|What to watch for: Preseason Celtics in Turkey edition||10.05.12 at 12:43 am ET|
Preseason NBA games go something like this: Hey, basketball’s back! Then the second quarter starts and you’re reminded that it’s preseason. By the time the second half tips off, everyone’s trying to not get hurt, while rookies and free agents are looking for that one shot of glory.
The Celtics will play Fenerbache Ulker on Friday afternoon in Istanbul, and while there’s only so much that can be determined in the first exhibition, there are still a number of things worth keeping an eye on as they begin to take shape for the upcoming season.
Here are five areas to watch:
THE NEW-LOOK BACKCOURT: It will be jarring to see the Celtics lineup without Ray Allen in his customary spot, but more than appearances, the C’s guards will have an entirely different feel. Courtney Lee is likely to start with Jason Terry operating as a sixth man. Lee won’t get nearly as many touches as Allen did, and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers adjusts the offense without Allen running off so many picks.
One of the benefits of Avery Bradley‘s emergence last season was that it allowed Rivers to take Rajon Rondo off the ball defensively. That has tremendous value, not only because Bradley is such a good defender, but it also allowed Rondo the chance to conserve energy on the defensive end. Lee brings a tough defensive-mindset to the position, but can he handle the fullcourt pressure defense that Rivers prefers?
HOW WILL JEFF GREEN BE UTILIZED? This is the key question, maybe for the whole season. Green has not fared well defensively as a big forward, but if Kevin Garnett is lined up next to him that could alter the dynamic considerably. Another big question that Rivers hinted at already: Can Green and Paul Pierce function together as a forward tandem?
One of the biggest reasons that Green was not an overnight success in Boston is that he was never able to fill a consistent role. Part of that is on him for not being assertive enough and part of that is on Rivers to create one.
IS JARED SULLINGER READY? It’s been a tough camp for Chris Wilcox, who is dealing with back spasms in addition to trying to return from heart surgery. Wilcox is the only veteran backup 4 on the roster, and if he can’t go on Friday, that would seem to give the Ohio State rookie an early opportunity to make an impression.
SPEAKING OF ROOKIES: Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph and Jamar Smith are part of a battle for what could be two open roster spots. Christmas received a higher guarantee than the others, so he would appear to have a leg up heading into the camp. That can all change quickly, however.
Need is a relative term for a squad with championship aspirations and veterans at nearly every position, but the two that stand out are backup point guard (Smith) and depth on the wing (Christmas and Joseph).
ALL THAT AND DARKO TOO: The over/under on how long it takes Tommy Heinsohn to compare Darko to Bill Russell has been set at eight minutes. Tommy’s not in Istanbul, but has there even been this much intrigue for a backup center?
Heinsohn aside, for one of the first times in his career the expectations for Darko are actually reasonable and manageable. If he can give the C’s 15-20 minutes a night as a backup center, they will be thrilled. Rebounding has been a major point of emphasis for Rivers during camp, and that’s where the Celtics really need Darko to make a difference.
|Irish Coffee: Making the most of Paul Pierce’s minutes||10.03.12 at 6:29 pm ET|
Generally, what happens in preseason games has little bearing on the NBA’s regular season, but keep an eye on how Celtics coach Doc Rivers manages Paul Pierce‘s minutes over the next couple weeks.
“We’re going to try some things with Paul in the preseason,” said Rivers, “and just see how that goes.”
Last season, Rivers instituted Kevin Garnett‘s 5-5-5 plan, playing his center in five-minute increments. While Garnett’s time on the floor each game barely changed (31.3 in 2010-11 vs. 31.1 in 2011-12), his minutes were less taxing, and that paid dividends in the playoffs, when he enjoyed perhaps his greatest stretch in a Celtics uniform.
The plan is to execute the same plan for Garnett and a similar one for Pierce this season, although both the Celtics captain and Rivers admitted playing that duo on the same 5-5-5 schedule might not benefit the team.
“Doc is the coach around here,” said Pierce. “I trust his judgment and everything he does. We’ve been together a long time. I’m giving myself to the team. Whatever’s going to be best for the team, that’s what it’s gotta be. I think with me and Doc, we’ll figure things out, because if I’m on fire the first five minutes I can’t come out. Simple as that.”
“I’m all for it,” countered Rivers. “Paul is a gym rat. Paul is a guy I’ve never really worried about with minutes, but I’m going to watch his minutes. Obviously, if we can keep [Rajon] Rondo’s minutes down, we will. And Paul’s minutes down. It doesn’t mean we will. It would be nice. I like our bench.”
That last addendum could be the difference this season. Despite approaching his mid-30′s, Pierce’s minutes per game haven’t changed much the past three seasons (34.0, 34.7 and 34.0, respectively), and that can largely be attributed to having Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and an ailing Mickael Pietrus behind him.
|Irish Coffee: Where do walking wounded Celtics stand?||10.02.12 at 5:54 pm ET|
“Knock on wood,” as Paul Pierce said, because the Celtics haven’t been this healthy during training camp the past three seasons. In 2010, Kevin Garnett returned from his season-ending knee surgery the spring before. A year later, Kendrick Perkins sat with an ACL tear. Last season, a foot injury kept Pierce from playing opening night.
“The key for us if we’re going to win another championship is going to be our health,” said Pierce. “You have to be good; you have to be lucky. Sometimes those are things you can’t control. Since our first year we won it, we haven’t been lucky enough to be healthy, so hopefully we’re healthy this year and we can make another run at it.”
Role players like Tony Allen, Leon Powe, the O’Neal brothers, Delonte West, Mickael Pietrus or even Ray Allen last season have also kept the C’s doctors busy the past few years. Youth doesn’t guarantee health, but it certainly helps. At least they’re not keeping a trainer’s table warm for the Jermaine O’Neals of the league anymore.
Ironically, the youngest members of the Celtics — Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger — are two of the biggest question marks among a handful of health concerns, so let’s see where the C’s walking wounded stand.
|Celtics experiment with small ball||10.01.12 at 1:22 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The buzzword around the Celtics these days is “versatility.” In Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and especially Jeff Green, coach Doc Rivers has a number of different lineup combinations he can use, and he plans to test them all. Rivers pointed to Rajon Rondo, who was getting stretched out behind the media scrum. “He’ll be very happy.”
Their last practice before departing for Istanbul was devoted entirely to using small lineups, although small is a relative term. The C’s believe that the 6-foot-9 Green can force matchups whether he’s at the three or the four and there’s even a thought of playing him and Paul Pierce together with two traditional bigs.
“We put it in [Sunday] but we didn’t work on it,” Rivers said. “Today we’re going to have almost exclusively have small lineups on the floor so that will be fun. This is the first year we’ve ever really worked on it and we’re going to work on it so we can do it every game.”
Green is the key because of his length and athleticism. Last season, Rivers used Mickael Pietrus as a smaller small forward with Pierce playing the four. That lineup was almost born out of desperation as a counter to Miami using LeBron James as the second big around a lineup of perimeter shooters.Rivers doesn’t just want to matchup, he wants to attack and he sees Green as a force in the open court.
“He’s the main guy when you talk about small lineups,” Rondo said. “He played the four at Oklahoma City, he stretched the floor with his shooting. We can get a lot of bigs on the floor as well. He can go from the four to the three. Defensively, he can check one through four, I believe. We expect a lot out of Jeff but he’s fine with that pressure.”
A key to making the smaller lineups work is also coming up with an offense that won’t stall when Rondo is off the court — a frequent occurrence last season. With no traditional backup point guard on the roster and Avery Bradley out for a few months, that task may fall to Terry.
“He’s a better ballhandler,” Rivers said. “I knew he could score of the dribble but he’s really a natural at the point. That surprised me. We have no choice right now with Avery out. We’re trying to create an offense where it’s not a point guard dominated offense, unless Rondo’s on the floor.”
|Jeff Green: Heart surgery ‘made me realize life is short’||09.29.12 at 1:57 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Jeff Green knew he was ready to come back when he was playing a pickup basketball game at his alma mater.
He told those in the game, “When I get the ball, I’m going to drive to the lane and I want you to hit me.”
Sure enough, they tested Green, making contact with his chest in the area of his heart where he had surgery last January to fix a faulty aortic valve.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Green said. “When I got hit, I got hit right in the area where I had the surgery and it didn’t affect me at all. I think that is what got me through the rest of the summer as far as confidence and being able to build on what I’ve been trying to do. It was mind-boggling to go through it. First time, I was very winded but it felt very good to be back out there.”
Now for Green, it’s onto the business of getting back into the Celtics system, something he thinks will come quickly.
“I don’t think it will take me long at all, with me being around the team last year,” Green said. “I’ve been here since beginning of September and I’ve had talks with Doc and assistant coaches just to figure out different schemes on the floor. Just to put it [to work] on the floor, maybe a day.”
As far as what the surgery experience taught him, Green said he has more perspective now.
“It made me appreciate the little things,” Green said. “When I had the surgery, I couldn’t move, couldn’t do a crunch, couldn’t turn left or right so it made me appreciate life itself and all the little things. Definitely helped me open my eyes and made me realize life is short and you have to enjoy every moment of it.”
Green and Chris Wilcox both had surgeries on their hearts last season. “I call him my scar buddy,” Green said with his trademark wide smile.
|Doc Rivers’ coaching challenge||09.26.12 at 5:16 pm ET|
While the NBA continues to undergo what the writer Bethlehem Shoals once termed “the positional revolution,” the Celtics largely have stayed true to traditional lineups. There was good reason for this.
In Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett they had four players who not only fit the archetypes of their positions, they could have served as the model for how we think about point guards, off guards, small forwards and power forwards.
All that was missing was a center, and over the years they have used Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and the O’Neal brothers to varying degrees of effectiveness. Coach Doc Rivers also used Glen Davis as an undersized 5, but the one time he was truly able to display a unique look was during the championship season of 2007-08 when James Posey took the court with the other four starters.
That all began to change last season when Rivers moved Garnett to the 5 and inserted Brandon Bass into the starting lineup. The change was enormously successful, but the C’s ran into trouble during the postseason against teams like Philadelphia and Miami that could throw multiple combinations at them and create matchup advantages at various positions.
The Celtics lacked depth, which was a major problem, but they also lacked the personnel to counter some of these moves. That may have changed this offseason when they added Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green to the mix. All three players can play multiple positions. And in loading up on 7-footers (Jason Collins, Darko Milicic and Fab Melo) to go along with Chris Wilcox and Jared Sullinger, the Celtics should be deeper, bigger and more versatile.
At some point this winter they also will welcome back Avery Bradley, who found a home playing off the ball on offense while applying tenacious ball pressure on the defensive end of the court.
“When he comes back, I don’t know if anyone has a better guard core than us, but we’re going to have to wait for that,” Rivers said. “In the meantime we have three guys who can all play multiple positions. That’s the way I would always want to coach, and I have an opportunity to do that.”
|Irish Coffee: Did the Celtics solve rebounding woes?||09.05.12 at 11:50 am ET|
Last season, the Celtics ranked dead last in the NBA in total rebounds per game and third-to-last in both rebound differential and rebounding percentage. Not good. Not good at all. So, what did they do to improve those woes?
The short answer: Not much. The long answer? Well, that’s what we hope to explain here. First, the C’s issues.
- Rebounds per game: 38.8 (30th)
- Offensive rebounds per game: 7.7 (30th)
- Defensive rebounds per game: 31.1 (14th!)
- Rebounding percentage: 47.3 (28th)
- Offensive rebounding percentage: 19.7 (30th)
- Defensive rebounding percentage: 72.4 (20th)
- Opponents’ rebounds per game: 43.2 (21st)
- Rebound differential: -4.4 (28th)
The Celtics ranked in the top half of the NBA in just one category: Defensive rebounding, and even then they’re a middling bunch. The C’s had only two players among the league’s top 50 rebounders — Kevin Garnett (23rd) and Brandon Bass (48th) — while a team like the Lakers owned two of the NBA’s top 10 best window washers.
Things didn’t get much better in the playoffs. The C’s ranked 13th out of 16 teams in rebounds per game, 12th in opponents’ rebounds per game and 14th in rebound differential. And they ranked ninth in defensive rebounding rate, third-to-last in total rebounding rate and dead last in offensive rebounding rate. Bad, worse and terrible.
The good news: Both Garnett and Bass still anchor the C’s backcourt. The bad news: Both Garnett and Bass still anchor the C’s backcourt. While Garnett’s rebounding rate has been in fairly steady decline since he arrived in Boston, he averaged more than a rebound better once he moved to center (8.7 per game) than he did as the team’s starting power forward (7.5 per game). However, the rebounding numbers for Bass changed little during his move from the bench (6.1 in 27.9 minutes per game) to the starting lineup (6.2 in 33.6 minutes per game).
The Celtics feature the best rebounding point guard in the game (Rajon Rondo‘s average of 4.8 boards per game even surpassed 6-foot-6 Kings point Tyreke Evans), and Paul Pierce ranked among the 10 best rebounders at his position last season, but neither helped matters much last season. So, where can the C’s improve?