Last season, I wrote a series of articles breaking down the Celtics during the season. The articles brought on some nice discussion, so Iím at it again. I divide the season into sixths (roughly), as it is better to critique this team over the course of many games as opposed to one or two. This way weíre able to see trends develop.
- 6 losses certainly have a way of feeling like 42, donít they? There was a lot of fan panic early on and it was clear Doc wasnít happy with the up-and-down play, but it seems the Celtics have revved things up a little and begun playing better. All the extra practice time they have over the next few weeks can do nothing but improve the team.
- Offensively, the team is doing well, ranking near the top-10 in many offensive categories. I am enjoying the dynamic of seeing a different player step up scoring-wise each game. Pierce is once again leading the team in scoring, but we have seen players as varied as KG and Barbosa take some of the scoring load on their shoulders during this young season. Any given night, Terry or Green or Bass can erupt for 18 points. This is a dynamic we have not seen from the Celtics offense since KG has been in Boston. In past seasons, it was always up to Pierce, KG, and "that guy" to carry the load. If one faltered, the other two had to pick up the slack. This season, weíre seeing a variety of players step up to help. Each night it is someone different. There has been the reappearance here and there of the offensive drought which has plagued this team in the past, but the team seems better suited to persevere with players like Terry and Barbosa. The team has not recently had the "instant offense" quality it has this season. Unless, of course, you count Nate Robinson.
- Defensively, the team is coming along slowly. I have no doubts that theyíll be a top-5 defense come seasonís end. Doc is working his magic in practice and the players on this team are too smart and talented to not improve. Remember, the team lost "that guy" and a bunch of scrubs and/or rookies, and added a number of intelligent veterans. They just need to learn the system and implement Docís scheme on the court. By seasonís end, their defense should be on par with last seasonís, and I believe it will be slightly better. Oh, and we also have that certain young defensive whiz kid returning in the next six weeks. Iím excited for how this defense will perform when the time counts.
- Theyíve had a tough schedule so far, with four back-to-backs, so I think we can excuse the 8-6 record. The team is only 1.5 games out of leading the Atlantic. By seasonís end, I expect the team to be Atlantic champions once again. The 76ers are limited without Bynum returning (what a ridiculous trade!). The Knicks will falter as their aged players get injured and/or winded, and theyíll have chemistry issues once Aímare returns (the talk is theyíll bring him off the bench). The Nets are the biggest threat, but when was the last time Deron Williams or Gerald Wallace has played a full 82-game season? By seasonís end, I expect the Celtics to earn either the 2nd or 3rd seed in the East.
- Rondo has been borderline brilliant on offense to start the season. His shooting numbers are up and heís been relatively focused game-in, game-out, probably because heís gunning for a few assist records (46-game double-digit and Stocktonís 14.5apg season). I would like to see Rondo stop trading open layups for possible assists, but overall his control of the offense leaves little to complain about. If there is one area to complain about it is Rondoís defense Ė his Defensive Rating (106) is terrible and his Defensive Win Shares (0.4) is well below even his rookie season. Iíve always believed Rondo is overrated as a defender, not because of talent, but rather focus. In past seasons, his defensive stats have been fantastic, but they never account for when Rondo allows his man to get by him for a drive to the basket. Those numbers (fouls, points scored) end up counting against the big man who has to cover for Rondoís lapse. Rondo too often stands with his hands by his side, lazily fights through screens, and gambles for steals. If he were to play disciplined defense on his man the teamís defense would be more solid. Penetration by the opposing teamís PG has killed the Celtics defense this season. Rondo has almost single-handedly guarded the opposing teamís PG, as he logs close to 39mpg. When Bradley returns, I fully expect him to guard the opposing PG, with Rondo sliding over to cover the opposing SG (this goes for most teams, but not the Heat).
- Sully has been transcendent in spurts. There is a ceiling to his talent, due to size and athleticism, but right now I wouldnít realistically trade him for anyone outside of a handful of players in last seasonís draft. The most important quality that Sully has is that he listens and learns. Nothing could be more important for a Celtics rookie. Well, hustle and intelligence on the court help. Luckily, Sully has shown those qualities as well. Good drafting, Ainge.
- I am willing to forgive Jeff Green for those rare 0-9 shooting nights, but I am not willing to forgive Jeff Green for lack of focus or drive. I understand that it will continue to take time for him to fully get into the swing of things following his year-long absence, but Green is the key to this teamís shot at a championship, and he needs to understand that every single night. When I say heís the "key," I do not mean as a scorer or leader. Heíll never be the best player on the floor, but he has to believe he is and assert himself like he is. What Green needs to do is show up and give everything he has every night, whether heís logging 20 minutes or 40 minutes. Points arenít what the team need from him. He needs to play solid defense against opposing SGs/SFs/PFs, grab rebounds, run the fast break, and attack the basket regularly. He wonít always score in double-digits, but he can affect the game in so many ways that itís important that he stays focused and driven. Come playoff time, Doc is going to need 25 solid mpg from Green in order to rest Pierce and others. If Pierce is spread too thin from too many minutes guarding the likes of Melo and Bron, then this team is in trouble. Green needs to step on the court believing heís their equal, then he needs to give 100% more energy than they give. Thatís the only way this team is going to succeed.
- I like what Iíve seen from Bass, Terry, Lee, Barbosa, and Wilcox. Yes, they all have flaws and theyíve all had slumps this season, but this is by far the best bench the team has had since KG arrived. By the All Star break I expect to see great things from this bench.
- There has been much discussion regarding trades so far this season. Nothing is going to happen until after December 15th, when many of the newly-signed free agents can be traded, but I wouldnít necessarily mind a trade if it is done well before the trade deadline of February 21st, which is mere weeks before the playoffs begin. If Ainge is to make any trades, I want them completed by mid-January at the latest.
Who should Ainge be looking at? Iíll make it simple. If I were AingeÖ
I would look to trade for the following players (in this order, taking into account trade value and contracts): Anderson Varejao, Marcin Gortat, Josh Smith, Pau Gasol*. I hold out hope for Kevin Love, but itís completely unrealistic.
Varejao would be around for three years at $9 million per (a bit much), but heís the rebounding beast the Celtics have never had. He and KG together in the post would be a force. Gortat would be around for two years at $7.5, which seems fair. He would allow Doc to shift KG between PF and C. Smith is free agent at seasonís end and will command a hefty salary. Heís friends with Rondo, but who knows if the Celtics could actually re-sign him. The best thing about Smith is that he slots in at PF, allowing KG to stay at C. The question is: Would Smith really contribute much more to this Celtics team than Bass? Iím not so sure. Smith is at 15ppg, 7rpg in 35mpg, Bass is at 10ppg, 6rpg in 28mpg. But, Smith is a focal point of the Hawks offense, and Bass simply works within the Celticsí system. Bass actually has the higher Win Shares total this season (0.6 to 0.2). Pau would come over and play either PF or C, but he is due a slightly obscene amount of money for the next two years ($38 million over this season and next).
Iíd be willing to trade the following Celtics: Green, Lee, Bass, Sully, Barbosa, Joseph, Melo.
I would not send Bass and Sully out in the same deal. No way, no how. Nor would I send out Lee and Barbosa, not without getting back a backup PG/SG. Greenís $9 million salary will be a key in getting a top-flight talent like Josh Smith. Heís the only salary large enough to help match Smithís. Of course, with Green gone, weíd need to bring in a backup SF. *I would not trade assets directly to the Fakers. I would make a 3-team trade with them, but nothing direct.
The only un-tradeable players on the team are Rondo, Terry, Pierce, KG, and Wilcox (no-trade clause).
Avery Bradley stands alone. I would do everything I could to keep Bradley out of a package. If it came down to Bradley or nothing, I havenít made up my mind. I am that high on Bradleyís future.
- Well, thatís it for now. The Celtics have a tough fourteen games coming up, with four more back-to-backs. But, they also have more time between those back-to-backs, allowing for more practice. Fourteen games brings us past Christmas and past December 15th, which is when Ainge can actually trade some of our off-season signings. The team may look a bit different come my next posting. Regardless, I look for the Celtics to improve their defense while maintaining their offensive output by being more consistent. There is nothing to fret over being 8-6. This is the most talented Celtics team since KG arrived. Itís just taking some time for everything to fall into place.