The Boston Celtics are probably a playoff team out of the East, even if they've been a big disappointment so far. Perhaps that's all that matters, considering how often we've underestimated a squad that often goes half-speed in the regular season.
Today, the Celtics are a curiosity because their problems have no identifiable source within the "Big Three" core. You can nitpick the games of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, but they've all played about as well as they tend to. The issues nagging Boston come from outside the core, dispersed throughout a roster that Danny Ainge had tried to revamp in the offseason.
While Boston is a bit better on offense, they're suffering some of the same problems that have always plagued them on that end. Easy points are traditionally hard to come by for the C's. They're currently third to last in the league in three pointers made and out of the top-10 in free throw rate and free throws attempted.
While this is a traditional offensive problem for the Celtics, it was supposed to be a lot better this time around. Jason Terry and Jeff Green were slated to supercharge this offense. While Terry has performed up to standard, Jeff Green's making his big contract look all the worse.
Green has a lot of "talent," though I increasingly fear that "talent" just means, "He was drafted highly, a scout in 2007 couldn't possibly have been wrong!" The problem is that his athleticism doesn't manifest itself as athletic play. He's an absentee rebounder and moves sluggishly on offense, often drifting around, without purpose.
Green's shot should improve, but it's not doing him any favors right now. He's 34 percent from distance and 42.7 percent from the field. This is the byproduct of being a "tweener" who's never really mastered any particular field.
Down on the block, Jeff Green relies on an ugly jump hook, flung in the face of taller defenders. On the perimeter, Green can shot fake and drive decently. The issue is, when he starts dribbling, there's no court vision to escort him on the journey towards the hoop. Green is currently averaging .7 assists per game, which just doesn't cut it for a guy with a shaky jumper.
Jeff Green's poor play wouldn't hurt so much if Brandon Bass was at his old levels. We keep looking for the decline to come from Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett, but Bass has surprised as the first Celtic in this core to look old.
The normally sweet-shooting big man is .436 from the field this season. Since the Celtics rely so much on his long-two for spacing, this is a problem. Or, if you're an optimist, you can posit that Bass has nowhere to go but up, and will regress to the mean at any time. Regardless, under 44 percent from the field and 1.7 free throw attempts per game is far from what you want from a starting power forward.
Boston has been struggling with offense for years, but their defense had always helped them out in tough times. Between Kevin Garnett's pick and roll brilliance, and their overall communication, the Celtics appeared to have the foundation for a perpetually great defense. Not so, this year, as Doc Rivers and Ainge have tested the limits of what KG and Pierce can compensate for on D.
Kevin Garnett is defensively brilliant, but he plays fewer than 30 minutes per night. When he's not on the floor, someone like Jeff Green or Jared Sullinger often is. Sullinger is a good rebounder on a team with very few rebounders, but he's a slow-footed, undersized rookie. It gets ugly when he's expected to thwart runs to the rim. On the perimeter, Jason Terry explains much of why this formerly great defensive unit has fallen out of the top-10 in defensive efficiency.
Maybe Avery Bradley's the savior, something akin to the defensive version of what Laker fans are hoping Steve Nash to be. He should certainly help get Boston into the top-10 range on defense. But, when you're expecting Avery Bradley to be the difference between contending and not contending, your expectations might be unrealistic. The Celtics are probably better than the average team, but not by a lot.