By Charlie Zegers
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Boston's extreme roster makeover paid immediate dividends, as the new-look Celtics, led by the "Big Three" of Kevin Garnett
, Ray Allen
and Paul Pierce
amassed a huge lead in the East, clinched the top seed in the playoffs, and won their first title since Larry Bird retired.
In many ways, the Celtics' model for success was remarkably similar to that of another New England staple: the Patriots. While the roster features several marquee names, the team bought into the system, had outstanding chemistry and, thanks in large part to assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, played stifling defense. Unfortunately for fantasy players, unselfish team play really depresses individual stats. In fantasy terms, Kevin Garnett
had his worst year as a pro.
But we suspect he's OK with that.
As one would expect from a team coming off a championship, the Boston roster hasn't changed much since they hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy last June. The biggest loss is James Posey
, who parlayed his shut-down defensive performance on Kobe Bryant
in the Finals into a fat free agent contract with the Hornets.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Like other teams with championship aspirations, the Celtics make a point not to burn out their key players during the regular season, so don't expect KG, Pierce or Allen to start logging Allen Iverson
minutes. Pierce and Allen played around 35 minutes per night last year and Garnett averaged 32.8 his lowest number since his rookie season. Those numbers are probably about what you should expect going forward of the three, Allen is the most likely candidate for a decrease, as he's been the most injury-prone of the "Big Three."
and Kendrick Perkins
will complete Doc Rivers' starting five. Rondo should be in for an increase in minutes this year, especially given that he has no experienced backup (Sam Cassell
is unsigned at press time). Perkins will play around 25 minutes a night, as he's regularly pulled when Boston goes small.
The Celtics are hoping Tony Allen, in his second year back after major knee surgery, will be able to fill the swingman/defensive stopper role vacated by James Posey
, who played around 25 minutes per game last season. Forwards Leon Powe
and Glen "Big Baby" Davis will also have important roles backing up the four and five spots, as veteran P.J. Brown
was not re-signed.
There's no obvious choice on the current roster to back Rondo Eddie House
is a shoot-first guard, rookie J.R. Giddens
is more of a wing player, and second-year man Gabe Pruitt
spent most of last season in the D-League.
Doc Rivers' instructions to Perkins on any given night probably sound something like this: "Board. Block shots. And if you find yourself with the ball in your hands two feet from the basket, throw it down." Although he's a starter, Perkins actually averaged less minutes than sixth man James Posey
last season, which hurts his overall value in just 24.5 minutes per game, Perkins averaged 6.9 points, 6.1 boards, 1.1 assists and 1.4 blocks. That's decent production on a per-minute basis, but unless he starts getting more playing time, it's hard to justify a fantasy roster spot for him.
O'Bryant is a low-risk reclamation project for the Celtics this season. The Warriors selected O'Bryant ninth overall in the 2006 draft, but he spent more time with the Bakersfield Jam than he did in Oakland. Signed to a two-year deal, O'Bryant is nominally Perkins' backup but the Celtics have several other players who can man the middle depending on matchup, including Kevin Garnett
. Don't expect major minutes.
For the first time in a decade, Garnett is no longer under consideration for the first overall fantasy pick because he no longer has to be Mr. Do-Everything. Playing a 12-year low 32.8 mpg, Garnett failed to reach 20 points (18.8 ppg), 10 rebounds (9.2 rpg), or four assists (3.4 apg) for the first time since 1998. The news was not all bad, though, as the decreased pressure allowed Garnett to shoot a career-best 53.9 percent from the field with the fewest turnovers (1.9 tpg) since his rookie season. Garnett was also one of only two players in the league to average at least 18 points, 53 percent shooting from the floor and 80 percent from the line (Amare Stoudemire); one of only four players to average at least 9.0 boards and 3.0 assists (Marcus Camby
, Brad Miller
, Lamar Odom
); and one of only two players to average at least 9.0 boards, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game (Shawn Marion
). So despite not being worth the top pick anymore, Garnett is still a multi-category contributor with very little risk.
Pierce is physically stronger than almost any wing not named LeBron James
or Ron Artest
, he has the deceptive ability to get into the lane off-the-dribble to generate high-percentage looks and free-throw attempts, and he bought more into team basketball (4.5 apg) and defense (1.3 spg) last season than he had in years. Despite all of that, Pierce's fantasy value is as low as it has ever been this millennium because with Kevin Garnett
and Ray Allen
on the team he simply does not have to produce like he used to. Pierce set a career-low in rebounds (5.1 rpg) and an eight-year low in points (19.6 ppg) last year, and despite great efficiency (career-best 84.3% FT, 46.4% FG, 7-year low 2.8 TO/game) he's just not as valuable a fantasy player as a member of Boston's new "Big Three". Nevertheless, Pierce is still a strong 20/5/5-caliber player that's worth a high draft pick just not quite as high as it would have been back when he was just a "Big One" for the Celtics.
Powe didn't get consistent minutes last season, but he showed outstanding potential in his limited opportunities most notably when he torched the Lakers with a 21-point explosion in just 15 minutes of Game 2. The development of the 2006 second-rounder from Cal makes P.J. Brown
an unnecessary luxury look for Powe's role to expand this year.
Like frontcourt-mate, Powe, Davis was good-to-great at times last season. And like Powe, those times were few and far between. He probably won't get enough run to merit fantasy consideration, but Davis could put up very respectable numbers if, say, Garnett, Perkins or Powe were to miss time due to injury.
The little-used Scalabrine signed to a five-year deal that runs through the 2009-10 season serves mostly as a reminder that Danny Ainge wasn't always the genius who pulled off the Garnett and Allen trades.
Walker might have been a lottery pick in 2007 if he hadn't hurt his knee. Another knee injury in 2008 convinced him that he'd better take a shot at the NBA while he's still able to walk. A teammate of Michael Beasley
's at Kansas State, Walker's game is based on explosiveness and athleticism, so his recovery from his latest knee woes will play a very significant role in determining if he gets any playing time. If healthy, he could play a similar role to that of Tony Allen, but he'll have competition from J.R. Giddens
and Darius Miles
Miles is another low-risk, high-reward gamble for Danny Ainge. The third-overall pick in the 2000 draft, Miles is still just 26 years old, but he's been out of the league for two years due to a variety of knee injuries. Getting healthy and in shape is just half the battle for Miles, who has been prone to bouts of immaturity during his NBA career. Case in point: if he does make the Celtics regular-season roster, he'll serve a 10-game drug suspension before he suits up in green for the first time. He could emerge as a bench scoring option but that's really not a major need in Boston.
Allen's production was down across the board last season, but we're guessing he didn't mind all that much. All the champagne at the Celtics' championship celebration probably muted any pain caused by the nine-point drop in his scoring average. Obviously, Allen's decline in fantasy value relates directly to his new team he went from being the first option on a terrible Sonics team to one-third of the "Big Three" in Boston. With the Celtics, Allen's scoring opportunities dropped off significantly. He had 986 field goal attempts in 2007-08. By comparison, he had 1,153 the previous year despite playing in 18 fewer games. But sharing the ball with Paul Pierce
and Kevin Garnett
isn't the whole story. Allen was also nagged by injuries all year, which may have caused a further drop in his production. Don't expect a return to his Seattle numbers, but a slight across-the-board improvement wouldn't be an unreasonable expectation for 2008-09.
Not a bad sophomore season, huh? Rondo started the year looking like the weak link on a team otherwise stacked with all-stars. By the end of the season, he was one of the keys to Boston's championship run. In many ways, Rondo is similar to Tony Parker
he's aware of his strengths and weaknesses and plays accordingly. He'll use his quickness to get to the rim, disrupt passing lanes and get boards and use his outside shot as little as possible (just five threes made on the season). He shot just under 50 percent from the floor last season despite a three-point percentage of 26.3 percent. It's good to know your limitations. He probably won't ever challenge Ray Allen
or Paul Pierce
for the team three-point shooting title, and that's fine. But he could make major strides by improving his 61.7-percent free-throw shooting.
Allen seemed to be developing into a valuable swingman, posting 11.5 points and shooting over 50 percent from the field in 24-and-change minutes per game during the 2006-07 season before it was cut short by a torn ACL. The after-effects of the injury lingered through the 2007-08 campaign
and that, along with a much-deeper Celtic roster limited Allen's opportunities. With James Posey
gone, Allen should have a much more substantial role this season either as a defensive presence on the wing, a backup to Rondo at the point, or both.
A second-round pick in 2007, Pruitt got playing time when Rajon Rondo
was injured, but ended the season in the D-League after the Celtics signed Sam Cassell
. It's possible that Pruitt could get regular action this year as Rondo's backup, but that's far from assured.
The Celtics' first-round pick in 2008 (30th overall) is a swingman with good athleticism and touch from three, but little mid-range game. Heading into the draft, there were questions about his work ethic, and the fact that he missed this summer's mini-camp his contract hadn't been signed won't help matters. He's in the mix for backup minutes at the swing positions, but is likely behind Tony Allen and Darius Miles
, and possibly Bill Walker
On draft night, keep saying "KG had his worst statistical season since his rookie year." Don't say "but he still put up tremendous contributions across-the-board" until after you draft him. Don't make the mistake of comparing Garnett's numbers in Boston to Garnett's numbers in Minnesota compare him instead to every other four in the league.
Pierce's outstanding two-way performance in the Finals will be fresh in the minds of a lot of fantasy players and that's dangerous. He won't play like that for 82 games he won't need to. In fact, don't be surprised if Pierce (and Allen) play slightly less this season Doc Rivers would be wise to develop Boston's young forwards a bit during the regular season and keep the Big Three fresh for May and June.
Article first appeared on 10/4/08