No team redirected their fate more than Boston, who at one point was 15-17.
A loss to Oklahoma City marked the beginning of Garnett's center play, as Boston rattled off a 24-11 record to close out the regular season. During that stretch, Garnett posted 18 points and nine rebounds per game.
Garnett's ability to exploit his matchups at his new position was paramount to the Celtics' late season success. It also had an enormous effect on the postseason run Boston put together, and Garnett's numbers increased in the playoffs to 19 points and ten rebounds per night.
Garnett, at full strength, is still an integral part of the Celtics scheme. His move to center opens up that power forward spot for a variety of different looks. Brandon Bass will probably start, but behind him waits rookie Jared Sullinger or, perhaps, Jeff Green. This wealth of choices is a direct result of what Garnett can do in the middle.
If Garnett can continue to exploit his matchups as he did last season, then the Celtics are a very dangerous team. An average Garnett makes for an average Celtics but a dominant Garnett puts the whole league on notice.
Pouring over the schedule, the Celtics play ten different teams four times a piece. Four of those teams are obviously their Atlantic Division foes. Last season, Garnett played very well against in-division competition, including five double-doubles in the semifinal series against Philadelphia.
Also of note, three of the teams Boston plays the most are teams they squared off against in the 2012 postseason. Garnett was able to exploit Atlanta, Philadelphia and Miami for big stretches and will have plenty of opportunity to continue that trend.
Other teams Boston will be seeing a lot of include the less-than-threatening Charlotte Bobcats, Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics will be facing each of these squads four times in 2012-13. These are all teams Garnett can handle easily.
It won't all be so easy for the Celtics big man though, as the rest of the Eastern Conference, and more specifically, the Atlantic Division has improved.
Beyond just the simple scheduling, there are still many aspects with which Kevin Garnett can exploit players and teams this season. Garnett will be whoever he is needed to be that particular night. This is the general advantage that he can employ over some of the other talented big men in the NBA.
For starters, there are few in the league who can outsmart him, which gives him an automatic advantage over his opponent. He can locate a weakness and attack it as well as anyone. Once Garnett has you on your heels or gets in your head, the result of the matchup has already been decided.
Looking down the list of centers in the Eastern Conference right now shows a whole lot of youth. Garnett's guile is what helps him exploit the majority of these players. Whether it be Brook Lopez, Jonas Valanciunas or Al Horford, Garnett's experience grants him a much more diverse way of looking at a play.
His defense is going to be front and center against virtually everyone. However, what is commonly meant by defense does not begin to describe what Garnett can do to an individual player.
True, Garnett's defense isn't that of LeBron James or Tony Allen; one-on-one he isn't what he used to be. Still, his defense remains elite because of craftiness, timing and communication. Garnett's experience on the defensive end shows through in his ability to make other defenders better. Like a point guard on defense, other players listen and lean on him during their assignments.
An opposing team's offensive center doesn't go into a game against the Celtics matched up against only Kevin Garnett. No, in reality, you are matched up against 17 years of NBA experience and a truly great team defense. While this is generally expected of Garnett nowadays it still is a major avenue to exploit.
Offensively, Garnett’s wealth of experience comes in to play as well. He may be even more of a mixed bag of tricks than he was at his athletic peak. There are so many ways he can beat a defender based on that player's strengths and weaknesses.
With two games against Dwight Howard and four more a piece where he'll have Tyson Chandler and Andrew Bynum guarding him, Garnett is going to utilize his range. His no-doubt 18-footers draw interior centers like these outside, opening up cutting lanes for his guards.
When matching up with smaller or less bulky centers, Garnett uses his 6'11", 250-pound frame to clear space for himself inside. This is what we saw throughout last postseason, as Garnett physically dominated Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand and took care of Atlanta and Miami's backups with a limited Al Horford and Chris Bosh.
However, this is where Garnett surprised me most.
In recent years, he has favored his perimeter game to a point where I wasn't sure he still had that gritty interior game in him. There were numerous times in 2011-12 and in the playoffs where Garnett simply owned the painted area on offense, using his size like he used to as a younger player.
This is such an important dimension for him, especially at the center position.
Center has not been very competitive in the Eastern Conference. Up until very recently, the list of quality centers in that half of the league ended after one man, Dwight Howard. Now with the Knicks bringing in Chandler, Philadelphia trading for Bynum, and the development of some talented young bigs, there is a lot of competition at the pivot position.
We as NBA fans know by now there is no one who loves competition more than Garnett. It is why he signed his new contract and why, after being called out by any of numerous opponents, owners and media members, he shows up with extra intensity.
Four games against Brook Lopez, three more against Roy Hibbert and another four against Joakim Noah are going to bring out the best in Garnett. Anytime he has a little bit of extra motivation, someone is getting exploited.
Garnett isn't what you would call a popular player among his NBA contemporaries, but this makes him uniquely qualified to showcase the true meaning of the verb "exploit."
To exploit someone is to ruthlessly target their weaknesses and combine that with whatever talents you have to not only defeat them, but to make them look bad in the process.
A lot of NBA bigs can beat other players. Kevin Garnett does more than that, he exploits them.
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