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5-on-5: Early Season Impressions

 

Each Thursday this season, CelticsHub will be joined by the esteemed Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston to tackle five questions on the state of the Celtics.

We start this week with our responses to the Celtics’ slow, then hot start.

1. Are the problems with Boston’s defense (17th in efficiency) temporary or permanent?

Brendan Jackson: Temporary. The Celtics’ defense has fallen victim to new personnel and a small sample size. It’s obvious the bench guys have yet to get completely acclimated to the Celtics team-oriented defensive concepts. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the C’s defensive rating when they have their starters intact. Due to various injuries, the Celtics’ normal starters have only played a combined 29 minutes together this season and have posted an impressive 96.36 defensive rating. This would be good for 5th in league just ahead of Miami. Small sample sizes go both ways but considering the Celtics have posted an overall defensive rating that’s been top five in the league during the Big Three era, I’ll err on the side of the defense getting better.

Hayes Davenport: Neither: they’re over. Chalk the first three games up to lack of practice — in a teamwork-driven system like the one in Boston, players need time to refamiliarize themselves with their roles. They’ve done that now, and since the Hornets game, the Celtics have played four terrible NBA teams and made them all look like terrible CYO teams. Plus they’ll be adding Mickael Pietrus as their most capable bench defender in a matter of weeks. They may not end up being the Russian Front on defense they were the last four seasons, but they’ll certainly be top ten.

Chris Forsberg: Given that the Celtics have never ranked worse than fifth in the league in points allowed per game during the Big Three era, you’d have to think the problems are temporary. That said, the amount of points in the paint this team is allowing (whether off bad defense or fouls drawn) is alarming — especially considering the last four games have been against some of the worst teams in basketball (Wizards twice, Pistons, Nets).

Brian Robb: It’s still unclear. The defensive trends are moving in the right direction against inferior competition, but the defensive rebounding and forced turnovers, two areas that the C’s have excelled at over the past couple seasons continue to remain mediocre. Clearly it’s a small sample size thus far, but these are two areas Boston must improve in to return to an elite defensive team.

Ryan DeGama: I expect the C’s will again find their way into the top five teams in the league in defensive efficiency. However, unless that’s built on the efforts of the entire roster, it’s a deceiving statistic. The starters can’t repeatedly shut down the opposition only to see the bench give up leads only to force those same starters to work twice as hard to pull out the game. More than ever, contributions from guys #5-10 are crucial this season if the Celtics want to be fresh for the playoffs.

2. Is Boston’s impressive offensive performance (4th in efficiency) likely to continue?

Jackson: All good things will come to end. It’s nice to see that Rajon Rondo really gets everybody good shots but Wednesday night’s game against the Nets is a perfect example of how invaluable Ray Allen is to the Celtics’ offense. He’s almost always the first option coming off a screen. Even if he doesn’t get the ball, he causes the defense to shift in a way that frees up others. Given his age and the crammed schedule, Allen is likely to start missing games some time this season and with him go those offensive benefits. Couple that with the fact that the C’s don’t really have a bonafide, one-on-one scoring threat outside of Pierce and you’re looking at some stagnation and regression.

Davenport: No, but I think other teams will get better rather than the Celtics getting worse. The Celtics are currently outproducing the Thunder, Bulls, Nuggets, and Lakers, and I don’t see them remaining in the four-spot any more than Philadelphia staying in the three. Still, they’ve been performing at an encouragingly high level thanks to Allen aging in reverse and Brandon Bass (Boston’s first real scoring bench forward since Eric Williams), and Pietrus can only help. Barring injuries (hah), this could be their best offensive team since 2009.

Forsberg: If the defense returns to familiar levels and the Celtics are able to get in transition more often, the offensive efficiency is potentially sustainable. But it’s hard to imagine that Boston can continue to shoot this many jump shots and still be as efficient overall (especially once we’re deeper into this condensed schedule). The Celtics also need to generate more post offense in order to allow for higher-percentage attempts in the halfcourt offense.

Robb: I don’t see them as a top-10 offensive team, but I think 11-13th range is quite reasonable. A lot of the jump is thanks to incredibly hot shooting from downtown thus far, along with consistent points from midrange that Bass has delivered. The shooting percentages will come back down to earth, but if the C’s can continue to manufacture some points from their bench unit had a reasonable rate, the C’s will have their best offensive in at least three years.

DeGama: The offense is still too heavily based on jumpshooting and Kevin Garnett’s passing fetish has become a real problem. So, I’d expect them to slip back to the middle of the pack, which is just enough of a fall to submarine their playoff hopes. Bass was a step in the right direction but not a bold enough one. Of course, the trade deadline is still a ways off.

3. Rajon Rondo has played several outstanding games. Is his game evolving to another level?

Jackson: Fool me once… I’ll believe it when I see Rondo consistently do what he’s doing for an entire season. Luckily, I’m an optimist and I think he will do that this season. His attitude and overall demeanor seems more focused and confident. It’s no longer his intent to demolish every opposing point guard. He now just wants to let his game do the talking and shut the rest of us up. Right now, my ears hurt.

Davenport: Yes. I’m allowing myself to be fooled again. Here’s why: so much of Rondo’s success seems to hinge on what he believes he can do, and I think he believes he can shoot right now. He’s doubled his three attempts (and his three-point percentage), his free-throw rate and free-throw percentage are up, and his boosted his attempts from almost every part of the court. Since shooting is the only part of Rondo’s game that he’s really missing, I think he’s on his way to becoming the complete player we’ve been waiting for.

Forsberg: No, Rondo’s numbers simply suggest he is reverting back to 2009-10 Rondo, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Injuries hindered Rondo last season – far more than he might have cared to reveal. If Rondo can keep his field goal percentage near the level it’s currently at (.544) and still get to the free throw line as frequently (5.7 attempts per game), he’s got a very good chance to post career highs in key offensive categories.

Robb: Not yet, the consistency is still not apparent. For as terrific as he was in the first three games, Rondo has still come through with a couple of passive efforts, like last night’s performance against New Jersey (8 points, 0 rebounds). The next thing I want to see Rondo improve on is to cut down on the reckless turnovers (4.4 per game). That’ll show me he’s stepping it up to another level.

DeGama: I don’t think he has the focus or the skills to be the kind of player the Celtics need him to be at this point. He certainly seems like he’s a notch better than last season but remember how it started? With talk of Rondo setting all kinds of assist records. Then came the post-all-star decline. Rondo is a very good player but with the Big Three aging, the Celtics need him to be a very great one. This is probably the last season we’ll hope for that kind of transformation.

4. Is the starting center for game one of the playoffs currently on the roster?

Jackson: Yes. Although, it may very well be the STIEMCLEANAH!!!! which ultimately wouldn’t be so bad. In a perfect world, O’Neal would get the start because despite how awesome Greg Stiemsma has been this season, he still has trouble guarding physical players in the post. The road to the Finals may now go through Miami rather than Orlando but the Celtics likely need another big (Joel Przy-”Ghost Face Killah”-billa anyone?), just not a starter.

Davenport: I think he might be, and I think he’s Kevin Garnett. As weird as it sounds, all signs point to Garnett being the best option: I don’t trust O’Neal to be walking in April, Doc has already expressed his intention to give Garnett extended center minutes, and Bass has been an unqualified success in lineups with the starters. Garnett’s already playing about half his minutes at center right now. As long as the Celtics never match up with Orlando or the Lakers, he projects to be the best man in the middle.

Forsberg: No. Precautionary or not, it’s still somewhat concerning to see O’Neal miss his first action of the regular season in game 6 of 66. I think the Celtics will keep their eyes out for serviceable 7-footers (the more reliable the better) hoping to land one via trade or buyout in March (and bumping O’Neal to a backup role, which would actually limit his own wear-and-tear, but still allow him to thrive offensively with more touches with the reserve unit).

Robb: Yes. I hope Danny Ainge learned his lesson last year on messing with his starters’ chemistry halfway through the season. While the C’s could (and should) be open to midseason pickups of the free agent and trade variety, I don’t see anyone out there capable of entering the starting five, barring the C’s trading a significant piece of their own.

DeGama: I’ll say yes, but I’ll say it with disappointment in my voice. Unless you’re sold on Stiemsma as not only contributor but starter, the Celtics don’t have a reliable protector of the rim or shotblocker. And when O’Neal goes down with his annual injury, they’ll lose the little toughness they have in the middle too. Rondo for Chris Paul would have been fun but the position most in need of an upgrade is the center spot.

5. Can the Celtics win the 2012 title without making a significant trade?

Jackson: Sure. Actually, they have a better chance of making the Finals without making a trade given that all of their tradeable assets are huge parts of the team. Even if the C’s trade Rondo and Garnett to the Magic for Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard, they are looking at an early playoff exit. If getting the best semi-available player doesn’t put you over the top, just don’t do anything. That is, unless of course you don’t think you’re going to get to the top anyway. In that case, do whatever you want.

Davenport: No, probably not. Bench depth has been an increasing necessity with each passing year, and I don’t think a second five of Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels, Chris Wilcox, and Greg Stiemsma is going to keep the Celtics in games (again, I think Bass could be forced into a starting role by playoff time). An above-average swingman or big would have a major impact on this team’s prospects, but a player like that would probably cost this team a piece of its future, and that’s something Ainge doesn’t seem to be willing to deal.

Forsberg: No. Unless you mean the 2012 Atlantic Division championship. Boston will be in the mix in the Eastern Conference, but they’d need near-perfect health — and maybe a little bit of luck — in order to compete deep into the playoffs. We’ve already seen the Celtics struggle with New York and Miami — two potential playoff squads in the East — so there’s simply not enough confidence at the moment to think they are capable of the season’s ultimate prize.

Robb: Yes. I would say it’s far from likely, but we have to remember this team is not a finished product yet, with Pietrus waiting to fully heal and join the squad. With improved bench depth, and the C’s core four appearing not to show any kind of a significant dropoff thus far, you can make the case this team has a shot with its current roster. A lot will have to go right, but the window is still open….as long as everyone stays healthy.

DeGama: Point: Chicago is better than the Celtics. Miami is way better. The west is filled with teams that would give the Celtics major problems in a prospective Finals series. Counterpoint: Nobody thought Dallas could win last year either. That’s the C’s model for this season: a wing and a prayer and a ferocious self-belief.

Follow Chris Forsberg on twitter at @ESPNForsberg and CelticsHub at @celticshub.

  • High Rollers

    Bob Dylan has twelve words for you: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

    Celtics have as good a chance as anybody.

  • flip flop

    Man does anyone have anything good to say about the Celtics, jeez.. I can't wait till they prove everyone wrong.

    And i agree High Rollers, they have as good a chance as any team.

  • Batman

    Forsberg is my hero
    I'm so happy hes becoming a guest for the Hub

  • John

    this Davenport guy has clearly lost his mind. He talks about our second five not being good enough. Then he mentions how that second five is Dooling, Daniels, Stiemsma, Wilcox, and Pietrus. Then says Bass will be forced into a starting role. My conclusion from these statements is that Jermaine O'Neal has died by the time the playoffs have come around. Since I'm pretty sure he will not be dead at that time and he will be in the starting lineup I like our chances with Dooling, Daniels, Pietrus, Bass, Stiemsma. These are hardworking players who actually have some pretty formidable skillsets when looking at the rest of the East's bench debacles.

  • John

    Oh and one more thing. The Bulls are clearly better than the Celtics and the Heat are WAY better than the Celtics. I forgot the Celtics lost by 30 to the Heat and got blown out by the Bulls at home on January 13th. Wait a minute they didnt get blown out by the Heat, Norris Cole saved them from an embarassing collapse. The Bulls game hasnt even happened yet. Good grief these guys cant get down enough on us can they. And to the guy who said the Celtics struggled with the Knicks on Opening Day. I was at that game and the Celtics had the entire force of God thrown at them in that one and lost by two (the same two that Joey Crawford giftwrapped in pretty Xmas wrapping paper in the forms of technicals-later rescinded). Melo went absolutely nuts against us and has drifted WAY back to earth since then. I like our chances against them as long as Cantoni is still coaching

    • daryl walker

      i love the celtics to death my name is daryl walker im from new orleans but i live in baton rouge if i could meet then team/coach 1 day in my life it would be the best day of my like to me yall or the best team in the n.b.a ray allen paul pearce kevin brado bass rondo the whole team i love yall keep it i wish you gies never retire ever

  • Brian

    Give me a break. If the Big 4 are healthy Boston has as much chance as anyone. A lot of these same guys actually thought the no Defense playing Knicks would surpass the C's in the Atlantic.

  • ripsonics

    Lets be realistic here… we lost to NY without our best player by two, on a bad call that sent melo to the line.

    We lost to Miami without our best player, and almost beat them IN Miami.

    Not to mention we are blowing out teams that we are supposed to be beating. All things look good for the men in Green. Our biggest problems have always been bench production.. And right now… I really believe this may be the most consistent bench we've ever had. Dooling isnt going to score 18 a game off the bench, but he plays tough D, and can shoot the three. Brandon Bass…. Nuff Said. The Stiemenator, bradley, quis, and the frenchmen…? LETS GO.

    This team will fly under the radar all year long. But what we have here is a contender, and if we play up to our potential, run zone all over Miami, and break Dwayne Wade's elbow, we'll have a chance.

    I believe.

    Go C's

    • JCP

      Amen… I don't REALLY wish bad on him, but there is a side of me that wants to see Karma come back around and bite Wade in the elbow, too.

    • diehardceltic

      Cheers to breaking D Wades elbow…..I see I am not the only one still harbouring grudges!

  • ripsonics

    And for the record… how is Chicago better than us? What have they done that we havent? Sure they went to the east finals last year but they also split the year with us. This is a whole new year. Miami may be 'better' because they beat us this year, but until Chicago beats us… I will not say they are a better team. Its all speculation.

    Go C's

  • Mike

    Steimcleanah? I'm gonna go ahead and vote for Greg the Steimtrain Steimsma

  • Cha_Cs18

    Wow… You guys are so pessamistic. The Celtics do have a chance to win it all. The main reason why we lost to Miami last year was because we didn’ t have solid bench play. People need to remember this team has a lot of heart and pride. You should never country them out. I believe experience will be key this season.

  • guest

    DeGama ftw.

  • janos

    "3. Rajon Rondo has played several outstanding games. Is his game evolving to another level?"

    I just like say only Haynes have courage say RONDOS is BEST!! I watches that guy all the time, very good in points, running, get and shoot, and NBA. Why make him out the bum guys?

    Thank you Haynes support RONDOS and NBA CELTICS all the way Finals and new banner. I like see Banner raise in person one day is my buckets list!

  • Carlos R

    No tittle in 2012 with this roster, but it will be a fun season to watch.

  • JCP

    Wow… DeGama is quite the Debbie Downer…

    And Forsberg?! Are you really going to say "we struggled against the Knicks and Heat" as if those were accurate representations of this team? Are you kidding? The first two games of the season, on the road, without Paul Pierce, with a ton of new faces off the bench, and an incomplete bench at that? While I may agree that we would need to be healthy (which would certainly require a bit of luck) to raise a banner, I think using those first two games as a benchmark for our level of success for the season is way off.

  • ElRoz

    DeGama I think advocated a mid-season trade somewhere in his comments. That's very dangerous and wrong and should not be done since chemistry will be hurt and the new arrival will not really mix well with the system until next season.

    The current team should be kept in place and Pietrus worked into the rotation. With O'Neal, Stiemsma, and Wilcox spelling the center position (or KG instead of Wilcox, and the latter as a PF). There are not many scoring centers in the league right now – Dwight, Bynum. Even fewer scoring 7 footers – Bynum. I'm not sure what are all these teams that would give Boston problems if in the finals – if you're in the finals, do you not expect tough teams? In any case, DeGama should realize that only one team from the West gets into the finals…so if there are 400 teams in the West that "would give Boston trouble", only one will.
    Boston's main concern s health, not trades.If the team is healthy and it has used the regular season to create chemistry with the new people, it will be a strong team. If it is not healthy, even some trades will not really help. Health, intelligently used minutes, and occasional days off for the key starter is what they need. If they have that, I am not convinced that Miami is way better…only that they are the favorite, like Orlando and Cleveland were in 2010.

  • IBleedGreen

    Why are you guys hating on the panels for being honest and speaking the truth? Let's be objective for a second, this team has no chance winning it all as constructed today. But as a fan I've got to say, LET"S GO C's!!! BANNER 18 BABY!!!

    • JCP

      On one hand I agree with you… a lot of our team isn't in their prime and aren't the obvious current superstars in the league… but on the other hand, who won last year? I think our current team (healthy) is more talented than last year's Mavs. Am I that far off?

  • http://twitter.com/michaeljavid @michaeljavid

    I learned tonight that Joel Anthony is on the all-star ballot. I say he gets replaced by the STIEMCLEANAH

  • Random celtics fan

    What is the latest news on Pietrus?

  • http://twitter.com/Donnie_Peters @Donnie_Peters

    "We’ve already seen the Celtics struggle with New York and Miami — two potential playoff squads in the East — so there’s simply not enough confidence at the moment to think they are capable of the season’s ultimate prize."

    Shouldn't we be saying that Miami struggled with the Celtics when they went to zone against the Heat? They also struggled with Ray Allen's three-point shooting and couldn't stop it. Watching the game, I was very impressed with our fire to come back and fight. We gave the Heat a lot of problems and that was without Paul Pierce, who would only add to those problems for Miami.

    With the Knicks, we were right with them. Refs will be refs and bad calls will be made, it happens. I was very, very happy with the Celtics' opening performance in that game. I wonder how things might be talked about a little different had Kevin Garnett hit that last shot and the Celtics went on to win in overtime?

    All in all, the Celtics are starting to come together and improve very much since starting off 0-3. I will agree that the loss to New Orleans was awful, but it's in the past and I'm sure they've learned from it. Doc Rivers will get on the team and bring them together, the bench will improve, adding Mikael Pietrus will help our team a bit and if Brandon Bass keeps playing like he has been, he'll be one of the top performers off the bench for his team throughout the season.

    January should be a solid month for the Celtics, but it will also have a few tests thrown in the mix. The Green play the Bulls, Thunder and Magic (twice) in January and those will provide some decent tests for the team. If Doc can continue to manage the minutes of the players correctly, they should have a lot less wear and tear than expected, thus allowing them to perform well in these bigger games against solid opponents.

  • miz230

    well i think anyone that has doubts on the Cs are wrong they are coming together as a team and almost have a good chemistry like in 08!……..i just think they need one more healthy big man…come back perk!

    go C's

  • CG12

    Big Baby is already having issues in Orlando with "knowing his role." Good guy, good player, but a bit of a head case. Any time Baby talked about knowing his role, it was code for "I want to score more and they won't let me." Confidence is healthy, but Baby really wants to be something he isn't.

  • michael a. devine

    Fan of 53 years straight (59 years OLD)has concluded that no 2012 banner will be secured unless DA pulls off a major trade w/Pacer's LB…it would need to bring to our Celts: PG D. Collison,C Roy Hibbert at a cost of RR, JO, and a #1. DA would have to compliment that deal by picking up too S. Hawes from Philly for C. Wilcox, and a #1 as their b/u C. DA must get our team younger by using the current pieces to beef up the C position for the starting and "Green Team" units. History tells us that Defense, strong Centers, w/ "Green Team" that plays as well as the starters are the recipe for success!! No "Debbie Downer" here…just a realist!!

  • Katrin Weir

    I cant believe everyone underestimates the celtics like they do… The fans obviously know more about this team…. Have we not been watching the same games…… sooo negative, I cant wait to hear the comments in another month! Basket ball is a TEAM sport, not a game of two or three extremely talented and gifted team members…. The Celtics are most definitely a team and everyone on that team is motivated enthusiastic and happy to be a part of that team…. Great coaching too…. how can our team lose?

    GO CELTICS paul pierce is god

  • Morpheus

    Ray is like Benjamin Button:-)

  • Morpheus

    Health and minutes. 2 key words right there. Doc needs to manage Ray, PP and KG's minutes so that when playoffs roll around they're not burnt out and worn down.

    I like our bench, but i'm still not sold on them being able to carry us to a top 5 finish in the East. The starters need to set the tone early, that means KG,PP, Ray and Rondo(and to a certain extent JO) need to get us a comfortable buffer(lead) in the 1st quarter so that when the bench comes in they don't need to play like they're behind, which believe me will be bad news. It also means Doc can afford to keep the old guys minutes down.

    I hope Quis improves, he's been a non factor lately. I still think we're missing that one guy off the bench with Green out. Kaman would be a BIG piece to that puzzle if Danny could trade for him somehow.

    • LACelticsFan

      I agree that Chris Kaman could be that piece we are looking for, but at what expense? New Orleans is going to want something good for both now and the future to deal Kaman. We can't/shouldn't deal the rookies, and dealing anyone of the big4 would be redundant. That leaves pretty much nothing else to deal.

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