30 Teams, 30 Days
Boston Celtics season preview.
Sometimes, the natural order of things is broken. Such is the instance today, as the Boston Celtics make a surprise appearance in place of the L.A. Lakers. The Lakers Preview will come soon, but not before we take a closer look at L.A.’s arch-rival — the team that took ‘em out in the 2008 Finals. — Ed.
Oh yes, check out past season previews here!
Fatigue and injury. The two things that can stop the Celtics from having a near immaculate season.
With five players in the rotation over 30, Doc Rivers will be relying heavily on guys who are closer to the end than beginning of their careers. Not a problem in ’07, when the Celtics won the Finals, last year age played a role in their ragged and fatigued play against Orlando in the Playoffs. True, with age comes experience, but so do tired legs and injury. (Just ask Paul Pierce about the former.)
Last year, Kevin Garnett missed the latter part of regular season and the playoffs with a semi-mysterious knee ailment. We can only speculate, but it’s likely that a 23-year-old Garnett would have recovered quicker than the 33-year-old version. Having just recently finished the rehabilitative process of his progress, KG is still working his way back into bball shape.
Assuming that Kevin Garnett will be playing in the 85 to 100 percent of his ability range, and that the injury bug doesn’t bite too hard, here’s how the puzzle pieces should align for the 09-10 Cs.
Additions: Marquis Daniels, Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams, Lester Hudson (still unsigned second round Draft pick)
Subtractions: Stephon Marbury, Mikki Moore, Leon Powe, Gabe Pruitt
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo, starter: Not even clocking in at 24 yet, Rondo’s experienced more than any other young guard out there. Sporadic playing time in his rookie year, one that saw his team lose over and over again. Starting alongside three Hall of Fame players in his second, en route to winning the Chip. Averaging 11 ppg, 8 apg and 5 rpg, and then exploding those digits into 16.9, 9.8, 9.7 in the Playoffs, in his third campaign, Rondo’s showed the growth curve of a soon-to-be All-Star. If you believe reports, Rajon was also shopped around this summer. With all of the winning, stats and rumors in the past, Rondo will be looking to have an even better year than last, inheriting some of the scoring and leadership role from the “Big Three,” who should spend more time on the pine this year, resting for the Playoffs. Oh, and being that he’s in the final year of his contract, earning $3.7 mil this year, you can be sure that RR will be playing for that Green, too.
Rondo’s probably gonna play around 35-38 MPG this season. As of now, there’s no real backup point guard—excluding Lester Hudson, who’s neither signed or a traditional PG. So when Rajon’s catching his breath, look for Eddie House and Marquis Daniels to handle the rock. Both possess attributes that the starter lacks, but both also have issues that he doesn’t.
House has one of the quickest releases in the NBA and is accurate from waaaaay beyond the arc. Too bad he also has a weak handle and often struggles to beat a strong press. Daniels, on the other hand, handles the ball fairly well, especially for someone 6-6. He can shoot fairly well, too. But he’ll struggle defending quicker guards. If and when healthy, Tony Allen may get some burn at the one, too. At this point, quickness and athleticism having abandoned him post-ACL injury, leaving him with little to offer, aside for six, hard fouls.
Positional Rating: A-
Shooting Guard: Ray Allen, starter: Somehow, someway, Ray Allen’s 34. Where did the decade go? Anyway, three years removed from serious ankle issues, Allen seems to be no worse for the wear. Having taken care of his body, and having never relied too much on his athleticism, Allen is still an upper-echelon player. His shot is still brilliant and he still gets to the cup decently. Yet, his erratic performance down the stretch is a bit worrisome. If Allen’s forced to play more than 30-34 MPG, the Celts will be in trouble come Playoff time, when his legs give out on him. If they let him rest and sit him here and there, a fresh Allen could cause massive headaches for the Cavs and Magic in May and June.
If Doc Rivers manages to lessen Allen’s load, the subs will see extended time. Just like at the point, the two who’ll pick up the slack are House and Daniels. Eddie is a microwave off the bench, providing instant offense. On the downside, he’s too small (6-1 is generous) and slow-footed to cover even an average shooting guard. Daniels’s versatility adds so much to this year’s team. In addition to being able to play the point and three, ‘Quis plays a solid SG. Every team should be so lucky as to have a backup like him, especially at under $2 mil a year.
Positional Rating: A-/B+
Small Forward: Paul Pierce, starter: Sorry, Rajon, Ray, Kevin. Paul Pierce is the heart and soul of this squad. He bleeds a strange combo of green-and-white. He devours opponents, while helping to guide the Cs to W after W. Weirdest thing is, he doesn’t look like he can do what he does. He appears chubby, ’till he sashays around the defense. He appears like a solid but not great shooter, ’til he breaks you back with three or four straight Js. He appears like a solid but not great player, ’til he hits that game-winner on you. He appears to tire over the course of the season….well, at this point, that one may be true. But there is no reason that the Truth should be playing Anthony Mason minutes this year. Like Ray and Kevin, forget stats and regular season wins; focus on the Playoffs. Last year, Pierce seemed to be running on an empty tank against Orlando. To ensure that doesn’t happen this year, Doc needs to hit the bench early and often. If Pierce plays 30 MPG, that would be conducive to a productive Pierce down the home stretch.
Marquis Daniels will see minutes at yet another position. At SF, he is the Celtics new version of James Posey, fine on O and above-average when he focuses on D. In larger lineups, Glen Davis may see some minutes here. J.R. Giddens is talented offensively, but Coach Rivers expects solid D from his players. Until Giddens brings that consistently, don’t expect to see him on the parquet.
Positional Rating: A
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett, starter: This is the question mark, the possible Achilles heel: What will KG bring and how often will he be able to bring it? Watching him play in the preseason, he appears solid if not slightly timid and slow. That could be a temporary thing; or it could be the new Kev.
“Da Kid” is definitely dead. But that’s not what the Celtics need from him, so that’s not the issue. (That would be if he really can’t go at all.) But as long as Garnett can play hard in 60-70 games and all of the Playoffs, that would be enough for the Celts to get by on. Like Ray and Paul, when playing he needs to maximize his effort, as Doc should restrict him to around 30 MPG. Don’t let stats fool you, either. If Garnett averages 15-8-3-1 this year and is a force on the defensive side of the ball, that would be everything and more than Ainge and Doc could realistically want from him…especially if he’s doing it in 30 minutes or less.
Sitting No. 5 shouldn’t hurt them too much. With Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis sitting courtside waiting to checkin, the dropoff in talent isn’t that large.
At this point in his career—and in truth, for all of his career—Sheed prefers to play outside, hoisting threes and staying out of the mix downlow. On this team, with Pierce and Rondo attacking, that’s just fine. If he buckets about 12 points and six boards a game, he will be the best power forward coming off the bench in the League. Not to mention that on the other side of the court he’s a menace, using his long arms to swat away and alter shots.
Behind him is Big Baby Davis. Coming off a career year, Davis has worked himself into much better physical shape. Not only is he ready to go, but Doc shows a lot of confidence in his abilities. And while he’s not a great rebounder by any means, Baby uses his robust frame to create room under the basket for his own shot. Throw in his ever improving J, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide NBA PF.
If Davis and Wallace can’t go, or if KG is out, Shelden Williams will see minutes at the four. Though he’s one of the worst Draft mistakes in Atlanta’s history (and that’s saying something), in a limited role and playing for the veteran minimum he’ll do just fine. Anything that Shelden provides will be a real bonus. (Again, unless Garnett gets hurt.) Lastly, Brian Scalabrine. He’s good at nothing, OK at one thing (shooting), but for some reason Scal is needed on this team. His dry wit and bench presence are the kind of things that all Championship teams have deep on their bench.
Positional Rating: A (Contingent on KG semi-resembling himself)
Center: Kendrick Perkins, starter: Entering his sixth season, Kendrick Perkins is finally starting to get it. He understands that at 6-10, 280, he has a chance to be a top 10 center. He’s a decent athlete; he has a developing offensive game; he has long arms and plays physically. Couple that with daily lessons from KG, Sheed and assistant coach Clifford Ray, and you can see why he’s starting to get it and get at it. His only weakness is his hands, which cause him to drop a ball or two a game. But with Rondo hitting him with perfect feeds, he gets away with it on this team. Actually, he does have one other flaw: Sometimes he has a tendency to get too amped up, resulting in 10 or so Ts. It’s hard to fault him for being overly emotional, unless he picks up a dumb T down the stretch of a tight game.
Rasheed will spell Perk, when he’s not already in at the four.
Wallace brings an entirely different skill set to the table than Kendrick. Whereas Perkins is at his best within the two paints, Sheed likes to hover at the top of the key, thereby stretching defenses. Opposing teams will have to adjust to whichever one is in the game, switching their defensive rotations and looks. Kendrick and Rasheed do have one overlapping trait: Their ability to collect Ts by the game.
Positional Rating: B/B+
End Zone: Rasheed recently mentioned this team’s ability to win 72 games. While I doubt that’s a realistic goal—remember, fatigue and injury—the Celtics could easily win 60-5 games. Of course, after overplaying the starters last season, resulting in an early knockout, Doc Rivers may decide to cut back their playing time, gladly sacrifing nine regular season wins for nine more playoff wins. 55-8 regular season wins would be the perfect number for this team.