A year ago, Ray Allen was having more difficulty than other Celtic as far as adjusting to a new system. His shot would go through heavy up-and-down periods and he was uncomfortable as more of an off-ball scorer than a one-on-one scorer, which he had been for as long as he could remember.
This year, however, Jesus Shuttlesworth is back in full effect. Ray has finally found his comfort zone within Doc Rivers' system, and as a result, shooting the ball at more-than-desirable efficiencies (50.4% FG, 41.6% 3FG, and93.6% FT,) and playing like the future Hall-of-Famer that he is.
Allen's rebirth can also be attributed to the development of Rajon Rondo, who has made it a point to attack more frequently and exploit his advantages in transition. Ray will be the first to tell you that he has been the beneficiary of those attacks, and it's working wonders for his confidence and Boston's offense as a whole.
Coming into the year, nobody knew what to expect of Tony Allen. Fans wondered what version of "TA" they were going to get. Could they expect something similar to his 2006-2007 campaign, or "evil TA" (the one that plays without a brain)? 2008-09 has brought a mixture of both Allens.
On one hand, he still makes your heart temporarily stop when he takes more than two dribbles, and his decision-making remains questionable at best. On the other hand, he has been very solid defensively and has given the C's some big games off the bench this season, especially early on. Consistency is a concern, but at the very least, TA's energy has been a positive for the Boston bench.
As a coach, "Sam I Am" has been terrific for the Celtics this season. He has given the staff another vocal basketball mind to help bring along the youngsters, and with the way things are going, Cassell may find himself strictly coaching in the near future.
As a player for the C's this season, he has contributed two technical fouls and not much else, giving me no choice but to give him the following:
"Big Baby's" play has been congruent to the motion of a live ball in a game situation; up and down. To start the season, Glen Davis was about as pitiful as a Ben Wallace free-throw. In fact, that mid-range jumper went down at an even more abysmal clip than Wallace's charity stripe anticts.
Since the beginning of the New Year, however, it's difficult to go against the notion that Big Baby has been Boston's best bench player. The jumper is falling more frequently than before, but that's not the reason why the big fella has played better basketball. The real reason why Big Baby has been more productive since the holidays is simple; it all comes down to what spots he is shooting from. When Big Baby limits his offense to pick-and-pop jump shots and nothing more, he struggles mightily. On the contrary, when he picks his spots intelligently and mixes up his attack with inside-outside play, he is a much more productive asset.
Not only does this open up more for him within the offense in pick-and-roll (not pop) situations, it allows him to help create more second chance opportunities for the C's with his work on the offensive glass.
As long as Davis continues to play the way he has played in January, he is going to be just fine.
Comparing the numbers of this year's Garnett to last year's version, you notice one major difference. It's not that he is scoring less and it's not that he is shooting a career-best 84.2% from the charity stripe. It's that he is dishing fewer assists and shooting two less free throws per game (4.7 to 2.7).
A lot of lurkers could suggest that those statistical decreases are a bad thing. I don't necessarily see it this way. Why? Because there is a valid reason for Garnett creating at a lesser degree with the basketball.
Rajon Rondo is controlling the ball more than ever and playing with a far more aggressive state of mind than he has in previous years. It's not ideal for your best big man to be getting less trips to the free-throw line than the fourth big in the rotation (Leon Powe is averaging 3.3 FT/game,) but let's face the facts. KG is once again sacrificing his own stats for the betterment of this team's offense, and it's working.
KG has been terrific, although he hasn’t been quite the player he was a season ago, at least from the standpoint of consistency. Leg pains have limited him at times this season, and he understandably hasn't brought the same physical intensity every single night because of it. Expect a more fluid second half from "The Big Ticket."
It's difficult to judge Giddens off of a couple of preseason performances and a few impressive NBDL box scores. Boston's first-round pick joins Sam Cassell as the only two Celtics who have failed to check into a regular season game.
From the little that we have seen from him, however, it is evident that he has some legitimate defensive potential to go along with that motor. Time will tell.
Throughout Boston's eight-game winning streak, Eddie House has been terrific, as he has managed to knock down half of his last 42 three-point attempts and has two twenty-plus-point performances in Boston's last three games. However, I have a beef with Eddie House. Before I get into it, I’ll note that I am not taking anything away from House’s contributions to last year’s glory, and I’ll also go on record saying that I like Eddie.
With that said, let's make an objective observation; number 50 only seems to shoot well when the Celtics are in a blowout situation. This season, it's as if Eddie is only "the man" when the game is decided. Let this eight-game winning streak serve as an example. He went for 25 points in a blowout against Miami and put up 23 in an absolute stomp-job over Dallas four days later. But what happened in between, when the Celtics were in a tight game at Amway Arena? Eddie shot 0-3 from the field and was a relative non-factor. Prior to this winning streak, Eddie's only good shooting performance came on January 2, where the Celtics beat Washington by 25 points. What happened in the game prior, where the Celtics lost by single-digits in Portland? Eddie only hit one of his five shot attempts.
Look at Eddie House's 2008-2009 game log. You'll notice hot streaks through Celtics winning streaks and blowout situations, but rough patches through tight games and single-digit losses. As harsh as this assessment may appear, you've got to look at the facts. Eddie is the king of garbage time, but as the Celtics fold, Eddie folds. That's not what "instant offense" is supposed to be all about.
You know, it is probably unfair to give P.O.Box 26 anything but an "incomplete," but I can't help it. He is that much of a disappointment when he steps out on the court. He's got the gifts, but he's got no heart, and I find it hard to believe that his testicles have dropped just yet.
What is the one thing that this Celtic bench needs? A center with size and length. O'Bryant stands at seven-feet tall and has arms long enough to punch Godzilla in the face. He's got all the size and length you could ask for, but he has nothing to offer alongside it but wasted talent. It's a real shame.
Ever since he was drafted 27th overall in 2003, we've heard nothing but appallingly positive words circulating around Kendrick Perkins' work ethic. We've seen him grow from a fat high school senior to a fierce human being; a boy to a man, really.
But now, we've seen a promising youngster transform himself into a basketball player. Perk has shown improvement across the board this season, and the numbers back it up with career-high averages in scoring (8.6 PPG), rebounding (8.0 RPG), and shot blocking (1.8 BPG). Most importantly, he's fouling at a lesser clip (5.69 fouls per 48 minutes, as opposed to his career average of 6.5.) As a result, he has also been able to play a career high in minutes per game (28.7.)
Perk is no longer just a big intimidator. He's a full-fledged enforcer. Now, he may be an enforcer that has yet to master the art of going right up with the ball off the catch, but he's an enforcer nonetheless.
We're all well-aware of Ray Allen's 07-08 struggles, caused by a less-than-100% ankle and a level of unfamiliarity and newness to Doc Rivers' offense. Ironically enough, those same issues triggered a slow start to Paul Pierce's 08-09 campaign.
As the Celtics got out on the run more often and Pierce found himself with less isolation touches, his scoring production struggled, subsequent to his shooting woes. As the year has gone on, the captain has found himself to be more comfortable on the court and his production has taken off. Through 16 games in November, Pierce shot just 38.4% from the field. In January, the opposition can't handle The Truth's 49.5% clip, to go along with a remarkable 45.3% three-point accuracy (on 4.9 attempts per game.)
Pierce is also rebounding at a higher clip than last year, and I’ll even go as far as saying that his defense has been overlooked to a degree due it now being expected of him.
Finally, we can't talk about Paul Pierce's first half without mentioning how unbelievable he has been in crunch time on many nights. Typical, I know, but it must be pointed out.
There are some guys that come into the NBA with that "what you see is what you get" aura, and a lot of them never lose it. Leon Powe looks to be one of those guys, and that's alright.
Unfortunately, Leon has been a bit underwhelming thus far, and he continues to struggle with the same issues: a low basketball IQ, relatively poor defensive rotations, and black holeness (not an official word, but it is now).
The man can take a charge and he certainly brings the muscle and hustle, but he has failed to meet expectations of many. He's not one I'd worry about, but he can produce better than what he has so far this season.
Gabe's role has increased this season, and he has shown flashes of potential on both ends of the floor. However, they are just that, flashes. Granted, he has not been given a role constant enough to bring along a more consistent level of play, but he has been as up-and-down as any other member of the Celtic bench.
A lot of it seems to have to do with his comfort level, as a guard with that kind of stroke should not be shooting just 32% from the floor. As you'd expect from a sophomore second-rounder, he simply has not found his niche just yet.
He's got the size, length, shooting stroke, and defensive potential needed to become a formidable combo guard at the NBA level, he's just not ready yet. Luckily, at age 22, time is on his side. For the time being, however, he's got a ways to go.
As Rondo goes, the Celtics go. You can't find a truer statement than that.
As previously touched upon, Doc Rivers has handed Rajon Rondo the reigns as this team's primary ball-handler, and it has worked out for the best this season. The Celtics now have a more consistent approach to the attack game, and Rondo's combination of speed, headiness, and floor vision has opened up a brand new dynamic to Boston's offense.
Additionally, Rondo has opened up his game from an individual standpoint, putting his talents on display for all to see. When Rondo pushes the ball on the break, it keeps the opposing defense on its heels, giving him the opportunity to attack the rim with his quickness. He forces defenses to collapse, creating on-the-fly opportunities for streaking teammates. When Rondo attacks seams in the halfcourt, he showcases his wonderful drive-and-kick game. If you decide to play up on him, "fah-get about it." No matter what the tempo of the game may be, Rondo is going to create something positive.
It's very rare that you can find a point guard that can score the ball at a 50% clip, establish himself as one of the league's top perimeter defenders, and dish eight assists and grab five rebounds per game. Furthermore, it's even more difficult to find that in a 22-year-old, who is establishing himself as a leader on a team highlighted by a trio of Hall of Fame-level players.
Now, he hasn't been perfect. He started the season relatively slow and indeed went through a rough holiday stretch with the rest of the club. His consistency can improve, especially with his jumper, that has made progress. Regardless, make no mistake about the fact that Rondo has been playing at an All-Star caliber level for the bulk of the season.
In previous years, the "Scal-A-Bree-Nee" chants have been nothing more or less than a gesture to mock the token, out-of-place, red-head when he steps on the court. This year, some of them have actually been warranted.
Scal is no hero, but the man deserves some due. When his name is called, he comes in and does what is asked of him. He plays hard, knocks down open shots, and you guessed it, brings the intangibles.
Whether he has been asked to play a small role off the bench or start at center in place of an injured Kendrick Perkins, he has done his job. It's easy, and sometimes fun, to poke fun at Scal for being Scal, but you've got to give number 44 credit for the solid basketball he played.
I hate to say I told you so, but I did.
Six games and 47 minutes of garbage time isn't enough to form a grade, but there is a lot to like about Billy Walker. Obviously, he possesses eye-popping athleticism and is on the highlight radar every second he is on the floor.
But there's a lot more to Walker than the occasional youtube-worthy dunk. He's got a terrific NBA body with ample strength, has shown flashes of being able to create offense for himself, and most importantly, he appears to have the drive to want to become a better basketball player. Only time will tell, but there's plenty of promise to look forward to in Bill Walker.