two in terms of star level potential, but the roles they are being asked to fulfill next season are completely within their skill set range and both should thrive at them based off their performance history..

More after the jump.

Perkins is nothing special on the offensive end of the court, though he does have the basics of some decent footwork and can get his hook and drop step off against single coverage. But his main strength is his rebounding, shot blocking, and defensive ability...Perk is a PLUS center in all three of these categories and his production bears that out for every season but his last-one in which he was hobbled significantly by a foot injury...Perkins has a 4 year track history of being one of the best per-minute rebounder/shot blocker at his position and his defensive performances have been substantial for a player so young who has been asked to anchor a young team.

Next to Garnett, Perkins ability to play baseline defense will complement KG's ability to range out beyond the paint. Perkins himself has shown the ability to maintain a very low fundamental defensive base when he's been asked to move beyond the paint. Despite his lack of superior foot speed he knows how to position himself and uses his length to good effect, which has led to numerous standout defensive games despite no substantial support from any previous counterpart.

As a tandem KG and Perkins should be able to effectively cover the interior once they build effective communication between each other. The addition of Tom Thibodeau coupled with Perkins well-chronicled work ethic lends itself to a high probability that the frontcourt duo will gel relatively quickly and both have the skills needed to be a dynamic defensive force next season.

Rajon Rondo isn't in an identical situation to Perkins due to his lack of experience relative to the young big man. Rondo does enjoy a similar limitation on his role responsibility however. Each player does have the complementary skills needed at their position to adequately project into their given role.

In Rondo's case, he should enjoy the freedom to focus solely on his defense at the point of attack, looking to slow the opposing PG down and delay his setup of the half court offense. Rondo must show a better understanding of his assignments’ offensive tendencies in his second year, but the help defense behind him has also become substantially better.

Rondo has great natural instincts for stealing the ball and his length makes him a problem for most any PG in the league. He anticipates passing lanes as well as inbounds plays or lazy dribbling, so he'll keep the other back court on its toes. Despite his lack of experience and knowledge of his opponent, Rondo projects to be a plus defender as soon as next year and that is a substantial contribution in itself with KG and Perkins protecting the back board.

Offensively Rondo should be fine considering his role will be to penetrate off cuts and swings of the ball. It wouldn't be surprising to see him buzzing around the top of the key creating pick-and-role situations with KG serving as the distributor. Rondo's ability to finish with a high degree of difficulty makes him a nuisance in the lane as well. He needs to work a lot on his efficiency with floaters and other to-the-basket moves, but it’s easy to see him developing an aptitude for it-much like Tony Parker has done in San Antonio.

Much has been made of Rondo's role of "distributor" on this club as the starting PG, but it shouldn't be a major problem. He must prove he has the nerve to be assertive when the ball comes to him. Attacking off the dribble Rondo should eventually become an extremely proficient creator. But next season he must prove that he has the will to act under pressure while 3 or 4 veteran stars are on the court with him. If he does that however he does have the skill set to pull it off.

His role will help him to because he isn't the PRIMARY distributor. Garnett, Pierce, and Allen have all shown to be triple-double threats. While their teams have imploded over the past 3-4 seasons these three have been able to handle a vast majority of that responsibility. Each has learned how to make offense for others. Rondo just has to stick to his strengths: speed and defensive intensity. If he is a productive play maker in the possessions he gets, he should become a solid bookend to the starting lineup.

Bottom line: Perkins and Rondo are more doubted now because the greater part of America hasn't watched this team for ages. But even though the Celtics are still relying on a bit of youth, (Perk/Rondo/Powe/Allen) the roles those youth will play should fit their current ability levels well. Each has a personality to accept that role and this should mean less turnovers and more continuity.

With a more stable rotation and a bit of health, there is no reason to doubt the depth on this team to any great degree...certainly not enough to dismiss it outright.