Boston Celtics: Larry Bird, Paul Pierce and the Top 15 Forwards in Team History
Photo: Michael Dwyer - AP
I recently wrote a piece on how the 1986 Boston Celtics stacked up against the current 2011 team. The readers appeared to be split over the issue, debating and comparing the merits of Larry Bird versus Paul Pierce, among the other players that surrounded them.
This led me taking things one step further and trying to decide who the best Celtics’ Forward of all-time was? Could I make a case for Pierce over Bird? How did they compare to John Havlicek or Tom Heinsohn?
Unlike the last article, this ranking was based entirely on statistical analysis. After all, nearly half of the players ranked had retired before I was born, so how qualified was I to accurately rank them?
It’s a simple rotisserie system, taking 12 categories and ranking 20 players from 1-20 in each statistic. The categories were games, minutes, points, rebounds, assists, minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, all-star appearances, championships, and total seasons played.
The categories used appear to accurately reflect how many people would naturally lean when trying to compile this list. Players who didn’t play their whole careers with the Celtics were marked down, while players who weren’t high scorers, but won championships were compensated for their contributions.
The only rules that applied to being eligible for the list were as followed: A player had to have spent over three seasons with the Celtics and Forward had to be their primary position (i.e. no Dave Cowens or Ed Maculey).
For argument’s sake, I will defend each player’s ranking on the list.
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The bottom five, ranked 16-20 were Radja, Loscutoff, Gamble, Pinckney and Wedman.
The only surprise that might jump out to some people would be Jim Loscutoff. “Loscy” did have his number retired by the Celtics. Scratch that, he had his name retired by the Celtics, but he wasn’t a standout player is his nine years with the Celtics.
He averaged 6.2 PPG in his career, but was a part of six championships, which by itself is a pretty outstanding statistic. Still, Loscutoff wasn’t a dominant player by any means and for that he found himself ranked 17th on the list.
None of the other players had lengthy enough careers to climb the rankings.
15: Rick Fox
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Rick Fox was the 24th pick in the 1991 draft for the Boston Celtics. He was the first player since Larry Bird to start in his pro debut and there was early talk that he could potentially be a superstar.
While this never did happen, Fox did have the 5th longest tenure of any player in the 1991 draft, solidifying him as a decent pick for the Celtics, during his six years with the team.
He eventually signed with the Los Angeles Lakers after his rookie deal expired, enjoying success as a role player and winning three championships.
Few people remember Fox was traded back to the Celtics in 2004, but he never did re-suit up with team as it was known he was set to retire before the deal was executed.
14: Bailey Howell
Bailey Howell spent four seasons with the Celtics in the late 60’s, capturing two titles during that time. He may not be enshrined in Celtics lore, but is a member of the NBA Hall of fall.
Howell possesses a career scoring average of 18.7 PPG and 9.9 in the rebounding department, numbers in line with the stats he posted with the Celtics.
13: Kevin Garnett
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Now before anyone goes crazy and starts making “Garnett is so much better than McHale” statements, keep in mind this is the greatest Celtics’ Forwards of all-time. Garnett has only been on the team for three plus years while everyone else on the list exceeds that number.
However, KG was instrumental in bringing the Celtics a 17th championship and ranks among the top Celtics in efficiency rating.
While his legacy is still being written, today’s Celtics fans will remember Garnett as an integral of the Celtics success over the past three years.
12: Larry Siegfried
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Larry Siegfried is another name that won’t jump out at younger Celtics fans, but he was a solid contributor in his seven seasons, winning five championships.
At only 6’3”, Siegfried is the smallest forward on the list, but what he lacked in rebounding he offset with his passing totals, often playing the two spot for the Celtics.
While none of his numbers are eye-popping, Siegfried was a part of five championship teams and that is what he is most remembered for.
11: Paul Silas
Photo: Walter Iooss Jr. - SI
Paul Silas may have only spent four of his 16 NBA season with the Celtics, but he made an impact during that time, averaging 12.3 RPG from 1972-1976.
A bruiser under the glass, Silas helped restore championship glory to Boston after Bill Russell’s playing career had come to an end, winning titles in 1974 and 1976.
10: Reggie Lewis
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Where Reggie Lewis could have wound up on this list we will never know. The Norteastern graduate and heir apparent to Larry Bird died, suddenly from heart failure after only six seasons in the NBA.
Lewis never won a championship and only appeared in one All-star game, but he was as consistent as anyone in team history in his five seasons as a starter, putting up career numbers of 17.6 PPG and a 49% FG.
9: Don Nelson
“Nellie” may be more widely regard for his coaching career, but he did capture five championships during his stint with the Celtics.
Before joining the Celtics, Nelson bounced around with Chicago and Los Angeles, toiling in obscurity. The Celtics signed him in 1965 and he proceeded to spend the final 11 of his career in green.
While Nelson may have only chipped in modestly in the stats department, he was an iron man, playing in 82 games for five straight seasons, including the 1970 season where he scored a career best 15.4 PPG.
8: Cedric Maxwell
Photo: NBA Photos
Cedric Maxwell was the best player on the 1978 Celtics, his second year in the league. He averaged 19.0 PPG, 9.9 RPG and led the league in field goal percentage at over 60 percent.
Of course, a farm boy from Indiana came along the next season and Max’s legacy was never what it could have been, but still Cedric Maxwell made solid contributions in his eight seasons with the Celtics, including being named Finals MVP in 1981.
7: Tom “Satch” Sanders
Tom Sanders’ eight championships rank 3rd in NBA history, behind teammates Bill Russell and Sam Jones. He was never a dynamic scorer during his career, still managed to be named to six All-star games from 1957-1965.
Known for his heart and durability, Sanders was always willing to defend against the best players in the league, earning him respect as one of the most athletic Celtics’ players of all-time.
6: Tom Heinsohn
No player has been involved with the Celtics longer than Tommy Heinsohn. He spent nine years as a player, nine as a coach and 30+ as a broadcaster. It’s a legacy that has endeared him to Boston fans ever since his rookie season in 1956.
Heinsohn put up solid numbers during his career, including six All-star selections, 18.6 PPG and 1.0 pack of cigarettes per game at halftime.
5: Kevin McHale
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Kevin McHale was a member of the Celtics’ original “Big Three”. Alongside Larry Bird and Robert Parish, the Big Three continued the trend of the Celtics winning championships, netting three during his 13 years in Boston.
Equally talented for his offense and defense, McHale’s accolades include seven All-star appearances, six All-Defensive Team (1st and 2nd) awards, two 6th Man of the Year recognitions and one selection to the All-NBA team in 1987.
4: Antoine Walker
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Here’s the one player that will surprise and probably offend a couple of people. Antoine never won a championship with the Celtics and played on some of the worst teams in franchise history, but he was the unquestionable team leader during his first tenure with the team.
Walker was a fantastic scorer, passer and rebounder in Boston. His defense was underrated as well, though quicker players could find their way around him.
Still, because Walker played on mostly poor teams at the beginning of his career, he doesn’t have the legacy of any of the great all-time Celtics. But Walker is among the top players in Celtics’ history in scoring average (20.8) and RPG (8.7), carving out his niche.
3: Paul Pierce
Like Antoine Walker and players of the modern era, Paul Pierce doesn’t garner the praise of the two players ahead of him on the list. Yet, Paul is clearly deserving of his spot in Celtics’ history, due to his numerous accomplishments that include one championship.
Pierce’s all-around game has earned him nine all-star appearances, while ranking 3rd in team history in points scored.
It may take a couple of years after his retirement, but Pierce’s legacy will eventually set in, leading to him being considered one of the great Celtics of all-time.
2: Larry Bird
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What more could you ask for in a Celtic? Larry played with toughness and finesse and was an integral part during the NBA’s rise in the 1980’s.
Larry would delight a sold-out Boston Garden crowd every night with his dazzling playmaking abilities and scoring prowess.
Not many people receive the nickname “Legend” without earning that designation.
1: John Havlicek
Photo: Manny Millan - SI
John Havlicek is the greatest Celtics’ Forward of all-time. From the statistics, to the legacy, to the championships, “Hondo” was an elite all-around player.
Havlicek sits among the Celtics leader board in games, minutes, points and field goals. Had steals been tracked during his entire career, he’d lead that category as well.
He also won eight championships and ripped off a streak of eight straight seasons on both an All-NBA team and an All-Defensive team.
From a basketball perspective, there was nothing Havlicek couldn’t do, which is why he is not just the greatest Celtics’ Forward of all-time, but one of the NBA’s best players of all-time.