An underwhelming 9-8 start is not what Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers had in mind for the beginning of the 2012-13 season. Despite their early struggles, Coach Rivers understands the Boston media market—that is, he knows better than to openly criticize his players.
However, some players must be to blame for the Celtics' woes. And Coach Rivers surely isn't so guarded with his players behind closed doors.
The team has looked slow, out of sync, out of shape and unprepared too often throughout its opening 17 games.
In order for the Celtics to get things rolling, Doc is going to have do some butt-kicking in practice.
The following five Celtics should be his primary focus.
Courtney Lee needs to be aggressive at all times
Season Averages: 25.2 minutes, 6.6 points, 1.9 assists
Courtney Lee joined the Celtics with the advantage of getting starters' minutes due to Avery Bradley's absence.
After 17 games, it is safe to say the young guard has not seized his best opportunity to secure significant minutes down the road. He's already been displaced by a much older and slower, yet more productive Jason Terry as the C's second option behind the ailing Bradley.
Lee possesses the skills to be an impact player for the Celtics this year. He is a capable perimeter defender and can knock down threes at a relatively high clip—Courtney is a career 38.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
This season, Lee is hitting on only 24 percent of chances from distance. His long-range skills have been underutilized thus far, leading to him looking passive and disoriented within Boston's offensive sets.
Another concerning statistic—Courtney Lee has turned in a minuscule 7.5 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). That makes him the lowest of all relevant Celtics players, ahead of only Jason Collins, Kris Joseph and short-tenured Celtic Darko Milicic.
According to Tom Layman of the Boston Herald, a recent chat with Doc Rivers seems to have gotten the shooting guard's attention. Since their discussion, Lee has boosted his intensity and aggressiveness on the court.
Maybe his most recent success will allow Courtney Lee to escape Doc Rivers' doghouse. He can stay out if he turns in improved performances on a more consistent basis.
Jeff Green has yet to catch up defensively
Season Averages: 22.3 minutes, 8.9 points, 2.8 rebounds
Jeff Green has not yet reached the point where we can stop calling him a work in progress. He still looks a tad out of sync with the different units he takes the floor with.
Green has shown the ability to shine, especially in one-on-one situations. He is athletic, quick and has relatively good ball-handling skills for a player his size.
But his teammates and fans are still waiting for him to grow into his role as a primary small forward option for Boston.
Veteran small forward Paul Pierce is convincingly past his best days of playing ball, and Jeff Green is the most likely asset that will fulfill his role. At this point, the coaching staff has to be disappointed with Green's inconsistency.
What makes his play so frustrating is that on some nights he can completely take over, beat any man off the dribble and personally set the tempo of the game. He brings energy and excitement on those nights—when he can't muster up that energy, his play runs flat.
Take the past five games for example: In three of them, Green contributed 54 total points. In the other two, the small forward was just 1-12 from the field with three total points. His personal upswings and downswings are a microcosm of the Celtics' regular-season inconsistency.
Additionally, Green's size should allow him to contribute more to Boston's rebounding effort (or lack thereof). Considering the C's lack a true big man, the effort of the small forwards and guards must improve on the glass.
Green has the potential to be a difference maker; he's a real X-factor. Coach Doc Rivers expects him to be so every time he takes the floor.
Brandon Bass has not yet played up to last season's standard
Season Averages: 27.8 minutes, 9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds
Brandon Bass had a stellar 2011-12 campaign, and was justly rewarded with a three-year contract renewal. However, when GM Danny Ainge re-signed the energetic power forward, he probably had more explosiveness in mind.
These three facts define his disappointing start:
Bass's stellar season a year ago has set the bar high for what fans, teammates and coaches expect from him. One of the most noticeable drop-offs this time around is his scoring.
He has dropped three points off last season's average (12.5) while also seeing his shooting percentage (.443) dip below his career average (.491).
Getting repetitive yet? Boston needs rebounding, and could especially use some help on the offensive glass. Bass has the motor; it's time for him to throw his body around in the paint a bit more.
Averaging 5.4 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes is not going to cut it, especially given that the Celtics are already at a rebounding disadvantage almost every time they take the floor.
Bass's contract is called even more into question by the immediate success and impressive play of rookie power forward Jared Sullinger. The young man out of Ohio State has been a quality contributor both off the bench and in starting minutes.
Consider this: Sullinger's PER is 13.1 to Bass's 12.2. Although it may seem only a small differential, the gap is widened by the fact that Boston rightfully has much higher expectations out of their veteran starting power forward.
Pierce is still playing a young man's minutes, but extended time will eventually take its toll
Season Averages: 33.7 minutes, 19.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists
Paul Pierce is not someone who can usually be found in Doc Rivers' so-called doghouse. To argue that he's there now is even a bit of a stretch.
But what can be said of Paul is that he is very obviously not quite what he used to be.
Pierce is no longer a defensive stopper that can body up bigger forwards and stay in front of quicker guards. He can no longer be reasonably expected to stick with premier offensive threats like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony.
Further, his shooting percentage has plummeted to a team-low 41.8 percent (not including Kris Joseph, Darko Milicic and Jason Collins, who have taken eight shots combined).
Pierce is also turning the ball over at the second-highest rate behind Rajon Rondo with 2.5 per game. However, considering Rondo handles the ball on nearly every possession, the point guard's 3.2 average isn't so bad.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, Paul Pierce is supposed to be the glue that keeps this team together.
Regardless of what any person within or outside of the Celtics organization says about Rondo being the center of the team, Boston has relied on Pierce for 14 loyal years, and the faith in him will not subside.
In response to the confidence from his peers, Pierce needs to step up his game.
Season Averages: 37.0 minutes, 12.9 points, 12.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals
Something about being the consensus team leader, Doc's prodigal son and the most heavily relied on individual on the floor for the Celtics should stop Rajon Rondo from losing focus and acting immaturely.
He has not yet turned the corner. Rondo is one of—if not the most—exciting player in the NBA this season. Yet the blossoming point guard continues to shoot himself in the foot with incidents like his overreaction to a hard foul on Kevin Garnett against the New Jersey Nets.
Rondo's subsequent shove of Nets' big man Kris Humphries landed him a two-game suspension and most likely a longer stay in Doc's doghouse.
Luckily, the Celtics were able to win one of two games in Rondo's absence behind a quality team effort against Portland.
Also, he will no longer—at least not for a good chunk of the regular season—have to worry about chasing Magic Johnson's record for most consecutive games with at least ten assists. The hype that followed Rondo's individual pursuits may have prevented Boston from truly getting into a rhythm.
Having him back will certainly be a good thing for Boston. Their young star leads the team with a PER of 20.4, just edging fellow battle companion Kevin Garnett at 20.2.
The coaching staff hopes that Rajon will use his absence as a motivational tool going forward.