Boston Celtics: 3 Ways KG and the Truth Will Guide the C's into the Playoffs
That's because the Green have reloaded after a tough Game 7 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat, and they now look as talented and deep as any Celtics team since 2008-09 (except maybe the 2010 team that came within four points of a championship).
They've added youth and athleticism to their bench. They've added scoring and depth in the backcourt. They may even enjoy some addition by subtraction from the departure of the set-slowing SG Ray Allen, who relied too heavily on screens and left the offense stagnant.
They've still got PG Rajon Rondo, one of the best floor generals in the league.
With KG and Pierce rested after last season's run (and Pierce's sprained MCL fully healed), the Celtics are poised to make a run at one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Let's take a look at how KG, Pierce, and the Cs look heading into next season.
1. They'll Anchor a Strong Bench
That's the Celtics' projected second unit once starting wing Avery Bradley returns from shoulder surgery. It's a good second unit, too.
In fact, it's not a stretch to say the Celtics have one of the deepest benches in the league.
Terry is a former Sixth Man of the Year who provides instant offense off the bench (something the C's sorely lacked last year) and has the ball-handling know how and veteran defensive presence to play PG or SG.
Courtney Lee is a 26-year-old lockdown wing defender who shot 40 percent from beyond the arc last season and is a strong slasher to the hoop.
Jeff Green, who re-signed with the Celtics after missing all of last season with a heart ailment, is a wild card who struggled in his short stint with the C's. Still, he's got freakish athleticism, can run with Rondo, and plays strong defense at either forward spot.
Rookie Jared Sullinger (and his counterpart first-rounder from this year's draft, Fab Melo) might be the guy who can learn the most from KG. Garnett is the master of help-defense and rotations, and remains one of the top defenders in the league.
He should be able to help "Sully" pick up Coach Doc Rivers' complex defense fast enough that the young forward can be a big part of the rotation.
Wilcox is a solid center who played well with Rondo before going down with a heart ailment last season. He'll be able to spell KG at the 5 for decent minutes.
With all this bench firepower, the Celtics should be able to keep KG and Pierce fresh for the playoff run.
Preventing either of them from breaking down is key to the Celtics' championship aspirations.
2. They Preach Defense
The Celtics were second in the league in points allowed last season (behind the first-seeded Chicago Bulls), yielding just 89.3 points a game.
A big part of that defensive success stemmed from the effort and philosophy demonstrated by team leaders KG and Pierce.
Garnett, who is tied for the most NBA All-Defensive first-team selections with nine, is infectious. When he first arrived in 2007 as a member of the new Big Three, his two counterparts (Ray Allen and Pierce) weren't known as strong defensive players.
In their time with Garnett, their reputations and performance as defenders grew tremendously: especially Pierce's, who became a defensive stopper against some of the best wings in the league.
With KG and Pierce, the two centerpieces of the C's defense, still on the team, it looks like another solid defensive year awaits the Celtics.
That's without considering the additions of strong defenders in Terry, Lee, and Green and the departure of Allen (whose bad ankles made him a liability last season).
If they can get young stopper Avery Bradley healthy, the C's will be a tough team to score on next season.
3. They Can Handle the Scoring Load
Though everyone expected the Celtics' Big Three to be an unstoppable force of offensive firepower, that really wasn't the case.
In fact, in the Big Three era, the Celtics were never an elite offensive team.
The C's, who hang their hat on defense, haven't been a top-10 scoring team since they acquired KG and Allen. They bottomed out last year on offense, scoring only a paltry 91.8 points per game, good for 26th in the league.
Part of their issue has been rebounding on the offensive glass, which was historically bad last season, when they were dead last in offensive rebounding with 509, 131 fewer than the second-to-last-ranked Warriors.
While that's part of Doc Rivers' scheme (he emphasizes transition defense over aggressive offensive rebounding), it has led to very few possessions per game, and thus lower scoring.
They also wasted too many possessions last season running sets for Ray Allen. Allen can no longer create his own shot (something he was never great at) and instead requires multiple screens to free him for a look at the basket.
Thus, the Celtics would run plays where Rondo would hold the ball at the top of the key, waiting for Allen to fight through picks to get open. If it didn't work out, Rondo would simply have to ad-lib with only a few seconds on the shot clock.
While the C's would have loved to have had Allen back off the bench (he departed for a bigger role with the rival Miami Heat this offseason), it may just be a blessing in disguise that he departed.
The team is now Rondo's to run, and it's his responsibility to get Pierce and KG the looks they need to score. KG thrives facing the basket, as his elbow jumper is one of the silkiest in the league.
Pierce needs the ball in his hands more often, and while isolation plays aren't necessarily the answer, with Allen gone the "Truth" will need to be even more aggressive on offense.
Thankfully for the C's, they've finally got a bench that can score when the starters are out.
But even with their depth and talent, Boston will need its two future Hall of Famers playing at their best if they hope to make a deep playoff run next season.