The All-Star break is over, and it's back to business for teams all across the NBA. Trade discussions will continue to pick up steam, and the rumors involving Dwight Howard, (perhaps) Deron Williams, and maybe even Rajon Rondo will surely continue to take place. For the Celtics, though, the primary goal has to be getting healthy and getting back to a consistent level of play. This shortened season surely doesn't help Boston in terms of injuries, but good teams fight through adverse situations and end up better in the end. Hopefully, this will be the case for the Celtics.
In order for that to happen, though, the C's have to begin getting consistent production from the bench rotation. And that rotation has been ever-changing for the entire year, but that happens when there isn't a constant flow of healthy players. Numerous guys such as Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma are having to be inserted into the starting lineup at times, because either Kevin Garnett of Jermaine O'Neal are banged up. Rajon Rondo missed a good few games with a wrist injury, and then he was suspended at the most inopportune time as the C's took on the Thunder and the Mavericks right before the All-Star break. Brandon Bass has been dealing with knee issues. Keyon Dooling has dealt with a bevy of injuries. The point is this: there just has not been a level of consistency for Boston for a long enough stretch of games to allow the C's to integrate their bench in the manner that will help the team in most games (and in the playoffs). This is an absolute necessity over the second portion of this season.
Having hashed that out as emotionally as I can without punching my computer, let's take a look at some of the members of the Boston bench and go over their performance over the first 32 games.
According to MySynergySports.com, Bass is the 25th best pick-and-roll roll man in the NBA. He is averaging 1.07 point per play as the roll man, and shooting 28-51 (54.9%) from the field. He has become a favorite target for Rajon Rondo when Bass is on the floor, because he is oddly consistent from mid-range. He has an odd-looking release, but it's effective. Bass is being assisted on the highest percentage of field goals in his entire career. He is being assisted on 74.8% of his made shots. Brandon is attempting 4.6 shots per game from 16-23 feet, and making 2.4 of these (51%), and he is having being assisted on 94.9% of these made shots. Bass also has the highest efficiency rating of his entire career at 13.08. He is playing very well.
Brandon is also a pretty decent defender. According to MySynergySports.com, he is only allowing .63 points per play (good for 8th best in the NBA), and holding his match-ups to 31-120 (25.8%) shooting. He is defending very well in isolation match-ups (4-20, 20%), and he's also effective in post-up defense (7-25, 28%). Granted, these numbers aren't completely indicative of a fantastic defender because of the guys he is playing against (usually), but they certainly aren't numbers to be frowned upon. Bass just needs to stay healthy and he will continue to be an integral part of Boston's success.
Another bench player who, to put it bluntly, needs to get his game together, is Keyon Dooling. Dooling has been hampered by injuries for much of the season, but he was brought into Boston as the apparent backup for Rajon Rondo. He consider himself a combo-guard, and while that could be true, a combo-guard needs to be able to hit his shots with consistency.
He isn't defending too well, at least based on numbers alone. Then again, that's probably a byproduct of the fact that he hasn't seen consistent playing time due to his nagging injuries. Still , he is allowing his match-ups to shoot 44% from the field, 52.6% in isolation situations, and 40% from spot-up opportunities. Offensively, he hasn't been that much better. Keyon is shooting 24-60 from the field, 40%, and is 13-35 from three-point range. This isn't anything phenomenal. I'm sure a lot of this is because of his lack of consistent playing time (he's missed 16 games, or half of the first half of the season), but the Celtics bench absolutely needs Keyon to play better when he is presented with the opportunity. It hasn't been extremely often, but if Keyon continues chucking up three-point jumpers either in transition or early on in the shot clock, the fan base will begin to get angry with him, and he probably will lose some playing opportunities. Consistency is key, Keyon. That's what the Celtics need over the final 34 games.
Now let's look at Chris Wilcox. It took him a while to get going, but for a good few games Wilcox was making an impact for Boston in a positive way. He was altering shots defensively, and he was getting out in transition and running with Rondo -- something that is a necessity when there are players capable of doing this on the floor. Rondo thrives in the open floor. Wilcox has learned this: if you run with Rajon, he'll feed you if at all possible.
Chris is shooting 50-81 (61.7%) from the floor with the bulk of these shots coming at the rim. He is shooting 31-47 at the rim (66%), 9-15 (60%) from three to nine feet, 5-10 (50%) from 10-15 feet, and 5-9 (56%) from 16-23 feet. He is being assisted on the highest percentage of baskets at the rim over the last five years.
According to MySynergySports.com, Wilcox's most effective offensive play comes when he is cutting. He is averaging 1.3 points per play, and shooting 17-23 from the floor (73.9%). He's 9-10 in transition opportunities, too. He just needs to get more comfortable defensively, continue getting into prime shape, and stay healthy, and I think Wilcox can be an effective big man off of the bench. His energy is fantastic, and he will scrap for every ball. The scouting report on him isn't going to detail an effective mid-range game, but he has shown decent skills around the basket that make him an effective tool for Boston -- especially with Bass at the power forward position, and a point guard on the floor who is comfortable with Chris and can find him where he is the most effective.
There are a bevy of options for the Celtics on the bench, but the fact of the matter remains that the Celtics absolutely have to begin getting consistent production from their second unit in order for Boston to even sniff success later in the year (at least in my humble opinion). Avery Bradley is showing progress as a viable option at the point guard position by utilizing the skills that made Danny Ainge believe in him. An article a few weeks ago discussed how Avery is now being told to play like Andre Miller, and is being put into positions where he can make a back-cut to the basket when his man helps out elsewhere, and get opportunities in close for himself. This has helped his confidence grow tenfold, if you ask me.
Avery is attempting just as many shots per game at the rim as he is from 16-23 feet -- which is an area that he has also improved this season. Last season he attempted 1.1 shots per game from 16-23 feet and shot an abysmal 21%, but in this shortened season he is shooting 44% from 16-23 feet. That's not amazing, and his numbers from last season only represent the 30 games he played while averaging 5.2 minutes a game (primarily in mop-up duty), but it's a marked improvement for Avery. Last season alone he shot 7-33 from 16-23 feet. This season he is shooting 22-50 from the same distance.
Much like I noted with Chris Wilcox and his success in cutting to the basket, Avery has had success as well. He is shooting 13-20 (65%) from the field in plays where he is cutting. All but one of those made baskets have come off of lay-ups or dunks. Bradley is also making the most of his opportunities in transition, as he is 12-13 (92.3%) from the floor in transition plays where he is involved. Heck, he even put Kevin Durant on a poster.
We already knew Bradley was a fantastic on-ball defender, but he has been absolutely stifling in numerous areas this season. According to MySynergySports.com, he is the third overall defender in isolation situations (sure, the sample size isn't quite as big as many other players, but the numbers are phenomenal). He is holding opponents to 7-32 (21.9%) shooting from the field in isolation situations. That's a mere .41 points per play. Those are outstanding numbers. There's a reason why Bradley will continue to be a mainstay on the units Doc chooses to put on the floor when the Celtics are in desperate need of stops. He's our "poor man's Tony Allen" at this point, and his impact has been felt in this area all year long. Overall, he is holding his match-ups to 48-159 (30.2%, .68 points per play) shooting which is 20th best in the NBA. If Bradley can continue to develop this area of his game as well as his offensive arsenal then it is with zero doubt in my mind that I can type that I think he will be a weapon for whatever team he plays on for a while. He has a uniquely gifted set of skills.
If I wanted to detail every player on the Celtics bench I could, but this post would travel onwards for days. So I won't. Perhaps I will discuss some of the names not mentioned in this post in another piece sometime soon. But the Celtics desperately need the entire bench to contribute and give Doc Rivers what he is looking for if Boston wants to have any chance of prolonged success this season. The trend of "the starters build a decent lead and then the bench comes onto the floor and coughs the lead up" cannot continue. If the Celtics are struggling then the bench needs to provide energy and light a fire under the rest of the team. This happens on every good team that has a bench worth talking about -- the Thunder, the Heat, the Bulls. All of those teams can rely on their bench to be there when their first unit can't get things going. We haven't seen too much of this from Boston.
The Celtics are 15-17 on the season, and are holding onto the 8 seed in the Eastern Conference by a game and a half. Who is behind them? The Cleveland Cavaliers. What better way for the Celtics to make a statement and turn over a new leaf than to beat the Cavaliers tomorrow in Cleveland. We all remember how the last game went, and in case you don't remember then here is your reminder: Kyrie Irving is a grown man. Tomorrow is a great chance for the Celtics to start getting the production they need from the bench. Let's just sit back, hope for the best, cross our fingers that good health finds its way to Boston, and the second half of the season is much more fruitful than the first half. Because everybody deserves a second chance. I believe in this Celtics bench. Do you?