The decline in Kevin Garnett’s performance in 2012-13 was marginal. His shot distribution was basically the same, with a gentle decline in inside play. His output was very similar (his PER slipped a single point to 19.32). There are specific variables (he fell off as a spot-up shooter) but – yet again – KG managed to turn in something like franchise-player performance for the minutes he was able to stay on the court. This is particularly true if you give appropriate thrift to defense. Per Synergy Sports, Garnett actually registered as the 29th best defender in the league, allowing 0.76 PPP. The year prior, he landed at 108th in the league at 0.80. Basically, as offensives improved from the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, Garnett significantly improved his work relative to his peers. And this is before we attempt to measure the obvious unmeasurable: the Celtics would be utterly lost without Garnett.
That’s the frustrating thing about trying to assess Garnett’s work in any objective way. The 2012-13 season was disastrous in terms of injuries suffered by the team and the underperformance of those left behind. At a time when Garnett (and Paul Pierce, for that matter) should have taken on a reduced workload, the Celtics relied more heavily on them than ever before. That’s damning of all the deadbeats that clogged up Boston’s roster, and by now we all know who they were, but it’s more of a condemnation of Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers, who, respectively, bet the wrong horses last summer and then failed to find ways to get them to run.
So, you’d have to forgive Garnett if he was sitting on the beach in Malibu right now, decidedly unexcited about the prospect of going back into battle with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and another round of scrap-iron bigs. He implied as much in the hours after the Knicks series ended, when he admitted the Celtics needed more help.
Look – Garnett is not the same player he was five years ago. He was down to 29.8 minutes a game last year and even though he still ended up running a 24.51 usage rate at about the same levels of productivity, his comments, and common sense, suggest the burden for him to limit his decline to increments is enormous. And there are more noticeable gaps as he does, even if they’re still infrequent. Some nights, Garnett’s offense would nearly vanish, even as he ran up huge rebounding numbers. Some nights, he didn’t have the ability to lock down the paint on defense, deter pick and rolls and still work in the post on offense.
Still, KG was arguably the Celtics’ best player again last season, and it’s now a foregone conclusion he’ll be the last one to wear #5 for this franchise. The willpower he’s shown, the attention to detail in preparation and play, the focus on winning as the only goal worth a professional’s attention… we take these rare things for granted from Garnett. We’re spoiled. So, while his season grade is a cut below what we’re used to from him, let’s all remember our relative expectations. The man sets the highest of bars.