Rolling in the Depth
January 26, 2012
Lately, it seems like every time I turn on the radio, I hear an Adele song. She's a talented singer with a great voice, but the constant radio play can be grating. But hearing "Rolling in the Deep" for the millionth time, got me thinking about the Celtics…
Going into the 2011-2012 season, there were concerns about how well an “older” team like the Celts would handle the rigors of a condensed season with more back-to-back games and even a back-to-back-to-back stretch.
Well, we’re ¼ of the way through this condensed season. The Celtics got off to a slow start: 4-8 including an Opening Day loss to the Knicks on Christmas. But they’ve shown signs of turning things around lately with a 3-1 run.
As Gary Washburn reports on Boston.com, while all the C’s players showed up in good shape, only 2 were in basketball shape: Ray & Rondo. That hurt the team early on, along with an onslaught of injuries, which many people attribute to being “old”. But here’s the thing.
The Celtics aren’t all that old.
Nine of the fifteen Celtics are in their 20s. And only four are older than 31. The Lakers, who odds makers ranked second, at 5/1, to win the NBA championship at the start of the season (only the Heat had better odds) have only six players in their 20s. And four of those six are named Ebanks, Caracter, Goudelock and Morris. Not exactly household names.
And yet the Celtics were ranked 6th by odds makers at 12/1. Perhaps because Boston’s so “old”. But think about it. Ray Allen (36), Kevin Garnett (35) and Kobe Bryant (33) are all fitness freaks. Who’s more likely to break down in a condensed season?
Ray has missed only 15 games in his 4+ years in Boston as his minutes per game have dropped from 40 during his last year in Seattle to 33 this year. KG has missed 60 games in 4+ years as his minutes have dropped from almost 40 in Minnesota to almost 31 this season. Kobe has only missed 9 games in the past 4+ seasons. But he’s still averaging over 38 minutes per game this season.
But he’s younger you say? Chronologically yes. But based on mileage and wear and tear, Kobe may be the oldest 33 year old in NBA history. Not only did he join the NBA right out of high school like KG, but he’s also played in over 200 playoff games in his career. Great for him. Not so great for his knees. Ankles. Wrist. Etc.
All told, Bryant has played a total of 1330 games in the NBA. Garnett, in spite of being 2 years older has played fewer NBA games (1316). And Allen who is 3 years older than Kobe, but played 3 years of college ball at UCONN, only has 1226 total NBA games under his belt.
To say that Kobe is overdue for a significant injury like KG had 3 seasons ago is an understatement. And in this shortened season, it doesn’t take a major injury to be a season-ender. If Bryant were to go down, it’s hard to envision the Lakers getting out of the first round of the playoffs since he’s averaging over 30 ppg. Gasol/Bynum are only averaging 16 each and the rest of the team is under 8ppg. Talk about a one-man show.
But if any of the Celtics Big/Old 3 were to get hurt, it’d be easier to replace them than in previous seasons. One, because their minutes and production have decreased. And two, because Danny Ainge has put together a deep, young bench.
While Pietrus and Dooling aren’t the player Ray Allen is, they could probably come pretty close to replacing his 15 pts/3 rebs/2 asst production each game. The same is true for, Daniels and Pavlovic replacing Pierce’s 17/5/5. Or Brandon Bass covering KG’s 14/7/3.
Jason Kapono is a good shooter. But can you see him coming anywhere near Kobe’s nightly averages of 30/6/6? Or playing Kobe-level defense?
2nd coming of the Black Mamba? Evan Gole/NBAE/Getty Images
Then there’s the matter of expectations. The Lakers are the favorite to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. The media experts don’t envision the Celtics getting past the second round of this year’s playoffs even if they were fully healthy. Then again, three years ago those same media experts underestimated the Celtics and the KG-less Celtics surprised them by finishing one win away from the Conference Finals.
More recently, your C’s – minus two starters (Allen and Rondo) and three key reserves (Pietrus, Dooling, Wilcox), shocked everyone by blowing out the Magic, holding them to a franchise low of 56 points three nights ago.
Due to the unusual nature of this season, with more games crammed into less time, a much shorter training camp and preseason, depth is more important than ever. And GM Danny Ainge has put together a deep team, as evidenced by the performance vs. the Magic.
Avery Bradley and E’Twaun Moore stepped up at point guard against the Magic with Bradley’s relentless ball pressure on All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson really paying dividends. Just think how much pressure Bradley and Rondo could apply on opposing backcourts if Doc paired them together when Rondo returns. Reserves Brandon Bass, Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic were big contributors to the win as well. I wonder if the Magic will play a tribute video for Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus tonight like the Celtics did for Big Baby Davis and Kendrick Perkins.
Building this level of depth wasn’t easy as Danny survived three significant blows before the season started. First off, one of their youngest stars, Jeff Green, was lost for the season due to heart surgery. To replace Green, Ainge was working on a deal to land veteran all-star forward David West. Depending on which reports you believe, West took $10 million a year for two years to play for Indiana instead of $9 or $9.5 million a year for three or four years to play for Boston. Go figure. Maybe money was more important than winning for West.
Third, Delonte West left for Dallas for the same veteran minimum contract the Celtics offered him. Another head scratcher. Not only is Delonte a starting caliber guard, but he’s already familiar with the Celtics players, coaches, system and Boston itself, which would’ve helped the team’s continuity as well as its depth. Delonte is a big energy guy too. And you can’t have enough of them this season.
So the Green started the season down one Green and two DWests. Ouch.
But it looks like they may be coming around. For tonight’s rematch with Orlando, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSSNE.com reports that the Celtics will be without Rondo and Ray again. And Jermaine O’Neal is doubtful. But Wilcox, Dooling and Pietrus are expected to play. So the Celtics’ depth will have an opportunity to come through again. And they’ll need to because the Magic will be seeking payback from Monday night’s loss in Boston.
Speaking of depth, some of you may have forgotten that Danny Ainge’s biggest free agent signing this offseason was Chris Wilcox, as he’s been injured for most of the season so far. I’ll remind you that he’s a veteran power forward with enough size to play center. He was on the Pistons last year. He’s in his 20s and is, as they say, an ath-a-lete. Click on the video below for a quick review of what Wilcox can bring to the C’s when he’s healthy. Hopefully, starting tonight against Dwight Howard. If JO is out, the Celtics will need Wilcox, Stiemsma and KG to step up vs. the big fella.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog, feel free to contact me at RamblingDude@gmail.com.