Irish Coffee: Celtics midseason report card
|02.24.12 at 1:58 pm ET|
If Danny Ainge shook a Magic 8-Ball right now, the odds of “outlook not so good” coming up are probably even. After losing seven of their past eight games for the first time since he acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, Ainge’s aging Celtics are 15-17 entering the All-Star break.
It’s an uphill battle the rest of the season, but it might be all downhill from here for Doc Rivers & Co. Needless to say, based on the expectations they’ve set the past four years, this Celtics group isn’t making the grade. Let’s take a look at how the C’s have stacked up individually this year.
MICKAEL PIETRUS: A-
Last Grade: A
When the news broke that Jeff Green would undergo heart surgery for an aortic aneurysm, the Celtics once again had a hole to fill behind Paul Pierce at the small forward position. Pietrus has bridged that gap, and then some. Charged with 3-point shooting and bringing energy defensively, he has shot 36.4 percent from beyond the arc and defended vigorously (at the end of the blowout loss to the Thunder, Pietrus was one of few C’s who played to the buzzer). In an attempt to improve the team’s terrible rebounding, Pietrus has also begun to assert himself on the glass, grabbing 19 rebounds in his last two games.
KEVIN GARNETT: A-
Last Grade: B+
Of the aging Big Three, the one with the most mileage and the worst knees has enjoyed the best season. Garnett entered the NBA All-Star break by recording 23 points and 13 rebounds for the first time since December 2008. That marked his ninth double-double of the season, bringing his averages to 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in only 30.8 minutes. Paired with his usual defensive prowess, he’s played all but three games — missing only one due to a tweaked hip and two for personal reasons — and it’s no surprise the Celtics are 0-3 in those contests.
RAJON RONDO: B+
Last Grade: B+
It’s been a mercurial season for the mercurial point guard. Despite a training camp filled with Chris Paul trade rumors, Rondo started this season as he did the last, averaging 15.0 points, 9.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 13 games before suffering a wrist injury. In his eight-game absence, the Celtics produced a 6-2 record. Since his return, we’ve seen good Rondo (67 points, 21 assists, 15 rebounds and six steals over a two-game stretch), bad Rondo (five games with at least five turnovers) and worse Rondo (his first career suspension for hurling a ball at a referee in frustration). Throughout, we’ve heard more trade rumors, this time centering around Pau Gasol. Meanwhile, Rondo is averaging a career-high 14.8 points and ranks second behind Steve Nash in assists per game.
BRANDON BASS: B+
Last Grade: B-
Of course, it’s not his fault he suffered a knee injury that’s cost him the past six games, but the absence of Bass has been a major blow to the Celtics. Without his 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds off the bench, the C’s have no reliable bigs to couple with Garnett in crunch time — which only serves to reinforce his value to this team. When Bass missed his first game of the season on Super Bowl Sunday, the Celtics cited soreness. Three games later, the C’s announced Bass would miss two weeks due to inflammation in his knee. They can only hope the injury to Bass isn’t serious, as his consistency in replacement of Glen Davis has been a welcome addition.
RAY ALLEN: B
Last Grade: B
The 36-year-old Allen entered training camp in tremendous shape, and it showed in the first few weeks of the season, when he averaged 18.7 points on 54.5 percent shooting (including a 59.2 3P%) through his first nine games. Since then, he’s fallen back to earth, averaging 12.6 points on 43.1 percent shooting (42.2 3P%) since — and trailing off even more during the team’s current 1-7 streak. At home during the All-Star break for the second time in three seasons, perhaps this bit of respite will reignite the shooting star.
AVERY BRADLEY: B
Last Grade: C-
When the Celtics trailed the Thunder this week by as many as 27 points, Bradley was one of few players whose approach never changed. His defensive pressure and ability to get open around the basket helped inspire the C’s to close the gap to six in the final minutes, and he even knocked down four jump shots as he finished with a positive plus/minus (+3) in a game the Celtics lost by 15 points. Save for the jump shooting, the same has held true in Bradley’s 10 starts (6-4 record). Many projected a step forward for Bradley this season, and while he’s been no superstar, the sophomore guard has carved out a niche for himself in the association.
CHRIS WILCOX: B
Last Grade: INC
When he’s been in the lineup, Wilcox has been worth the $3 million mini mid-level exception. His averages of 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds don’t reflect the impact his energy has made. He was one of few players performing well during the team’s recent struggles, as he averaged 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds over a four-game stretch while establishing himself as a running mate on Rondo’s fast break campaign. His consistency has only been hindered by a series of three injuries — to his shoulder, calf and groin.
PAUL PIERCE: B-
Last Grade: C
Starting the season with a heel injury didn’t help matters. After missing the first three games of the season, Pierce played his way into shape over his first 11 appearances, when he averaged 14.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting just 38.3 percent from the field. His breakout performance came in a 34-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound effort against the Wizards that kickstarted the C’s 9-1 stretch and culminated in Pierce eclipsing Larry Bird for second on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Since then, his averages have dipped to 15.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds during the team’s recent 1-7 stretch. This season, as Pierce goes, so go the Celtics, and Pierce hasn’t gone so good — even if he’ll make his 10th All-Star appearance.
JAJUAN JOHNSON: B-
Last Grade: D-
Playing mainly garbage minutes in the early going, Johnson produced numbers that made many wonder whether he could contribute valuable playing time if Doc Rivers ever “played the kids.” Injuries to big after big provided that opportunity, and Johnson has risen to the occasion. In the three games he’s played 20 or more minutes, Johnson has reached double-digits each time, averaging 10.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. His averages per 36 minutes: 15.9 points (53.5 FG%), 6.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. On a team with established veteran big men, Johnson has earned his minutes — perhaps even more than he’s getting.
DOC RIVERS: C
Let’s get this out of the way early: It’s not Doc’s fault his starters have missed a combined 28 games through the first half of the lockout-shortened season. The harsh reality is the Celtics are 15-17 and eighth in the Eastern Conference. With three Hall of Famers, an All-Star point guard and an improved bench, the C’s are just 1.5 games better than the Cleveland freakin’ Cavaliers — and the team’s aging stars are all playing comparable minutes to last season. Without his best nine-man rotation for most of the season, Rivers deserves credit for maintaining the team’s defensive dominance, but if that’s the case then he also deserves some of the blame for its offensive failures.
E’TWAUN MOORE: C
Last Grade: C
When Rondo missed eight straight games, Moore had has moments coming off the bench, including a 16-point effort on 5-of-6 shooting during the C’s epic comeback against the Magic in Orlando. His ability to knock down shots (35.7 3P%) and take care of the ball (two assists per turnover) proved valuable. Since Rondo’s return, Moore has played a total of 29 minutes in mostly garbage time, including five DNPs in 11 games. Still, you can’t ask much more from your second-round draft pick than for him to prove he’s an NBA talent, and Moore has done that.
JERMAINE O’NEAL: C-
Last Grade: B
Would you be happy with 5.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks from your starting center? How about 22.8 minutes a night and seven DNPs? Me neither. Some nights, like he did recently against the Pistons, O’Neal can produce 11 rebounds, eight points and five blocks. Most nights, he gives the Celtics closer to the 3.0 rebounds, 2.3 points and 2.3 blocks he averaged in the three games surrounding that effort in Detroit. After playing 15 of the C’s first 16 games, the oft-injured O’Neal has sat six of the team’s last 16 contests. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been torched time and time again by the likes of Marcin Gortat and Anderson Varejao.
GREG STIEMSMA: C-
Last Grade: C-
Any time you invite a journeyman NBA Development League center to training camp, and that guy remains on the roster after the recent deadline for guaranteed contracts, you’ve got to consider that a bonus. Perhaps unfairly, expectations for Stiemsma rose once he dropped 13 points and seven boards in early January during his one and only career start. Since, he’s appeared mostly confused defensively and lost offensively. Still, his averages of 9.6 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per 36 minutes show promise, and that’s all the Celtics could really ask.
KEYON DOOLING: D-
Last Grade: INC
When the Celtics acquired Dooling, they thought they were getting a dependable backup to Rondo who could knock down triples and take care of the ball offensively while playing stingy defense. He’s provided little if any of those contributions. He’s shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range, but just 30.0 percent over the past month. He’s averaging more turnovers per game (1.3) than assists (1.1). And the Celtics are 13.5 points better with Dooling on the bench, according to 82games.com. Outside of his veteran presence in the locker room, the Dooling experiment hasn’t gone so well.
SASHA PAVLOVIC: D-
Last Grade: F
When you consider Pavlovic has started four games for the Celtics, the 15-17 record seems less surprising. In spurts, he’s actually shown glimpses of the player he was five years ago, but viewed as a whole Pavlovic’s season can be viewed as little more than a failure. Still, it could be worse …
MARQUIS DANIELS: F
Last Grade: F
The encouraging news of Daniels’ health during training camp hasn’t translated to production on the floor, as he’s shot just 32.2 percent from the field and averaged a career-low 2.8 points in 12.8 minutes per game. You can’t help but wonder if there’s a lingering issue, mental or physical, that’s holding him back. Either way, Daniels may have dropped behind even Pavlovic on the depth chart, making his roster spot almost expendable at this point.
DANNY AINGE: INC
Ainge had little wiggle room this past offseason. He drafted two players who through the first half of their rookie seasons seem capable NBA contributors down the road, in addition to signing a rookie center who made the roster. The acquisitions of Pietrus and Bass are strokes of genius and the Wilcox signing has proven worthwhile, but reacquiring Daniels and Pavlovic while adding Dooling have all been abject failures. The team’s depth at center and guard is horrendous. Yet, the Celtics have the assets to make themselves players in any trade discussion before March 15 or free agent signing this summer, and what Ainge does with that flexibility will determine his future as team president.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)