|Introducing the Celtics’ backup point guards, all of them||10.22.12 at 2:16 pm ET|
Over the past five seasons the following players have attempted to fill the role of Rajon Rondo‘s backup: Eddie House, Sam Cassell, Stephon Marbury, Tony Allen, Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Keyon Dooling and Avery Bradley.
Also appearing in minor roles: E’Twaun Moore, Carlos Arroyo, Gabe Pruitt and the immortal Lester Hudson. (Oliver Lafayette never played in an actual game, but go ahead and throw his name in there as well along with Jamar Smith.)
“We’ve never really had, like, a true backup point,” said Doc Rivers. Of the dozen or so players listed above only two players — Marbury and Cassell — were anything like true point guards, but they sure have tried almost everybody else on the combo guard platter.
This year figures to be different. No, they still don’t have a true backup point guard, but what Rivers does have are four guards who can all handle the ball.
“I like it,” the coach said. “I like that there are multiple guys. Instead of trying to force and find a guy who’s a point guard, just find two guys who can dribble.”
An example happened in Saturday’s exhibition game against the Knicks. With Rondo off the floor, Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were on the court together. In Rivers words, the two were “interchangeable.” If one of them was pressured in the backcourt, the other one brought the ball up the floor and initiated the offense.
This is at the heart of what Rivers has been trying to install this preseason. He wants an offense that can function without a true point guard whenever Rondo is getting a breather. In Terry, he has a player who can run pick and rolls and is dangerous because of his outside shooting ability. Yet Rivers also wants Terry playing off the ball to maximize his scoring potential and create a threat when he’s the screener.
“He’s just clever,” Rivers said. “We do run stuff for him, but he scores half the time when stuff is run for somebody else. He’s just a clever basketball player and that’s why he’s still doing what he does at his size.”
With Bradley out until around mid-December or so, the Celtics picked up free agent Leandro Barbosa. Like the others, he’s not really a point guard, but like the others he can dribble.
“I don’t think he’s a point,” Rivers said. “I don’t think Jet’s a point, Courtney’s a point or Avery’s a point for that matter. They all have point guard tendencies, you know? At times they can play it and when they play with each other the two guys it allows them to be comfortable at the position.”
All of this could potentially lead to some issues down the line. With four capable guards battling for minutes, someone is going to be left out of the mix. That’s the tradeoff for increased depth and versatility.
“One thing I will give [Barbosa] credit for, I think he had us zeroed in on his radar and he understood all the players in front of him and he didn’t care, which is refreshing,” Rivers said. “I understand that I may not play or I may play, but if I can play I want to help. I was very honest with him. There’s a chance with the numbers. [He said] I’m not here to ruffle any feathers.”
For his part, Barbosa said he’s not concerned.
“They’re all good players,” he said. “I’m here just to help. That will be on Doc. Doc’s call. He’s the coach, whatever he has to do. I’m here to help.”
These are the options Rivers always wanted and now that he has them the possibilities are almost endless. Imagine Rondo and Barbosa on the court together at the same time as an ultra-fast change of pace. Or Lee and Bradley as a defensive look. One of the keys to unlocking Bradley’s extraordinary defensive pressure is to have someone big enough to guard taller guards off the ball. Someone like Lee, for example.
So, the answer to the eternal backup point guard question is now before us: It is everyone and it is no one.
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