A quarter of the season has gone by, and one thing has become utterly apparent in Boston: The Celtics are going to need some help.
The trio of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are each doing more than their share to make sure this team stays competitive, but it won't hold up without some help. Garnett and Pierce need to keep their legs for the playoffs, but both are seeing their minutes creep up in the month of December.
Ideally Garnett stays down around 28 or 29 minutes a night, while Pierce can stay up in the low 30s. They have been averaging 31.2 and 36.6, respectively, in five December games. The reason for this leap is a little pressure heating up under their coach's collar. The team has underperformed and in order to grab a couple more wins, Garnett and Pierce are getting more minutes in the short-term.
While it seems that Rajon Rondo can do everything on the court, he is not going to get it done on his own. He cannot be the Celtics' best rebounder, which right now he may just be. He is too important to triggering transition to be grabbing the ball in the low post.
He'll say he likes getting the rebound himself because it is even faster, but it isn't. No dribbling is as fast as an outlet pass. Boston's last-ranked rebounding has been well-publicized and criticized, but rarely do you see how it affects the fast break.
Danny Ainge built this team around Rondo's abilities in fast transition. The new additions were meant to run with Rondo and get easy looks on the fast break. However, when you are giving up offensive rebound after offensive rebound, the fast break becomes less of a strength.
So, who needs to amp up their play in order to help Boston's three stars?
The obvious answers are guys like Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass. Elsewhere on the team Boston is getting what is expected. Chris Wilcox is brilliant running the floor against second units. Jared Sullinger is up and down, but the ups have been fantastic. Same with Leandro Barbosa. Jason Terry has been a steady source of offense and a solid stop-gap in the starting lineup.
Are things starting to slow down for Jeff Green? No one has been more critical of the player since joining the Celtics than I have, but over the past six games Green has been outstanding.
Since Nov. 30, Green is averaging 15.8 points on 49 percent shooting. He's also 9-of-18 from beyond the arc and hasn't missed a free throw.
Up until that point, Green's game log reads like the worst bumpy road you've ever been down. Every game was the opposite of the one before it, with scoring fluctuating from 17 points in the win over Oklahoma City to a one-point, 0-of-9 outing against Orlando.
It was difficult, but maybe Green should have simply gotten the leeway of a quarter season to get his legs back under him. Sure, he seemed just as athletic as ever early on in 2012-13, but the mentality wasn't there consistently.
No amount of Kevin Garnett hollering at you can get your mind right enough to compete at the NBA level night in and night out. It has been obvious Green isn't wired that way for a while now. Coming off a lost season due to heart surgery, Green would need some time to re-adjust.
Unfortunately, a big contract offer from the Celtics and a dynamite preseason from Green and all those thoughts of a grace period evaporated. Suddenly, no one could figure out why Green was struggling and why he couldn't play more like one of Garnett's explicatives.
It looks like one month is what it took to get Jeff Green to this point. The field goal attempts stand at 12 per game in December, up from 7.6 in November. That illustrates a change in the aggression of the player. Hopefully by the start of January, he is grabbing more than three rebounds a night.
Has Courtney Lee done anything to assure himself a spot in the rotation when Avery Bradley returns?
Assuming Bradley comes back near the level he was late in 2011-12, Courtney Lee hasn't done a whole lot to continue deserving minutes.
His size (6'5") is what makes him a more appealing defender against bigger shooting guards in the league, but that is marginal considering Bradley's prowess on the perimeter. Even in games currently, Lee is struggling to adapt to the team defense employed by the Celtics. Part of this is a product of playing for four teams in four NBA seasons.
In three of those four seasons, Lee shot over 40 percent from the three-point arc. In 2012-13, he is down to 28 percent. This is while playing with an exponentially better point guard than he ever has before. Lee has a decent chunk of experience in this league, but is not playing like it at all.
It took seven games to lose his starting spot to Jason Terry, a much more steady option. Lee has scored in double-figures just four times this season. He hasn't been aggressive looking for his own shot enough. Particularly with a second unit that could still use some scoring help when Barbosa isn't on the floor.
911: what's the problem?Me: like to report a missing 3pt shot.911: where was it last seen?Me: Houston, TX911: gym flow YA BISH!Swerve!— Courtney Lee (@CourtneyLee2211) December 1, 2012
Lee has to take some of the gusto Barbosa plays with and insert it into his own game. Take the ball immediately to the hoop. Stop thinking so much about your outside shot and get the ball to the rim. The shot will follow if you start getting yourself some easier buckets.
This will forever be the complaint with Brandon Bass, but rarely do you see a power forward in the NBA leave the "power" part out of their game so definitively.
Bass has started 18 of Boston's 21 games this season and is averaging 5.8 rebounds in those starts. That is down a tick from last season, but right around where he has become accustomed to. The problem is, it just isn't enough. Not for this team.
Bass' power game is fairly nonexistent. Unless Rondo gets him a look under the basket, or he grabs a rare offensive rebound, Bass plays primarily out of the paint. He is an above-average shooter from mid-range and deadly from the elbow, but that isn't enough from a starting power forward in the NBA.
I understand the league is going small and fast. There is little to no banging in the paint anymore on a regular basis. That may not be what the Celtics need, anyway. They need situational play in the paint, though. Offensively and defensively, Bass is a liability in that area.
His offensive post moves are scarce, and he is still a relatively slow help defender on the other end. Bass can make up for this with rebounding intensity, but he, like Jeff Green, doesn't have the personality to do so.
Celtics fans grew attached to Bass in 2011-12 and rightfully so. He was a great scoring presence on a team that craved offense outside the Big Three. That offense is down three points per game, 12.5 to 9.6, after a quarter of 2012-13 and the rebounding hasn't improved.
Bass won't lose his starting job anytime soon because he is a Doc Rivers favorite, but he isn't doing himself any favors with his tentative play.
Bass, Green and Lee are the names you are going to need to see more of if the Celtics are to string together some wins. However, a name you won't see in the boxscore, but who needs to step up more than anyone else to help this team win is...
Boston's head coach, Doc Rivers, had himself quite a summer. He provided basketball analysis to NBC during the London Olympics, then returned to the states to find his GM splurging on a couple quality free agents. He was even able to watch his son, Austin Rivers, get drafted in the lottery by the New Orleans Hornets.
To top everything off, he was recognized with Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs as being one of the definitive best coaches in the NBA. He ranked second to Popovich in multiple categories of the NBA's anonymous GM survey. Yes, it was quite a summer for Rivers.
Here he stands, a quarter of the season gone by, the head coach of an underperforming team—a team that hasn't been able to string together wins with any sort of consistency. They are currently on their third two-game winning streak of the season, with a long of three games in mid-November.
One has to wonder, how much of that is coaching? Do fans and media give Rivers a pass because of everything that has happened since 2007-08? A pass because he is so amiable in his press conference, which comes as a relief given the other option Boston has for such events?
The Celtics have been involved in four overtime games and seven other games decided by five points or less. They are 3-1 in overtime, but the Dallas game is the only win that finished close. What happened in that game to cause two overtime periods? Poor execution or poor play calling on end of game possessions.
Rivers is often lauded as some sort of wizard with his plays coming out of timeouts, but how much of that have we seen this season? Boston has been through three overtime periods in the past three games. Rajon Rondo, regularly the worst distance-shooter on the court, has taken three of the last four last-second field goal attempts, all jumpers. The other was Paul Pierce's miss against Dallas.
More poignantly, both of the Celtics buzzer-beating attempts against the Mavericks did not reach the rim. So what kinds of plays is Rivers drawing up for these end-of-game situations? For players, it is natural to want to take that shot. Pierce has run isolations for himself for years in those situations. His habits may be rubbing off on Rondo now.
As the head coach, this is a spot where Rivers needs to insert himself and his authority. The Celtics are not an isolation team for 47.5 minutes every game, yet they tend to be in those waining seconds.
This team isn't going to be blowing many opponents out in 2012-13, so a lot of overtimes and close games are sure to come. Doc Rivers needs to step up to help his stars out in those situations.
Sometimes that may even mean saving them from themselves.