To help you kill time between now and 8 p.m. ET, here are key questions I have about each of Boston’s starters. We’ll check back on the reserves Thursday morning.
Rajon Rondo — He converted me in last year’s playoffs but he didn’t quite complete me. I still long for a star who gets to the rim more than 3.4 times a game (t-63rd in the league in 2011-12). He still scores too little (11.9 PPG) and shoots a middling percentage from the mid-range (39%). And he’s still atrocious from beyond the arc (23.8%) and at the free throw line (59.7%). In aggregate, those are damning numbers, but I won’t be writing any pieces this season about how the Celtics should move him or questioning whether he can lead a team to a title. Those doubts are gone. Rondo took a huge first step into his prime in last year’s playoffs, and nearly carried a crippled Celtics squad into the Finals.
With a batch of new offensive weapons to deploy, no kitchen sink dramas to play out with Ray Allen, and with residual confidence from his dominant playoffs, I wonder — could Rondo’s prime years be marked by the kind of major leaps that have eluded him up ’til now? He’s regarded as one of the better point guards in the league, and, arguably, a top-15 player, but there are few other guys in his class who have so many glaring weaknesses. That may actually be good news. If he addresses a few of his gaps this season, or if the new guys on the team enable him in ways the old ones didn’t, we may have a legitimate first team all-NBA candidate on our hands.
Courtney Lee — Is there more to Lee than 3 and D? It might be the optimism of October but having carried memories of Lee’s strong rookie year in Orlando through his middling performances since, I wonder if he’s a candidate for a sudden jump in production. He’s shown hustle to spare in the preseason and he’ll have good influences around him during the regular campaign. On the defensive end, he’ll be given no quarter by Kevin Garnett, who’ll demand his considerable best. On offense, Lee’s proven to be a good finisher at the rim (62.6% last season) and the passing of his backcourt mate could get that number up to the high 60s by season’s end.
Paul Pierce — In between Pierce’s early season chubbiness and late season knee sprain, he dominated, picking up the Eastern Conference Player Of The Month Award in March. Still, this will be his 15th NBA season and you’d be forgiven for wondering if he’s slipping. He shot only 44% from the field last year and 36.6% from the arc, his lowest figures in those categories since he was running with Sebastian Telfair and Gerald Green. And — to kick off our season long obsession with how the Celtics match up with the Heat — Pierce can no longer hang with LeBron James on either end of the court, especially if asked to play long minutes.
So, submitted for your consideration: will Boston’s depth allow Pierce to maintain his efficiency throughout the regular season and playoffs?
Going big could involve Boston pairing KG with Chris Wilcox or Darko Milicic or Jason Collins. In some lineups, Pierce could play the 4-spot.
So, where does Brandon Bass fit on this team? Will his shooting and familiarity with Boston’s defensive schemes keep him in healthy minutes or is he bound for a reduced role and a mid-season departure? It’s a strange to consider pulling a guy out of a starting unit that put up historic defensive numbers last year but Bass is no defensive stopper, can be neutralized by bigger players underneath and specializes in the mid-range jumper, not exactly the most efficient of shots. He is something close to replacement level and may end up as part of a package for a better, bigger rebounder or interior scorer.
Kevin Garnett — Garnett is one of only two irreplaceables on this team. He’s the key to taking down Miami in the 2013 ECF. So, assuming Doc rations his minutes a shade below the 31.1 he played during last regular season (say 28 per game), the C’s could reasonably expect a repeat of last year’s playoff performance.
That still may not be enough. KG’s offense and rebounding fell off in games 6 and 7 against Miami last spring, the victims of too many long stretches on the floor and too much of an offensive burden. As the playoffs wore on, he simply had less to give.
How do the Celtics get a more consistent KG in late May and early June? There may not be a good answer to this question. But it also might be the most important question of the whole season. KG has carried the team for five years now. Can he do it one more time?