For all the new faces and personnel improvements the Boston Celtics have made, their increased success will be the virtue of individual improvements.
From one to 15, each member of the Celtics must focus on an aspect of their game to improve early on. Training camp will be here before we know it and the time will come for this work to be done.
There is an important role for everyone on the team—from the starters on down to the garbage unit. The key to their season will be improving a singular part of their game individually, so that the team can improve as a group.
If all 15 players improve enough to help the team elevate as a whole, then Boston has a much better chance of advancing deep into the NBA playoffs.
Something you will almost never hear Rajon Rondo called out on is a lack of confidence. After his numerous proclamations declaring himself the NBA's top point guard, it seems he is overflowing with it.
However, for a point guard with his penetration potential, Rondo has averaged under three free throws per game in his career. Now, his struggles at the line have been well publicized, as he just failed to breach 60 percent for the second straight season.
What this has seemingly led to is Rondo avoiding the contact required when driving to the basket. It isn't that he is refusing to penetrate, but rather he is penetrating and kicking too often. If Rondo can improve the simple aspect of shooting free throws, it will do a lot more to the Celtics offense.
This will in turn grant him the confidence to get to the line more often. By virtue of this, costly turnovers can be avoided, since Rondo won't need to frantically pass out of the paint as often. This pads both Rondo's point totals and more importantly, the Celtics.
With the addition of Courtney Lee and the emergence of Avery Bradley as Rajon Rondo's sidekick, there is a need for a backup combo-guard. Jason Terry will need to improve his ability to run the point on the second unit.
What Terry does well, long-range shooting, is definitely important to the Celtics. They will miss Ray Allen's perimeter game. However, while he is doing a suitable job filling that role, Terry is needed elsewhere.
When Rondo needs a breather, Terry will be responsible for making sure the second unit doesn't skip a beat. His veteran leadership and experience will already make him the de facto leader, it would only be natural for him to control the offense from the point guard position.
Terry has some experience running the point, and has averaged nearly five assists per game throughout his career. From here it will just be learning the Celtics offense, and blending with his new teammates.
Keyon Dooling's needed improvement will not come on the court. He worked to find himself a role last season and may be able to do the same this year. He really made an impact after Avery Bradley's injury with some big shots in the postseason.
This season, Dooling will see very light work barring more injuries. What he must do is create chemistry. Last season, Dooling proved to have a knack for bringing his teammates together. He was able to keep everyone—from the stars to the end of the bench—involved by cheering for each other from the bench and creating the Celtics signature cheer.
With a lot of new faces on the bench, Dooling will have his hands full with creating some instant chemistry among his teammates.
On top of improving his all-around offensive game, Avery Bradley must develop a consistent shot. Right now virtually all of his offense comes from backdoor cuts and corner threes.
He needs to improve his shot, and more specifically find a go-to spot on the floor. This would preferably be a mid-range jumper. Players with his speed are deadly when they can sink 12- to 16-foot jump shots, (think Rip Hamilton). With Rajon Rondo's shaky shooting game playing alongside him, Bradley needs to develop into an offensive weapon.
The rest of the starting unit has a signature shot, or a go-to move. Bradley needs to find his. Defenses will no longer be sleeping on his off-ball cutting abilities and will be able to take that away. A mid-range game is paramount to Bradley's development.
Having a starting backcourt in which neither player's shooting game must be accounted for can be a nightmare for the rest of the offense. It worked for a portion of last season, but for Bradley to sustain success as the team's first shooting guard, he must be able to shoot.
Courtney Lee is a pretty solid all-around player. He can shoot long-range, drive and play defense, all at a reasonable level. What he must improve upon is his situational game.
Right now, Lee's role is somewhat of a mystery once Avery Bradley returns. He will need to define his role himself, dictating his play as such. By situational game, I mean to say that for Lee, there may not be eight to 10 shots per game available. He will have to make the five or six he gets count.
Because he is so talented all-around, it will be up to him to choose a particular specialty. He could be a dominant and physical guard off the bench. His size is something that is attractive for the Celtics, with both Bradley and Jason Terry being smaller shooting guards.
He could also become a type of high flying athlete Boston did not have last season. The Celtics have a fairly slow second unit with Terry, Jared Sullinger and maybe Jason Collins. Lee can come off the bench to give them points in a hurry.
No matter his role, he will have to improve upon his situational game, because I doubt there will be 30 minutes a night for him.
Dionte Christmas was impressive in both Summer Leagues for the Celtics. However, he still has a long way to go to see some court time in Boston.
Training camp will mean more to Christmas than maybe any other invitee. He has spent the summer working on becoming an all-around threat. After being mostly just a scorer in college, he showed a lot of that well-rounded work in Orlando and Las Vegas.
That was enough to get him the invite to camp and the partially guaranteed contract. Now Christmas must make an impact in a different way. His intensity can never waiver. He needs to prove to the Celtics that they need him. His size and versatility to play some small forward is something the Celtics could use.
He will be put through the ringer by some of the veterans at camp, but if he has improved his all-around game enough, the effort will push him over the edge.
It is tough to say that Paul Pierce has much to improve on. After 14 seasons of excellent play in Boston, Pierce is hardly coasting into his twilight.
He started 61 games last season and played 34 minutes a night. This brought his career games total to 1,155. If there is one thing Pierce must do this coming season to improve, it is take care of himself. That may mean playing in less than 92 percent of the regular season games, which he did last season. It may also mean dropping those 34 minutes per game down to 30 or less.
As difficult as it is to admit, Pierce hurt the Celtics in the postseason a fair amount last year—specially as the playoffs wore on and his knee continued acting up. Extra rest could go a long way in keeping Pierce fresh for the postseason.
This responsibility is going to fall on himself though, it will be up to him alone to pull himself out of some games if Doc Rivers is tentative to do so.
The biggest thing for Jeff Green next season is to just get comfortable. He spent half a season with the Celtics struggling to find a role and fit in.
In 26 games with Boston, Green was never fully able to regain the game he played in Oklahoma City. He was able to do even less once the Celtics got into the postseason. After that, he was forced to miss an entire season recovering and rehabbing from heart surgery.
One could say he needs to improve his rebounding, defense or any variety of other aspects. In reality though, this will all come with comfort. The Celtics are no longer an extremely veteran team. They have a nice mixture of new and old, making it easier for the new to fit in.
Green has some time with the franchise under his belt now. Once that comfort level clicks, he will once again be able to do everything he did for the Thunder.
Kris Joseph needs to identify a need on the Celtics and go after it. That need is a small forward who can rebound. Neither Jeff Green nor Paul Pierce are going to turn heads with their rebounding, so there might be sliver of an opening for Joseph to contribute to this team.
Joseph has good size for an NBA small forward, standing a 6'7" and 210 pounds. He is athletic, and must use his athleticism to beat out similar players in training camp.
If Joseph is able to add more than just average scoring and defense to the Celtics brass, he may carve out a spot. As a second-round pick, his journey to even make the team is going to be difficult, and rebounding may be his best chance.
Brandon Bass must continue along the path he was following towards the end of last season. He has to make more improvements to his defense.
When he first came over to the Celtics, Bass was an average role player with a decent jump shot. In just one year in Boston, he developed into the starting power forward of a team that came within one win of the NBA finals. A huge portion of that was his vastly improving defense.
Prior to his Boston arrival, Bass didn't play a whole lot of defense, as it wasn't as big of a priority in Orlando or Dallas.
He has learned so much from working with Kevin Garnett and the Celtics staff, but he must continue that growth. He is still a big weak link on the defensive end. For the Celtics to be all they can be on that side of the game, they need their power forward to play a big role.
Unlike last season, Bass will have someone pushing him for his job. Both Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green are going to be looking for minutes at power forward. To keep the edge, it will be all about defense.
For Jared Sullinger, it will be all about interior scoring. He has a body and style of game that the Celtics needed last season.
He made a name for himself in college with his post work, rebounding and scoring. In the NBA the defenders will be bigger, more athletic and more talented than anyone he faced at Ohio State.
The hope is that he can develop some go-to post moves early on. Nothing super fancy is necessary, as his body takes care of half the battle in the paint. He just needs a stable repertoire of a few basic moves.
This improvement gives Boston a whole new dimension to their offense. Largely a perimeter team last season, Sullinger can help the Celtics balance. If he can improve his inside game to match up with the tougher defenders, then everything about the offense changes. Lanes open up, there is a new pick-and-roll game and there are clearer shots from the perimeter.
Sullinger's improved work in the paint can benefit the Celtics hugely.
Chris Wilcox needs to improve on what he gave the Celtics last season. He was an athletic big man who still had the legs to run the court with Rajon Rondo. This led to numerous fast break opportunities.
To improve upon this game, Wilcox needs to up his consistency. The worry is that after having season-ending heart surgery, a lot of his athleticism will be sapped. Wilcox hasn't played the game in a while and went through a lot the past eight months. There is no way of knowing if his body, now 30 years old, can hold up.
When healthy, Wilcox played an integral role with Boston. One that the team was unable to replicate after his injury. Ryan Hollins and Greg Stiemsma attempted to fill to hole, but neither possessed the skill set of Wilcox.
His return is actually a very important part of the upcoming season, and any improvement he can make only adds to that.
Much like Paul Pierce, there isn't a whole lot Kevin Garnett can improve upon at this stage of his career. He has played in 1,380 career NBA games, and was recently pondering retirement.
Despite what he did in last season's playoffs, he can't be counted on to remain that healthy again. Like Pierce, Garnett will need to temper his minutes and games this season in order to be ready to go, come the postseason.
The Celtics have done a solid job bolstering the frontcourt through the draft and free agency. This will enable Garnett to have more leeway with himself. The improvement is that he has to make this decision. Doc Rivers can only do so much with the 37-year-old's minutes.
Garnett has to prove that he can be mature enough to take himself out of games for the good of the team in the long run.
Jason Collins needs to improve his stamina. There are a whole lot of ifs and unknowns in the frontcourt for Boston this season. Collins is one of the only sure-things.
Even though that "sure-thing" doesn't look like much, Collins is going to be responsible for doing some dirty work. Collins is actually the most legitimate center the Celtics have on the roster. Both Garnett and Wilcox are power forwards who play center, so outside of Fab Melo, Collins is the one with the body necessary to punish people down low.
What he needs to improve is his stamina. He has been brought in to replace two young and energetic big men in Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins. However, Collins has a different style. He can be a veteran banger, something else Boston has lacked recently.
Fab Melo's biggest strength is his shot-blocking, and it is that upon which he must improve.
Yes, Melo could stand to improve across the board, but it is his shot-blocking that will help him make this team. There is a niche on NBA teams that a player can fill if they prove to have one great skill. Luckily for Melo, the Celtics just lost their best shot-blocker, Greg Stiemsma, to free agency.
That means there is a spot on this team for Melo to win. However, the players he will be defending in the NBA are faster, bigger and stronger than those he punished in college. This is where Melo must start his improvement.
Even if he can do little else, if Melo is protecting the rim better than anyone on the team in training camp, there might be cause to keep him out of the Developmental League.