Sunday, January 29, 2012

Green Machine

Four game winning streak? Check.  Back to .500? Check. Ready to make a run at the run'n'gun 76ers? Um, hold that thought for a second.  The Celtics have some sorting out to do this season, and in the most unlikely of circumstances, the Big Three Plus Rondo are back for another season.  Unfortunately, this season has not looked like the victory lap of a group of veterans making their final run to glory. Some thoughts on the Green Machine so far in 2011/2012:

  • Lockout:
    • Any advantage from a lack of a full off-season and training camp was not for this club. Normally a time for coach Doc Rivers to integrate the bench into the offense (watch Rajon Rondo drive, clear-out so as to isolate Paul Pierce one-on-one, or run screens for Ray Allen to pop open for a three...seriously, that's the offense) and defense.  Instead, the Celtics sat dormant like the rest of the league and then had to scramble to put together a roster, let alone get enough players in camp for five-on-fives.
    • Paul Pierce was injured and out of shape.  That is a fact.  He is just now, eighteen games into the season, getting close to being "Paul Pierce".
    • Ray Allen is old, as is Kevin Garnett, and there are nagging injuries and periods of invisibility in games.  
    • Jeff Green's season-ending heart surgery.  Green was brought in last year to be the bridge piece who spelled the big three for major minutes, was a scoring machine off the bench, and eventually became a building block for the future.  A full off-season and training camp, integrated into the regular rotation, and a full season of transition was the plan General Manager Danny Ainge had in mind.  Surgery for an  aortic aneurysm was not part of the plan, and left the Celtics scrambling.  Heck, they are still scrambling. 
  • Injuries:
    • Ray Allen, missing games by the boatload.
    • Kevin Garnett, little life left in those old legs.
    • Rajon Rondo, nursing a wrist injury and missing a bunch of games.
    • Jermaine O'Neil, supposed starting center, shockingly out injured AGAIN (dripping with sarcasm as usual here)
  • No More Excuses
    • OK, every team has injuries, and every team was disrupted by the lockout. Jeff Green was a big loss, but losing a key player happens.  This team does have some positives.
      • Brandon Bass is a huge upgrade over Big Baby.
        • Wow, the old horse-trader Danny Ainge picked the Magic's pocket on this deal.  Stronger in the paint, better at defense at everything other than taking a charge, and a sweet outside jumper and ability to finish with a bit of touch within five feet make Bass the favorite for best off-season pick-up.
      • Chris Wilcox is a legitimate big man.
        • When healthy (just starting to get there) and integrated into the bench mix as he learns the defensive rotations, Wilcox can provide 10 to 15 minutes of energy, some scoring touch, and tough defense.  
      • Avery Bradley may yet be a decent point guard.
        • Bradley is the Jose Iglesias (Red Sox short stop prospect) of the Celtics.  Bradley's defense, like Iglesias's fielding prowess, is plus-plus and ready for prime time.  Unfortunately, neither player has a clue on offense.  Two years ago, the toss-up was between Bradley and John Wall as to which NCAA freshman was going to be the most dominant.  Unfortunately for the Texas Longhorns, it was not Bradley.  Fortunately for the Celtics, Bradley bailed on Texas after one season and landed in their lap as an intriguing prospect.  
        • I love watching Bradley on defense, as he head and shoulders above anyone else on the court, and a stopper at guard is huge for the playoffs when Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat and Derrick (definitely not Jalen) Rose of the Chicago Bulls likely play-off opponents.  If he can get time at point to grow his offensive game enough to not be a liability, and   the Celtics will have their first legitimate back-up point guard in years.
      • Mickael Pietrus can contribute a bit. 
        • Pietrus is a decent bench player who can pay dividends throughout the year. Some size, nice touch outside: not a star or starter, but a nice piece off the bench.  These players are needed throughout the season.
      •  E'Twaun Moore offers hope.
        • A second round pick who contributes. Big three point shot. This kid already looks like a good fit coming off the bench and bringing energy and offense to the second unit.  Another one of those picks where Ainge obviously saw something that everyone else missed.  An exciting, cost-efficient second-unit guy. 
Not a perfect team here by any stretch.  But fresh off a 27 point comeback against Orlando and beating Indiana at home, there's hope still for this Celtics squad.  To accentuate the positive, they have finished pre-season (even if these 18 games counted) and are starting to get healthy. The bench is coming together and they will at least be interesting as the doldrums of winter come up in the coming weeks.  They definitely bear watching.

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