With the regular season set to conclude tonight, I figured it'd be interesting to take a look back at what our expectations for certain players were coming into the season, and then see whether or not those players have actually lived up to them.
Then: Coming into this season, health was the number one priority with KG. After that sketchy knee injury last season and the ensuing early exit from the postseason without him, it became even more clear just how important he is to this franchise.
Now: His health this season has been up and down at times, as he battled through a minor hip injury, as well as a hyperextended right knee in the first half of the year, but he's shown signs of improvement since mid-February. Despite him sitting out of the Celtics' win in Milwaukee last Saturday, he hasn't shown any visible setbacks these past few weeks. While he still might occasionally look like a player dragging his right leg behind him, he appears healthy enough to make a significant impact in the postseason.
Then: Expectations were high for 'Sheed for much of the offseason when word of him joining the Celtics became official. The Celtics were getting a veteran player with a high basketball IQ, capable of stretching the defense. You remember the hopeful jargon that the majority of us bought into. People thought playing alongside the likes of Kevin Garnett would keep his lackadaisical habits in check. Marc Stein of ESPN went so far as to predict 'Sheed would win the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Now: Unfortunately, 81 games later, 'Sheed's been a colossal disappointment and the thought of two more years of what we saw this season is somewhat nauseating. His mindset appeared to completely contradict the way things were done around here the past two seasons, and his personality seemed strong enough to let it impact the rest of the players on the roster. His barrage of three-pointers, combined with his lack of acknowledgement towards the post was incredibly frustrating at times, as was his lack of effort on the glass. The only hope we have left is that he's simply been waiting for the playoffs this entire time, and is now ready to actually play basketball on a consistent basis and help this team compete for another championship.
Then: The Celtics did all they could to try and trade for the former Pacers' swingman this past offseason, before eventually signing him to a one-year contract. His ability to handle the ball like a point guard at 6'6, along with a very effective in-between game, made him both a necessary and reliable backup for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. If you had polled Celtics Nation before the season began on whether or not Daniels would be a part of the postseason rotation, the response would have been a resounding yes.
Now: Oh, how the times have changed. A significant thumb injury derailed Daniels's season in mid-December, and despite some positive signs from him upon his return, last month the energy the Celtics expect out of him was simply not present, which caused Doc Rivers to go with Tony Allen instead. Looking back, the home game against the Denver Nuggets on March 24 appeared to be one of the final straws for Doc. Daniels got himself into early foul trouble, Tony Allen took his spot, and the team really hasn't looked back since. Prior to last night's game, Daniels had played a total of nine minutes over the course of the first six games in April. He only played 16 minutes against the Bulls last night because Tony Allen was out with the flu. No signs point to him being a part of the Celtics' plans in the postseason. Whether that will change remains to be seen.
Then: Before the season even began, it looked like the Celtics were trying to unload Allen's expiring deal - coincidentally to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Daniels. A trade never materialized, but the acquisition of Daniels, combined with the hopeful emergence of Bill Walker, and an ankle injury that was keeping Allen from even playing, seemed to doom his season before it even began.
Now: Perhaps shockingly, Allen has supplanted Daniels in Doc's everyday rotation, and it looks like he'll serve as the primary backup to either Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, or Paul Pierce come playoff time - at least for right now. In a strange twist of fate, he returned from his ankle woes just as Daniels underwent thumb surgery, and when Paul Pierce went down with a knee infection days before Christmas, Allen was given the starting job and didn't disappoint. And when Pierce returned, Allen continued to serve as a credible backup.
Then: It was common knowledge that Allen's deal would expire at the end of the season, and even before the games got under way, the talk surfaced about his value come trade deadline time. Beyond that, at the ripe old age of 34, people began wondering if this would be the season when Ray would start to hit the decline in terms of shooting percentages and production.
Now: While his three-point field goal percentage (36 percent) and points per game average (16.2) this season are his lowest over his span of time with the Celtics, Allen continues to be one of the C's most important offensive threats. His name surfaced multiple times around the trade deadline, but ultimately, Danny Ainge decided to keep his aging shooting guard, and the results have been promising. Allen shot 50 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point nation, and 97 percent from the free throw line in March, and is currently shooting 52.9 percent from the field, 43.3 percent from the nation, and 100 percent from the free throw line through his first seven games in April. With percentages like those coming this late in the season, Allen's preparing himself for some postseason success. A helpful habit of hitting clutch shots never hurts, either.
Then: Rondo's maturity was questioned at times over the offseason, but still had All-Star expectations coming into the year, primarily because of his emergence in the playoffs last April and May. He appeared to be ready to take that next step, particularly in terms of running the team more effectively, increasing his assist numbers, and becoming an even more lethal defensive presence. His jump shot and free throw shooting were still seriously in question, even after reports surfaced that he had worked with Mark Price over the summer. Hey, it's not like he shares a gym with Ray Allen or anything.
Now: Rondo lived up to his All-Star potential, competing in his first game last February, alongside teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. His assist numbers are indeed up from last season (8.2 to 9.8), he ranks fourth in the NBA in assists per game, and he recently broke Bob Cousy's single-season assist record. When he's fully applied himself and has gotten opportunities in the open court, he's been all but unstoppable. Regarding his defense, he leads the league in steals per game (2.4) and also took down Rick Fox's single-season steals record, but recently we've seen a trend of opposing point guards scoring at will against him (Derrick Rose, Aaron Brooks, Shaun Livingston, Russell Westbrook, George Hill, etc.). Rondo will have to assert himself defensively in the postseason, particularly against teams with legitimate point guards capable of scoring the basketball. Meanwhile, his jump shot and free throw shooting remain the weakest parts of his game. But with Garnett back in the picture, teams will be reluctant to sag off of him and double-team guys like Allen and Pierce, which was the case at times in last year's playoffs.
Then: Davis was rewarded for his impressive play in last year's playoffs with a two-year contract worth $6.3 million. The skeptics wondered, however, how he would perform in a reduced bench role again. The questions were left unanswered for some time, after a fight with a childhood friend in October left Davis with a broken right thumb and a six-week rehab period.
Now: Davis returned from his disappointing injury and immediately went to work down low, practically abandoning the mid-range game that served him so well in the playoffs last season. His customary jump shot hasn't been seen consistently for some time, as he's geared his game towards crashing the glass and providing that extra spark of energy in the paint. He's the only player in the league with more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds, and although his emotions still get the best of him at times (see Saturday's game in Milwaukee), his hustle will be a valuable commodity come playoff time. Some are still disappointed with his apparent refusal to kick the ball out after he secures an offensive board and is hoarded by three or four opposing players. He often gets his putback attempt blocked, but has been known to score in these situations on occasion. Keep an eye on this part of his game once the playoffs get under way.
Then: After losing in the playoffs last year, one of the underlying, consistent causes for optimism was the potential emergence of second-year swingman Bill Walker. With what seemed like an incredible upside, it was difficult not latching onto Walker's high-flying, physical game. Unfortunately for Billy, he tore his right meniscus during training camp, which hurt his chances of cracking Doc's regular rotation.
Now: Well, we all know Walker's no longer in Boston. Now a member of the New York Knicks, he's playing well in a run-and-gun, defense-free system. Nevertheless, he's showing flashes of the talent that he does indeed seem to possess. With his contract set to expire at the end of this season, it'll be interesting to see if the Celtics try to re-acquire his services over the summer.
Then: Let's be frank: Not many Celtics fans cared much about the status of Robinson coming into the season. After all, how could he actually have an impact on the Celtics' season, right?
Now: Well, Robinson still hasn't had a tremendous impact on the team, despite him being brought over in a trade for Eddie House, Bill Walker, and J.R. Giddens to provide energy and aggressive offense off the bench. He's been far too passive at times for Doc's liking, and has also had separate issues adjusting to the complex defensive schemes of one Tom Thibodeau. Placed out of Doc's rotation as early as a week and a half ago, he seems to be getting a few last minute opportunities to perform as the season winds down, after scoring a flurry of points in a mock comeback attempt against the Wizards last Friday. Whether his skills will be utilized in the playoffs remains to be seen.
Speaking of the playoffs, they're almost here. Mercifully.