The Boston Celtics had a lackluster start to the 2012-13 season, but it's nothing that can't be fixed in the new year.
The Celtics have struggled because they can't seem to find their identity as a team. They haven't yet earned the respect of their opponents as a team to beat. Honestly, with a 14-13 record, the Celtics have a ways to go before they can be considered a top team this season.
However, if Rajon Rondo steps up as the leader and the bench makes the impact we all know they're capable of, the Celtics can catapult to one of the top teams in the league. The talent is there, but the team has to be consistent.
Heading into 2013, the Celtics need to find their identity and fix a few repeating missteps. If they come together as a team and highlight their defense, the Celtics will be the team to beat in the New Year.
The Boston Celtics are Rajon Rondo's team now. That being said, he needs to take the steps to move from a star player to a superstar to lead his team.
Paul Pierce is currently the team's leading scorer with 20.5 points per game. However, if the Celtics want to win games, Rondo must step up and become the leading scorer. On Christmas Day, Rondo scored a team-high 19 points and led his team to victory. He attempted 16 shots, a stark contrast from his season average of 11.3 field-goal attempts per game.
Ray Allen was a huge part of the Celtics offense, and in his absence, the team is having trouble making up for the points he scored. Boston's secondary unit isn't playing as well as predicted, so the stars have to carry the team.
Although Rondo thrives in the facilitator role, his teammates are struggling to score points. Therefore, Rondo must put his newly-polished jumper to good use.
2012 was a long year for Jeff Green. He underwent heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm after which he was sidelined for the remainder of the season. Green returned to the Celtics for the 2012-13 season, but he's had trouble finding consistency.
On Christmas Day, Green came through with 15 points off the bench. He also put in three rebounds, two assists and one steal. Boston needs this kind of production from Green on a regular basis.
After his absence last season, it's great seeing Jeff Green back on the court again. It would be even greater to see him make an impact off the Celtics bench. Coming into the 2012-13 season, Boston's bench was hyped up as one of the league's best. Green's athleticism and scoring ability makes him a key member of the secondary unit.
Understandably, Green's return to the basketball court required both physical and mental preparation. After sitting out for an entire season, it took Green a couple months to get back into the NBA mindset. In 2013, however, Green needs to rise to the occasion and become a leader of Boston's bench.
In recent years, the Boston Celtics have made a name for themselves as a tough, defensive-minded team. However, in their recent identity crisis, that defense went missing.
The Celtics' trapping style of defensive play has failed to work because the players aren't matching their opponents' effort. This creates plenty of open looks for the opposing team.
Subsequently, when individual Celtics players try to do too much to turn things around, it ends up creating more harm than good. The solution is for the team as a whole to play with a greater, more steady effort.
This 2012-13 Celtics team has a ton of new players who still haven't mastered the defensive schemes and rotations. When the team finds defensive consistency, it will regain the focus and reputation that was created by defensive greatness in previous seasons.
Due to the lackluster start of the season, the Celtics are looking for Avery Bradley's return to re-energize the team in 2013. Bradley has not played since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, when the pain of two partially-dislocated shoulders became too much to bear. He had surgery on his left shoulder in May and his right shoulder in July.
When he returns to the team, the starting shooting guard position will be waiting for him. Courtney Lee is the current starting shooting guard, but he's had trouble with being consistent. Hopefully, Bradley can turn things around.
The Celtics haven't been the in-your-face defensive team that we're used to seeing. Bradley's strength is his dribble penetration, especially along the perimeter. Bradley's defensive presence will take a lot of pressure off of the stars, but it should also motivate them to perform better.
A successful return for Bradley means much-needed stabilization at the guard position. Also, there should be a boost in bench production. With Bradley starting, Lee and Jason Terry can focus on their effectiveness as key members of the secondary unit.
Finally, the Celtics need to win games.
Boston's bench can step up to the plate and the team can improve its overall defense, but if the changes don't translate to wins, then it means nothing. In 2013, the Celtics need to hold a winning streak.
So far this season, the Celtics haven't won more than three games in a row. That small streak was back in November, when the team beat the Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz. Boston needs to work towards winning at least seven or eight games in a row.
If the Celtics can pull off a successful winning streak, it will send a message to other teams. The Celtics are being written off as too washed-up to be a real threat. A winning streak in the New Year will not only build team confidence, but show that Boston means business.