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The X Factor: Brian Scalabrine?

Well I never thought I would see the day where Celtics playoff coverage in Boston would be dominated by coverage of Brian Scalabrine’s return to action. What would have been an afterthought in years past doesn’t apply to this year as Scal’s completed recovery could not have come at a better time with the Celtics front line decimated by injuries leaving a pressing need for a serviceable big body off the pine.

To see how excited locally we are about this return, we have the titles of the pieces covering Scal in today’s papers:
Scalabrine heads back to floor,
Scalabrine brings balance to C’s D,
Scalabrine could give C’s a boost

Look at those headlines people! I don’t think the guy has gotten that much positive coverage in print for his entire career. It’s Scal fever people. Catch it!

Earlier this season, Scalabrine was a novelty act for Celtics fans. During home games the Garden exploded when the guy came in during garbage time or whenever he took a shot for that matter. Scal even made a point of acknowledging his displeasure for this mock cheering to reporters a couple times after his game.

As the season continued, Scal began to earn the respect of the fans back by becoming a consistent contributor in Doc’s rotation. He also filled in admirably in the starting lineup when Perk and KG went down. The fans then began to realize it’s tough to mock cheer every time the guy hits a 3 pointer when he makes them nearly 40 percent of the time. Now Celtics fans are rallying around the player to come back from injury and be a valuable contributor in the playoffs. My how the tides have turned.

Believe it or not though, there’s a good reason to be optimistic about the power forward’s play. So without further ado, let’s take a look at three reasons why Scal could make a positive impact in this series.

1) Spreading the floor/3 point shooting
Before he got hurt, this is probably where the red head had made his biggest gains/contributions as a Celtic this year. The guy is shooting 39.3% from downtown, (24 for 61) a 7 percent improvement from his numbers last year, and his 2nd best year shooting in his 8 year career.

This really has been an asset this year, on a team with so many great offensive weapons routinely break down defenses, someone has to be left open. This year, Scal has been the one making them pay being the only big guy who can spread the floor beyond a 20 foot jumper. He’s been consistently finding his spot in the corner on offense and waiting patiently for his chance.

2) Scal knows the defense
The former 12th man may not be the most athletic guy in the world, but he has been here for the past two years. He knows the system, knows the rotations and knows when to help out. He is limited at times with his effectiveness due to his lack of athleticism, but to be blunt about it, he can’t be any worse on defense right now than Mikki Moore, who has been here two months and still seems unable to grasp the team’s rotation concepts. With Scal in there, at least we will be sure that Scal knows what’s going on or where’s he suppose to be.

3) The guy is a role player who knows his role
The overall individual numbers are ugly for Scalabrine. His roland rating is -5.3. He only shoots 42 percent overall from the field. His defensive rating is 106, the worst on the team. These would all appear to show a player who is a detriment to the roster. However the numbers of the five man units that Scal has played with the most this year tell a different story. Cumulatively with these three units that Scalabrine has played 202 minutes with, those units have gone 14-6 against opponents while they have been on the floor with a +79 to boot.

It’s clear from watching Scal this year that he is a guy that knows his limitations and does his best to play within them. He’s not going to try to step up and do it all in KG’s absence, he’s going to do his best to contribute what he can. The C’s could be well served adopting that kind of mentality as the “team play” on both ends of the floor has been spotty at best in these first two games.

A closer inspection of the numbers will reveal that Scal has played particularly well with the normal starting lineup in replacement of KG in limited minutes. Those guys played extremely effectively together in wins in Phoenix and Denver (Scal got hurt at end of 1st quarter.) I would look for Doc tonight to insert Scal in with these guys to give Baby a rest and maximize production out of the team at the same time.

Before the love fest for the red head concludes here, let’s get a dose of reality here real quick. All of the situations I described above are based on potential. It’s important for us not to get our expectations too high here and remember a few potential pitfalls of a Scal return after the jump

1) The guy was our 12th man last year and didn’t even see the floor during the entire playoffs (nope not even in game 6 of the finals)

2) Concussions are a very delicate thing.
Three concussions within three months is even scarier. You can practice all you want, but there’s no telling how Scal will be able to react to playoff intensity and physical play on the floor until tonight. Plus not playing for three months means that we are bound to see a bit of rust.

3) The Chicago bigs are athletic. Scal isn’t.
We all have seen how much these guys like to run on us. Scal will obviously put in a full effort in trying to stick with these guys on the defensive end but his best effort might not make much of a difference. Plus, Scal is a terrible rebounder as he ranks 14th on the team in offensive and defensive rebound percentage, an atrocious number for a PF. The size of the Chicago big men makes this a number that is likely to continue.

This entire situation reminds me of a conversation I had with my roommate, a Lakers fan, before these playoffs started. News had trickled in that Scal could be ready to return for Game 3. I turned to Cal (my roommate) and said seven unthinkable words to him.

“You know, I think Scal will be a factor in this series.”

Cal turned and looked like he wanted to laugh but held it in. Instead he responded, “You know, as much as I want to make fun of that comment right how, there’s a good chance you are right.”

Tonight we will find out.

  • Jordan

    I'll be honest, a few years ago I was a Scal hater. Since then hes won me over, and you put it exactly right: hes a role player who knows his role. Hes not the best but he is smart and will definitely help out tonight.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Brian Robb

    I'm right there with you Jordan. To be honest, I'm happy for the guy to get the opportunity to contribute after not seeing the floor during last year's playoffs and dealing with these concussions. Here's hoping he will be able to step up and play well.

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