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C-mail: Answering inbox full of Celtics questions

11.12.12 at 3:22 pm ET

You’ve got Celtics questions. We’ve got answers. Or more questions. Either way, let’s scroll through the inbox.

@priusport: Where the heck is Darko?

Physically, all 7 feet and 275 pounds of Darko Milicic sits on the end of the bench this season, his ailing wrist often wrapped in tape or a soft cast. It’s a familiar place for Darko, whose history of cashing checks for sitting front row in a warmup suit makes him the envy of most men. And a conundrum for all coaches.

The Celtics certainly didn’t sign Darko as this season’s savior, but they expected more total minutes than games played from him. After all, he’s big, he blocks shots (2.6 per 36 minutes for his career) and he fouls — or “kills,” as Milicic himself might say. Players with less skill than Milicic have made a career out of those attributes.

So, maybe the wrist still bothers him. Or maybe C’s coach Doc Rivers considers him a liability. After all, when the Bucks owned the Celtics in the paint during the second game of the season, Rivers turned to Darko, who committed as many turnovers as he totaled rebounds, blocks and personal fouls in five short minutes.

@BostonsportZ: With trouble in paint with KG on bench, why no Darko or Collins yet? It can’t be worse.

If you thought Darko’s playing time was a limited sample size, check out Jason Collins and his streak of six DNP’s. The only reason he’s had to celebrate was his college roommate Joseph Kennedy III‘s election to Congress.

The C’s biggest problem has been the lack of depth behind Kevin Garnett. In Paul Flannery‘s must-read weekly Sunday notes column, he points out the Celtics are 18.3 points better than their opponents with Garnett on the floor than without, allowing a staggering 112.5 points on 53 percent shooting per 100 possessions sans KG.

So, why not turn to Collins? The 7-foot, 255-pound so-called Dwight Howard stopper has earned a reputation as one of the most heady defensive bigs in the game over 11 NBA seasons. But the C’s have yet to play a traditional center like Howard, facing undersized and finessed 5’s like Lavoy Allen or Chris Bosh for the most part.

@miccamacho6: Doc needs to forget about going small and go big. The 76ers are having a field day in the paint, especially when kg is out.

Rivers has matched opposing smaller bigs with his own hybrid frontcourt combinations of Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green in Garnett’s absence, but all options have failed miserably on the defensive end. So, why not try forcing the matchup issue on opposing coaches with Milicic or Collins?

Against the Heat, the entire C’s defense failed and Bosh (19 points, 10 rebounds) had a field day in the paint. Since Miami scored only 12 of its 120 points in transition, it may have been worth letting Darko or Collins plug up the middle when they were getting destroyed in the halfcourt setting, but Bosh is a tough matchup for anybody.

In losses to the Bucks and Sixers, starters Samuel Dalembert and Lavoy Allen combined for only eight points. Instead, guard combinations of Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis (35 points, 17 assists) and Jrue Holiday/Evan Turner (46 points, 18 assists) destroyed the Cetics, and that’s mainly on the backcourt.

But Celtics wings suffer worse when Garnett isn’t present to get back in transition or orchestrate the defense vocally. Milicic and Collins can’t do either effectively, but it would have been interesting to match up the KG/Darko backcourt that Rivers discussed in the preseason against Philadelphia, since Garnett could challenge Thaddeus Young‘s perimeter shooting and Allen doesn’t do much damage outside the paint.

@outbeyond: Our vets are grinding. Sully and our other new recruits need to step up. We’re missing Avery, who can show them the way.

Too true. Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have been the most effective Celtics — by far. While that should be the case, the more Rivers has to rely upon the Big Three, the more this team is no better than last year’s. Celtics president Danny Ainge dedicated the entire Celtics offseason to building depth behind his three superstars, but outside of a few Jason Terry JET streaks, nobody has emerged as a serious fourth option a la Ray Allen.

In five starts, Courtney Lee certainly hasn’t filled that void, shooting almost 25 points worse than his career 3-point percentage and getting outscored 86-30 by his starting opponent, including 18-6 by Wizards rookie Bradley Beal. If production from his position doesn’t progress, the Celtics are right back where they finished last season, hitching their hopes to the Avery Bradley bandwagon to quite literally shoulder the load behind their three horses.

While Bradley might still be the solution, the Celtics need other answers. For the most part, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger are what they are — one reliably consistent but often unspectacular and the other occasionally spectacular but reliably inconsistent. That leaves none other than Jeff Green.

@SCapp007: Has Ainge built this Celtics team to hinge all or nothing on Jeff Green? I know when I don’t hedge my bets, I usually lose big.

In a sense, this Celtics season does hinge on Green. He’s being paid to be that fourth banana, and if he’s good, they’re great. Already, the C’s are 3-1 when he scores anything more than a single basket, including Saturday, when he scored eight points in the fourth quarter and made the game-saving steal in the final seconds. In fact, outside of combined 1-for-9 efforts against the Heat and 76ers, Green has averaged 10.0 points (48.5 FG%).

Now for the bad news: a) It’s not a good sign that Green has performed well against lottery teams (Wizards, Bucks) and poorly against playoff opponents (Miami, Philadelphia); b) If he’s not scoring, he’s not helping (season averages: 2.4 REB, 0.8 BLK, 0.8 STL, 0.4 AST); and c) He might be downright Glen Davis-like in the manner his performance is so closely aligned with his confidence. His demeanor after Friday’s loss reminded me a lot of Big Baby’s attitude whenever Rivers criticized him publicly after a tough night, and that’s not a good thing.

Success on this Celtics team requires both a thick skin and a mean streak of your own. Take Garnett’s recent comments in Milwaukee: “Jeff’s a really, really nice guy. Some nights, you just gotta be an [expletive]hole.” So, it’s encouraging that Green’s most encouraging performance followed public criticism from both Rivers and Ainge.

@ptgbalazs: After every Boston shot, only guys standing in the paint awaiting a rebound is the other team? C’mon! Thought it was age. Maybe they need enough time to run down and play D. But now we have youth, but still happens!

This comment stemmed from a discussion started by Celtics Town’s Jay King on, noting the correlation between Green’s success and his activity off the ball rather than with the ball. Attacking the basket off the dribble is easier said than done, but moving without the ball is simply a matter of effort (and instinct).

The entire C’s offense has been more stationary than Stonehenge, and the fact 43 percent of their shots have come between 10-23 feet reflects that. Bradley’s slashes to the basket breathed new life into the offense last season, and there’s no reason Green and Lee can’t do the same. In fact, that’s probably at least part of the reason Rivers inserted Terry and Sullinger into the starting lineup while increasing Chris Wilcox‘s minutes.

Sullinger and Wilcox might also improve the offensive rebounding numbers, although those statistics are eerily similar to last year’s (6.2 in 2011-12 vs. 6.5 in 2012-13) and Rivers isn’t likely to change his philosophy anytime soon, since prioritizing transition defense over chasing second-chance points goes back to the Garnett problem.

@EricJsaint: When’s Josh Smith coming?

Not soon enough? In all seriousness, we discussed this subject after the Celtics ousted the Hawks last season, but the C’s drafting of Sullinger, return of Garnett, extension for Bass and re-signing of Green combined with Atlanta’s trade of Joe Johnson lessened the odds of it happening.

Still, the Hawks are destined for another first-round playoff exit, so trading Smith and rebuilding entirely remains a possibility, especially if he won’t re-sign when his contract expires in July. And Smith being the only non-Celtics player involved in their preseason flag football game in Los Angeles this summer adds to the intrigue.

Although Bradley, Sullinger and draft picks remain in play now, the C’s probably wouldn’t be able to make the money work until Dec. 15, when Green, Bass and the C’s other free agent signings can be traded. And if they could acquire Smith while keeping Bradley and the Big Three, then Rivers might finally solve his KG dilemma.

Send @brohrbach your questions on Twitter to be answered whenever the C-mail inbox fills up next.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Darko Milicic, Jeff Green
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