With their early-season struggles behind them, the Boston Celtics are a surefire lock for a playoff spot. However, the outlook of certain role players is not as optimistic.
If that does not change soon, then the Celtics should not plan on anything further than a first-round exit.
The losses of point guard Rajon Rondo and rookie Jared Sullinger have proven to be a tough pill to swallow for Boston. But while some players have stepped up—Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Avery Bradley—others have struggled to follow suit—Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox.
Sure, the Celtics look good now. Through 60 games, the team is 33-27 and has won their last four games. They’re within 1.5 games of the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and only trail the New York Knicks by 4.5 games in the Atlantic Division.
However, as we have already seen many times with this Boston team, winning streaks can turn into losing streaks at the drop of a hat.
The team’s lack of depth is to blame for that.
Even LeBron James, Tony Parker and Kevin Durant have off nights. However, their teams are still top in the standings because whenever one player struggles, they have several others who will step up.
This season, the Celtics have struggled to do the same.
With only 22 games remaining before the postseason, that has to change.
Here are three players who need to get it together by then.
How many chances can one guy throw away?
First, after a couple of bad starts to begin the season, head coach Doc Rivers decided to bench Bass in favor of Sullinger. However, Sullinger struggled in three starts, and Bass quickly received a second chance.
Although he would remain in the starting lineup over the next three months, Bass continued to struggle. Paired with the recent strong play of Sullinger, Rivers decided to bench Bass once again.
This time around, Sullinger never got a chance to shine—he re-injured his back and has been sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Even with a third chance, Bass still has failed to impress.
Through 60 games this season, he’s averaging 7.6 points and 5.1 rebounds over 26.8 minutes per game. Bass is also shooting just 44.9 percent from the floor—his worst mark since his rookie year.
But the worst part is that Bass has actually displayed the potential to be good.
In 59 games last season, he averaged 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds over an average of 31.7 minutes per game. Bass also connected on 47.9 percent of his shots from the field.
He’s even shown flashes of that talent during this season.
Bass has finished with 15 or more points five times this season. That includes his performance in the season-opener against the Heat, where he finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting.
Oddly enough, of those five games, Boston has lost four.
The Celtics need more than just seven points out of their starting forward on a nightly basis. If Bass can’t supply that, then Rivers will surely find someone else who can.
The recently surging Green comes to mind.
If Bass is replaced again, then this time it might actually be for good.
Step up or sit down.
Partnered with Bradley, Lee has helped make life tough for opposing guards.
Boston won 109-101, with Lee and Bradley holding Holiday to just 6-of-17 shooting from the field.
However, on offense, Lee has been his own worst enemy.
Through 60 games this season, he’s averaging 7.8 points and 1.7 assists over 24.2 minutes per game. Lee is also shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc.
While his shooting percent is a career high, his 6.8 field-goal attempts per game is a career low. In comparison, he averaged 10 a night with the Houston Rockets last season.
It’s a large reason that Lee has topped double-digits in points just 19 times this season.
A shooting guard has got to score. But most importantly, he’s got to shoot.
Lee is doing neither.
But don’t blame it on a lack of opportunities. Blame it on his hesitation with the ball or his tendency to pass it off to another teammate.
As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
In Lee’s case, it could also wind up costing the Celtics a prolonged postseason run.
With the injury to Sullinger and the poor play of Bass, Boston doesn't have much in terms of depth in its frontcourt.
Expecting 36-year-old Kevin Garnett to continue to shoulder the load will only hurt the team.
That’s where Wilcox comes in.
Sure, the Celtics brought in Shavlik Randolph and D.J. White to help out in the department. However, the duo has only logged a total of four minutes thus far.
Over 40 games this season, Wilcox has averaged 4.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in over 13.2 minutes per game. Furthermore, he also leads the team in shooting, hitting 69.7 percent of his shots from the field.
But while his stat line was sufficient during the early part of the season, when he was receiving just over 10 minutes a game, it just does not cut it now.
In his last six games, Wilcox has seen his minutes increase to 19.1 per night. However, he has only averaged 6.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game during that span.
Boston needs more than that.
Wilcox has certainly shown he’s capable of it. He’s easily been the Celtics biggest asset on fast breaks, throwing down alley-oop after alley-oop.
But if he wants to see his minutes continue to rise, then his production has got to continue to increase as well.
Otherwise, Wilcox might easily see himself passed over for one of the new guys.
Summing It All Up
Boston was heavily criticized after refusing to make any major changes to their roster during the trade deadline.
Yet two weeks later, the team is a season-high, six games over .500
The Celtics have proven that they possess the talent to win ball games—with or without Rondo.
But can they take all that talent and learn how to utilize it on a consistent basis?
That’s the bigger question.
In order to accomplish that, Boston must receive the 110 percent of each and every single one of its players night in and night out. No exceptions.
The team needs to learn how to pick each other up when one falls down.
Thus far, the Celtics have done a sensational job at that. However, there are still a few players who need to push themselves to that next level.
If they can, then there’s no telling how high Boston’s ceiling will be come postseason.
Stats used in this article do not include the March 8 game against the Atlanta Hawks
Also check out: Celtics Must Utilize This Unit More Often