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To Start, A Few Questions

Happy Opening Night Morning!

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┬áhe 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?

Brandon Bass — Jeff Green played against type all preseason and Jared Sullinger looked like a flat-out steal in claiming a rotation spot.

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?

  • Morpheus

    So, Bass will be starting over Sullinger.

    Let’s go Celtics!!! Crush them Heat fools.

  • NHBluesMan

    Does the game actually start at 8 ET or does coverage start at 8?

    • SMS Bda

      I think the game will start pretty close to that. Remember the new 90 second tip off rule is in effect. Celtics all day!!!

  • CG12

    I was delighted with the CLee pick-up and think that he will exceed people's expectations. I loved him in Orlando and could not figure out why they dealt him. He has the 3-and-D, but also brings impressive athleticism and should be really effective moving off the ball and in transition.

    Bass is definitely a guy who could suffer from the C's depth. As this post states, for all of his virtues, his skill set isn't what the Celtics need most from that position. Going bigger with Sullinger or Darko for many of the minutes could offer a lot of benefits. We will see Green at the 4-spot to close most games, I'm guessing. You don't pay a guy $9M/year to sit on the pine during crunch-time. If Bass is eventually packaged and moved, I wouldn't be that sad. He has very good individual skills, but doesn't seem to have a natural feel for team basketball. He can't / won't pass and his help-side D isn't that good.

  • Brian

    Regardless of how much rest you can get KG and Pierce during the season the fact is that they will have to play more minutes in the playoffs and they both have worn down the last 3 years. Sullinger, Green, and Jet will have to become along with Rondo the major focal points for the team come playoff time. Sully will have to provide the Inside Offensive Punch and Rebounding that disappears from KG as his legs get tired. Green will have to defend the elite wing players that blow by Pierce as he gets tired and cause him to foul out. Jet will replace the late game shooting Ray provided while providing more diversity getting shots. Rondo will still be doing what he usually does but he's gonna have to stop being scared of shooting the ball and taking free throws.

    • Josh

      Great points Brian, I completely agree. KG and Pierce simply CAN'T carry this team anymore. They have too many miles on them. If this team is to succeed, it will be because of Rondo's leap in improvement and consistent contributions from Jet, Sullinger and Green.

      • High Rollers

        Don't forget Bass, Lee, Barbosa, Darko, Wilcox… AB…

  • Jim

    To have any shot at beating Miami in the ECF the Celtics will need to get out of the first 2 rounds quickly. Dragging each series out to 6 or 7 games will be too draining on Pierce and KG!

  • MSL

    The writer is too hard on Rondo.

    He's a top 10 player in the league and MVP candidate, and you're treating him like he's an OK point guard.

    Most point guards in the NBA can't shoot. But that doesn't stop many of them from shooting, nonetheless. That's Rondo's problem. He needs to shoot more, and not wait till the last minute–when the clock is running down to only shoot threes-which lowers his percentage.

    • Rondo fan

      Totally agree

      The NBA is about makes and misses not percentages. Stats don't win games. Making big plays does. Rondo has proven when Boston needs a make, he's the guy to go to. His shooting percentages last season are hugely effected by the fact he often had to bail out a sluggish offense (especially when Pierce and/or Garnett rested) by forcing shots against the clock (many of which where 3's), and taking difficult shots in traffic just to give the team a chance to rebound. Add to that no scoring help whatsoever from the bench and no reserves who could stretch the floor and you see why the percentages are so low.

      Rondo's only real flaw at the moment is confidence, not his shooting stroke. He is actually a really solid shooter with a good release (you don't drop 44 pts against Miami's D on mostly jumpers unless you can shoot), but unlike the Kobe's of the NBA, who can miss 10 straight shots and keep shooting with confidence… If Rondo misses his first jumper or two you can tell it effects him the rest of the game to the point he passes up open looks or shoots expecting to miss. It's the same with his free throws. He has to block out misses and not let it effect him. Once he gets a shooters mentality he'll be the best PG in the league.

      And somehow his incredible rebounding and sticky fingers D wasn't factored in. He's a true threat for a tripple double every time he steps on the court along with multiple steals and the occasional block. I'll take him over Chris Paul any day.

    • janos

      get use this all season long form this guy, classic headpost not heartpost. Call Rondos atrocius?? when he get titles us june this, come back post i love him #1? come on.

  • ripsonics

    I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS GAME! been a while since i've commented – and I am a little torn because I love Ray Allen so much – so bring on the negative comments, but I might be cheering for him to have a good game, but for the C's to get it done.

    GO C's

    • Josh

      You should change your blog name to ripray….haha jk!

  • High Rollers

    If the depth proves itself and we have eight or nine guys who stay healthy and whom we can depend on for 10 points a night, solid D, and consistent effort in the intangibles column, then this "protean" (best adjective I've seen) squad won't have to sweat the tread on the vets' tires. Doc has to figure out who works best together. He's going to have to evaluate rotations and timing with a fine-tooth comb and with great patience. And he's going to have to depend on Rondo and KG's respective IQs to store and save all those options and facilitate and make them real on the floor. There's no reason whatsoever that we should see KG run into the ground or Paul struggling to go one-on-one with James in the playoffs.

  • elroz

    The depth and quality on this team will help preserve Pierce and KG – by reducing their minutes and by giving them an occasional game off. Come playoff time, this will be very beneficial. They might not even have to play long minutes in the first round if Boston can secure one of the top 2 spots.

  • High Rollers

    Looks like Paul Flannery at WEEI put it pretty well…

    <[…]While the C’s still are built around Garnett, Pierce and Rajon Rondo, team president Danny Ainge drafted, signed or traded for 10 new players whose task is not simply to provide support for the revamped Big Three, but also to offer alternative solutions.

    “I think the things you’re going to see out of some of the players on our team won’t be shocking but will be things you probably haven’t seen for quite some time,” Garnett said. “Different players in here bring different elements and it’s a good thing. It’s not just an onus on two or three guys. We have a real balanced team in here.”

    There will be different lineups and funky combinations. They will be able to play big or small. They will be faster and less reliant on old legs. They will, if things go as planned, be able to create matchups on a nightly basis and dictate pace. It also will take time.

    “I like the team,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I think we’ll have to be a better defensive team consistently to be a great team and I think there’s a lot of growth in our team. How fast we do it, who knows? We’ll figure that out as the season goes on. But if we do grow and all the different ways we can play and everyone gets it, I think we can be very, very good.">

    (full article at http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/basketball/celt


    • High Rollers

      That piece ends with this…


      The chants started late in the fourth quarter, long after it had all been decided and they had blown it in excruciating fashion. They continued through the extended garbage time while the starters sat on the bench, fully aware that they had suffered one of their most devastating losses.

      Let’s go Celtics

      They had a 3-2 lead and a chance to close out the Heat on their home floor. It was all they could have asked for and certainly more than they could have expected way back in February when they staggered into the All-Star break with a losing record and a damaged psyche.

      Let’s go Celtics

      The Garden crowd always had been behind them, but this was something different. At the time, many chalked it up to a farewell tribute to an aging group of players who had given their best only to find out that it wasn’t quite good enough.

      It was, however, something more than that. For half a decade the city of Boston slowly has warmed to these fascinating individuals. They were lionized as winners right off the bat, but that was to be expected. It took all the near-misses, the trade rumors, the injuries and all the failed experiments to fully understand what was happening. Through it all, they kept coming back again and again until finally they had become Boston’s team.

      Once mysterious and almost unapproachable, Garnett has opened up and become part of the family. He’s your crazy uncle Kevin who always has a story to tell and wisdom to impart. The enigmatic Rondo no longer is the tempestuous younger brother. He’s a leader now, maybe the leader, although time ultimately will tell. As for Pierce, every day on the calendar becomes another day closer to the time when his number is raised to the rafters.

      Five years feels like forever in the NBA, but as it turned out, it wasn’t enough time. Some teams refuse to lose. The Celtics refuse to die. They have unfinished business and a promise to keep to each other, their new teammates and the city that is ready to embrace them as never before.>

      I for one didn't hear that chant as a goodbye and thanks for the memories. It was simply the collective pulse beating loudly, defiantly, ready for whatever comes, ready to rise together. Just like Flannery says, we like this team.

  • I_Love_Green

    CHRISTMAS HAS COME EARLY!!! My Celtics are back and better then ever!!

  • CelticsBIG3

    Can't wait for this. Didn't lose power last night, but did lose my cable. JUST came back on. Thank God!!! 4 hours to go…. I am so amped!!!

  • Josh

    Wearing my Celtics tie at work. Then I'm gonna go home and get into my Celtics snuggie.

  • I have lots of questions answer to ask. Please let me know, when I can ask the questionnaire work.thanks for this info.