In addition to yet another magnificent game preview from FLCeltsFan, we've got a special guest at CelticsBlog today as we prepare for the opening to the post-Rondo era tonight against Minnesota. Joining me in a pregame chat is a very knowledgeable journalist I have talked hoops with for quite some time, Tim Faklis, who currently covers NBA basketball as a contributor for ESPN TrueHoop network's A Wolf Among Wolves and Sporting News. Click here to follow him on Twitter as we discuss the new era in Boston, tonight's matchup and a cast of other goodies to hold you over until game time.
Tim Faklis: Almost game time, Dustin. I didn’t think tonight’s game would bring such a big storyline, but last night’s trade threw me off big-time. I’ll save my opinions, because Rajon Rondo was your point guard, and I want to hear what you think. So, before we get into tonight's battle, I want to know what you think of the trade.
Dustin Chapman: Well, if you told me at any point before the trade that the best player the Celtics could get in return for Rondo would be Brandan Wright, I would have probably laughed at you. I’m not going to act delusional like the Celtics got a great return, but the deal had to be made and at the end of the day, Ainge’s hand was probably limited by the small list of teams Rondo was willing to play for.
I wonder if the Celtics could have gotten a better package if they waited to pull the trigger closer to the deadline, but it is what it is. I doubt this is the last deal Danny Ainge makes, but the 2008 championship pedigree has officially been blown up and it is time to embrace what looks to be a long rebuilding process.
TF: Hey, rebuilding! I’ve heard of that! I think Minnesota has tried that once or twice.
Regarding the trade, my biggest concern is with Dallas’ offense. I love Rondo, and I love what Rick Carlisle has done to bring Monta Ellis out of the "can’t win with him as a main scoring option" category. Together? I need to see it to believe it. I trust Rick Carlisle, but this will be a tough test for him. Both need the ball to be most effective.
As it pertains to tonight’s game, how do you see Boston’s starting lineup shaping up tomorrow? I’m excited to see Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley in the same backcourt, maybe mixed in with Evan "quotes" Turner. What do you think?
DC: Well, Smart has been suffering a strained Achilles, so if he isn’t ready to go and Jameer Nelson hasn’t taken a physical I would expect Evan Turner to get the nod in the backcourt.
TF: Oh jeez. No clue how I missed that Smart got hurt again. Clearly I didn’t do my research beforehand.
Anyway, any particular matchups stand out for you? I’m always going to be intrigued by whoever Andrew Wiggins is going up against, so by that logic, I’m interested in that one. The lack of Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin make it tough for me to look too closely at individual matchups. What are you looking for?
DC: What am I looking for? Other than a morale victory, you mean?
From a pure athletic standpoint, Jeff Green vs. Andrew Wiggins should be fun to watch when they match up with each other. On the whole, I’m looking for the Celtics to come out and attack a team that doesn’t have a legitimate rim protector in the paint. The Celtics have relegated to settling on the perimeter far too often this season, and based on personnel alone they should have an opportunity to get their new-look offense headed in the right direction.
Other than the devastating scowl of Vitor Faverani, Boston’s back line of defense isn’t very intimidating, either, and Thaddeus Young is going to stretch that D out to open up the floor even more.
Other than the consistent mismatch nightmare that Young has always been, what matchups are you looking for the Wolves to exploit?
TF: Honestly, the only other mismatch has already been mentioned. Jeff Green is athletic, but Andrew Wiggins has flubber in his shoes, or something. He’s a freak. If he’s able to hold onto the ball (which isn’t a guarantee at this point), I’m hoping to see Wiggins get into the paint and use his athleticism and finishing ability accordingly.
If the new trade acquisitions are without a physical, each team’s depth could be seriously lacking. I don’t think Boston will have the luxury of seeing Point Brewer on the floor.
Okay, last question, Dustin. We’ve discussed Vitor vs Pek thousands of times. For the Wolves fans: explain why Vitor would defeat Pek in a battle of the giants.
DC: Oh, here we go. How would Vitor not come out on top? Pek has a lot of things going for him, like skill and a bigger checkbook, but what experience does he have against a specimen of Faverani’s class? Does Pek have a mohawk? I think not.
But, hey, we’re not done yet, I still have some Wolves questions for you.
Going a step further than individual matchups, I think one thing the Timberwolves may have chance to take advantage of is simple discombobulation. The Celtics just shook things up, which has to affect the locker room in some kind of way, and they removed their primary ball handler from their playbook. The Celtics had enough trouble with turnovers before, but don’t be surprised if they are even more out of whack the day after the trade.
As a die-hard fan of an organization that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in roughly a decade, you’re no stranger to the fine line between words like "potential" and actual production. Which Timberpuppies are showing strong signs of growth this season?
TF: First of all, Pek doesn’t have a mohawk, but he does have a tattoo featuring a frightening number of skulls. Most think it’s of the men he has taken out over the years. Nobody knows for sure, though. I’m not asking.
The guy that’s shown the most growth, by about ten thousand miles, is Shabazz Muhammad. He lost some weight over the summer, which brought back a substantial amount of leaping ability. Add that to his surprisingly fantastic ability to grab offensive boards and get to the hoop.
Also, I’m pretty sure Andrew Wiggins is going to be an All Star. On some nights, he’s a bit timid and struggles to hold up his handle. On other nights, his mid-rang J is falling and his shots are dropping at the rim. He’s an athletic freak, and has shown a lot of poise on the defensive end for a rookie. I can’t wait to see him develop.
How about Smart and Olynyk? You liking them thus far?
DC: Shabazz has certainly been a nice addition to my fantasy team. It’s good to see him get in better shape and make the most of a new opportunity; you always want to root for the guys that play hard.
Speaking of guys that play hard, I have been impressed with Marcus Smart despite the fact that 37 of his first 57 field goal attempts in the NBA have come from beyond the arc, where he is currently shooting at a 27% clip, because the kid is a game changer. His physical presence in the backcourt combined with that contagious motor is something any coach wishes they had on their roster. Smart is a bulldog, already one of the better ballhawks you can find in the league and he just has that "it" factor as a competitor that you’re either born with or not.
Once Smart figures out the NBA game and starts getting featured within the offense, he is going to have a chance to tap into his high ceiling as an attack and post guard. Now we’re back to that "potential" word, but Smart has everybody excited around here.
Kelly Olynyk has been playing excellent basketball as of late, coming off of an up-and-down opening to the season that he has since rebounded from beautifully. The big fella has a lot of work to do on the defensive end of the floor, but he is as skilled and fluid a seven-footer as there is, with a terrific feel for the game. Olynyk stretches the defense with a jumper that you have to respect, he is effective with both hands around the rim, he puts the ball on the floor, he is an outstanding passer out of the post and on the move and he is very crafty when he sets his mind on making a play. Kelly needs to work on asserting himself on a consistent basis, but he is fun to watch with a lot of game and I expect him to continue to take it to a higher level going forward.
Everybody knows about Zach LaVine because he jumps out the gym, so we’re all aware of the kind of athlete that he is. What kind of ballplayer is he? How has he looked so far?
TF: Well, I’ll start by running to his defense before I answer this question. He wasn’t supposed to play right away, let alone start, with Corey Brewer as his backup.
All things considered, I think he’s done pretty well. Ricky Rubio suffered a pretty gross ankle sprain, and Mo Williams has been in and out of the lineup all season with back issues. Those two, at the very least, know how to keep a team calm when they’re running the point. There’s a sense of control when they’re in the game, just off their experience at the position. LaVine doesn’t have that, at this point. Ultimately, I’m not sure he’s going to be a point guard – certainly not full-time.He’s shown to be better than expected on the pick-and-roll, though the expectation was he’d be terrible. His shooting has been inconsistent, as expected, but his fearlessness has been a pleasant sight (usually).Before Rubio and Mo got hurt, I was hoping to see LaVine get some minutes in the D League, just so we could see what he did well. It doesn’t look like he’ll get that opportunity now, but it might all be for the better. I think he’s in the top 3 or 4 among rookies in scoring (along with Andrew Wiggins), and is among the leaders in assists with Elfrid Payton. I have hopes and doubts for him, but hey, if Shabazz can make the leap he made, anything is possible.