What a week for the Boston Celtics.
Not only did they come out victorious in each of their three matchups, but they are also in the midst of a five-game winning streak—their longest such streak of the season.
Now the Celtics are two games above .500 and are slowly beginning to claw their way back into the divisional race. They only trail the New York Knicks by four games in the Atlantic Division.
A lot of that can be credited to the strong play by nearly everyone suiting up in green. From the starters to the reserves, it’s hard to pinpoint a weak link.
With that in mind, who is to say that this streak is going to end anytime soon?
This could be the beginning of a magical finish for Boston.
As you can imagine, the fans have a lot on their minds.
So without further ado, here are the issues that are on the minds of YOU, the readers.
“Looking back, is Jared Sullinger the steal of the draft and does he have a realistic shot at winning Rookie of the Year?”
-Jimmy (Dover, MA)
If we were only considering players taken in the draft, then yes, Jared Sullinger would fit the bill as the biggest steal. However, that honor clearly belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ undrafted rookie Alexey Shved.
But that doesn’t mean that the Celtics did not receive a bargain by taking Sullinger with the 21st pick in last year’s draft.
After a mostly quiet 2012, Sullinger has really exploded so far this year.
Over his last five games, the 20-year-old is averaging 10.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in 26.8 minutes a night. He has also shot the ball well, connecting on 57.9 percent of his attempts during that span.
His recent form has not gone unnoticed.
Media outlets such as NBA.com and Sheridanhoops.com have both included Sullinger in the top 10 of their latest rookie rankings. Besides Shved, Sullinger has the biggest jump from actual draft position to ranking spot.
Sullinger is also the only player on both lists who has averaged less than 20 minutes per game this season.
That fact will also serve as his biggest hurdle towards winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Right now, the runaway leader for the honor is Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (No. 6 overall).
Lillard has averaged 18.5 points, 6.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game this season. He’s also clocking in at 38.3 minutes a night. Not to mention, did anyone see his 37-point performance against the Golden State Warriors on Friday?
Sullinger would not only have to start—an event that seems to be on the horizon—but he would also have to raise his numbers significantly.
But on a Boston team that focuses on a team effort more than individual performances, any run for the silverware is very unlikely for Sullinger.
“Is the team’s recent success due to Avery Bradley or more towards the team finally gelling?”
-Andrew (Wilmington, MA)
It’s a little bit of both.
Ever since Avery Bradley’s return on Jan. 2, the Celtics have been reaping the benefits. It’s been most evident on the defensive side of the ball.
Over the last five games, Boston has held opponents to an average of 84.4 points per game. Furthermore, opponents have only shot 39.1 percent from the field.
But the most impressive stat during that span is that the Celtics have held the opposing teams' top scorers to a measly 24-of-99 (24.2 percent) shooting.
Bradley has been a large reason for that success.
But you also have to score to win games.
That’s a part of Bradley’s game he’s still trying to knock off the rust from—he’s averaging 7.5 points per game on 36.4 percent shooting through six games.
That’s where the Boston bench has picked up the slack.
Over the past three games, the Celtics’ bench has averaged 42.1 points per game. It’s a significant boost over their season per-game average of 31.4 points. The team also ranks No. 4 in bench field-goal percentage, shooting 46.1 percent from the floor.
Sullinger and Jeff Green have been behind the recent surge.
I explained Sullinger’s recent play above, but Green has been just as efficient, averaging 13.2 points per game on 14-of-28 (50 percent) shooting over the last three games. He’s averaged 24 minutes per game during that stretch, providing Paul Pierce with valuable minutes of rest.
He’s also provided some jaw-dropping dunks that have triggered multiple scoring runs for Boston during its recent streak.
With Courtney Lee and Jason Terry playing better lately as well, this Celtics team is finally clicking on all cylinders.
“Avery Bradley’s presence has made a direct impact on the team. We are currently one of the hottest teams in the East. Does it even make sense to include him in trade scenarios?”
-Olo (Somerville, MA)
Just two weeks ago, Boston was three games under .500 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak. The Celtics were out of a playoff spot and trailed the Knicks by eight games in the Atlantic Division.
Now, they have won five straight games—including a 102-96 victory over New York—and are only four games off the pace of the Division. They’re also only two games out of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
You can thank Mr. Bradley for a lot of that.
It’s crazy to fathom just how much of an impact one man can have on a team.
The scary part is, he’s not even fully recovered from his injury.
When healthy, Bradley has the capability to average 15 points per game, while shooting over 50 percent from the field—just like he did in 15 games last April.
He is the team’s rallying point on the defensive side of the ball and has the potential to become a very solid contributor on the offensive side.
GM Danny Ainge would be foolish to consider trading Bradley.
“What would it take to get Kevin Love from the T-Wolves? Get rid of Rondo please.”
-Mark (Maynard, MA)
Honestly, I would not want any part of Kevin Love anytime soon.
For starters, while he’s putting up 18.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game, he’s also only shooting just 35.2 percent from the floor and 21.7 percent from three-point range. Not to mention, he’s averaging an absurd 16.6 field-goal attempts per game.
Sure, a lot of the decline has to do with a premature return from a preseason hand injury. But that’s also another area of concern.
On Jan. 3, Love re-fractured his hand during a game. The team later announced that it would require surgery, keeping the 24-year-old out for an additional eight to 10 weeks at the least.
With Love easily being the face of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise—whether the owners would like to admit it or not—it would likely cost the Celtics an arm and a leg to acquire him.
With Boston in the midst of a run towards the playoffs and more, do you think it would be wise for Ainge to give away key pieces of the team’s success in exchange for a player who is likely to be on the shelf until the beginning of April?
Instead, I would wait three years before even thinking about making any offers for him. That’s when Love’s contract allows him the possibility to walk. It’s also when another former Minnesota big man plans to retire.
However, to answer both your question and your second statement…
Question of the Week: “Would the Celtics be better off without Rondo?”
-Alex (Springfield, MA)
This is the question that always triggers the transformation of several fans into acid-spewing, Internet tough guys. But before you start to Gronk-spike your keyboards with multiple profanity-laced tirades, hear me out.
Whether you like it or not, this is a subject that a growing number of fans have on their minds. This week alone, I literally received around 10-15 e-mails about it.
So let’s talk.
A while back, I touched on the pros and cons of trading Boston’s superstar point guard. I found it hard to choose between the two and wound up on the fence about the topic.
There’s no doubt that Rondo is one of the most talented point guards in the league, averaging 13.0 points, 11.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds. But is he, or should he be, completely untouchable in trade talks?
I give it an emphatic no.
Last week, I would I have been leaning a little on the side of yes. But following his antics prior to the Knicks game, I’m beginning to lean the other way.
The game against New York was building up to be the defining point of the season for the Celtics.
Win this game and the team could be on its way towards another magical postseason run. Lose this game and the team’s confidence could vanish entirely, bringing about a disappointing end to the Big Three era in Boston.
This was the type of game in which you needed your leaders to step up.
Instead, three hours before tipoff, Rondo would have no choice but to step out—suffering his fourth suspension in the last 12 months.
So much for the notion that Rondo’s antics never hurt the team during important games.
Although the loss of Boston’s so-called leader cast a large amount of doubt over the team’s chances of victory, the Celtics still prospered to a valiant win.
And they did it without Rondo.
Rondo has never shown any signs of regret following his actions and the league is beginning to take notice.
Have you seen the incident that sparked the suspension? Do you believe a player like Pierce or Bradley would have gotten that same punishment doled out to them?
The league was obviously sending a clear message to Rondo: Cut it out.
Now, I’m not going to go out on a limb and say the team needs to trade Rondo. But I will say that life without Rondo might not be all that bad.
In fact, during its last three games—arguably its best all-around team performances—Rondo has been almost nonexistent.
He’s missed one game, while averaging 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 rebounds per game in the other two. He’s also only shot 9-of-24 (37.5 percent) from the floor in the two contests.
Even without the focus on Rondo, Boston has still been able to move the ball around successfully, averaging 23.5 assists per game in that span.
I honestly see no reason why the Celtics can’t remain successful without Rondo.
Which brings me to my other point.
For those who are still desperate for a deal to bring the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Smith or Kevin Love to town; who would Boston give up?
Certainly Green, Sullinger and Bradley are not going to cut it.
If a team is willing to trade a proven superstar, it is not going to settle on receiving a couple of potential superstars in return. These players are not going to sell tickets.
With Pierce aging and Garnett’s no-trade clause, Rondo is the only other option that could help other teams receive what they are looking for.
So if you are the portion of the fanbase still hoping for a blockbuster deal, then you’re going to have to come to grasp with the reality of having to give up Rondo in exchange.
It’s the only way such a deal can work.
Check out last week's mailbag: Boston Celtics' Mailbag: Trading DeMarcus Cousins, Benching Paul Pierce and More