Why the Boston Celtics Have the Most Dynamic Bench in the NBA

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Why the Boston Celtics Have the Most Dynamic Bench in the NBA
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In their 2011-12 finale, the Boston Celtics looked tired. If shocking the world and walking out of American Airlines Arena with their mouths shaped in a row of smiles was ever going to happen, a serious pinch of skill, talent and effort would be needed from the entire roster for 48 minutes.

Instead, as we now know, the Celtics didn’t receive anything from anyone. The starters were hurting and exhausted, and the opposition was too monstrous of a foe. But almost as notable, and widely less remembered than both of those facts is what happened with the Celtics bench; a group that combined to score a grand total of two points in those 48 deciding minutes.

The Celtics had a bad pool of reserves, filled with players who simply shouldn’t be competing for major minutes in a modern day Eastern Conference Finals: Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic, and Greg Stiemsma all had their reasons for being in the league, but as was appropriately decided by Danny Ainge this summer, none (sans Stiemsma, who had greater value helping Kevin Love protect the rim in Minnesota) had any rational reason for rejoining a Celtics team in dire need of an upgrade. 

Of those five players, Hollins (in my opinion, one of the worst back up centers in NBA history) is the only one playing for a hopeful contender, hoping to duplicate last year’s Kenyon Martin/Reggie Evans role with the Clippers; Pietrus couldn’t find a team; Dooling retired; Daniels signed for the league minimum in Milwaukee, the league’s closest thing to cursed wilderness; and the old college roomies, Johnson and Moore (along with Pavlovic, who does not have a Bachelor's degree) were shuttled away as pieces of the deal that brought in Courtney Lee.

It was, in hindsight, a pile of decomposed zombie flesh. A band of men whose collective ceiling might have been 15 minutes of fame during an otherwise forgettable regular season sequence.

Fast forward through the months of July, August and September, and Boston’s bench looks a tad preferable. Let’s take a look at all the additions, and how each should be able to help the Celtics raise an 18th banner.

 

Courtney Lee

He’s a starter right now, but given the success and natural chemistry Avery Bradley had last season playing with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (in the 250 minutes those four shared the court, Boston scored 109.1 points per 100 possessions, and gave up 89.4 points per 100 possessions—numbers that indicate the coming of a modern day juggernaut) it’s fair to assume Lee will be placed on the bench at some point this season.

He’s a tenacious on and off-ball defender, and his ability to knock down the three-ball fits in perfectly with the identity Boston’s fought so hard to create these last five years. Here's how he shot the ball in the opening game of this season:

 

Jason Terry

Just two years removed from one of the most assured postseason performances I’ve ever seen, Terry brings as much locker room confidence and experience to the Celtics as he does consistent play-making ability off a high screen. 

 

Jared Sullinger

Having a first round pick, especially one selected in the early 20s, contribute for a contender in his rookie season is both rare and valuable. If Sullinger can have an impact on the offensive glass, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will be having his cake and eating it too.

 

Jeff Green

He’s the X-factor. Heading into the 2012-13 season, Green faces an uphill battle against negative perception brought on by his questionable contract (we’re still not sure anybody else would’ve paid him that much money), but if he’s able to stretch the floor, run the floor with Rondo and allow Doc Rivers to utilize a plethora of versatile five-man units, then that money is contextually validated.

 

Darko Milicic/Jared Collins/Chris Wilcox

A trio of Kevin Garnett’s personal replacements, Wilcox stood on the roster last season but was waived before the playoffs due to a heart ailment. Milicic and Collins are brand new additions. Each will have his highs and lows during the season (just like every other player in the league, I suppose), and none are of any use against Miami. But if the Celtics match up against the Pacers, Sixers or Lakers in the playoffs, each could have significant defensive impacts.

 

Leandro Barbosa

Best known as that blurry image who’d appear on your TV when the Phoenix Suns played basketball, age and tasty snacks have downgraded Leandro Barbosa from “scary quick” to “possibly faster than whoever’s guarding him.” Like Terry, he’s a previous winner of the Sixth Man of the Year award (2006). 

A few days after LeBron James conducted “The Decision,” Barbosa was shipped from Phoenix—the only team he’d ever played for—to Toronto for Hedo Turkoglu. He was 28 years old at the time, but being traded to NBA purgatory marked the beginning of Barbosa’s decline.

Last season he posted a regular season PER of 14.0, slightly below his 15.8 career average, but was traded for the second time in two seasons. This time from Toronto to a relevant situation in Indiana. In the playoffs he averaged 20 minutes a night in 11 games, but struggled mightily on both ends of the court. Subsequent questions of whether or not Barbosa possessed any value without his blinding speed were asked, and there’s a reason it took him so long to sign on with a team this summer. With four above average guards already on their roster, the Celtics brought him in as a veteran insurance policy.

On opening night in Miami, he looked like he might be able to bring a little bit more to the table. Here's how he did shooting the ball:

 

 

Boston’s bench might be the league’s best, but that’s far from the point. They didn’t just go out and recklessly grab the most talented players on the market. Ainge targeted perfect puzzle pieces to specifically improve weaknesses this team had throughout last season. It was splendid work, and watching this new bench compliment Boston’s core of All-Star caliber players could be the difference between playoff heartbreak and the inception of a brand new era.

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