One of my favorite summertime activities as I fall asleep is to picture the upcoming battles in training camp. This year there are really only two areas in which I foresee heavy competition, mostly because the pecking order seems pretty clear cut at most positions. That’s really too bad because healthy competition typically helps both/all players involved.
Dateline: August 10, 2012––51 days until the start of training camp!
I site, as an example, the rookie years of Leon Powe and Glen Davis. Their camp (and year-long) battle brought out the best, and improvement, in both players, and led to significant rookie contributions on a Championship team. Admittedly these struggles can devolve into destructive disruptions that serve no one well. Our poster child for this might well feature Delonte West and Von Wafer. Delonte resorted to rugby (not, I believe, in the guards handbook) on the basketball court and that served neither player, nor the team, well. But enough background, on to visions of October 2012.
One of the battles will likely be put on hold, perhaps for weeks, maybe for months. The Avery Bradley vs. Courtney Lee struggle should be titanic. Both are good defenders with adequate, and developing, offensive skills. I would expect to see the dogfight at such a fever pitch that teammates will be thankful they aren’t trapped between the contestants (and you can be darn sure that Jameer Nelson doesn’t want to be within miles). I hope Bradley is cleared for full contact by mid-October (let the death-match ensue), but fear it may December, when practice time has already dropped to sporadic. At its best this competition will resolve into a tag-team at the two guard where their defense terrorizes the rest of the league since almost every team sports a primary scorer at shooting guard.
My second dream-state battle is for fourth big man. I think Garnett, Bass, and Wilcox are at the top of the 4/5 list but which player(s) fill out the rotation may be a mighty struggle. Sullinger and Fab Melo are much more likely to be in the fray if they arrive in camp in significantly better condition than they exhibited during the summer leagues. It remains to be seen whether Jason Collins has more to show with a fresh start. Coming out of Stanford eleven years ago “The Draft Review” had this to say about Collins: “Knows how to use his size to box out opposing player for the easy rebounds or put-backs … Soft hands that catch any pass that comes in his direction.” More recently he has drawn descriptions such as ponderously slow and hands of stone (perhaps mercy killing a possibility). So which is he? If he emerges as the fourth big man, he may share the court with Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass. Shooters all, and Terry is quite proficient at running the pick-and-roll/pop. With Bass popping, Collins might have regular opportunities to catch and shoot the 0-18” shot, something he seems to make well. Or will the fourth big man be Jeff Green?
These four guys have such different skill sets that it is a little hard to picture their (camp) battles being mano-a-mano, or at least their roles as fourth big man are unlikely to be similar (maybe Melo and Collins). Yet how the combinations play out, and if Bradley is delayed this could stretch well into the season, may have a lot to do with how Doc mixes and matches his new box of toys.
I suppose my favored outcome is that Jared Sullinger arrives at camp lean, mean, and ultra-aggressive. He becomes the inside threat, and rebounder, that has been basically missing from the Celtics for . . . well, for a long, long, long time. None of our other big men have that attack-the-basket attitude or the relish for contact to make that a regular/constant threat. I read an article today suggesting Cowens as his tutor/coach, sounds good to me. During summer leagues I thought his footwork, angles, and feints around the basket were mindful of Kevin McHale but he’s busy coaching 17 power forwards in Houston right now. Also, as I fall asleep, Sully keeps pulling down the rebound and whipping it out to a guard on the wing approaching mid-court, and the new Gazelle Group (Rondo, Bradley, Green, and Wilcox) sweep down the plain like a Mongol hoard, laying waste to the crumbling opposition and leaving defenders in tattered shreds. Ooooh, I dream pretty well!