Here’s the second of three parts of our 2012-13 questions, this time focused on the bench bigs. We looked at the starters on Tuesday.
Jeff Green — Early in Tuesday’s game against Miami, Green took the ball to the basket with the heartening aggression he displayed in the preseason. He came up empty a couple of times and soon slipped into the disinterested spectator role he played so convincingly two seasons ago. I know there are caveats aplenty here. The entire Celtics team seemed disconnected on offense, even when they were making shots. Green was hardly the only one to struggle on defense. The dude may have been overly jacked for his first real game in 18 months. It’s a long list of excuses. However, we’ve been making those for Green since he arrived in Feb 2011 and there’s a difference between marginal output on a rookie-scale salary and one that pays $9 million a season. Is this year’s Jeff Green any different than the one who disappointed us two years ago?
Jared Sullinger — There’s a lot to like about Sullinger. He’s quick on the uptake, aspires to post play and he has a knack for rebounding. That’s a good makeup for a rookie in pursuit of rotation minutes. There are also a couple of concerns. He looks like he’s going to struggle against athleticism and when trying to score against interior height. So, it’s important to temper expectations for the kid and apply the same filter Doc Rivers uses to dole out playing time: defensive effectiveness. Can Sullinger hold his own covering the pick and roll and find a way to bother bigger guys on the block? If so, his smarts will get him enough baskets to keep him in the rotation.
Darko Milicic – When will Darko self-destruct and will it be catastrophic or merely amusing? We should put this up as a poll. Those who have observed him closely over the years suggest that our contempt for him will grow as his lack of love for the game becomes clear (seriously… when I talk to people about Darko the name that keeps popping into my head is Jermaine O’Neal). So, while I hold out hope that Green’s and Sullinger’s preseason play are harbingers of good things to come, with Darko I’m gun shy. Unfortunately, he’s not as superfluous as his late signing would suggest. Compared to Jason Collins and Fab Melo he’s got Hakeem Olajuwon-level offensive skills. They may yet be important for a Celtics team that, game one aside, still has to prove its offensive mettle.
Jason Collins — How important is his aptitude for post defense considering Rivers’ desire to go small and fast? Against Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard there’s no doubting his value. Against teams like Miami, he may stay anchored to the bench, as he did Tuesday. At this point, his usage is a legitimate x-factor. The pace will slow in the playoffs and rim protection (or at least the illusion of it) will be important. Collins and Kevin Garnett would make an interesting pair of 7-footers to back line the defense, except of course, that KG is not a 7-footer. As he’s made clear over the years.
Fab Melo — Will he end up over or under Avery Bradley’s 162 rookie year minutes? Is he the next Kendrick Perkins? Is there an unlimited Greyhound pass for roundtrips from Boston to Portland, Maine? Is there any way for him to play for both the Red Claws and the Celtics on the same day? Is he destined to be part of a trade for Josh Smith or Paul Millsap at the trade deadline?
Chris Wilcox — Can he stay healthy? Wilcox showed flashes last year as a Rondo running mate and a pick and roll dive man (the latter is something the C’s could use more of this year). Compare him to Collins, Melo and Darko and he grades out favorably (on balance — all these guys have warts) and best fits the style of play we expect out of Boston in the regular season. His return could be sneaky important.