Boston Celtics: Weighing Pros and Cons of Having Kevin Garnett Play Center

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIJuly 24, 2012

Boston Celtics: Weighing Pros and Cons of Having Kevin Garnett Play Center

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    The 2011-2012 Boston Celtics went 22-12 following the all star break. The bulk of those wins featured Kevin Garnett, a man who had spent the majority of his 17-year career playing power forward. 

    The change was made for a number of reasons. The Celtics had injury issues that kept Jermaine O'Neal on the bench, Greg Steimsma was not good enough to log starters minutes, and Chris Wilcox, who may have eventually claimed the role, instead found himself missing most of the second half of the season due to a heart condition. 

    The Celtics played a lot better with Garnett at center, and now in the wake of an active offseason that saw Boston re-sign Garnett, but fail to acquire a starting center, the "Kevin Garnett at center" era will be continued next season. 

    Rarely in basketball, or life in general, does a decision come without both positive and negative consequences.

    Starting Kevin Garnett at center is no exception. What will the Celtics gain, and what do they potentially lose by placing KG in the middle?  

Pro: Garnett Was a Beast in the Playoffs

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    Of the NBA's final four teams, the Celtics, Thunder, Spurs, and Heat, only one player on those four teams averaged a double-double in points and rebounds for the 2012 postseason. 

    Kevin Garnett. 

    Garnett averaged 19.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 1.45 blocks per game, he did that while shooting 49.7 percent from the floor. 

    These are great numbers. In fact for a center in the modern NBA they're at or near the top of the heap. They wouldn't make Garnett the league's best center, but if those are your center's numbers, then you're probably okay at that position. 

    Garnett accomplished this while playing very good all around defense, and committing only three fouls per game. 

    The question is whether or not Garnett can be that guy for a whole season, or was that an aberration, which was a result of teams not being familiar with Garnett at center? Did Garnett take his game and effort to another level because it was the playoffs, or was this Garnett getting used to his team's new positional alignment and with that familiarity, success was inevitable?

    For now, Garnett's 2012 postseason numbers serve as reminder that "The Big Ticket" can without question compete at a high level as a center in the NBA.  

Con: Offensive Rebounding

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    Rebounding is an issue that impacts entire teams, the Celtics were the worst rebounding team in the NBA during the regular season last year.

    In the playoffs they ranked 13th out of 16 teams, but Boston was actually sixth in defensive rebounding, so we all know what that means.

    They stunk it up on the offensive boards.

    No question about it, the Celtics averaged a dead-last eight offensive rebounds per game last season in the playoffs. That's bad, until you realize it was actually an incremental improvement over the 7.7 per game the Celtics averaged during the regular season.

    There's a reason for those low numbers. The Celtics don't have any real low-post offensive threats. In order to get offensive rebounds consistently, a player really needs to be under the basket, and that's not where Kevin Garnett operates.

    Garnett has become a deadly mid-range jump shooter. That has plenty of advantages, but it kills Boston on the offensive glass. When your tallest player, who also happens to be fairly athletic, is 18 feet from the hoop setting up for a jump-shot, an offensive rebound is clearly not priority. 

    That's probably why Rajon Rondo, who doesn't operate under the basket, but is so quick, routinely beats his defender and penetrates to the basket, was the Celtics leading per-game offensive rebounder in the playoffs.

    Garnett isn't there, so he can't grab the rebound. That means that Garnett at center creates a serious issue for the Celtics when they're not hitting their shots, they won't get second chance points. Anyone who watched Boston labor on offense last season knows this is a problem.

    Moving Garnett to center permanently certainly is not a solution to this problem either.  

Pro: Garnett Is a Nightmare for Opposing Centers

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    When you play center in the NBA, you can generally expect to spend your games banging against other very large, physical players. You fight for rebounds, you box out, you try to not leave your feet and get whistled for fouls, all while contesting other center's low-post moves. 

    Sometimes a center might extend on defense to provide the element of surprise, especially against a tough opponent who plays shooting guard or small forward. 

    What centers don't expect is that they'll be forced to guard another player, one who is nearly as big as they are. Garnett is playing the same position, but he routinely dribbles the ball, up-fakes, and then takes, and makes, jump-shots from 12-18 feet away from the basket. 

    That's what Kevin Garnett does. While it clearly impacts the Celtics negatively with regards to offensive rebounding, it also can either bring a center further away from the basket than he feels comfortable, or create a defensive mismatch in the event that a smaller player is forced to guard Garnett. 

    That's not something opposing centers want to deal with on a regular basis. When they're playing the Boston Celtics with Garnett at starting center, they're going to have to be ready.

Con: No Low-Post Offense

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    Yes, Brandon Bass, who won't ever be confused with Kevin McHale, might be the best offensive option available for the Celtics in the low-post. 

    That's not anything to brag about.

    The Celtics have undertaken an effort to rectify this problem by drafting Jared Sullinger who scores almost exclusively from under the basket. The Celtics also drafted Fab Melo, a 7'1" center out of Syracuse, who is unlikely to have a major immediate impact but could become one of those centers who operates under the basket as he matures.

    Having a low-post scoring threat can come in real handy. Low-post scorers can draw fouls since they're taking shots from close proximity to the basket. Clearly the Celtics would benefit from these occurrences.  

    In the meantime, if you're a basketball fan who enjoys watching power forwards and centers deftly operate under the basket, with footwork, and a series of up-fakes, well, you might want to watch another team play basketball.   

Pro: Less Banging Down Low, Means a Healthier Garnett

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    As much as I wanted to avoid too much Dwight Howard talk, this actually is an aspect of Howard that is worth mentioning. 

    Physical, low-post play is rough on a player's body. It doesn't matter how physically fit one is, eventually the banging will catch up with you. 

    Look at Dwight Howard. Howard who is a true physical specimen is already dealing with back issues at the age of 26. He's far from the first big man to encounter problems. Kevin McHale's ankles and feet were chronic issues as his career moved into its latter years. 

    Andrew Bogut, the top pick of the 2005 NBA Draft has battled injuries for most of his career. 

    Garnett is already 36-years-old. In most cases moving a player to center would be an invitation for physical problems. In Garnett's case it won't have much of an impact at all.

    On offense he plays away from the basket, and on defense he isn't big enough to physically defend opposing big men, instead he relies on his foot work and speed. 

    It seems odd, but the move to center could ultimately result in Garnett playing at a high level for a longer portion of his three-year contract. 

Push: The Celtics Have a Hole at Power Forward

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    At the end of the day, if you're the Celtics, then Kevin Garnett at center is a better option than Chris Wilcox, or Fab Melo, or even the recently signed  Jason Collins.

    However, moving Garnett to center still doesn't absolve the Celtics of starting someone at power forward. That "someone" will probably be Brandon Bass.

    Brandon Bass is a nice player, but when stacked against the bulk of NBA power forwards, he doesn't look all that good.

    First of all, Bass doesn't really rebound. He averaged 6.2 rebounds per game last season. The Celtics don't need their power forward to be Kevin Love, but 6.2 rebounds per game won't cut it, not on a team that finished dead last in rebounding in the NBA last year.

    So the move of Garnett to center is as the expression goes, "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Sure Boston has a pretty good center, one far better than the team's other options, but now they're weaker than other teams at power forward. 

    Overall the move of Garnett to center is the right move, but there is a lot more to the team's overall successes or potential shortcomings than what position Kevin Garnett is playing.