Where are We at After 20 Games?

Well, 20 games are in the books. OK, it is only 17, but Rondo's return tonight after a two-game hiatus seems like a good place to separate one part of the season from the next. The obvious question at this point is what do we know now about this team that we didn’t know before the regular season started? As you will see after the jump, the short answer is, not much. On the other hand, what we do know may be cause for concern. So let’s get started.

Did the offseason roster overhaul make this team deeper, younger, and talented enough to get past Miami in the playoffs?

I don’t know. Yes, the team is deeper and younger. But the way the Celtics are playing now, I’m not sure they could get out of the first round of any given playoff series, much less get past Miami. Come to think of it, the way they are playing, they might play Miami in the first round.

The bench is really the key here. The bench needs to prove that it can play enough minutes to keep guys like Pierce and Garnett fresh and healthy for the stretch run and the playoffs. Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa have both shown flashes of excellence, but inconsistency has prevented them from becoming a unit Doc can rely on to outplay opponents for any stretch of time. Jared Sullinger puts up some decent numbers, but so far he hasn’t been the kind of difference maker who separates a win from a loss. 

Is Doc’s commitment to small ball a wise decision?

I don’t know. The season started with the C’s running like the wind down in Miami. True, they gave up a bunch of points, and lost. But they did score lots of easy points, and that is one of the main reasons Doc plays small ball, to score easier buckets, whether they be via fast break or in the paint. Since the opener, the C’s don’t run as much, and, indeed, any pace faster than a snail’s makes Mike Gorman nervous. The Celtics do score from in close more frequently this year than last, but, like everything else, they don’t do this consistently enough for me to believe they can get to the rim when the game is on the line.

The other half of this equation is how well do the Celtics defend against bigger, taller teams. This, too, is a mixed bag. The loss of Darko makes the Celtics seem thinner at the 5-spot, as no one other than a handful of crazy pre-season pundits thinks that Fab Melo will be ready for prime time any time soon. This leaves Jason Collins as the only true back-up center on the roster. Chris Wilcox can get the job done for 5 minutes here and there. Ditto for Collins. 

At the same time, we haven’t really played against any team with a traditional big man in the middle, mostly because there aren’t any. Andrew Bynum is out indefinitely, and Dwight Howard, the so-called “Best Center in the NBA,” is 6-9. We've lost twice to Brook Lopez and the Nets, but I don't think we lost because of his size. There is Blake Griffin, but, again, I'm not sure we need to add another center when we'll only see some of these guys a couple times a year. So it is unclear whether the Celtics need anything more than Collins and Wilcox to back-up Garnett at the 5-spot. For those dreaming of Marcin Gortat, I ask would he earn any more PT than Jason Collins in Doc's system?

Will Avery Bradley’s return send Jason Terry to the bench, where he’ll help shore up the second unit and make it more consistent by way of his veteran leadership?

I don’t know. Sadly, the success of the Celtics’ season increasingly seems to hinge on the answer to this question. Bradley’s defense should help the Celtics elevate their game in that regard, an area of unexpected disappointment thus far this season (we're 17th in the league in points allowed). But even if his jumper recaptures some of its wetness from last April, I still wonder how much of a difference Bradley’s return will make.

The home-run scenario is that he plays better at both ends than either Jason Terry or Courtney Lee, and combines with the rest of the starters to play better basketball than we’ve seen them play all year.
And the home-run scenario doesn’t stop here. Sending Jason Terry to the bench gives the second unit a lineup of Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, and Jared Sullinger, with Leandro Barbosa filling in where needed. On paper, that is a hell of a squad. It is what they do on the floor that counts, however, and I suspect once Bradley returns, the bench will take another 20 games before they start to flow. I'm also a bit leery about pinning so much hope on the return of a player, Bradley, who has played roughly one month of good basketball in his three-year career, and appears to susceptible to injuries.

 One thing that I don’t expect to change is rebounding. The Celtics are dead last in the league in rebounds per game, and that is where they will end up, give or take. Does that spell doom for any title hopes in Boston?

I don’t know.


Lex said...

"We're not worried about the record. We know that it's a long season," guard Courtney Lee said. "We've got a long way to go and we're getting better as a team, and we know we're going to turn that around. You're going to start seeing us go on eight-game winning streaks. So we're definitely not focused on the record. Our main focus is just getting better and just continuing to work on things that Doc puts in."

Lex said...

We don't care about our record.

That explains a lot.

Lex said...

assumptions of an impending 8 game win streak.

that explains a lot too

bballee said...

Lex, I just did a State of the Celtics over on Celtic-Nation and was eager to see your take. I guess what amazed me was how different your and my reads were and the few overlaps of focus points.

FLCeltsFan said...

I'm not ready to write off the Celtics rebounding just yet. They've shown that when they really want to, they can crash the boards. It's all about effort.

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