Avery Bradley's return from injury and subsequent play will be a significant determining factor of Celtics success in 2012-13
The Boston Celtics are at a pivotal time in franchise history. An apparent changing of the guard is near on the horizon, but an old group of veterans simply refuses to hang up their jerseys so soon.
Over the course of an NBA season, individuals rise and fall with the times.
This article aims to examine exactly which Celtics will improve this season, and which will stagnate or regress. The players are arranged in order of how much room they have for improvement, starting with those who have already peaked and ending with those who have the highest ceiling.
Note that just because more players are listed as “Will Not Improve” does not mean that Boston is a worse team than last year. The 2012-13 squad is deeper, possesses more athleticism and better prospects for long-term success.
Without further ado, here’s a breakdown of how much each individual Celtics player will improve from last year.
Feel free to disagree and tell me why in the comments!
We've yet to see any legitimate efforts from Darko Milicic this season
Darko Milicic has not brought much to Boston so far this season. It’s hard to project him to improve when he barely sees the floor.
Boston needs rebounding and Milicic is one of the team’s biggest options. He won’t provide much of a scoring spark; however, the Celtics will count on him as the season progresses to steal garbage time minutes from KG.
Other than that, Darko Milicic will continue to play a very limited role in the Celtics day-to-day strategy. For this reason, he can’t really offer more than what he already brings to the table.
Jason Collins, start grabbing some rebounds!
Similar to Darko Milicic, Jason Collins will suffer the consequences of being Kevin Garnett’s backup at the center position. In fact, upon closer look, Collins isn’t even the first option behind KG.
With the return of the younger Chris Wilcox from a heart ailment, Jason Collins’ floor time will be hampered.
Rebounding again is the key for any C’s big man looking to earn more significant playing time. Over the course of his career, Collins has had sub-par rebounding numbers, averaging 3.9 in roughly 21 minutes per game.
If he is to break the barriers holding him back from legitimate playing time, Collins will have to be the Celtics’ go-to defensive big man on the second unit. This is a particularly deep team, and in limited minutes, Collins is another candidate to stagnate individually.
Paul Pierce can still score the ball, but he certainly is not getting any better this season
Paul Pierce simply cannot be the player he once was, even if his stats wind up nearly the same as his career averages.
He is slower off the ball and more fatigued near the end of games, both of which will cause the Celtics trouble come playoff time. Pierce’s age is no longer ignorable; his knees need to be dutifully preserved this season so that he is fresh when it counts.
The Celtics’ veteran small forward is as stubborn as they come. For that reason, expect nothing less than his very best effort when Pierce steps on the floor. Just don’t expect the fireworks you could usually associate with one of the NBA’s best offensive small forwards.
Father time is threatening. KG won't let it get him down just yet.
How could Kevin Garnett top his postseason performance from the summer of 2012? In short, he can’t.
Just like veteran teammate Paul Pierce, KG is nearing the point in his career where he and coaches really have to pay attention to his minute count over the course of the season. If not, Garnett will run out of steam come spring.
Defensively, Garnett is still the anchor. He commands the Celtics preventive unit with authority and is the first to take responsibility when the defense experiences shortcomings.
Garnett’s numbers will recede this season, most noticeably in scoring. The Celtics are going to ask him to increase his focus on rebounding; the extra expense of energy to compensate for the C’s lack of a true rebounder will not serve KG’s legs well.
Second unit intensity is the name of the game for Leandro Barbosa
Leandro Barbosa has been around the league. He understands the grind of playing quality basketball at the NBA level and has been a journeyman to prove it.
Regardless of where he ended up this season, Barbosa promised to be a wily defender who could score points in bunches. So far in 2012-13 he hasn’t disappointed.
Unfortunately, the ninth-year guard has too many factors, mainly bench depth, working against him this season.
To say that Leandro Barbosa will not improve this season does not by any means imply that he will not be important to the C’s success. However, in limited minutes, Barbosa can only add so much.
At this point in his career, we know what we are going to get from Jason Terry: enthusiasm and consistent bench scoring. We also must expect slightly diminished season totals due to the Celtics’ depth and focus on spreading the ball around.
The Jet is slow on the defensive end and will eventually get exposed by more youthful guards he matches up against. He most likely cannot perform better than his career averages at the advanced age of 35.
Age aside, Terry is also in the unique position of being the most obvious replacement to former fan favorite Ray Allen. Sadly, Terry will not be able to match Allen’s offensive prowess.
Admittedly, Terry joined Boston during a metamorphic stage in the franchise’s history. The leadership roles are being passed down from veterans like Pierce and Garnett to the likes of Rondo and Bradley.
Such a transitional period provides Terry the opportunity to offer his wisdom and guidance, but also detracts from his potential to contribute on the hardwood.
Which direction will Brandon Bass go after last year's success?
Brandon Bass turned in a stellar campaign in 2012 and boosted his individual value significantly in the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine his ceiling being much higher than the level he was able to play at last season.
As one of the Celtics most prominent big men, Bass is also held accountable for the C’s inability to rebound. He turns in a respectable amount of boards himself but is far from the beast Boston seeks on the glass.
As far as scoring goes, Bass has already improved his ability to spot up and knock down open jumpers. Having Rondo around to create good looks at the basket definitely plays to Bass’ advantage.
Unfortunately, the Celtics are commonly outmatched at the power forward position, either because of size or premier talent from the opposition.
Think about who plays power forward for the most dominant teams in the league. Bass does not stack up against the likes of Miami’s LeBron James (or Chris Bosh depending on the lineup), Memphis’s Zach Randolph, or the Lakers’ Pau Gasol—just to name a few.
The Celtics have a lot of guards. As a result, Lee's long-term role will be limited
At the young age of 27, Courtney Lee is prime for improvement at both ends of the floor.
In his minutes as a Celtic so far, Lee has shown good quickness and the ability to get to the basket off the dribble. Still, he has yet to fully integrate into Coach Doc Rivers’ schemes at both ends of the floor.
Over the course of the season, Lee, Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry will compete for precious minutes behind Rajon Rondo and eventual starting shooting guard Avery Bradley. For Courtney to get the playing time he wants and make the contribution the Celtics are looking for, he must sharpen his defense and command of the second unit.
Luckily for Lee he is young and surrounded by a hungry group of veterans. The first half of the 2012-13 season is a great opportunity for Lee to show the coaching staff what he can do; should he rise to the occasion, he’ll become a more prominent feature of the Celtics’ attack later on.
Fab's development is a crucial component to the Celtics future defensive success
The two rookies not named Sullinger will most likely not make any significant contribution to the Celtics on the court this season.
The two youngsters are fresh out of college, where each was among the best players on his team. They face an entirely different scenario in the NBA, and will have plenty of time to work on their game before being called upon to contribute.
Still, one has to envision a time in the not-so-distant future when the length of Kevin Garnett and scoring of Paul Pierce will no longer hold the C’s up. That same time will be when Melo begins to display a more polished defensive game that stays within the confines of the Celtics game plan.
That same time will be when small forward Kris Joseph will have the opportunity to electrify fans at the TD Garden with highlight-reel athleticism.
Yet, that time is not now. Both rookies will have the opportunity to hone their skills—and they will—before being asked to help Boston win.
Chris Wilcox is back and playing with heart. Get it? Heart?
Chris Wilcox is hungry for a big season. With amplified emotions resulting from his return from a heart condition, Wilcox’s dedication to basketball will never be at a higher point than it currently is.
Hunger for the game is exactly the mindset that will motivate Wilcox to elevate his attention to detail in practice. As he becomes more adjusted to the flow of the game again, Wilcox will start using his big body to the team’s advantage.
The budding center is young and unpolished. Still, he holds the best shot at being the Celtics best rebounder on the second unit and will prove to be an increasingly important asset over the course of the season.
Despite already being one of the best pure point guards in the league, Rajon Rondo has plenty of room for improvement. He is a scoring threat in the paint, but still does not get full attention from defenders outside of the paint because of his inconsistent jump shot.
If he can’t get his field shooting to drastically improve, Rondo could up his scoring total by fixing his woes at the free throw line. His performance from the charity stripe, especially as a guard, has been nothing short of unacceptable six seasons into his career.
Most importantly, the Celtics now count on Rajon as their centerpiece. Along with such respect from coaches and teammates comes a new level of responsibility for Rondo. No more can he fall victim to on-court frustration, throw temper tantrums or behave any other way than positively toward his teammates.
The flow of the Boston team runs through Rondo; he must improve his demeanor and attitude over the course of the season to become the true leader the Celtics need this season.
Jeff Green needs to attack the basket on both the offensive end and on the defensive glass.
Jeff Green has not been the same since joining the Celtics. In fairness, he missed a full season with a heart condition that has limited his ability to mesh with the team in practice and after tip-off.
How can he go backward? Green has often shown flashes of the brilliant scoring potential that he can bring to the table. Alternatively, he has also seemed hesitant to fully turn loose his abilities and attack the basket. When he does, Green’s athleticism usually gets him near the rim.
Green can improve most on defense. He possesses the body and talent to lock down some of the NBA’s best scorers, but has yet to rise to his potential. With Garnett screaming at his back, the youngster will have no choice but to catch on. Otherwise he’ll be left behind.
As one of the Celtics best pure athletes, Jeff Green is another candidate to help the C’s crash the glass more effectively.
Green is a versatile small forward who will show signs of improvement as he grows more comfortable with his teammates and schemes.
Patience will pay off for the Celtics and Jeff Green in 2012-13.
His rookie campaign will be trial by fire for Jared Sullinger. He's up to the challenge
Jared Sullinger is one of the most intriguing Celtics players on the bench in 2012-13. The C’s drafted Sully out of Ohio State with the image of a power forward who could pace the second unit in scoring and rebounding. As a first-year NBA player, his only way is up.
Expect Sullinger to take his rookie lumps this season, especially when matched up against the premier talent that Boston will eventually run in to. However, Sullinger’s potential to boost the Celtics’ rebounding numbers makes him a vital aspect to their success this season.
Sully is only 20. He has much to learn about defensive rotations and the intricacy of Doc River’s off-the-ball movement schemes on the offensive end. However, unlike many of the veterans on the Celtics’ roster, we have yet to see what Sullinger is fully capable of.
If the Celtics get what they envisioned on draft day, Sully will end up as one of the most highly touted rookies in the Eastern Conference by the end of the season.
Celtics fans should be as eager to have Bradley back as he is to return.
Returning from injury is never an easy feat, and Avery Bradley’s transition back to a starting role in NBA competition will reflect this difficulty.
Upon first returning, Bradley will have injury-hangover symptoms that can mostly be chalked up to being rusty. He will have to readjust to the pace of NBA play and sync back up with his teammates in practice.
Once he gets more comfortable, there is no limit on how excellent Bradley can be for Boston this year. He provides a defensive tenacity that meshes well with floor general Garnett’s intensity. Bradley can work on crashing the defensive boards, which would alleviate some of the Celtics issues in that category.
On the other end of the floor Bradley can make even greater strides. Although he proved he could fairly consistently knock down the corner three and be effective as a slasher, Bradley could improve his game and the C’s offense by learning how to create for himself off the dribble.
Most of the time, he’ll have Rondo to feed him and will be most effective in transition. Yet, if Bradley could independently be a source of offense, opposing teams will be forced to pay less attention to the Celtics’ primary scoring threats like Pierce and Garnett.