Will this team reach its potential?
One has to think the Celtics are a team that still has an identity, but they have yet to take it out. It sits in their back pocket, waiting for the right moment.
Despite the Celtics' predictably slow start to the season, their ultimate potential is another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. At minimum, it seems that this team can do what their predecessors from a year ago did.
This team, that currently sits in fourth place with a measly 6-5 record in the Atlantic Division, looks very little like a finals contender. Through 11 games, we have yet to see the Boston Celtics play to their full potential.
Some of this has been due to injuries.
Avery Bradley has yet to make it back from shoulder surgeries and Rajon Rondo missed an important loss to the Brooklyn Nets. It is also still difficult to put a lot of stock into Jeff Green's start after the serious heart surgery and forced year off he underwent last season.
As they move on through the opening part of the 2012-13 season, these things will work themselves out.
Bradley is due back sometime in December, per ESPNBoston.com. If he can presumably retake the starting job next to Rondo, then that eases the pressure on Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. It also adds scoring to the second unit.
Still, one of the first things Boston can do to reach their full potential is to not rush Bradley back to the court.
Given the slow start, it would be understandable for a team with as high expectations as the Celtics have to rush one of their important players back from injury. Looking at their current five-year high in points allowed, it isn't a stretch to think the organization might be pushing Bradley's return.
They could undoubtedly use the defensive specialist at the shooting guard spot, where their current employees have struggled to be average.
Bradley adds a dimension to the Celtics defense, as he can be just as important as a shut-down cornerback in football.
He has the ability to take on the opponent's best guard and occasionally take him out of his game entirely.
Maybe even more importantly, he frees up Rajon Rondo to play his preferred brand of gambling defense. When Rondo is able to predict and jump passing lanes, he is one of the best turnover-causing guards in the NBA.
Despite all that Bradley's return could mean, the Celtics cannot be in any rush.
Doc Rivers knows as much about this as anyone in the league. His team's potential is in the playoffs, not the regular season.
Boston was 4-7 at this point in 2011-12, and didn't see their potential until after midseason.
In order for this team to, perhaps, exceed its full potential and reach an NBA finals, they are going to need to find scoring elsewhere.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Rondo are all going to supply their usual averages, but that is not enough. Even with Rondo elevating his play to that of the 2011-12 postseason, it wasn't enough and won't be this year.
At this point, the Celtics are scoring 96.9 point per game. That lands them right in the middle of the NBA averages.
Since their defense has fallen slightly, middle of the pack scoring isn’t going to get the job done this season. They need more consistent contributions from role players.
At this point, there is little more Boston can do than be patient with Jeff Green. With the big four-year, $36 million contract, his trade value is minimal.
The swingman has been virtually non-existent in a large portion of Celtics games this season. There has to be hope that this is an adjustment period and he is still letting the speed of real NBA games come back to him.
Patience is going to be the virtue by which the Boston Celtics must abide. For virtually all of their issues, patience could be the best medicine.
Yes, they will have to win the Atlantic Division to travel deep into the playoffs, but after playing 11 games out of an 82 game season, patience is required.
Boston should be able to withstand the furious charge of the New York Knicks and maintain an evenness with the rest of their divisional foes.
Biding one’s time is always a dangerous act in sports.
However, given their current makeup, it may be the only avenue available to these Celtics. Their age and inexperience of playing together won’t allow them to go on long tears this early in the season, but their talent won’t allow them to endure long droughts either.
The one place where biding their time does not work is in the rebounding game.
Boston is currently being out-rebounded by an average of 5.3 boards per game. Both that and their overall rebounds per game (36.8) are league-worst rates.
Garnett, the team’s leader at 7.4 rebounds per game, sits tied for No. 36 in the NBA. Behind him, there is very limited depth with the ability to rebound the basketball.
Rookie Jared Sullinger is second on the team in rebounds per 48 minutes, but at just 17.8 minutes per game, his affect is minimal. Extrapolated out, his 4.2 rebounds per game is actually a pretty good number.
However, playing Sullinger more isn’t the complete answer.
As a whole, this team needs to limit the amount of offensive rebounds allowed. They continuously grant the opposition multiple extra possessions each night, which is killing their defense.
Whether it means attacking the free agent pool or using a different rotation of players, this is the one aspect that can’t continue taking up residence on the back burner.
Biding your time with that poor of a rebounding unit will land Boston out of contention before their potential even comes into view.
The Celtics’ potential is intertwined with their identity. The DNA of this team is that of a NBA veteran. They know what they are good enough to achieve, it is just the action of going out and doing it.
When the time is right, they’ll take their identity out and show their potential. Then fans just have to worry if there is too much dust covering the photo they took six seasons ago at the DMV.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of November 20, 2012.
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