Predicting the Boston Celtics' Biggest Surprises and Breakout Players
If you think the Boston Celtics' offseason was full of surprises, just wait until the regular season begins.
The new-look Celtics are full of depth and talent, which will ultimately lead to breakout players at multiple positions. In previous seasons, the Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) and Rajon Rondo would play about almost 40 minutes per game. Now the Celtics are moving away from the Big Three and focusing on being deep overall.
New additions like Jason Terry will bring new excitement to Boston, as well as spark much-needed offense from the bench. Seasoned Celtics like Kevin Garnett are still improving and finding new ways to better their game.
Celtics fans have a lot to look forward to in the 2012-13 season, both from individual players and the team as a whole.
NBA teams were afraid to take a chance on Jared Sullinger due to health concerns. The former Ohio State big man was medically flagged by some NBA doctors who advised their teams that back problems could shorten Sullinger's pro career.
Thankfully, the Celtics took a chance on Sullinger, and it seems to be paying off. The rookie is arguably the biggest steal of the 2012 NBA draft, and played excellent basketball during the Las Vegas Summer League. He contributed 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while averaging about 28 minutes on the floor.
If the Summer League stats are any indication of what's to come, Sullinger will have a breakout season with the C's. Sullinger averaged a double-double during his freshman year at Ohio State and came very close to repeating the accomplishment his sophomore year. While it will take some time for him to put up those numbers in the NBA, he will still have a huge impact of the team.
The Celtics were terrible at rebounding last year. They finished last in the NBA with 38.8 rebounds a game. Sullinger has the ability to rebound effectively, so he should receive a fair amount of playing time. As long as he stays healthy and proves the NBA doctors wrong, Sullinger will have a fantastic rookie season.
Regular Season Sweep of Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets are the talk of the Atlantic Division. Between their new home and bold offseason moves, the spotlight will be on the Nets this year. However, the Celtics will sweep them in the regular season.
The Celtics and Nets will meet four times during the 2012-13 season: on November 15, November 28, December 25, and April 10. Although the Nets made significant strides during this summer's free agency season, the Celtics are still the better team.
Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams are both top point guards in the NBA. The matchup will be close, but Rondo has a slight edge over Williams because of his supporting cast. The Celtics will expose Brooklyn's front court. Although Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries are talented scorers and rebounders, they are no match for Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass in the paint.
In addition, the first three meetings are during the first half of the season. Brooklyn's new teammates will need time to gel and build chemistry, while the Celtics are mostly the same team with a few exceptions.
Jason Terry Wins Sixth Man of the Year
Jason Terry was the Celtics' most exciting acquisition of the offseason. He was brought to the team to boost scoring off the bench, but also has the potential to win his second NBA Sixth Man Award.
Terry relishes the sixth man role, and that is where he performs best. While some players would rather stay in the spotlight as starters, Terry prefers to carve out his niche as one of the most productive bench players in the league. Furthermore, consistency is synonymous with Terry's name—he's averaged at least 15 points per game in each of his last seven seasons.
One of Boston's biggest weaknesses last season was the poor production from the bench. Terry will be the leader of a new and improved Celtics second string. Along with his consistent offense, Terry also brings along a tough defensive mindset that fits well with his new team.
Terry came in third place last year for the coveted NBA Sixth Man Award, finishing behind James Harden and Lou Williams. He averaged 15.1 points and 3.6 assists last season with the Dallas Mavericks. With the same level of production next year for the Celtics, a 2013 NBA Sixth Man Award for Terry seems likely.
Jeff Green just might be the savior the Celtics are looking for to lift them to the top of the Eastern Conference.
When Green joined the Celtics after the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him for Kendrick Perkins, he wasn't too impressive. Then again, it is difficult to adjust to a new system and role that late in the season. Green missed the entire 2011-12 season after he underwent surgery for an aortic aneurysm, so this will be Boston's first real taste of what he has to offer.
During his last year in Oklahoma City, Green averaged 15.2 points in 37 minutes per game.
Even though Green will be another offensive option, his most important contributions will be on the defensive end. Paul Pierce usually guards the stronger power forwards, but Green is capable of taking some of the pressure off him. He can play tough perimeter defense and closely guard the opposing team's best player.
Green will return to the Celtics both healthy and hungry. Not only does his game fit with Doc Rivers' system, but Boston needed a young player with tough defense and solid scoring.
Kevin Garnett is the backbone of this Celtics team. The outcome of the 2012-13 season will be determined by whether KG can still compete at a championship-caliber level.
Garnett seemed to be rejuvenated after taking over the starting center position mid-season last year. He was one of the most valuable players of the postseason, averaging 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Despite brief retirement talks, Garnett decided to return to Boston for another round and he's poised to have his best season since the 2007-08 championship year. Some might think the veteran is too old to compete with younger centers like Brook Lopez or Andrew Bynum, but Garnett is powerful in his own right.
Garnett can do virtually everything on the basketball court, from posting up and shooting to defending and grabbing boards. Thanks to Fab Melo and a healthy Jason Collins, Garnett will have more chances to rest his legs so he can be more productive overall.
Don't be surprised if KG has the biggest impact in Boston this season.
Rondo Develops a Jump Shot
The one blatant weakness in Rajon Rondo's game is his poor shooting. Rondo's career shooting percentage is 48.1 percent, but that number can be misleading, especially considering that a majority of the made shots were within five feet of the basket.
However, this will be the year Rondo develops a jump shot and silences his haters. When Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were hurting last season, the point guard was forced to take more of a scorer's approach. With the addition of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, the Celtics won't have to depend on Rondo to score, but he will be a more aggressive shooter.
If the playoffs were any indicator of what's in store for this season, Rondo's jump shot has significantly improved. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, Rondo made 11-of-13 shots from outside the paint.
The mid-range jumper is important for Rondo to develop because he's a poor free-throw shooter. When your point guard shoots a career 62 percent from the free-throw line, it doesn't make sense for him to constantly get fouled while driving for a layups.
Rondo will continue to work on his jump shot and surprise many people with a consistent mid-range jumper next year.
Avery Bradley Shuts Down Ray Allen
Ray Allen's departure from the Celtics to the rival Miami Heat didn't sit well with many Boston fans. When Allen returns to TD Garden is late January to face his former team, Avery Bradley should be healthy and be the starting shooting guard.
Although Allen will most likely come off the bench, expect to hear boos when he enters the game. That's not surprising. However, you should also expect to see Bradley playing Allen close on the perimeter, virtually shutting him down when he touches the ball.
Bradley is a tough perimeter defender with a decent jump shot. According to an interview with ESPNBoston.com, Allen helped Bradley work on his game every day to master the two-guard position. Bradley eventually beat out Allen for his starting role on the team, and Allen went on to join the Heat.
When Bradley faces off against Allen in Boston, it will be a case of the student beating the teacher. His athleticism and knockdown defense will prove to be too much for the aging veteran.
Even though Bradley and Allen probably won't put too much thought into the matchup, Celtics fans will be thrilled to see the showdown between the budding star and "Judas Shuttlesworth."