Scouting the Opposition: Boston Celtics
For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.
His answers are below:
Hawks.com: The Celtics are off to a sluggish start to the season. Is this just an example of a veteran team pacing themselves as we’ve seen the team do in the past, or is there cause for more concern?
Marc D’Amico: The Celtics have let it be known over the past few seasons that they understand the NBA schedule better than anyone; it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. That hasn’t changed this season, but the Celtics roster has. Only five players who participated in last season’s near-trip to the Finals are on this team. That’s a lot of turnover. Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge expected this new group to gel relatively quickly, but it just hasn’t happened yet. The play of the offense and defense have both been up and down. So if you’re looking for a way to explain this team’s struggles, its inability to gel would be it.
Hawks.com: Boston has relied on its veterans for a long time. How do you rate the play of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce right now? Are they starting to show their age at all?
MA: Rajon Rondo may be the most popular player on the Celtics nowadays, but Pierce and Garnett are still the heart and soul of this team. Pierce is the longtime captain, and his play has been improving as the season has worn on. He has had three 30-point games in the past three weeks and he’s on pace to have his best scoring season since 2008-09. One thing he’ll always do is score. That’s why we in Boston call him the “professional scorer.” Garnett, on the other hand, might be the professional defender. He will be one of the top defensive players in this league until the moment he hangs up his sneakers. Don’t let this season’s defensive numbers for the Celtics skew your opinion of Garnett; he is still a top-of-the-line defender, but his teammates haven’t kept up. As NBA.com highlighted on Friday, Garnett is still the biggest difference-maker on defense in the league. KG also continues to shoot the ball effectively both in mid-range (50.0 percent from 8-16 feet) and close-range (60 percent from less than 8 feet) situations. Pierce and Garnett may be aging, but they both remain as great players in this league.
Hawks.com: With Ray Allen off to Miami, Jason Terry was brought in to be another reliable offensive threat in his place. How has the Jet been doing so far in Boston?
MA: Terry has been Terry when given the opportunity, but the problem is that his opportunities have been limited. He’s currently on pace to attempt the least amount of shots per game since his rookie season. That’s not why the Celtics brought him in here. With Avery Bradley back in the starting lineup, Terry has been shifted back to his more natural position of sixth man. Rivers was emphatic Thursday afternoon about the fact that he needs to find a way to get Terry more shots. That’s why, as Rivers stated, he’ll be calling the plays from the sideline for the second unit for the foreseeable future. Terry will have many more offensive plays run for him in the near future and that should give him many more opportunities to do his thing in the scoring column.
Hawks.com: Danny Ainge has never been shy about shaking things up when he felt it was necessary. Do you see the Celtics aggressively looking to make moves before this year’s trade deadline?
MA: You said it – Ainge is not shy when it comes to roster moves. A lot of people call him a gun-slinger. That being said, he doesn’t make moves just to make moves. He makes moves to make his team better. If the right pieces fall into his lap at the right cost before the February 21 trade deadline, there’s no doubt that Ainge will pull the trigger. However, there is a ton of talent on this Celtics team (albeit talent that hasn’t yet gelled), so Ainge won’t ship anyone out unless he believes he’s getting the better end of the deal.
Hawks.com: Long term, aside from Rajon Rondo, who do you see as cornerstones for the future of the franchise?
MA: I’ll take a different route and say who I believe Ainge and his confidants believe are the cornerstones of the future for the Celtics. Clearly, Rondo is at the center of the puzzle, but Ainge has faith in the young guys he has added to this roster. Bradley’s growth last season was remarkable. He went from an unknown to being regarded as the best on-ball defender in the NBA, all while shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range as a starter. Bradley is a difference maker. Ainge believes that Jeff Green can be a difference maker as well. That’s why the Celtics traded a beloved player (Kendrick Perkins) for him and then committed to him again this summer with a contract. Green’s production has been like a roller coaster this season, but he has shown flashes of greatness. The question is, will the Celtics ever get that out of him consistently?
Lastly, the Celtics drafted two players in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft who they have high hopes for. Jared Sullinger is proving to be an absolute steal as the 21st pick. Nearly every person who mentions Sullinger’s name says that he has one of the highest basketball IQ’s they’ve ever seen. He can shoot the ball, and as a rookie, he might be Boston’s best rebounder. Fab Melo is the other rookie who was selected in the first round by Boston. He has been with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League for most of the season and he is budding into a star up there. Melo notched a triple-double of 15 points, 16 rebounds and a league-record 14 blocks back on Dec. 22, 2012. He followed that up four days later with a career-high 32 points to go along with nine rebounds and nine blocks. Yes, those numbers are being accrued in the D-League, but they are an indication that this guy has some serious talent and could be a major piece for Boston in the future.