BOSTON CELTICS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It's ironic that this season starts on Christmas Day, because that's when last year's Celtics started to go downhill. Winners of 14 straight with a record of 23-4 heading into last year's Christmas tilt, the C's were 33-22 after that, before getting bounced easily by the Heat in the second round of the playoffs. The 2010-11 Celtics were slowed by injuries to starters Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, as well as virtually the team's entire center rotation. Stalwarts Ray Allen and Paul Pierce had their customary excellent years, but they had difficulty carrying the load with seemingly the rest of the roster on the injured list at times. The team decided to shake things up midseason by trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for forward Jeff Green. But Green spent the rest of the season looking awkward and uncertain of his role, while the Cís were subsequently left with a Perkins-sized hole down low that was never adequately filled. And with the stunning news that Green will miss the upcoming season after being diagnosed with an aortic aneurism, the Celtics have nothing to show for the deal.
This year is being billed as the Bostonís ďLast Stand,Ē as Garnett and Allen are both free agents after the season. However, the condensed schedule may be the veteran teamís worst enemy, as some their stars have already shown signs of breaking down, and now will have less rest between games to recover. Stuck under the new salary cap, Boston didnít get much help in the offseason, and will pretty much stand pat with the roster they had last year. The Celtics will have to have a lot of injury luck to make a true championship run this year.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The Celticsí playing time outlook should come with the caveat "provided they're healthy." In full health, the Celtics have superstars manning four of the five spots on the floor, all scheduled for major minutes. Rajon Rondo, the youngest but possibly most injury prone of the quartet, should be in line for 35-40 minutes a night, being backed up by Avery Bradley and new acquisition Keyon Dooling. Ray Allen, despite being 36, is the most consistently healthy of the Celtics, and shows no signs of slowing down at 35 minutes per night. Dooling will spot him, while rookie E'Twaun Moore probably won't get off the bench very often. Up front, the 34-year-old Paul Pierce will see 30-35 minutes per night, giving way to Marquis Daniels when he needs a breather. Sasha Pavlovic will see whatever small-forward minutes remain. Kevin Garnett should see between 30-32 minutes per night, health permitting. He'll be backed up by new acquisition Brandon Bass, who will also back up at center and see roughly 20-25 minutes per contest. The oft-injured Jermaine O'Neal will start at center, but don't expect him to play more than 20-25 minutes. Remaining frontcourt minutes will be split between Chris Wilcox and rookie JaJuan Johnson.
Jermaine O'Neal: O'Neal has noted that heading into this season, he's as healthy as he's been in years. Pardon us if we're not buying it. At this point, even when healthy, he's a fantasy non-factor. He ranked 56th among centers last season in ESPN formats, and his averages of 5.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 46% shooting from the field were downright abysmal. The only thing he may bring to the table is blocks, as he swatted 1.3 shots per game when healthy, and 1.8 per game in the playoffs.
Brandon Bass: Bass is a player whose value this season could skyrocket if and when those ahead of him are injured. Given the condensed schedule and the injury history of both Jermaine O'Neal and Kevin Garnett, that proposition is more "when" than "if." Bass' per-game numbers don't jump out at you, but when factored into his playing time, he becomes a very viable fantasy sleeper given the right opportunity. His per-48 numbers last year averaged out to 20.7 points and 10.3 rebounds (often while sharing the court with Dwight Howard), and his 52% field-goal shooting and 82% from the free-throw line can be valuable as well. If given the opportunity, Bass can certainly shine, and it looks like he'll have that opportunity sometime this season.
Chris Wilcox: Wilcox is yet another Celtic flier who has battled injury woes throughout his career, but is only 29 and can provide some punch when healthy. His days of putting up big fantasy numbers are by the wayside, but his 58% shooting percentage last season could definitely be of use if an opportunity for playing time arises.
Paul Pierce: Pierce had a remarkable 2010-11 season, especially considering his age (turned 34 in October) and fullback-like playing style. Last year, Pierce improved in virtually every statistical category, including 50% shooting from the field, despite the fact that he shot four percent more jumpers last year than in 2009-10. One might think that the bottom would fall out for Pierce at some point, but his health (only 16 missed games in the last four years), improved shooting ability and slow drift to an outside-focused game should mean that his level of play should remain high. Celtics coach Doc Rivers may have been tempted to give Pierce more of a blow this season with a healthy Jeff Green, but it now appears Pierce will get the kind of playing time heís been getting all these years.
Kevin Garnett: Garnett has settled into a bit of a groove during his three years in Boston: roughly 15 points per game, 8-9 rebounds, 52% shooting from the field, and free-throw shooting in the mid-80s. However, you can also count on at least 10 games per year missed due to injury, with potential for many more this year as the schedule will be more rigorous. Garnett's numbers last year were actually an improvement on 2009-10, and his injuries were more nagging than severe. Still, he is 35-years-old with 1,300 games on his odometer heading into a season that condenses 66 games into roughly four months. Garnett can still give you above-average production at the four, but few players are as suspect to breaking down this season as he is.
Jeff Green: By now, you must have heard that Green will not be playing this season because of an aortic aneurism. The Celtics will void the one-year contract he signed in December and they retain his rights for next season. Heís expected to make a recovery and resume his career in 2012. As Green recovers, the Celtics will determine if heís part of the core group going forward.
JaJuan Johnson: Boston head coach Doc Rivers is loath to give rookies any playing time, and in this, the last year of the Celtics' veteran-driven run, don't expect much of a change with Johnson. When on the court, he has a surprisingly strong perimeter game for his size, and showed an aptitude for shot-blocking in college. Still, he'll have to wait at last another year to showcase those skills.
Sasha Pavlovic: Years ago, Pavlovic showed an ability to hit outside shots, but it would take a great number of injuries ahead of him in Boston for him have the opportunity to show those skills again.
Rajon Rondo: Few stars in the league are as talented as Rondo, but even fewer are as temperamental. Rondo was the driving force behind the Celtics' torrid start, but something, whether it was injury, the trade of good friend Kendrick Perkins or even a reported offhand joke made by President Barack Obama, caused his statistics to drop. Rondo went from shooting 58% from the field in December to 40% in April. It wasn't just his shooting that dropped off either, as his pre- and post-All Star Game splits in assists went from 12.2 to 9.4. Rondo did post career highs in assists (11.2) and steals (2.3), but his three-point (23.3%) and free-throw (57%) percentages make him a huge liability, both on the court and on a fantasy team. Also, just last season alone, Rondo had injuries to his ankle, hamstring, finger, and he dislocated his elbow in the playoffs. Which Rondo will we see this year? Nobody knows, but the fact that his name has been tossed about in trade rumors, as well as a preseason sprained ankle that has already caused him to miss practice time, could mean that we see more of "Bad Rondo" than "Good Rondo."
Ray Allen: At this point, we can only believe that Allen is a robot from the planet Jump Shot sent to Earth to teach us proper conditioning and shooting form. Allen had his career-best shooting year in 2010-11, making 49% of his shots and 44% of his three-point attempts. To put up those numbers at the age of 25 would be astounding, but Allen had those shooting percentages at the age of 35, and shows no signs of slowing down. Given his insane conditioning, itís unlikely that he will see a major dropoff this year either. Allen gets decent steals and assists, but if youíre taking him, itís for his shooting.
Keyon Dooling: Dooling is a solid if unspectacular player. Heís not particularly excellent at anything, but not horrible at anything either. Doolingís greatest asset to the Celtics is his ability to shoot threes, but even if those ahead of him go down to injury, his upside is limited.
Marquis Daniels: Daniels had a disastrous year in 2010-11, marred by an odd spinal cord injury that cut his year short. He doesnít bring much to the fantasy table himself, but he can at least give Boston bench minutes to preserve their stars.
Avery Bradley: Rookies in a Doc Rivers-led system rarely, if ever, play, and such was the case with Bradley last year. His eventual true value is as a perimeter defender and three-point shooter, but it may be another year or two before he can display that potential.
EíTwaun Moore: Moore was Bostonís second-round pick out of Purdue. He showed great across-the-board skills in college, but will probably spend most of this year in the D-League.
Brandon Bass: Finally free from the clutches of a Dwight Howard-centered offense, Bass can now thrive in the role formerly occupied by Glen Davis, especially if Kevin Garnett gets hurt.
Jermaine OíNeal: Donít be drawn in by OíNealís starting-center status. Of all the health risks on Bostonís roster, none are bigger than OíNeal, whose knees will cause him to miss at least a quarter of the season.