NBA Roundtable

2012 Team Preview: Boston Celtics

In Season Previews on October 16, 2012 at 6:30 am

Boston Celtics

Starting Lineup

  • PG – Rajon Rondo
  • SG – Avery Bradley
  • SF – Paul Pierce
  • PF – Brandon Bass
  • C  – Kevin Garnett

A very strong starting lineup. One of the best in the league. Arguably the best point guard in the league, the second best center, a top five small forward, a shooting guard that was very impressive in the latter part of last season. The weak point is the power forward position.

Kevin Garnett is an excellent starting center. Still one of the best defensive centers in the league. A good rebounder. An exquisite passer. An elite jump-shooting big man. Has a good post game. Is a solid scorer. Garnett’s ability to play in the high-post creates numerous matchup advantages against opposing team’s centers and his excellent defense is vital to Boston’s team defense.

I think Rajon Rondo has earned the right to be considered the best PG in the league. I think the top four PGs (Deron, D-Rose, C-Paul, Rondo) in the league are cluttered together very closely. Very little separation between the four of them. Each possessing quite different skill-sets. Rondo, however, for me, has been the most amazing of the lot for the last two postseasons running so I am happy to consider him the top PG in the game for the time being.

Rajon Rondo is an All-League defensive player. An excellent rebounder who also forces turnovers at a staggering clip and is one of the best possession creating guards in the league. Rondo is also, for my money, the best overall passer / floor general / playmaker in the game today. A solid scorer who can create quality looks against any defense but is only a so-so finisher (scoring efficiency wise). Very good at getting attempts around the basket and improving his jump-shooting (still a weakness). His lack of FTs and 3FGAs limit his scoring efficiency also.

Paul Pierce is flying under the radar a bit at the moment. I still consider him a borderline top twenty player in the NBA. He may have slowed down as an All-World scorer but Pierce’s all-round game as a small forward is still hugely impressive. A very good defensive player. A really good defensive rebounder. A very strong ball-handler and secondary playmaker offensively. Capable of running the offense through him for short stretches. An extremely well-rounded scorer / shot-creator. Pierce has a low post game, a mid post game, brilliant shooting range, can create off the dribble, can come off screens on catch and shoot opportunities and is comfortable as a spot up shooter playing off of Rondo’s dribble penetration. That versatility and high level efficiency makes Pierce a very dangerous offensive weapon if not quite the dominant shot-creator he was just a few short years ago.

Avery Bradley is still a bit of an unknown but he was very impressive in the latter stages of the regular season. Especially after his switch to the shooting guard position where he was much more comfortable offensively with Rondo around to help get Bradley easier (higher percentage) shot attempts. The two areas that impressed me the most where:

  1. The high level defensive value. Bradley did a great of harassing guards at both backcourt positions. He looked vulnerable at times to size but generally found other ways to make up for it defensively and held opposing two guards down well. His quickness as a a team defender was a major boost to Boston’s perimeter defense also.
  2. Bradley’s ability to get himself high percentage shot attempts = in transition, on cuts (especially along the baseline) and those corner three point attempts which became a very good shot for him. Also a capable midrange jump-shooter but doesn’t quite have the range for those longer threes yet and isn’t comfortable creating off the dribble although a player with explosive quickness will always be a threat to add that weapon to his game as he develops over the next few years.

Brandon Bass is the final piece to the starting unit and is miscast in his role. Bass is a very good backup power forward but limited as a starter due to his defense and rebounding. A weak rebounder. His lack of size/length causes him problems in some matchups defensively. His so-so awareness as a team defender causing more problems there. Offensively, no-pass-Bass is a good scorer for a role player. One of the best midrange and long two point range jump-shooting big men in the league. Very aggressive in looking for his shot (not the best trait for a role player in the starting unit). Lacks a post game though and his finishing in the paint is iffy / inconsistent.

The (overdue) decision to move Brandon Bass into the starting lineup in Jermaine O’Neal’s place (injury) was the key to turning around Boston’s season last year. Replacing Jermaine with Bass gave Boston a major boost to their team’s speed and quickness (especially on defense with Garnett going to center making him much more effective and tightening up Boston’s team D considerably) + Bass’ shooting range made Boston far more difficult to defend and opened up their offense for others. The Celtics further improved on this by replacing Ray with Bradley; further boosting their team’s quickness and defensive efforts.

Bench

  • PG – Jason Terry
  • SG – Courtney Lee, Dionte Christmas
  • SF – Jeff Green, Kris Joseph
  • PF – Jared Sullinger, Chris Wilcox
  • C  – Darko Milicic, Jason Collins, Fab Melo

One of the finest benches in the league (top three) if not the single best bench in the game.

Jason Terry is an excellent sixth man and one of the best backup combo guards in the league. Jeff Green is one of the best combo forwards around. Courtney Lee a well above average backup two. Jared Sullinger looks a productive rookie in the making. Chris Wilcox a below average but solid backup power forward. Jason Collins has been the best third string center in the NBA for the past two years. Darko is an average to below average backup center who is capable of being a high level backup center. An amazing array of talent.

Jason Terry will be the main scorer off the bench and the fourth most important offensive option on the team. A terrific jump-shooter and dangerous third-fourth option type scorer. Terry is very effective in the catch and shoot running off screens, spot up shooting around the arc, pull up jumpers off the dribble. Terry is a good ball-handler and a solid passer/playmaker. Overall, one of the best offensive options in the league coming off the bench.

Jeff Green, along with Jason Terry, is vital to Boston’s team. His versatility will allow Boston great lineup flexibility from power based lineups (Pierce at SG, Green at SF), to playing his natural position (SF) while ensuring Pierce is rested by playoff time and thirdly in a quick running lineup with Green at power forward (likely alongside KG or maybe Darko). This ability to create different matchups (either creating or eliminating matchup advantages in the process) is a very important facet to Boston’s team.

Jeff Green is a two position player. A power three or an undersized quick four. As a power three, Jeff Green is an above average defender/rebounder and a solid offensive threat. His size and post-up threat creates advantages against physically smaller/weaker wings. The rest of his shot-creation is fairly run of the mill. Capable passer but not a playmaker (except out of the post). As an undersized quick four, Jeff Green is a really good scorer who’s speed and slashing creates advantages against most opposing power forwards. His quickness (especially at PF) makes him a lethal threat in transition. However, Green is a bit of a lightweight who has struggled against the power of bigger forwards and has been a liability as a defender/rebounder to date.

Courtney Lee is the third best bench player on the roster. A good defender. A position based defender with good quickness who takes few risks and does a good job contesting shots. He is slightly undersized (6-5, below par strength) which makes it difficult for him to defend bigger powerful two guards and hurts his ability to play the small forward position. Doesn’t rebound or force turnovers well.

Courtney Lee is a very skilled complementary offensive player. A good ball-handler and passer. Lee is an excellent spot-up shooter from three point range, has a pull up jumper and can finish going to the basket. He doesn’t get to the FT line. Needs to change his shot-selection to improve the proportion of high percentage shot attempts vs medium percentage shot attempts. Takes too many medium percentage attempts and not enough high percentage. Since Lee doesn’t get many FTs, most of his high percentage shot attempts come in transition and from behind the arc. Hopefully, playing in Boston alongside a stud point guard like Rajon Rondo will help Lee improve his shot distribution.

Darko Milicic is a very interesting case at backup center. Personally, I think Darko is overweight. He is currently about 270lbs. The best I’ve seen him play at is in that 240lb to 250lb range. At his current weight (270lbs), I think Darko has lost a fair of his quickness, mobility and explosiveness. That has limited the quality of his team defense (ground covered), rebounds (inability to explode to the ball) and finishing around the basket. If Darko can lose the weight, I think he’ll be one of the best backup centers in the league.

Without that lost weight, I consider Darko more of a middle of the pack backup center. An average defender, sub-par rebounder and an outright liability offensively. I would compare his value on the court to that of Jermaine O’Neal’s in Boston these past two years only Darko isn’t quite as valuable defensively at the moment. When Boston played Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal together, they had major speed problems and struggled. I’d expect the same with Darko and Garnett which is why I think their minutes together should be kept small.

Jared Sullinger is a very interesting rookie. A polished post game. A good passer. Great court awareness and intelligence. A strong rebounder. Uncertain about how effective a jumper Sully has but that might be a weapon for him also. A dodgy defender who’s lack of quickness/agility will limit him at the PF position and his lack of size/length will limit him at center. As will his lack of NBA experience.

Chris Wilcox is an excellent third string PF. A very athletic player. A good rebounder, decent defender and a solid offensive player (great finisher in transition and in the paint with the odd post up too) with limited range (no jump shot).

Jason Collins has been the most valuable third string center in the league these past two years. Two years ago, Collins was moved into the starting lineup in the playoffs against the Orlando Magic and Dwight Howard and was a key role player in Atlanta’s playoff victory over Orlando (after losing to them to season prior). Last year, Al Horford got injured and Collins had to take a rotation role for the season and played well enough to allow Atlanta to hang onto it’s mid-playoff position in the East despite the loss of a player as valuable as Horford. Collins also did a great job in the playoffs defending Kevin Garnett displaying his versatility as a man-to-man defender.

Jason Collins is a specialist and hence a very effective glue guy in certain situations but not necessarily in others. Making him a high level third string player. Collins has legitimate size at 7-0 250lbs and does a good job of defending power based centers (Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum). A strong post defender and good team defender (albeit limited shot-blocker). Collins impressed me with his ability to cover a guy like KG as well as he did also. A so-so rebounder who does a bad job of snaring boards but an excellent job of boxing out his man and keeping the opponent off the glass. A solid passer offensively but an extremely limited scorer. Good screen-setter.

Overall

I think the Eastern Conference has only two genuine title contenders – Miami and Boston.

The Celtics are the best equipped team to matchup against Miami’s speed and quickness, dribble penetration focused four out one in offense. Garnett is a very good matchup against Chris Bosh. Jeff Green and Paul Pierce gives Boston two forwards to play against LeBron (and Battier/Rashard). Avery Bradley showed real promise as a D-Wade stopper. And Rajon Rondo has been absolutely dominant against Miami’s backcourt. Boston is a real threat to defeat the defending champs (Miami Heat).

I think the Heat have earned the title of the team to beat in the East but Boston are right there clawing at their heels. I wouldn’t be surprised if they knocked Miami off in the playoffs this year.

The Celtics are a fantastically well-built basketball team with great versatility and depth. A true joy.

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