Handing Out Boston Celtics Team Awards Through the Season's First Quarter
The Celtics hit their first-quarter mark of the season this week, and in brief summation, it's been an up-and-down 20 games.
Boston stands at 11-9, tied with the sliding Brooklyn Nets for fourth in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference. The C's have yet to win more than three in a row or lose more than two straight.
They have played very well at times and like garbage at others. Sometimes the defense looks like it's rounding into 2007-2011-style form. Other times it looks like the pre-Kevin Garnett years.
The offense is better all-round than it was last season, but it still ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of points per game—97.3, good for 14th in the league.
There's such a long way to go between now and playoff time that to read too much into this team's current state seems borderline foolish. Last season through 20 games, the Celts were 10-10, just a game off this season's pace, and they wound up one win away from the NBA Finals.
By the same token, though, we can still get a decent gauge as to who is doing what the best and who is not despite the relatively small sample size we've seen thus far.
So with that, here are some team wide awards for the Boston Celtics through the first quarter of the 2012-13 season.
Top Offensive Player: Paul Pierce
Another year with the Celts, another season as their top gun on offense.
Now 35 and potentially in his last season in Boston, Pierce is playing slightly fewer minutes and only taking about 15 shots per game but still averaging 19.2 points and hitting at just under 35 percent from long range.
From the advanced stats department, Pierce's PER is a healthy 18.27 and his usage rate of 25.3 is almost identical to his 25.5 from last season, which was good for fourth in the league among small forwards.
Pierce looks a little bit slower from time to time and his season has yet to feature any truly signature moments. He can still get to the rim when he wants and can do it with authority. And when he gets hot, he still has the look of a player who can take over a game, even at this advanced point in his career.
One thing that is certain if for the Celtics to even sniff another shot at the Finals, Pierce, who went broke 23,000 career points against Dallas this week, will need to be healthy and at least somewhat well rested come spring time. If this season does indeed mark the end of his career in Boston, what better way to go out than for the captain leading this team's offense once again.
Top Defensive Player: Kevin Garnett
Really, can anyone else on this roster even be considered?
The Celtics are off defensively from where they've been in the past five seasons. They're getting better (at one point about two weeks ago, they were first in the league in team defense with KG on the floor and dead last in that same category with him on the bench), as they're up to ninth in defensive rating and 12th in opponents' points per game (96.7).
It's all because of Garnett. The Celtics are at +105 with him on the court and -85 without him. He is unquestionably the team's defensive anchor, as he's been for the entire time he's been a Celtic.
Garnett is playing less than 30 minutes per game, undoubtedly to keep him as fresh and healthy as possible come playoff time. The Celtics need to continue to improve on defense without him on the floor, as they've been doing for the past two weeks. It's not like he can play 40 minutes per night unless it's an emergency situation.
Garnett may be 36 years old, but his signing a three-year contract this past summer was probably the most important deal the Celtics made.
Biggest Wildcard: Rajon Rondo
Everyone who follows the Celtics knows how good, how talented and how valuable Rondo is.
They also know how infuriating he can be.
Will he be able to control his temper? Is he going to throw the ball at or bump an official? Will he start a fight?
The Celtics have to keep their fingers crossed that he does not. Because even though this team can win big games without their floor general (see last season's first round, Game 2 playoff win over the Hawks), they simply are far less dangerous when he's not playing.
Rondo is scoring more this season, at 13 points per game. He is first in shooting percentage among guards at 51.4 percent. And of course, his assist numbers (12.8 per game) are through the roof after he fell just shorty of tying John Stockton's record of most consecutive games with 10 or more.
If Rondo can keep his head, he will continue to ascend into the leadership role the Celtics so desperately want to him to embrace.
If he can't, there may be some tough decisions to be made.
Most Improved Player: Jeff Green
Green still has a ways to to justify both his draft status and the lofty contract the Celts furnished upon him last summer.
But he's getting better and better. And perhaps most importantly, he's playing aggressively and with fire.
Garnett sort of called Green out earlier this year in an attempt to toughen him up. Green, for all of his ability and talent, has always been a more passive, sometimes soft player who settles for jumpers instead of going to the basket and looks to pass more than he looks to score.
But there's been a tangible change in Green's game over the season's first month and a half. He's attacking more, looking for his shot, not settling and making a difference in the game without the ball and on defense.
The Celtics are a better team when Green is aggressive. He can score from anywhere on the floor, outrun guys in transition and use his length to affect match ups on defense. He has the potential to be a star.
It looks like he's finally starting to get it. And that's great news for the C's.
Most Valuable Player: Kevin Garnett
With all due respect to Rondo, without Garnett the Celts are potentially a lottery team.
The defensive numbers and impact have already been discussed. What hasn't as of yet is his impact on the team from a leadership standpoint.
It's understandable that the all the way down the line, from GM Danny Ainge to coach Doc Rivers to Pierce and Garnett to everyone else in the building, that they want this to be Rondo's team. He's a young superstar who will be in Boston for a long time, long after the two veteran future Hall of Famers are gone.
But in the here and now, it's still KG. He's all about team. He leads by example. He brings maximum effort every night even now, 1,400 games into his career. He's the consummate pro.
Again, think of where the Celtics would be not just this year but in each of the past five, without Kevin Garnett. He just keep on going, playing like his hair would be on fire if he had any.
Pierce may be the captain and the truth. Rondo may be the future. But Garnett is the man.