It has been twenty games into the 2012/13 season, a good quarter gone. What have we seen so far of the new C’s roster, and is this enough to get us into the Finals?
Short answer: The Charles Barkley, aka “I could be wrong, but I doubt it.”
Things might change down the road, and our defense could morph into the tenacious, high-pressure system that the KG-era Celtics are known for. Until that really happens though, we are what we are right now.
The real question is: who are the 2012/13 Boston Celtics?
1. Scoring boost
Let’s kick off with something positive. Unlike previous seasons, this season’s Celtics are definitely capable of scoring. Last season’s average was 91.8 (26th in the league), this season we are at 97.4 (12th in league) – a massive jump of 14 spots, go figure.
Outside of Pierce/KG/Rondo, the JET (11.7 PPG) and Jeff Green (10.0 PPG) are providing some measure of firepower.
- After a very slow start, Green is slowly finding his game, expect his scoring average to increase over the coming games.
- Similarly, Terry will return to his comfortable spot as the scoring 6th man role once Bradley returns to the starting lineup. Look for his PPG to return to the tune of 15.0, which was what he had in recent two seasons with the Mavs (15.8 and 15.1).
- Brandon Bass’s scoring has suffered as a result of his being shuffled around the start and bench roles, but I’m confident he will return to his usual groove, given enough minutes.
- Courtney Lee unfortunately is not making a real impact on offense. He has been far too hesitant on driving in, which is one of his strengths. His 3 shots are not falling either (3P% at .286, huge drop compared to past two seasons’ 3P% at .401 and .408), a real dent on offense. In short, he hasn’t been filling the hole left by Ray’s departure and Bradley’s absence.
Comment: Good mixed with the bad. We have got some capable scorers so that’s mild good news. The problem seems to be finding consistency and the right spots. Refer to next point.
2. Offense in the works
Whenever Rondo’s not in the game, everyone seems confused on what to do. Bad spacing ensures, and we invariably end up with a bailout KG jumper or ISO-Pierce when the shot clock’s winding down. Thankfully, the two of them hit the shots often enough for those last minute options to work. But hell, this happens even when Rondo’s in the game at times.
Comment: The new guys are still finding their way in the system, and that’s fine, things take time. It’s got to flow better though, we are leaning heavily on a mix of KG/Rondo/PP (combined 48.3 PPG of the team’s 97.4 PPG) for go to options. The bench needs to score more consistently and find their way more often. Right now, things look plain awful when any two of the Big Three are not on the court.
3. Defensive lapses: Recovering
Last postseason has shown us how vulnerable the C’s are without KG on the court. This season is no different. We have gotten significantly worse on defense, opponents are scoring 89.3 PPG (2nd last season) to 97.9 PPG (16th this season).
(Hell, talk about coincidence: that’s a massive jump of 14 spots too!)
The key to the Celtics defense system lies in trapping/hedging to either force a turnover (or the ball to be swung elsewhere) with the big man then sprinting to recover and everyone else compensating. It is a team thing, and everyone has to make an effort. One missed rotation is all it takes for a baseline shooter to be jacking that open 3.
KG is incredible in this aspect, as his experience and length allows him to recover in double quick time.
How are our other big men doing on this area?
- Bass is doing his best in the system, but it feels like he is overdoing the show and recover, which breaks the defense down elsewhere.
- Sully is however coming along nicely, and should get the hang of it eventually. He has a very good grasp of the court spacing, knows where his man is and how far he should be on help defense.
- Wilcox is very good at creating the double-team and forcing turnovers, and as a result is slower on the recover. Good or bad, you decide.
Comment: Either the guys get their act together, or we need to get a big in who is really good at the show and recover, good enough to be a game changer. Game changer is read as “Tyson Chandler” by the way, but I know it’s obviously not happening so Wilcox/BB/Sully need to improve, period.
A solid rebounding big man would be a plus, but I’m willing to overlook this as a minor concern. So long as everyone makes an effort to grab that defensive board, things should still work.
4. Defensive lapses: Perimeter defense
We all know enough by now not to lie to ourselves. Rondo is not a defensive stopper like Bradley (or Tony Allen), his job more often than not consists of staying in front of his guy, and funneling the dude into the helping big man’s trap, while attempting to poke the ball away from behind. The attempts are unfortunately, not successful all the time.
This in turn forces help defense and rotations all over the place, which leads to open shots on an unselfish team that hits the open man. Refer to the recent Spurs game for examples, we had plenty of those.
Without Bradley, our perimeter defense has been a little lacking. What about the other guys?
- Jason Terry works hard, but age is age and he simply cannot keep up with some of the younger guards like Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis.
- Courtney Lee provides energetic defense, but he tends to give a little more space than is necessary at times, which leads a smart attacker into getting the space he wants for shots. Let’s not forget about the last Heat game, when he forgot about Wade and provided several backdoor cut opportunities.
- Leandro Barbosa is lanky and quick, hustles on defense and goes over the screen on pick and rolls, something I really like. It keeps the pressure up and makes it harder for the opposing ball handler to see the court and make decisions.
Comment: We need a 2 guard who is capable of pressuring the offensive ball handler. The other team gets delayed in running their set, it’s easier for Rondo to defend (and gamble for steals) and the interior defense is hammered less, simply because the inbound passes are harder to make.
Lee is a stop gap solution, Bradley is the real answer to the starting 2 guard role. On the bench, Barbosa would be the ideal stopper/backup 1 guard, while JET or Lee play off the ball.
Does that sound like we have too many guards? Unfortunately, yes. Speculation about Lee being possibly traded is a valid topic these days, most especially with Bradley returning soon.
5. Lack of a backup point guard
Rondo is playing 37.9 minutes per game right now. A worrying trend, because it shows how much his presence is needed right now. The lack of a backup ball handler/playmaker is showing very obviously.
Do we need a trade for Rondo’s load to be lightened?
Comment: I’d say yes, but I’m not sure what the price will be. I’m sure Doc will limit Rondo’s minutes when necessary, it’s just that the rest of the team has got to step up and make things work when Rondo’s not on the court.
Note: “Make things work” does not equate to Pierce taking the ball and launching a three bomb. He is shooting .299 at 3P%, which means he is making one of three shots. That’s bad.
The ball needs to be moved around for an easier option, much the same way the Spurs execute on offense. An inside/outside rhythm, pushing it into the rolling man who kicks it out, the defense has to be forced to collapse inward so that easier shots can be taken. Incidentally, this is what Rondo’s court vision and speed does for the Celtics. His drive forces help defense, which allows him to find open shooters.
Summary: Defense is down, offense is up. Will things improve? Yes. Will a trade be happening? Very likely, but no one knows what Danny ever has in mind. It is clear enough that two main needs are to be addressed, in a defensive-minded big man and a backup point guard. The real concern is, what do we have to give up for the trade(s) to happen?
In Danny we trust, and that is what us fans have got to do – stay patient, watch the team and hope for the best.