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NBA Team Previews: Boston Celtics 2012-13

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The 2011-2012 season marked the final year together for Boston's aging trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Led by arguably the best point guard in the NBA, Rajon Rondo, as well as a rejuvenated Pierce and Garnett, Boston managed to make a deep playoff run. Sticking with the recipe for success that the Celtics have employed in recent years, they focused their efforts on teamwork and defense, ranking second in the league with 23.6 assists per game while holding opponents to a league-lowest 41.9 percent shooting from the field on the other side of the ball. Injuries to Allen, Rondo, and Jermaine O'Neal forced Coach Doc Rivers to rely on unproven young talent, in the form of Greg Stiemsma and Avery Bradley.

Boston went 16-17 over the regular season's first half and 23-10 during an inspired second half surge. Even with the improvement, the front office was unable to resign all the key pieces. After rejecting the Celtics' offer and controversially signing with the Heat, Allen became the biggest name to leave Boston. Johnson, Pavlovic, Moore and Williams were traded to Houston in return for Courtney Lee. Stiemsma and Daniels signed elsewhere while Pietrus remains unsigned. Boston also added the rookie trio of Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph through the draft and signed renowned bench scorer Jason Terry, as well as veteran big men Darko Milicic and Jason Collins.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Rajon Rondo will have little competition for the starting point guard job this year, especially with Avery Bradley out recovering from offseason shoulder surgery until early January. Rondo should average more than 35 minutes a game with the remaining time divided between Lee, Terry, and Bradley. Jamar Smith could see garbage time action.

Shooting guard is the most wide-open position on the Celtics' depth chart. Newly acquired guards Lee and Terry will split a majority of the court time. Lee will likely tally 20-25 minutes a game as the starter while Terry will continue his familiar off the bench role, recording around 30 minutes a game. The leftover minutes will be sprinkled between Bradley, Dooling, Joseph and Christmas.

Behind ten-time all-star Paul Pierce, the Celtics are thin at small forward. This could be an issue, as the thirty-five-year-old, who is still recovering from a sprained MCL, is not getting any younger. That being said, Pierce should receive about 30-35 minutes a game with the extra minutes going mostly to a healthy Jeff Green. Joseph and Christmas should compete for the lingering scraps.

Power forward is another position on the Celtics' depth chart that is up-for-grabs. Following Brandon Bass' impressive season last year, he will be the frontrunner to start and should receive about 25 minutes a game. There is a plethora of big men for Rivers to choose from, but give the rookies Melo and Sullinger the edge over the veterans Milicic, Collins and Wilcox.

Kevin Garnett has and always will be more of a true power forward than a true center. Just don't tell the Celtics that. Expect Garnett to play at least 30 minutes a game as Boston's starting center this year. Look for Milicic, Collins and Melo to play more at the five than Sullinger and Wilcox, who will see more time at the four.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS

Center

Kevin Garnett: After a rash of injuries to the Celtics' frontcourt forced Garnett to slide over to center, the 36-year-old responded by averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game along with shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 85.7 percent from the line. Boston now has two rookie big men and gets Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox back from injury. Therefore, Garnett won't be asked to carry as big of a load, but still remains a valuable fantasy commodity.

Darko Milicic: From being dubbed the game's next great big man to becoming arguably league's biggest draft-day bust, Milicic has had a rollercoaster of an NBA career. Milicic joins his sixth NBA franchise in 9 years, hoping to help a team with the league's worst rebounding numbers per game last year. Minutes will not be aplenty for Milicic. However, he could be a surprising source of blocks and rebounds for deep leaguers.

Fab Melo: The seven-foot Brazilian is still a raw defensive talent. Melo averaged 2.9 blocks a game last year, but did not play huge minutes and still has much to learn. Expect the Celtics to develop their new shot-blocking machine at a turtle pace.

Jason Collins: The veteran Collins joins his fifth NBA franchise this year and has not played more than fifteen minutes a game in over four years. Given the Celtics' other options in the post, expect Collins' minutes to continue declining.

Forward

Paul Pierce: Pierce is one of the steadiest players in the league, as he has averaged 18-to-21 points per game each of the past five seasons. Last year, Pierce averaged 4.5 assists per game (his highest mark in three years) but hit just 36.6 percent of his threes (his lowest mark in five years). Pierce also hasn't averaged more than six rebounds in over five years. His legs are getting older so the upside diminishes a bit every year. However, if you can get Pierce in the fourth round or later, he's worth picking up.

Brandon Bass: The Celtics will roll with KG at center, leaving Bass as the team's starting power forward again this season. While Bass averaged career highs of 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds, his biggest plus remains his high shooting percentages for a big man; he is a career 49 percent shooter from the field and an 82 percent shooter from the stripe. Bass may not play as many minutes this season, but he should remain an option in deeper leagues.

Jeff Green: Green enters the season healthy after missing all of 2011-2012 with an aortic aneurysm. Once a legitimate threat to drop twenty points any night, Green is now more akin to Greg Oden and other injury-riddled busts. However, don't write Green off just yet. He returns to a Celtics squad in dire need of experienced forward play off the bench, something Green can readily supply. Expect a motivated Green to be a decent source of scoring and rebounding in deeper leagues.

Jared Sullinger: The highly touted All-American should see the most minutes out of the Celtics' rookies this season. While critics say Sullinger is slow and undersized, his offensive skills and rebounding should make an immediate impact for the Celtics. Keep an eye on Sully over the course of the year, as the starting power forward job could be his to take. Yet, until he proves otherwise, stay away.

Chris Wilcox: Wilcox has been the hard-working glue guy on every team during his ten-year career. This year is no different as Wilcox will be lucky to average 15 minutes a game. The best is definitely behind Wilcox as frontcourt injuries are Wilcox's only potential path back to fantasy relevancy.

Kris Joseph: All signs seem to point towards little playing time for Joseph this season. He is long and athletic for a guard and has good quickness for a forward, making him a collegiate matchup nightmare. Now in the pros, and after a disappointing camp, rumors circulate that Christmas could make the team ahead of Joseph.

Rob Kurz: Kurz played 40 games for the Warriors in 2008, averaging 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game, before spending three years playing overseas and in the D-League. He brings added depth to the Celtics' forwards, and not much else.

Guard

Rajon Rondo: Rondo has increased his assist average in each of the last five seasons, topping out with 11.7 dimes per game last season. Yet, Rondo passes, in part, because he can't shoot. When he does have the opportunity to drive, he's a very good finisher and has improved his mid-range game significantly. This year, expect Rondo to continue his assault on the passing record books and remain one of the league's premier rebounding and defensive guards. Just don't expect his shooting percentages to skyrocket.

Jason Terry: Terry was what we've come to expect from the 35-year-old veteran last season: a three-point specialist with a scoring average in the mid-teens. Terry may see a slight reduction in minutes as he enters his fourteenth NBA season, but he should also see his numbers return to their career levels of 44.8 percent shooting from the field and 38.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc while playing alongside the ultimate set up man Rondo.

Courtney Lee: Lee stepped in for the oft-injured Kevin Martin last year, starting 26 games. Lee was so successful as a starter (14.1 points, 1.6 steals and 3.0 rebounds per game in March) that he landed a starting gig with the Celtics this year. While Bradley may be the starting shooting guard by season's end, expect Lee to produce solid steals, points and three-point numbers all year.

Avery Bradley: Bradley burst onto the fantasy scene last year in the wake of Allen's ankle injury, averaging 15.1 points and 1.2 steals while shooting 54.5 percent from downtown in March. Bradley, however, will begin this season sidelined by offseason shoulder surgery. When Bradley is back and healthy, expect him to take full control of the backup point guard role and even pressure Lee for time at shooting guard.

Keyon Dooling: Dooling will do what Dooling does best this year: come off the bench for limited minutes, play solid defense and chuck up a three or two. Dooling has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game over a season in his entire 12-year NBA career. It won't start now.

Dionte Christmas: Christmas has been the surprise of the Celtics' summer league. Once the Most Outstanding Player of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the athletic 6'5" guard played his way onto Boston. He does everything well enough and is currently contesting Kris Joseph's spot on the roster.

Jamar Smith: Smith is quick and an excellent decision maker who can shoot the rock fairly well. While this earned Smith a spot on the Celtics, when Bradley returns from his injury, it will be extremely difficult for Smith to find anywhere else to sit in Boston than the bench.


SLEEPER

Jeff Green: Green is not only finally healthy but returns from a year of absence to an ideal situation. Green will be given the task of backing up the aging Paul Pierce as well as Brandon Bass, a player who Green was widely considered better than just two years ago. If Pierce goes down or Green plays up to his 2011 self, the sky is the limit. At the very least, count on Green to provide solid scoring and rebounding production with high percentages for a big man.

BUST

Paul Pierce: While consistency has been Pierce's motto throughout his career, you may need to put an asterisk next to the 2012-2013 season. Letís face it: Jason Terry just isn't Ray Allen, as Pierce is now Boston's only big-time scoring weapon. A year after Pierce recorded his lowest field goal percentage in five years, defenses will now collapse on him even more. Age, injuries and playing time are also concerns as the thirty-five-year-old is still recovering from an MCL sprain and will be dealing with Green competing for minutes.