STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
They were old, banged up, and had been a .500 team since Christmas. Few, if any, expected the Celtics to go very far in last year’s playoffs, with some even predicting a first-round loss. Yet, like many Celtics teams of old, the team found another level in the playoffs. Miami was dispatched in five games. Boston demoralized LeBron’s Cavaliers in six. Dwight Howard’s defending Eastern Conference champion Magic were put away in six games as well. And while they lost in the Finals to the Lakers, the C’s were only a Ron Artest three-pointer from capturing the team’s 18th championship. This year’s Celtics are out to prove that last year’s playoff performance wasn’t a mirage, and hope to get over that final hump with the help of a few new seasoned veterans. Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal were brought on in the offseason to address the team’s biggest weakness, a lack of frontcourt depth. They will join mainstays Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in what should be the NBA’s version of the Senior PGA Tour. However, the real engine behind the Celtics is neither middle-aged nor seasoned. That player is point guard Rajon Rondo, one of the fastest and most athletic guards in the league. The team’s veterans are hoping for one last gasp at a title, but to reach that point, a youngster must lead them.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Rondo will see 35 minutes per game at the point, while spelled occasionally by rookie Avery Bradley and sparkplug Nate Robinson. Expect Robinson to see roughly 15 minutes per game, with Bradley averaging 10 or so by season’s end. That pair will also back up shooting guard Ray Allen, who should see 30. Paul Pierce averaged 34 minutes per game last year, but given his age, we wouldn’t be surprised to see that number cut to 30. Backing up Pierce will be Marquis Daniels, who saw little time last year but could see up to 10-15 minutes per game this season with a solid training camp. Kevin Garnett will start at power forward, though his knees will limit him to between 25-30 minutes a night. His backup is Glen Davis, expected to play 15-20 minutes, and more if Garnett is hurt or rested. At center, starter Kendrick Perkins is out until at least February with a knee injury. In his stead will be the O’Neals – Shaquille and Jermaine. Each should see 20-25 a night when Perkins is out, and 15-20 or so when Perk comes back. Perkins averaged 27.6 minutes last year, but coming off a torn ACL, that number may be closer to 20 when he does return.
Kendrick Perkins: We list Perkins first because he should be the starter upon his return, which should be sometime in February. With Perk, you know what you’re getting: 8-10 points, 8-10 boards, two blocks, great field goal percentage and terrible free throw shooting. Of course, that was the Perkins pre-ACL injury and before the acquisition of Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal, so Perk’s numbers could dip slightly as he fights for playing time and works off the rust.
Jermaine O’Neal: O’Neal had a sneaky-good year last year, with 14 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. It certainly wasn’t worth the $23 million he was paid, but this year, at the midlevel exception, O’Neal is an absolute steal for Boston. He’ll split playing time with Shaquille O’Neal early in the season and further share time with Kendrick Perkins come February, but if one of those players becomes injured and O’Neal starts to see starter’s minutes, he could easily replicate last year’s numbers and provide you a solid option at center.
Shaquille O’Neal: This year’s nickname du jour is “The Big Shamrock,” but we see O’Neal’s luck running out in Boston. He will turn 39 this year and is coming off easily the worst season of his career. Furthermore, he’s faced with stiff competition for playing time in Jermaine O’Neal, and even more competition when Kendrick Perkins comes back. Let someone else risk a pick on Shaq.
Semih Erden: Erden is a project in every sense of the word. He put up middling numbers in the Euroleague last season and looks to be at least three or four years from making any sort of NBA contribution, if at all. With the C’s depth at center and Erden’s inexperience, he should find himself at the end of the bench all year.
Paul Pierce: Pierce is still capable of greatness, as shown by his sublime performance in the Orlando series and a 27-point night in Game Five of the Finals against the Lakers. But those nights are becoming fewer and fewer as he ages. Pierce is showing the effect of twelve years of NBA basketball played with the style of an NFL fullback, missing 11 games with injuries and registering his worst scoring numbers since his rookie year. On the positive side, Pierce is shooting more efficiently, as last year’s field goal and three-point percentages were the highest of his career. But given that he’s shooting less (only 12.2 shots per game last year) and playing less, not to mention the fact that he’ll be 33 years old this season, you may want to wait until the third or fourth round to snag him.
Kevin Garnett: Garnett is another example of a player clearly on the decline. Right now, Garnett is a 15-and-eight guy who doesn’t block shots anymore and has knee problems. He’s missed at least ten games per season in his three years in a Celtics uniform. Garnett only took 11 shots per game last season. Can he occasionally turn it on? Of course, and it should also be noted that his field goal and free throw percentages remain strong. But those expecting the KG of 2004, or even the KG of 2008, will be sorely disappointed.
Glen Davis: Which Davis will we see this year? Will it be the Glen Davis who topped 15 points in four separate playoff games and nearly singlehandedly won Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers? Or the Davis who missed two months of the season after breaking a thumb in a street fight and averaged only six points and four rebounds in 54 games after that. The truth lies somewhere in between, though if Garnett misses time, Big Baby will become a popular waiver pickup.
Marquis Daniels: Daniels’ season in Boston last year was a disaster. He missed more than two months with a thumb injury, saw 25-plus minutes only five times all season, and was a DNP-CD for the vast majority of the playoffs. He decided to give it another go in Boston this year, but we don’t see his numbers improving much, barring an injury to starter Paul Pierce.
Luke Harangody: The Celtics drafted Harangody in the second round of this year’s draft. He was extremely productive at Notre Dame, but a lack of athleticism will hurt him greatly in the pros. While many joke that Harangody is “Scalabrine 2.0,” the truth is that he’ll probably fill Scalabrine’s old role at the end of the bench.
Rajon Rondo: It’s not a stretch to say that Rondo possesses the most unique set of skills of any point guard in the league. He led the league in steals, but also grabs rebounds. He can’t shoot from the outside, but can still score 20 a night. He’s arguably the fastest player in the league, but is surrounded by plodding 30-somethings. Rondo ramped up his game last year, with 13.7 points, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game, and made over 50 percent of his field goals. He had 14 games in the playoffs with at least five rebounds. Still, there are two glaring weaknesses in Rondo’s game: Three-point and free throw shooting. Rondo made only 21 percent of his threes last year, a dismal number for someone with the ball in his hands every possession. However, that number won’t hurt you as much as you would think, as Rondo had the sense last year to only attempt one three a game. Rondo’s free throw shooting is a greater concern. He sunk only 62 percent of his free throws, and considering that he drives to the basket so often, that number could negatively affect your fantasy squad. Still, Rondo is too talented to pass up, and seems to be only getting better.
Ray Allen: Allen is another Celtic on the downside of his career. Averages of 16.3 points, 2.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 36 percent three-point shooting were either the worst, or among the worst of his career. Of most concern among those are Allen’s three-point numbers. For a player long reputed to be the league’s most deadly marksman, 36 percent doesn’t cut it, especially when he shoots five threes per game. Allen still makes his free throws (91 percent last year) and still scores at a respectable rate, but at the age of 35, Allen is on the decline and doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
Nate Robinson: Everyone remembers Robinson’s offensive explosions against the Magic and Lakers in the playoffs, but those can’t overshadow the fact that he was a DNP-CD for eight playoff games and topped double-figure scoring only four times after joining the Celtics in February. He won’t see more than 15 minutes per game, doesn’t contribute much outside of scoring, and he has the tendency to rankle coaches. We’d stay away on draft day.
Avery Bradley: Bradley has oodles of potential, but is at least two to three years from realizing it. He was an excellent three-point shooter at Texas last year, and may have been the best perimeter defender in all of college basketball. Still, Celtics coach Doc Rivers is loath to give rookies much playing time, so don’t expect much, if anything, out of Bradley this year.
Delonte West: The fact that nobody signed West until early September should be a sign that he’s off the fantasy radar this year. He was ok-but-not-great in Cleveland last season, but in Boston, there is word that he may not even make the team’s opening day roster. Expect West to be little more than the butt of “Lebron’s Mom” jokes this year.
Jermaine O’Neal: We expect Jermaine to be the most productive O’Neal on the Celtics this year. His numbers were solid last year in Miami, and he brings a low-post game the Celtics sorely need.
Kevin Garnett: Garnett’s numbers have rapidly decreased over the last few years, and that trend should continue. He’s a shell of his old self defensively, and doesn’t attack the basket anymore. He’s a middle-of-the-road power forward at this point.