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Irish Coffee: Examining the 2012-13 Celtics depth chart

Posted By Ben Rohrbach On July 23, 2012 @ 12:39 pm In General | 29 Comments

The NBA draft is over. Summer League is over. And for the Celtics, free agency is essentially over. So, with the addition of former Hawks center Jason Collins and the training camp invites to Summer League stars Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith over the weekend, the C’s could field a 15-man roster as currently constituted.

The depth chart is beginning to take shape. While Danny Ainge could still welcome Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling or another player into the fold for the veteran minimum, the hard part is done. None of the four recently re-signed players or eight new additions could even be traded until December 15, and Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley don’t appear to be on the block, so any changes to this group would be a minor tweak at best.

That being said, let’s take a look at how this season’s depth chart stacks up to the one that finished the playoffs.

[3]

The recent Celtics trade could open the door for all three of their 2012 NBA draft picks to make the roster. (AP)

2012-13 CENTERS (preseason): Kevin Garnett, Chris Wilcox, Collins, Fab Melo
2011-12 CENTERS (postseason): Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, Sean Williams

Remember, Garnett only began playing the five around the NBA All-Star break, so the simple fact he’ll be manning the position for an entire year should help provide some stability where there was none for the first half of last season. And the fact his salary dips from $21.3 million to about $11-12 million doesn’t hurt, either.

As for the remaining corps, who will combine for roughly 18 minutes a night behind Garnett, the addition of a healthy Wilcox back into the fold should be an upgrade over Stiemsma, who finished this past season on two bad feet. While he may lack Stiemboat’s shot-blocking prowess, Wilcox makes up for it with his athleticism, ability to finish on the break and 10 years of NBA experience. In the month prior to his heart ailment, once he became familiar with the C’s system, he averaged 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in 21.0 minutes a night off the bench.

Collins might not be the spastic ball of energy that Hollins is on both sides of the ball, but there’s a reason he’s stuck around the league for 11 seasons despite averaging 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds for his career. Collins will provide a consistent defensive presence, making the most of his six personal fouls against bigger centers like Dwight Howard. Of course, his offensive production will be just as reliable — but not in a good way.

Melo remains a project on the end of the bench, although he may be capable of contributing productive defensive minutes at some point this season and his ceiling is probably higher than what Williams had to offer.

RESULT: Slight upgrade

2012-13 POWER FORWARDS: Brandon Bass, Wilcox, Jared Sullinger
2011-12 POWER FORWARDS: Bass, JaJuan Johnson, Williams

By season’s end, the depth chart forced Doc Rivers to play small lineups whenever Bass left the floor, which wasn’t much of an issue against the Heat but posed problems against the 76ers. Again, the return of Wilcox, whose athleticism allows him to back up either post position, gives the Celtics coach some more versatility.

Johnson’s inability to grasp the team’s schemes didn’t help matters. Hence, the C’s willingness to ship him to the Rockets this summer. Based on Sullinger’s pedigree and performance in Summer League, where he averaged 12.3 points and 8.4 rebounds over nine games in Orlando and Las Vegas, he appears more prepared to play meaningful minutes under Rivers than Johnson did as a rookie.

RESULT: Slight upgrade

2012-13 SMALL FORWARDS: Pierce, Jeff Green, Kris Joseph
2011-12 SMALL FORWARDS: Pierce, Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels

The loss of Green to his heart surgery during training camp last season was a devastating blow to the Celtics. He was supposed to assume some of the heavy burden placed upon Pierce’s shoulders at the three while assuming a leadership role offensively in the C’s reserve unit. The arrival of Pietrus may have somewhat saved the C’s season, but his limitations also cost them dearly in the playoffs. When healthy, the 25-year-old Green simply offers the size, athleticism and versatility that Pietrus lacks.

Of course, Pietrus remains a free agent possibility for the veteran minimum, especially considering his love for Garnett and these Celtics. His return would provide depth the C’s haven’t had at the three for some time but would also mean the designation of Joseph or another camp invitee to their NBA Development League affiliate. However, in addition to undergoing a second consecutive offseason knee surgery, Pietrus reportedly has a significant offer overseas [4] if he doesn’t get picked up by an NBA team for more than the veteran minimum.

After being selected No. 51 overall in this June’s NBA draft, Joseph averaged 8.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in 10 Summer League games despite hyperextending his knee, but given the presence of Pierce and Green he likely wouldn’t earn much more than garbage time as a rookie under Rivers.

RESULT: Upgrade

2012-13 SHOOTING GUARDS: Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith
2011-12 SHOOTING GUARDS: Bradley, Ray Allen, Pietrus, Dooling, E’Twaun Moore

Given their injuries, the Celtics never quite got to see what a healthy combination of Bradley as starter and Allen as Sixth Man was capable of, and after Allen’s departure to Miami they never will. While the loss of the game’s greatest 3-point shooter initially seemed catastrophic, the trade for Lee and versatility of Terry provide infinite possibilities should Bradley return to form after surgeries on both shoulders.

Neither Bradley nor Lee will ever be the long-distance weapon Allen was, but the pair shot a combined 50.4 percent (70-139) on corner 3-pointers last season (compared to Allen’s 48.3 percent on 43-of-89 attempts). More importantly, they both are upgrades over Allen in two regards: 1) Slashing to the rim for easy buckets, as each averaged almost one more field goal attempt within three feet per game than Allen; and 2) Defensively, where Bradley’s quickness and Lee’s length pose matchup problems. Bradley and Lee are essentially interchangeable as starter and reserve, and they’ll likely split duties once Bradley returns depending on the opponent.

Meanwhile, Terry gives Rivers a weapon he’s lacked for a while — a combo guard capable of creating his own shot. Nobody on the depth chart at any point last season could really excel offensively without Rajon Rondo on the floor. Only 50 percent of Terry’s buckets last season came from assists, which sandwiches him between Joe Johnson, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Manu Ginobili among guards who played 20 minutes per game. To put that further into perspective, more than three quarters of Allen’s field goals came from assists.

If you think of Terry as a replacement for Dooling, the team’s backcourt evolution becomes even more apparent. Moore played sparingly last season, and while his Summer League performance indicated he might have been capable of contributing more regularly this season, he wouldn’t have earned minutes over Bradley, Terry or Lee. Besides, Christmas and Smith — both of whom earned training camp invites — also performed well in Summer League, and one or both of them could fill out the depth chart behind that trio.

RESULT: Upgrade

2012-13 POINT GUARDS: Rondo, Terry, Bradley
2011-12 POINT GUARDS: Rondo, Bradley, Dooling

Let’s be honest: Rondo played more than 35 minutes a night during the regular season and 40-plus in the playoffs, and Terry is more than capable of playing the remaining 10-15 minutes per game behind the three-time NBA All-Star. Bradley also demonstrated a better understanding of the offense from a point guard perspective last season, even if he flourished more at the two. That athletic triumvirate provides a respective combination of acumen, scoring and defense that few teams can match.

Like Pietrus, Dooling remains a free agent and an intriguing possibility if he’s willing to sign for the veteran minimum, given his relationship to Rivers and positive locker room presence. Dooling contributed little during the regular season, but Rivers’ insistence that keeping veterans around pays dividends in the playoffs proved true when his backup point guard shined brightest in the postseason.

RESULT: Upgrade


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