Many power forwards spend a good chunk of their careers making the case that they should never play center, but Kevin Garnett took the adjustment in stride despite his objections. He's not perfectly suited for the gig, but he's the center that the Boston Celtics have—and a damn good one.
In the 2012 playoffs, Garnett averaged a tremendous 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, and is likely to ride out that same productive momentum this season.
Garnett at center is simply what's best for the Celtics at this point, and quite possibly what's best for Garnett.
Stretching the limits
One of the clearest perks of having Garnett slotted at center is the way he directly challenges the mobility of his opponents. In addition to improving upon his previously underused post-up game late last season, Garnett still floated around the perimeter with regularity. He dragged rim-protecting shot blockers far away from their comfort zones, and challenged them to fight the temptation of attending to their basketball duty.
A team defense works best when the bigs are able to remain active in the middle of the floor, but Garnett is a reliable enough jump shooter to demand otherwise. Even pulling his man four or five feet away from the rim can do wonders for the flow of the offense; Rajon Rondo's work off the dribble is that much easier, Paul Pierce's drives are significantly less contested and the flurry of off-ball movement requires the opponent's perimeter defenders to lock and trail their assigned marks more relentlessly.
Simply having range changes an opponent's capacity for defense, and though Garnett's bolstered offensive production relied as much on low-post work as spot-up jumpers, it's the latter that elevates the Celtics' entire offense.
Defying age and expectation
Garnett should have taken a much sharper fall than he has; even the most optimistic projections likely didn't anticipate that KG would be capable of such incredible defense at this stage in his career, particularly when taking his recent injury history into account. Every minute that he props Boston up as the league's top defense is a remarkable feat, and his capacity for transformative defensive leadership has little to do with whether he plays power forward or center.
At either position, Garnett is rotating, contesting and pressuring the ball at an elite level. There are few in the business better than the 36-year-old stalwart on a contender that's past its prime, and that fact says far more about KG than it does about the rest of the NBA playing field. His work as a defensive anchor over the last five years has been unbelievable, but the fact that he remains so effective is his most impressive accomplishment yet.
Putting the best players on the floor
The decision to play Garnett at center in Boston isn't at all dissimilar from the decision to play Chris Bosh at center in Miami—both shifts allow the teams involved to put their best players on the floor.
Were Garnett still slotted at power forward, the Celtics would likely have needed to dedicate their summer to finding a well-fitting 5, or otherwise rely on Jason Collins and Fab Melo. Instead, Garnett alters his approach ever so slightly, and Brandon Bass—who really improved his overall defense last season for Boston—is able to assume a more regular role and more playing time overall.
Sometimes basketball is as simple as finding ways to get your best players on the floor, and Doc Rivers seems to seek out that income at whatever positional cost. So long as the five on the floor can produce and defend as a unit, everything else is irrelevant.
And so Garnett became a "center," at least inasmuch as he continued to play the same game he always played under a slightly different title. It's what the Celtics needed last season, and it's what they'll need again this year.
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