What Would It Take for the Boston Celtics to Win the Championship?
By "everything clicking," I mean the best possible scenario in every way. Maybe it would require every player to reach their full potential, but usually not quite that much. I also mean that the team could win without making any trades, no major injuries occur and the coaching is at least logical.
The Boston Celtics are an underdog to win the title, but they are still widely believed to be a contender. In my last article about the Atlanta Hawks, I said that it would take a miracle to get "everything clicking." In this case, it would be unlikely, but far from impossible.
Here is what it would take for the Celtics to win the championship.
Note: The Celtics have played their first game since this was written, but nothing in it changes.
I've been saying since 2010 that if Rajon Rondo became a half-respectable jump-shooter, he'd be the best point guard in the NBA, and I am a huge Chris Paul guy.
The more his shot is improving, the more unstoppable he becomes. Just look at last year's playoffs for instance, where he had moments of both competence and confidence in his jump shot. I seem to remember a 44-point, 10-assist outburst.
Rondo is the best player on the Celtics by far. He's arguably the best point guard in the NBA (No. 3 in my opinion), especially at ball-handling, passing, finishing, rebounding and defending.
He has a great set of physical tools and his basketball I.Q. is off the charts. As Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett decline, he will need to become a better scorer. If his shot continues to improve, especially from 15-20 feet, he will not only be able to score at will, but in my opinion, he'll become the best point guard since Magic Johnson.
The good news for Celtics fans is that he's already knocked down several jumpers this preseason, and with confidence. The bad news is that he still has a long ways to go, and I haven't even mentioned his free-throw shooting.
Defensively, Rondo is one of the better individual defenders in the league, and perhaps the best point guard in the NBA in terms of "team defense." However, he still does gamble too much, and teams that struggle with decision making rarely win titles.
The Celtics were the third worst rebounding team in the NBA last year. While they're set to improve on that this season, there is no reason Rondo can't improve on his mark of 4.8 rebounds per game. He averaged more than twice that in the 2009 postseason, so 6.5 rebounds per game is definitely a reachable goal this regular season.
In order for the Celtics to win the championship, they'll need Rondo to be an MVP candidate this year, which is more than possible. More importantly, they'll need him to step his game up further in the postseason, which he already does.
Last season, he averaged 12 points and nearly 12 assists per game. During the postseason, he got his scoring up to 17 points per game. Averages of 17 and 12 with six rebounds per game and top-tier defense will give him a legitimate shot at MVP this year. More importantly, it'll give him the confidence he needs to be the primary scoring option in the postseason when it's necessary.
Kevin Garnett Staying and Succeeding at Center
While Kevin Garnett has spent his entire career at power forward, he spent the 2012 playoffs at the center position. He averaged more than 19 points and 10 rebounds per game while still making his major defensive mark. In other words, he looked five years younger, playing 37 minutes per game.
Personally, I don't see why it worked. While his "6-foot-13" height advantage is still a factor at the center position, he is quite thin for the position and he doesn't have the athleticism to make up for his lack of strength. Also, his main source of offense is an 18-foot jumper, which is not typical for a center.
It looks like KG is staying at center again, and while I doubt he's going to play 37 minutes per game throughout the whole season, the Celtics have to take special care to make sure he doesn't get injured playing against bigger guys than he's used to. Of course, he is about as tough as anyone, so he likely can handle it.
What's important for KG is that he stays healthy and doesn't age too much in the next year. The improved play of Garnett may have been the most important factor in their run. If they can count on that next year, they'll have an elite center and an elite point guard, for starters.
Paul Pierce doesn't need his own slide because we know what to expect from him: Slightly worse numbers than last year. He'll still be a borderline-elite small forward who can go off for 30 points when needed.
Brandon Bass will be a very important member of the Celtics if they want to win a title this year. His versatility, solid on-ball defense and high-rising mid-range jumpers are vital to the Celtics' success.
However, if they want to be a half-decent rebounding team, he'll have to improve on last season's mark of six rebounds per 32 minutes. He also needs to improve his passing. The Celtics move the ball around a lot and look for open shooters. His lack of passing ability simply can be disruptive at times. If he remembers how to rebound and learns how to pass in the flow of the offense, he'll be a great player for them in limited starter's minutes.
Courtney Lee is likely going to start for the Celtics, and that's how it should be. Lee is a very good defender and a consistent three-point threat. He also does a good job getting out in transition. Basically, he's a perfect compliment to Rondo. While he shouldn't expect 36 minutes per game, he could be a great find to start at shooting guard.
Perhaps the best thing about this Celtics team is that it has four legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidates in Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry. The latter two have already won it before.
Bradley is a bolt of energy when needed, as he is not only one of the best defenders in the NBA, but he also is considered (or so I have been informed every time I've watched a Celtics game this past season) to be the best off-ball cutter in the NBA. That's always nice when you're playing with somebody with the court vision of Rondo.
Barbosa, the Brazilian Blur, can do a variety of things, and if he's to be put on the court at the same time as Bradley, they will form possibly the fastest backcourt of all time. Green can score in almost every way possible at either forward spot. And Terry was one of the heroes from the 2011 NBA Finals that specializes in beating the Miami Heat. Jared Sullinger and Kris Joseph are expected to be excellent contributors as rookies.
Still, two problems arise. First off, who plays backup point guard? Rondo is the only point guard on the team, but he does have to leave the floor for 10 minutes every night. Unfortunately, Bradley, Terry and Barbosa have all seen their best minutes at off-guard. Doc Rivers will have to find someone to step up, unless he's willing to run an offense for 10 minutes per game utilizing only fast breaks and isolation sets. Not to mention that there's a massive logjam at shooting guard.
What's even worse is the gaping hole in the depth chart behind Kevin Garnett. I guarantee you that Rivers does not want to play some combination of Sullinger, Green, Bass, Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox at center every night for a third of the game. Yet there is one more option, a man whose name is practically one of the biggest swearwords there is to NBA fans: Darko Milicic.
Believe it or not, Milicic is actually capable of playing backup center. In the 2010-2011 season, in which he received limited starter's minutes every night, he actually put together some solid Per 36 stats: 13 points and 8 rebounds per night. But who would've thought that Milicic could averaged 3 blocks Per 36? If the Celtics can keep Darko in shape and motivated, they actually have themselves a decent backup center.
I've told you what I think is necessary for the Boston Celtics to have a chance to win the NBA Finals.
In this scenario, the Celtics would have the best bench in the NBA, possibly the best defense in the NBA and a very solid, balanced offense. Hopefully they can get the rebounding to at least a respectable level.
If you aren't convinced that they have a chance, think about what else could possibly happen.
What if Darko Milicic reaches his full potential and becomes a starting-quality player? What if Jared Sullinger ends up being the most NBA-ready rookie out of all of them? What is Fab Melo or Kris Joseph end up being a surprise? What if Jeff Green becomes the All-Star we used to think he could be?
All of these things are quite possible, and because of that, there are a lot of things that could lead to the Celtics being 2013 NBA champions.