Breaking Down Boston Celtics Ideal Starting Lineup
The Boston Celtics starting lineup has remained more or less intact for the past five years. This year, things will be different.
It was only natural that a team with so many free agents would go through a roster overhaul in the offseason. Still, Danny Ainge tried to keep the same crew who had just completed a trip to the conference finals together.
Of the starters to open the 2011-2012 season, only three remain in Boston. Those three will maintain their roles, but who will earn the final two spots?
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo
The Boston Celtics struck gold when they acquired the 21st pick of the 2006 NBA draft from Phoenix. The player the Suns had just drafted, Rajon Rondo would become the leader of the green team in just six seasons.
Rondo was the best player on the Celtics throughout the playoffs last season and has emerged as a top point guard in the NBA. With the specter of the Big Three now out of the way, it is time for him to fully develop into the leader that Paul Pierce once became.
He proved that his major flaw, scoring, is starting to subside in the postseason when he averaged more than 17 points per game. With this new starting lineup, he will need to translate that into the regular season as well.
Boston fans can be fiercely defensive of Rondo, but his maturity level will speak for itself. If the Celtics are to succeed in the coming years as much as the past five, he will be the prime reason.
Shooting Guard: Avery Bradley
I have thought long and hard about whether Boston should place Avery Bradley immediately into the starting lineup upon his return from injury.
While Courtney Lee will see the bulk of the minutes in this role to start the season, the Celtics must reinsert Bradley into the role whenever he comes back. Watching him run backdoor cuts to the basket and hassle every point guard in the NBA was one of the great joys of last season. Seeing he and Rajon Rondo manning the backcourt gave you a sense of what the future held.
Though Bradley's offense tapered in the postseason, he was white hot at the end of the regular season. The beauty of his game is that even when not scoring, he is bringing a lot to the table, something you can't say about a lot of players.
One spot that must improve is his outside shooting. Bradley will need to develop a consistent three-point shot, as that is something the Celtics starters will miss. It also happens to be a skill in which his two backups excel.
Believing that Rondo is going to start shouldering more of the scoring load, the Celtics will not need as much offense from the shooting guard position, freeing Bradley to do what he does best, defend.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce
Every NBA team should strive to find a player as resourceful, talented and fiercely loyal as Paul Pierce. The small forward has been the Celtics for a decade and a half, and last year became the second-leading scorer in franchise history.
As he continues to pass career milestones, the captain will remain in the starting lineup. The difference this year is that Boston has a much improved second unit. That will do wonders for the 34-year-old.
At his advanced age, it is still tough to argue against Pierce as a top-tier player. In 2011-2012 he was still able to average roughly a 20-5-5. There are not many players around who will give you that kind of production with the level of experience that he has.
While we haven't witnessed anything resembling resentment between he and Rajon Rondo, it is sure to poke its head up this season. The power and role of on-court team leader is transferring and it will be up to Pierce to make sure things go smoothly. He will still do all the inspirational commercials and pregame talks, but once the whistle blows, it is Rondo barking out orders.
How he handles the coming seasons relationship-wise will mean as much to this franchise as a whole, as that NBA finals MVP award in 2008.
One thing is for sure though, the Truth is not done.
Power Forward: Jared Sullinger
Something I have been harping on for the better part of the last year is that Brandon Bass is simply not a starter. He was not brought to Boston to be a starter, and should not be the starter this season.
I have immense respect for how he performed when pressed into the role following a rash of injuries, but do not see him as a long-term solution. After Jeff Green's last 18 months, I am also not comfortable handing him the reigns. Boston was the worst rebounding team in the NBA last season. Green only exacerbates that problem.
The long-term solution was drafted this summer with the No. 21 overall pick. Jared Sullinger should start at power forward for the Celtics. Outside of Kevin Garnett, he is the most talented big on the Celtics roster. It also helps that he plays like a big.
Unlike Green and Bass, Sullinger uses his size. His game revolves around his ability to create space in the paint. This grants the Celtics two things they missed last season, rebounding and interior scoring. Bass is a perimeter player who shoots elbow-jumpers, and Garnett is the same at this point. Sullinger is the best interior threat on the team, and needs a serious look here.
This is not without precedent. A lot of rookies from this deep draft will be starting this season. Look at what the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard last season, they had a need and filled it with a rookie.
If either Green or Bass left in free agency, this would not seem like so wild an idea, nor would it if Sullinger hadn't fallen in the draft due to a mirage back injury. High-lottery talent like this can start on NBA teams right away.
Center: Kevin Garnett
This is the spot in the Celtics puzzle that allows everything else to fit together. Kevin Garnett meshes with this unit perfectly.
He has instilled a work-ethic and ferocity in Rajon Rondo that has the two at the most confident point of their careers, despite age or experience. KG is also the perfect pick-and-pop partner for a penetrating guard like Rondo. He can sink that 18-footer with shocking regularity.
Garnett is also the determining factor in having Avery Bradley in the starting lineup. Countless times did the center have the ball, back to the basket and flip a backdoor pass to a slashing Bradley for a layup. The respect Garnett requires far from the basket frees up Bradley's best offensive weapon, his quickness, to sprint into the paint.
It is a tough thing to do, to impress a player who has seen as much as Garnett, but Paul Pierce has enamored the 17-year veteran. Hearing him talk about "Truth," it is easy to see the respect he holds for the player.
A reason Garnett is better off at center is because his perimeter shooting is so good that less-athletic bigs must chase him around. Spotting up for 18-footers opens up the interior for the play of Jared Sullinger. Garnett's work with young big men is also well-documented and there is no reason he won't take this one under his wing as well.
Overall, Garnett is the defensive leader and backbone of the Boston Celtics. As both the starting center and as Kevin Garnett, he deserves that respect.