Over at the mother ship, Marc Stein spoke to some scouts about happenings around the league, including the state of the Celtics. Here’s what he turned up.
Western Conference scout on the new Celtics:
“Have the Knicks and Nets passed them up? I’ll buy that. But I don’t think they’re going to fade away just yet. They were on a track (last season) like they were fading, but they’ve added … I don’t want to say younger legs but some quicker legs.
“People say there’s no fear factor any more with the Celtics, but I’m still a huge (Kevin) Garnett fan. Say what you want about him slowing down and all the huffin’ and puffin’ he does, but he covers up so many mistakes. All that little stuff he does. If he can stay healthy, they’ll be heard from (in the playoffs).
“The little passes to Rondo, the little drop-offs, illegal screens he sets that don’t get called for. And then defensively he covers up so many mistakes with his length, his ability to stop guards on pick-and-rolls, zoning up in the middle of the paint. It doesn’t surprise me that they drop off (defensively) so much when KG’s not out on the floor, because Jeff Green isn’t doing those things. Nobody (else) is.
“I don’t know if Paul Pierce can do it every night anymore, either, but when I see him I still think every shot is going in. All his misses feel like in-and-outs to me.”
One quick observation:
We’ve seen rallies in the recent performances of bench bigs: everyone from Chris Wilcox to Jeff Green to Jared Sullinger is playing more effectively. Still, none of the three projects as a dominant team defender or even a very good one. With Boston’s offensive capabilities less of a worry this season, the path through the playoffs could be cleared by an athletic big who can do a poor man’s version of Garnett for 20 minutes a night.
I’m not thinking of an Anderson Varejao, because his cost could be prohibitive. I’m thinking of an underperformer on another team who, like Green when he came to the Celtics two seasons ago, could see his defensive performance jump within Boston’s defensive schemes. If the Celtics aren’t willing to deal Sullinger or Avery Bradley — their two most appealing trade pieces — they’ll need to capitalize on some market inefficiencies to bolster their front line defense. The qualities to look for: athleticism, length and a predilection for blocking shots, even in short minutes.