So how might the Celtics exceed those predictions of falling short of the Championship for a fifth year in a row? The first post covered some of the systemic changes that might create a sea change, the second the veterans who could pleasantly surprise. Now come the kids, historically unlikely to provide a boost, but with the most room to improve, and amaze.
Dateline: September 16, 2012––14 days until the start of training camp!
At the bottom, and likely evaporating, end of the training camp roster we have (so far) Jamar Smith and Rob Kurz. Surprising success for them will be making the Red Claws’ roster. Nope, no boost for a Championship run there.
Entering his third NBA season Avery Bradley is the most experienced of the kids; yet is only five months older than the rawest of the bunch, Fab Melo. Yet Bradley missed the summer leagues, training camp, and part of the season his rookie campaign due to ankle surgery. No summer leagues and not much training camp in the lockout shortened season last year; and now with both shoulders operated on, he missed any summer league and will miss part or all of training camp and up to two months of this season. Amidst all this hard luck and misery he burst to the forefront when Ray Allen was injured last year and sparked a late season surge that carried deep into the playoffs until Avery was finally knocked out by the umpteenth shoulder separation. He looked comfortable taking the mid-range shot off the dribble but his killer contributions came from the corner three and diving the baselines for back-door dunks. Until his shoulders gave out he terrorized opposing guards, teaming with Rondo to create the most imposing defensive backcourt in the league. For many this was surprising but not for me, his teammates, or Doc. I saw the tools just not the confidence. They saw it every day in practice, but until last February it didn’t come out in games. I think that as his confidence grows he will be add that midrange shot to his arsenal and be scary good. He and Lee will form a potent tag team, the question is when.
Sullinger I have already nominated as my “most likely homerun” and I am excited about his rebounding, array of inside moves, and adept outlet passes. He has good hands, a good basketball mind, an improving outside shot, and a zest for mixing it up inside. I think it likely he will become the best post-up threat the Celtics have had since Kevin McHale. If that happens this year then it not only lightens the load on Garnett but it greases the inside-out game and triggers the fast break. Yeah, I’m a little pumped!
Fab Melo is the biggest question mark. He’s as raw as steak tartare, but if he progresses as much this season as he did between his Freshman and Sophomore seasons at Syracuse, he will be a factor by March. Even the progress between his last college game and the end of the two weeks of summer leagues was impressive. You have to be at least a little excited by someone who learns English and basketball well enough in three years to be a first round NBA pick. His soccer pedigree and eagerness to learn make developing his 7’ presence an alluring proposition. The fun part is that we are going to get to see him without traveling to the northernmost of the contiguous 48. Most are opining that, barring an injury, he will spend the season in Maine. While that may be true in general, there are several particulars that suggest time in Boston. He will be in Europe, and on TV, for the first two preseason games. He will be in Boston for the rest of preseason and for November since the D-League doesn’t fire up until the end of that month. The NBADL also ends well before the NBA regular season. Finally, this year there is no limit to the number of times a player may move up and down between the DL and the parent club, if Garnett does sit out half of part of the back-to-backs, or the middle of three in four, then I expect we’ll see Melo at least manning the bench if not playing in a blowout or for a few minutes to reward progress.
Our final two roster players, presumably Dionte Christmas and Kris Joseph, will have to tear’em up in practice to force their way onto the court—but that is kinda what this piece is all about. I think the key for Dionte is running the offense. If he can become a better facilitator than Dooling, and that is certainly a weakness of Keyon’s, then I can see Dionte climbing into the third.spot behind Terry. He is probably more likely a midseason cut to make room to sign a veteran bought out, amnestied, or just waived. However if he nails down that last spot in the PG rotation, Dooling might just become the odd man out.
Kris Joseph is the third option behind the strongest one-two punch in the Celtics lineup. Still, if Doc goes Popovich on this season and sits Pierce for a dozen games ( ½ of half of the back to backs) then Joseph will have his chances, provided he earns them in practice. Once Bradley returns, then Doc will have more options like sliding Lee to SF for 15 minutes thus splitting his time between the two and the three. For this season Joseph’s fortunes depend on three facets of his game. Stout defense, efficient and opportunistic offense, and energetic rebounding will be the areas that make his case to get on the court. Conveniently that is exactly what I think he will bring to the table. He’s not going to beat out Green and Pierce for minutes; but he might very well make Doc comfortable in giving Paul the occasional game off, or the second half of blowouts. If he makes his case to stay suited up on game nights, he might be able to work up a sweat when the Celtics go small, or if a big guard starts bullying our smaller SG’s. He certainly won’t be a primary option this year but he definitely could earn time even though two of the best Celtics’ players are in front of him at SF.
Yes, there are a lot of ways the Celtics’ fortunes might take a turn for the better, some of them an actual leap forward. Overall, the most exciting thing is that it seems very likely that the Green in March will be significantly better than in November; and this is really the first time since 2007 that one could say that. Strap in, this could be a heck of a ride!
Boston, and all points beyond