Can Kevin Garnett Thrive at Center for a Full 82-Game Schedule?
The Boston Celtics did a nice job addressing several of the team's deficiencies this summer.
There is, however, one key question facing the Celtics as the summer begins to wind down, and the 2012-2013 NBA season appears on the horizon.
Kevin Garnett, who played so marvelously at the center position late in the regular season, and then all through the playoffs, is now faced with the task of playing that position for a full 82-game regular season schedule.
Can he handle it?
Mentally, there's no question he can get the job done. Garnett has always been a warrior. He's played small forward, power forward and now he will be a center. He's excelled throughout his career.
Garnett's heart has never been questioned, and he will show up and work as hard as he can to excel at the center position.
Will his body be able to handle the physical wear-and-tear, though?
Regardless of how mentally tough Garnett is, he's also a 36-year-old player entering his 18th NBA season. He's played in over 1,200 regular season games, and he's never been a player who has not played hard.
At some point, inevitably, his body will start to break down. It hasn't happened yet. Garnett has endured some injuries, and he doesn't have the same sort of explosive leaping ability he had when he was a younger player.
He's still 6'11" with long arms, and he's not as skinny as he was when he was younger. Garnett has filled out. His shoulders are broad, his arms are wiry and muscular. He is not a muscle-bound player, but he's no wimp.
It is also important to keep in mind that the modern NBA is not overflowing with future Hall of Fame centers.
When Garnett entered the NBA in 1995, the league was stocked with guys like Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. Tim Duncan would enter the league two years later and Rik Smits was playing solid center in Indiana as well.
No matter how highly one thinks of Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, the league is no longer a who's who of great big men.
For that reason, Garnett's move to center may is not just be a positional shift that fills a need for the Celtics, it may end up benefiting Garnett as well.
He's not going to be banging with Hall of Fame caliber centers all night, and his offensive game is not that of a typical center. Garnett takes a lot of outside shots, not three-pointers, but 12-18 foot jumpers.
That means that on offense Garnett won't endure the same sort of physical pounding other centers take as they try to gain position under the basket and fight for offensive rebounds, or try to throw down dunks.
The lack of offensive rebounding will be a challenge for the Celtics, as a team to overcome. Garnett's propensity to take outside shots means he is not well-positioned to grab offensive rebounds.
Of course for Garnett, this means a lot less physical pounding. Garnett is shying away from tough, physical play. It is just a product of Garnett's offensive game, which is at its best when he's shooting mid-range jumpers.
Defensively, Garnett will still have to endure a lot of tough physical play. He seemed more than up for the challenge in the playoffs last season, when he averaged 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds while playing 36.9 minutes a game.
So now he will do that for a year, a full season, and it will probably work. The biggest issues with the move have more to do with how Garnett at center might make offensive rebounding a major problem for the Celtics.
Garnett, however, will be fine. He's playing a position where the physical punishment is typically endured on both offense and defense, but Garnett's game means he only will deal with about half of that punishment.
The ultimate question is not one of whether or not Garnett can endure an 82-game season as the Celtics starting center, but can the Celtics play the whole season with a very talented, but somewhat unconventional man in the middle.
If last season's playoffs are any sort of accurate indicator, then the Boston Celtics are in for a successful season.
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