They contributed to the 14-game winning streak. When time was short in the first quarter, they entered the game. Sometimes they were staggered, other times they came in as a unit. Their goal was to play as a unit with the veterans still on the court.
The bar has been set low for rookies Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody and first year Celtic Von Wafer. On a veteran team with plenty of depth, playing time was expected to be sparse and it’s held true. Boston was built with one objective in mind: Banner 18.
With such a lofty goal, the time to hold the newcomers’ hands and teach them Boston’s system is limited. Yet coach Doc Rivers is carefully picking his spots to give the new guys valuable playing time without compromising wins.
They will only get so much out of practice. Getting them conditioned to real game situations will prepare them when Rivers calls one of their names during a critical moment later in the season.
Bradley has the most talent as well as the longest road to travel to become a pro. Boston wants to turn Bradley into a point guard, but Avery lacks a collegiate foundation after entering the NBA Draft after one year at the University of Texas.
It’s been difficult so far, as Bradley lacks NBA-level ball handling and decision-making. His learning environment will be very challenging but can be very beneficial if Bradley is patient and listens.
Bradley is learning how to play the position from Rivers, a former NBA point guard for 13 years. Doc is going to be tough and demanding of Bradley. It’s a complex offense Bradley has to learn as well as being fully committed to playing tough defense on every possession.
Avery has the defense part right already. Rivers said Bradley already has NBA-level defense. Rivers can put that to use as long as the ball is kept out of Bradley’s hands on offense.
Bradley has to prove he’s capable of running the team in practice by going against Rajon Rondo and Delonte West. What better teaching tools for Avery than an All-Star point guard and a junkyard dog-tough combo guard?
Rondo arguably is the best defender in the league at the point guard position. He also leads the league in assists with 13.8 per game. Bradley won’t get to Rondo’s level. Players with Rondo’s anticipation and vision are rare. Yet there is so much Bradley can pick up about how to play the position from Rondo.
A more realistic goal for Bradley would be West, but again Avery has much to learn. Bradley’s defense is admirable, but competing against Delonte will build toughness. West plays every game like his last, aggressive and all out every second on the court. West won’t give an inch to Bradley, punishing the rookie physically and mentally.
Bradley can’t let frustration get the better of him. He has to learn from his many mistakes and stay receptive to the lessons learned from the coaches and his tormentors. Whenever Bradley feels like throwing in the towel, he needs to remind himself that Rondo and West were both taught by Rivers. You can’t beat that for motivation.
Wafer already has an NBA-level skill, but Rivers was still slow to insert Wafer into games. Von survived the final preseason cut because he can shoot, and Rivers believes a team can never have enough shooters.
But the Celtics need Wafer to be more than just a shooter. He has to play defense and protect the ball better to get on the court.
There’s almost no limit to the players with scoring ability on the Celtics. Boston is a very unselfish team that makes the extra pass to the open man. Seven different players led the team in scoring during the 14-game winning streak.
Wafer’s understanding on offense is growing and he will get shots when he goes to the right spots. But before taking aim, Von has to focus on the other end of the court. Boston is a defense first team. They generate offense from their defense and it’s every player’s responsibility. If the Celtics had room for defensive exceptions on the team, Eddie House wouldn’t had been traded for Nate Robinson last season.
Wafer can really fill it up when his shot is falling. Doc wants to take advantage of that. But if Von keeps turning the ball over and allows easy shots, he’s too much of a liability to offset his offensive contributions.
The toughest challenge for Harangody is finding his place on the team. The league eats unathletic tweeners alive. Harangody was able to get away with being an undersized PF at Notre Dame, but that’s not the case now. Opponents quickly go after Luke in the post. He might be strong enough, but Luke isn’t long enough and lacks the wingspan to compensate.
Shifting Harangody to small forward is an equally defensive nightmare. He’s too slow laterally to defend on the perimeter. If Luke plays too close, they use a quick first step to blow by him. Try to take away the drives to the rim and Harangody leaves enough room for an uncontested jumper.
To muscle his way into a consistent role, Harangody has to sharpen his jumper and make a name for himself as a hustler.
Harangody opened eyes during the Summer League with a jumper that extended beyond the three point line. He showed a good understanding of spacing on offense and had a release that was too quick for defenders to block consistently.
What really stood out about Harangody was his productivity despite his limitations. When a shot bounced off the rim, Luke crashed the boards among the trees and came down with rebounds. If a loose ball was on the ground, Harangody dove head first as if recovering a fumble. A ball bouncing out of bounds was quickly followed by a bounding Harangody, trying to save the ball to a teammate.
It’s a never give up effort not seen in every player. Luke won’t succeed on every attempt, but he will make some plays to help the team.
Rivers is dealing with one of his toughest juggling jobs with the Celtics as he’s dealt with endless injuries. C Kendrick Perkins has been out all year, with a return no sooner than late January/early February.
Other players that missed time have been C Shaquille O’Neal, C/PF Jermaine O’Neal, West, Rondo and now PF Kevin Garnett. Their contributions can’t be replaced.
Bradley, Wafer and Harangody can help in the meantime. If they prove themselves worthy, they’ll get more time, becoming valuable depth. That would be great for the Celtics, as The Big Three can’t do it by themselves.
Randolph Charlotin writes a New England Patriots blog at www.randolphc.com. Send any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.