Final Grades for Every Boston Celtics Starter in 2012-13
Looking back at the Boston Celtics' roller coaster 41-40 season, and subsequent first-round playoff loss, this squad has very little to embrace. Now comes the difficult task of giving final regular season and playoff grades to the starters behind this underwhelming year.
The Celtics, who finished the season without a point guard, barely sneaked into the playoffs in a weak eastern conference, finishing at the seventh seed. They looked disjointed and disorganized, and nearly got swept by the New York Knicks before at least making it respectable by pushing the opening-round series to six games.
But this year cannot be defined a complete disaster. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had stretches of brilliance, especially in the face of adversity (a.k.a. Rajon Rondo's injury).
Speaking of Rondo, the floor veteran led the nation in assists per game. And Jared Sullinger's rookie campaign stood out as one of the most impressive parts of the Celtics' year.
So who stood at the top of the class, so to speak, performance-wise? Here are the final regular season and postseason grades for each Boston Celtics starter in 2012-13. Only players who started five games or more will be critiqued.
All statistics from NBA.com/stats, ESPN.com and Basketball-Reference.com.
Chris Wilcox, PF
If grades were decided based on potential, or expectations, Chris Wilcox might deserve an A-minus for 2012-13.
The ten-year veteran, who has played 628 games (scattered across tenures with six NBA teams), suffered a slow start but finished the second half with a bang. After nearly getting traded (over Jason Collins) with the injured Leandro Barbosa in the Jordan Crawford deal, he woke up and became a solid role player for the Green.
Wilcox stepped up his defense after the All-Star break and even started picking up his offensive explosiveness. His powerful dunks and exciting alley-oop finishes dazzled fans during Boston's strong run between late January and mid-March.
He looked like a changed man, playing with confidence and carrying himself with the veteran poise president of basketball operations Danny Ainge always expected of him.
Wilcox is one of those “right place at the right time” guys. He knows about effective spacing, back-cuts, screen and rolls and positioning. And he has the hands to finish off a nice dime or a sweet lob. He finished the season with 11.2 points per 36 (on 72 percent shooting), and a solid 12.5 percent rebound percentage.
For a guy who makes upwards of $850,000 and nearly got dealt, Wilcox's year was a success. It's just too bad he was only allowed to play six minutes total in the first playoff appearance of his career—and he likely won't be back next year.
Jared Sullinger, PF
Rookie Jared Sullinger only started five games out of 45 this year, but he still has fans excited about his effective play down low. After taking over for the struggling Brandon Bass in January, he dazzled with his powerful frame, grabbing rebounds and scoring blue-collar points on the interior.
Unfortunately for Sullinger and the Celtics, February back surgery cut his season short right as he was budding into a fan favorite.
Time for a bright spot. Bass' replacement in the starting lineup, Jared Sullinger, had a very solid rookie campaign before February back surgery abruptly ended his season.
The 21-year-old from Ohio State had averaged 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, while shooting a healthy 49.6 percent from the field. He led the team with two offensive boards per game.
Sullinger maintained a 17.5 percent rebound rate, utilizing his wide base to manhandle opponents near the hoop. He even showed good hands, with only 29 turnovers in 892 minutes.
His defense struggled at times, and he led the team in personal fouls with 3.4 per game and 6.2 per 36. He'll need to work on sliding his feet better in the future and holding his positioning to take charges.
Overall, Sully's production improved in each of the first three months of the season, and he seemed to pick things up like a sponge.
If he can stay away from operating rooms, expect No. 7 to remain a fixture at the Garden for years to come.
Brandon Bass, PF
Now on to the power forward Sullinger initially replaced in January, Brandon Bass. After Ainge inked him to a contract extension (three years, $19 million) following an impressive 2011-12 season and playoff run, Bass failed to practically even show up for the first five months of this season.
He was starting to look like the next Mark Blount of Boston.
It wasn't just the statistics that dipped, it was Bass' overall game. He looked lost on offense, dribbling into trouble and spinning violently only to lose the ball. He front-rimmed open jumpers and struggled from the line. He showed little confidence and even less court awareness.
Of course, the stats stunk, too. He posted his lowest per-36 scoring average (11.3) since 2006-07 and the worst rebounds-per-36 of his career (6.8). In 27.6 minutes per contest, he couldn't even manage an average of nine points and six boards.
Bass picked it up in the final stretch of the season, with improved shooting and a better rebounding rate in April. But he still only averaged 6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.2 blocks in 34 minutes per game in the playoffs. Brian Scalabrine could provide that level of impact in the postseason.
Courtney Lee, SG
Another piece that just never came together, Courtney Lee registered a truly disappointing first year in Green. His numbers don't appear all that terrible, but anyone watching knows his impact on both sides of the floor was practically nonexistent.
Despite logging the second-most minutes of his five years in the pros (1941), Lee scored the fewest points (612) and points per 36 (11.4).
Lee entered the postseason with a minus-91 points differential (minus-122 on the road). In Celtics losses, he logged a staggering minus-241.
He did set a personal record for single-season assists (143). But 1.8 dimes in an offense that lost Rajon Rondo for 44 games still stinks. Besides, Lee's 13.0 turnover percentage and 1.6 turnovers per 36 minutes were career-highs as well.
Lee had occasional moments of brilliance (OK, extremely occasional). But by the postseason, Rivers was done waiting for him to deliver any semblance of consistent impact.
He had already lost his starting gig to allow Jeff Green to start—in the playoffs, he only saw 19 minutes total, even giving way to playing time for loose canons Jordan Crawford and Terrence Williams.
If Lee was a student in the Celtics' basketball system, he would be under the equivalent of academic probation.
Jason Terry, SG
It seems the poor grades are coming consecutively here. Jason Terry, who was signed as a precursor for the inevitable departure of Ray Allen, largely failed to deliver in the role of veteran scorer.
During the season, the “Jet” only featured his customary airplane moves a few times due to inconsistent shooting and terrible passing. He never fit in with Rajon Rondo, and went through long stretches of listless, clang-filled blues.
Even after Rondo went down, he picked up his shooting but continued to negatively affect the team. His points differential after the All-Star break was minus-34.
Terry's 37 percent three-point shooting this year sits right around his par for the course career-wise. But his overall production, especially points and assists, dipped severely. And his defense, which never was his strong suit, now proves practically nonexistent.
He averaged career lows in points (15.0) and assists (3.7) per 40 minutes, and his 43.4 percent rate from the field ranked second-worst since his 2003-04 campaign.
The only really bright spot for Jet seemed to be in the opening round against the Knicks. He scored 12 points per game off 44 percent from both the field and the three-point line. However, he still managed only two assists per game, at a juncture where the Celtics needed more help in the passing game than ever.
Avery Bradley, SG/PG
Speaking of the playoffs, Avery Bradley had just about the most abysmal postseason anyone could have imagined. The young three-year man out of Texas scored 6.7 points and averaged 1.3 assists in 31.8 minutes per game against the Knicks, completely flushing an otherwise-impressive season down the toilet.
So, let's rewind. When Bradley returned from his shoulder injury in January, he single-handedly provided a spark on both sides of the floor for Boston. His man-to-man defense was as dominant as ever, even earning him second team All-Defense honors.
His offensive contributions continued to evolve as well. His jump shot improved significantly, and he started driving to the hoop with more confidence. Even better, his 1.8 turnovers per 36 were by far the lowest of his career.
AB still needs to improve his three-point shooting (31.7 percent on the season) and overall efficiency (40.2 percent from the floor). He also has to drastically improve his passing. Even though he won't ever be expected (or rather, trusted) to man the offense again, he must still learn how to make an entry pass. 2.1 assists per game is unacceptable for any starting guard in this offense.
Still 22 years old, Bradley is far too young to give up on. He plays staggering on-ball defense and could quite possibly be one of the quickest, most athletic two-guards in the league. He may have failed in the playoffs, but he won't soon drop out of a bid for next year's honor roll.
Rajon Rondo, PG
Now comes one of the toughest situations to grade, the star player who falls to injury. It's kind of like the smartest kid in the class getting pneumonia and subsequently missing two tests.
Rondo had arguably his best season as a pro before he tore his ACL in late January. It was a devastating blow to Boston, as his 11.1 assists per game led the league.
Rondo averaged a double-double, adding 13.7 points per game to the 11 dimes. This is quite rare for a point guard. Adding 5.7 rebounds per contest only makes his campaign more impressive.
He had been shooting 48.4 percent from the field, his highest mark since 2009-10 when the Celtics won the Eastern Conference. Even his 65 percent from the line was an improvement—he averaged 58 percent over the previous two years.
Of course, with every report card comes suggested room for improvement.
No top 20 point guard shoots 65 percent from the line, or 21 percent from the outside wings and corners. And the best point guards never looked to make the assist—they looked to make the best play.
Rondo often passed just to pick up the assist this season, hurting the team's offensive rhythm and flow because he held onto the ball for too long. Part of the reason why the Celts went 14-4 after Rondo went down was because they demonstrated the best team basketball of the year.
Rondo's talent is undeniable, but his .108 win shares per 48 minutes proves more work needs to be done. And his 20.9 turnover percentage, worst on the end-of-year roster, shows he should stop trying to be the best point assist man and start trying to be the best player he can be for the Celtics.
Jeff Green, SF
Give this man the “Comeback Player,” “Sixth Man of the Year” and “Most Improved Player” awards for the Boston Celtics. Jeff Green came out of his shell in a major way this season, proving once and for all that Ainge was right about him.
Emerging in late January and early February, Green waged inside-outside attacks and took the league by storm. He slashed to the hoop, knocked down treys and played crisp defense on and off the ball.
Green's 2012-13 metrics back up his highlight reel: he set career highs in true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage, assist ratio and player efficiency rating.
For fans of regular stats, consider this: he averaged a career-best 18.4 points and 2.3 assists per 40 minutes, and shot a career-high 46.6 from the field. And even if you hate stats, you likely loved watching his athleticism, aggressiveness and ability to exploit mismatches.
His performance only improved in the postseason. He led the team in points (20.3 per game), three-point shooting (45.5 percent) and free throws (6.3 per game) in an astounding 43 minutes per game against the Knicks. All this from a guy who only started 17 games during the regular season.
If Green can consistently stay aggressive on offense, and improve his defense a bit, he could become an A-plus player and the heir apparent to Paul Pierce. Expect great things from this 26-year-old stud.
Kevin Garnett, C/PF
Even at the tender age of 36, Kevin Garnett once again impressed this season as the big man and defensive anchor of the Boston Celtics.
If not for Garnett's fiery drive and timeless defense, the Green would have never sniffed the playoffs. He managed an All-Star year despite ankle inflammation, bone spurs and sheer exhaustion.
Although KG clearly lost a step (or two) since he first came to Boston in 2007, his impact on the team remained. He did not post a career year statistically by any means, but his contributions go well beyond numbers.
Besides a handful of players around the league, no player means more to their respective team defensively than Garnett means to the Celtics. He finished with a plus-112 points differential and a 5.6 win share (second only to Pierce's 7.2). He also logged a 19.25 player efficiency rating.
Garnett had to shoulder the load down low all year, playing center alongside Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. After Sully went down, KG logged a 30.4 defensive rebounding ratio and kept everyone focused. The team went 36-32 with him, and 5-8 without him.
Of course, one must analyze the good with the bad. The “Big Ticket” suffered his worst field goal rate (49.6 percent) in six years, and his 78.6 percent free-throw shooting was the worst since 2002-03.
He only averaged 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, and failed to eclipse 70 games for the second consecutive year.
KG gets a slight bump for his solid efforts in the playoffs, shooting 50 percent from the floor despite an unfathomable 35.3 minutes per game. He also shot 94.1 percent from the line, and grabbed a monstrous 13.7 boards over the Knicks per contest.
But for whatever reason, he only took 10 shots per game during the series. Garnett should have been incorporated into the half-court offense much more, especially considering he was making 2.7 of his 2.8 free throw attempts per game. Maybe it's coach Doc Rivers' fault, but 12.7 points per postseason game doesn't warrant an A grade.
Paul Pierce, SF/SG
Any batch of Celtics report cards must end with the captain, Paul Pierce. The “Truth” started a team-high 77 games for Boston and also led the team in scoring (18.7 points per game) and player efficiency rating (19.4).
He also led the team in assists after Rondo fell to his partially-torn ACL. He averaged 5.6 dimes after the All-Star break, up 1.2 from the first half of the season.
As always, Pierce provided solid rebounding (6.3 boards per game), good defense and consistent scoring. His 38 percent from behind the arc was his highest since 2009-10.
However, Pierce's issues down the stretch might be the part of his game that truly sticks out in fans' minds. He averaged 3.2 turnovers a game in the latter part of the season, and a whopping 5.3 turnovers in the playoffs.
Pierce's overall shooting numbers left a lot to be desired this year as well. His 43.6 field goal rate was his lowest in ten years. His playoff percentages? A measly 36.8 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from three-point land, both easily the worst of his career
The Truth gets a lot of credit for leading this team when it needed him the most, and for serving as a main catalyst for a seven-game winning streak and 14-4 run despite a bevy of injuries.
However, his performance down the stretch proved this was one of his down years—and possibly his last season in green until No. 34 gets hoisted into the rafters of TD Garden.
Final Grade: B-