For the first time in 15 years, the distribution of minutes at small forward is a real concern for the Boston Celtics. With Paul Pierce pacing the floors of TD Garden for the past decade-and-a-half, the 3 was always a position that the C’s never had to worry much about.
However, now that Pierce has been traded to the Brooklyn Nets alongside Kevin Garnett, there are some questions about the position. While Jeff Green is a lock to be the starter, the arrival of Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans and Donte Greene at least creates a conversation about how minutes and responsibilities will be shared among the four players going forward.
Besides point guard, small forward may be the most stacked position in the league, particularly in the Eastern Conference. If Boston wants to experience any kind of success under Brad Stevens in 2013-14, they are going to need to get consistent, quality production not only from Green but also from the wings off the pine.
With training camp drawing closer and the depth chart largely complete, let’s take some time to shine a light on what post-Pierce life will be like for Boston at small forward next season.
Starter: Jeff Green
Projected Stats: 18.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 37.1 MPG, 45.9 FG%, 36.4 3P%
After a turbulent 2012-13 season that ended on a high note in the playoffs, Green will finally have the opportunity to be Boston’s small forward of the future with Pierce in Brooklyn.
Green has been a phenomenal athlete and a highly skilled player for his five seasons in the league, but he has never been able to shake consistency problems and can disappear for long stretches of key games.
In 2012-13, Green averaged 12.8 points, 3.9 boards and 1.6 assists on 46.7 percent shooting. He was brilliant as a starter, notching 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 52.3 percent overall and an insane 51.9 percent from three-point range.
Beginning his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Green spent his first few years primarily as an undersized 4 but became a 3 nearly full-time when he was traded to the Celtics in 2011.
Though he struggled to fit in as a sixth man with the veteran C’s, Green responded well to an increased role in 2012-13 and showed that he could potentially be a player to build around.
Green has the ability to attack the basket off the dribble and also stretch out an opposing defense with his outside shooting ability. Last season he did a nice job not just settling for jumpers, averaging 5.2 shots at the rim per 40 minutes and converting 66.3 percent of them, according to HoopData.
With his athleticism, Green has the ability to finish over the outstretched arms of defenders and also play shutdown defense in spurts.
Green is not an elite team defender, but he does well in one-on-one matchups. Per 82Games, Green held opposing small forwards to a PER of just 9.8.
Still, despite his tremendous physical gifts, there are plenty of concerns with Green, who is entering his third season with Boston after missing all of 2011-12 with an aortic aneurysm.
As a career 34.5 percent three-point shooter, it is highly unlikely Green is going to shoot nearly as well as he did when starting in 2012-13. When his outside shot is not falling, Green has a harder time penetrating and attacking the basket.
Green has also never been called upon to lead a team, something that he must now do with these rebuilding Celtics. He and Rajon Rondo will be asked to shoulder a huge load for the offense, and Green will be thrust into a bigger role than he has ever had for an entire campaign.
Without veterans like Pierce and Garnett around, Green will need to work on remedying some of the bad habits he has developed during his time in the league. Green has huge trouble shaking off a poor start to a game and often goes into seemingly irreparable funks after a few consecutive misses or turnovers.
Though the Celts have some decent depth at the 3, they will lean heavily on Green as their first option offensively, particularly with Rondo returning from his ACL injury.
Additionally, with Boston’s lack of depth at point guard they may lean on Green more heavily in a point-forward role, a position he was used in sparingly under Doc Rivers but one that he has the talent to excel in.
Expect Green to take the lion’s share of shots and for Boston’s entire season to mirror the success or failure Green has in his first season with major expectations.
Key Reserve: Gerald Wallace
Projected Stats: 8.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.6 BPG, 1.2 SPG, 22.1 MPG, 43.2 FG%, 30.6 3P%
At 30 years old, no one was expecting Gerald Wallace to have a career year in 2012-13 with Brooklyn, but the former All-Star’s game simply fell off a cliff.
He was considerably slower and moved less fluidly on the court. He struggled with his outside shot and generally seemed incapable of the highlight-reel plays he made regularly with the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers.
His averages of 7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists on 39.7 percent shooting were a far cry from his career numbers.
Considering that he is still owed $30 million over the next three years, it is easy to see why many fans consider Wallace’s contract among the worst in the league.
Wallace has never been an elite shooter or a highly skilled player, but his athleticism and physicality have enabled him to thrive at either forward spot. Now that he has reached veteran status though, the Celtics will use him primarily as a reserve 3.
In his prime, Wallace was an explosive athlete who could make plays at the rim on both ends, but he averaged just 3.8 shots at the bucket last season, per HoopData. That was down from 6.4 when he was with the Nets after the 2012 trade deadline.
After years of playing brutally physical basketball, Wallace looked worn down and was no longer able to dominate on the glass like he once could. Because of that, he has essentially become a “three-and-D” wing who cannot shoot particularly well.
Wallace hit just 28.2 percent from three in 2012-13 and is a career 31.3 percent shooter from distance.
He remains a decent defender though, holding opposing small forwards to a 12.4 PER, according to 82Games. He has fast hands, he can read passing lanes and is still quick enough laterally to stay with most wing scorers.
Wallace is no longer an All-Defensive team player, but he is still an asset on that end of the floor and will be important for the culture of the team as well.
He will likely be used in a stopper-off-the-bench role, potentially playing some crunch-time minutes and being called upon to run the floor offensively and guard one of the opposing team’s best scorers.
These Celtics could use a stable veteran presence on the court to counteract the mercurialness of Rondo, something that Wallace should be able to provide in spades.
Though his game is limited and he figures to be no better than the third option offensively when he is on the court, expect to see a decent amount of Wallace at the 3 while the C’s look for a team willing to take on the remainder of his horrendous contract.
Additional Depth: Keith Bogans
Projected Stats: 3.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.1 BPG, 0.3 SPG, 11.4 MPG, 40.9 FG%, 36.2 3P%
Although not a true small forward, the 6’5” Keith Bogans is capable of playing some 3 if needed.
The swingman, whose $5.1 million salary in 2013-14 was essential to the blockbuster Nets deal going through, will not be asked to play anything more than spot minutes off the bench.
Bogans has never been an elite player, and at this point in his career he is a fringe rotation guy, not an impact piece. In 2012-13 he averaged 4.2 points, 1.6 boards and one dime per game for Brooklyn while shooting just 38 percent from the field.
Given his lack of explosiveness and scoring acumen, Bogans will primarily be used as a spot-up shooter from the corners, where he can still hit threes at a decent clip. The C’s offense requires plenty of spacing and, if nothing else, Bogans can still provide that with his outside touch.
Unfortunately, Bogans has not had much success offensively at the 3. Last season his PER as a small forward was just 8.7, per 82Games.
Defensively Bogans will have problems against the league’s bigger, more physical wing players, but he is a crafty veteran defender who Stevens will be able to use for four- or five-minute stretches in order to spell Green or Wallace.
Don’t expect Bogans to make much of an impact or live up to his contract, but the 33-year-old swingman will have a role as a defender and shooter off the Celts’ bench, at least to start the season.
Additional Depth: Donte Greene
Projected Stats: 1.2 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.1 SPG, 3.5 MPG, 39.4 FG%, 31.6 3P%
Though it is likely that Boston waives Donte Greene to avoid the luxury tax, his contract does not become fully guaranteed until January 10, per MassLive’s Jay King, meaning the team may keep the Syracuse product until then.
In 2009-10, Greene made 50 starts and averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.9 assists while shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three.
The 6’11” Greene can play both forward spots, but he is probably best suited as a stretch-4 who can create mismatches on the perimeter.
He has the athleticism to make plays at the rim and is capable of driving and finishing in the paint as well.
Greene is prone to ill-advised shots and can be uninterested at times on defense, but he has the talent and the combination of size and quickness to be a quality two-way player if he can find a rotation spot.
It’s easy to forget that he is still just 25 years old since he has spent five seasons in the NBA, but Greene still has plenty of untapped potential.
At this point it does not seem likely that Greene stays with Boston long, let alone finds his way into the nine-man rotation. But he has proven that he can play consistent minutes at the NBA level, albeit not yet with a good team.
Greene may spend some time on the Celts’ bench, but he will not be doing much at the 3 for Boston in 2013-14.