This week's mailbag focuses on the rookies, the Isaiah Thomas and Amir Johnson pick-and-roll attack, hypothetical trade targets, and try-hards. You can read previous editions of the mailbag here. If you want to submit a question for a future mailbag use this form here or tweet me @KevinOConnorNBA.
Q: Do you think that Jordan Mickey can be developed as a small forward? -- Kenneth Yu (Trumbull, CT)
A: Kenneth, I don't in the traditional sense. But I certainly think Mickey is capable of defending small forwards. I recently spoke with him before a Celtics game about his development -- which I will use for an upcoming article -- and he said one of his focuses is being able to defend perimeter players. That obviously means playing a role in a switch-heavy defense, which places a premium on versatility. So, Mickey might not be able to play small forward on offense, but if he's your small ball center, and can switch onto wings, and be relied on as a stopper, then the Celtics have a really nice player on their roster. In an ideal world, he's one of Brad Stevens' top rotational bigs. He can't handle or pass like Draymond Green, but what if like Green he can shoot threes and defend all five positions? Hmm.
Q: Kevin, where has that highly anticipated Amir Johnson/Isaiah Thomas pick-and-roll attack been? -- Papa Barnes (Salem, NH)
A: Interesting observation, Papa Barnes. According to Synergy via NBA.com, Johnson has finished only 23 pick-and-rolls this season, despite scoring an elite 1.17 points per possession. Johnson and Thomas have been on the floor for 341 minutes together this season, and the Celtics have attempted 627 shots. Even if all 23 of Johnson's pick-and-roll shot attempts involved Thomas, only 4 percent of the play types seems low. However, there are plenty of Thomas-Johnson pick-and-rolls that aren't recorded by Synergy, like this one:
Johnson sets the screen for Thomas, which opens up a passing lane for Thomas, and Jared Sullinger hits the three. Johnson gets no credit for this play in the stats sheet, but he absolutely deserves an assist, just as much as Thomas does. This is a topic worth monitoring, so I appreciate you bringing it up, but it's early in the season and I think we'll see Johnson finishing more pick-and-rolls as the season wears on.
Q: What do you like about Danilo Gallinari so much? I've seen you write about him multiple times this year as an "obvious target" but I don't get the appeal. -- David (Mars, PA)
A: David from Mars . . . David Bowie? Ziggy Stardust? Anyway, I know it's Stevens' job to work with the players he's given, and he's done an admirable job of that. But Gallinari is quite simply a perfect fit for Stevens' offense. I was ecstatic when Gallo was rumored to be a target this summer. He's an excellent shooter off the catch (41.4 3PT%, per SportVU), and he's capable of driving closeouts and creating offense. He could play off-ball and get more shots than he's ever had when playing with Isaiah Thomas. Or, he can run pick-and-roll, and the Celtics can create easy opportunities for Thomas off the pass. Gallinari is a versatile defender, especially when he's engaged, and I believe he would be on a Celtics roster that is moving towards "connectivity." Plus, he has a stellar contract. He's going to cost $15 million in 2016, then has a player option worth $16 million for 2017. The best-case scenario is probably that Gallinari declines his player option to test free agency in 2017. If he does that, then it means you got two really good years out of him, and he's a keeper. If he accepts the option, well hopefully you got some good production out of him and his contract isn't a liability. Getting a guy like Gallinari also, in my opinion, puts the Celtics in a better position to make some noise in the trade or free agent market in 2016. If you're an Al Horford level player, you look at Boston and think to yourself "Horford, Gallinari, Thomas" is a nice Big 3, especially with all the young players getting better. Dream big, Bowie.
Q: What do you think of David Lee's poor performance so far with the Celtics after showing great promise on the pre-season? -- Kristian Rivera (Puerto Rico)
A: It's somewhat disappointing, Kristian. I want Lee to perform well. I thought he would. I've been a longtime fan of watching Lee play. I thought he was one of the NBA's most underrated players when he was with the Knicks. On the bright side, Lee's been better lately. I still think he's liability in many match-ups -- he always has been -- but at least his offense has picked up lately. Hopefully for the Celtics he can sustain this current level.
Q: By the end of the season, how many minutes do you see RJ Hunter playing in a game? -- Frozone (Canada)
A: Frozone, it all depends on how the complexion of the roster changes. Maybe the Celtics trade for a wing, which pushes Hunter down the depth chart. Or maybe a player gets hurt and Hunter is lifted into a more prevalent role. A realistic estimate is a 12-minutes per game average, where he plays for a single 6-minute stint in each half. And maybe the ball begins to find his way more frequently.
Q: From what it seems like, the Celtics are kind of becoming the "try-hards" of the NBA. Giving 100% the entire game and just playing harder than other teams on both ends, and it's paying off. Is it a realistic expectation that the Celtics can play this way for 82 games? -- Connor (MPLS, MN)
A: Connor, it's absolutely better to be a "try-hard" than a "BK." For those who don't know, those terms are references to online video game -- I remember back in the day when I was a Halo 3 "try-hard." I never got a "50," and my 0.89 K/D was nothing special, but I had a lot of good times playing with my friends -- in terms of the Celtics, it's not easy being a "try-hard" every night. But the Celtics do have the advantage of depth. If they want to rest guys, they can. Look, I don't want to underrate the importance of playing a high-energy brand of basketball every night, but there will be nights guys just don't play like coaches want them too. Such is life. Such is sports. I think most nights they will be "try-hards," and they'll win a lot of games.
Q: Do you think the Celtics can make a run at Nerlens Noel at the deadline? He is a local guy, so Boston should be on top of his list and we have trade assets for the 76ers? -- Krumeto (Bulgaria)
A: Krumeto, I doubt Noel has much say in his future, but I can't imagine why he wouldn't want out of Philadelphia. Who wouldn't? If the 76ers decide to shop Noel -- I wouldn't if I were them -- then if I'm the Celtics, I'm calling. Noel is a blossoming rim protector, and a rim runner. As good as Tyler Zeller was last season in the pick-and-roll, Noel could potentially be even better when you factor in Boston's spacing and ball handlers like Isaiah Thomas and Evan Turner. Noel can't shoot, but he's not a liability from the free throw like (61% in his career) many other defensive-oriented bigs are. I highly doubt Noel gets moved, but it's worth keeping him in mind if Philly insists on shaking things up.
Q: With Kevin McHale gone in Houston, I guess we're too late to ask about James Harden's availability? -- KC (Whyalla, Australia)
A: KC, I still think that was a great trade for both teams. Al Jefferson gave them some good years. So did Ryan Gomes. Gerald Green just never worked out. Maybe it would've worked out differently if the Wolves took Stephen Curry or DeMar DeRozan, and not Jonny Flynn. Or what if Flynn turned out to be a star? As for Harden, even though Houston looks like a sinking ship right now, I believe Daryl Morey is a terrific general manager and will keep it afloat.
Q: Kevin, I love the work CelticsBlog puts together. As a hopeful to work in the sport industry, what tips do you have about getting your foot in the door? -- Cameron (Slippery Rock, PA)
A: Cameron, I'm still trying to work my way in, but I appreciate the question. It really depends on what you want to do in the sports industry. I kind of started late, because I was a drifter for many years until I took an internship at Comcast SportsNet New England. So, since you're in Philadelphia, I'd recommend an internship with Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. But you can also do things in your own time. If you want to be a journalist, make sure you try to read a lot -- books, and sports writers that you admire. If you want to do something with statistics, whether it's work in an NBA front office or in journalism, try to take some stats classes in college and learn a program like R. Make yourself versatile.
Thank you, please submit more questions for next Tuesday's mailbag.