|Posted by paul on October 22, 2012 at 6:45 AM|
It was fun watching the video Shawn posted of the Celtics' post-game media sessions. The guys obviously had a lot of fun with it, passing the hotseat off to each other, and, in a way, spoofing the whole process they have to go through, the whole media circus process. They all seem to agree on one thing; that this team is very much a work in progress. I suspect that we can all agree with them that this is the case. If preseason has shown us anything, it has shown that this is a team with a LOT of work to do.
Of course, preseason isn't primarily about racking up wins, especially for a team led by two older gentlemen, in KG and Paul Pierce, and by a younger man who seems to spend a lot of time with various parts of his legs in ice packs, Rajon Rondo. No one wants to ratchet up the intensity to mid-season levels for more than a few minutes at a time. To make things more complicated for the Celtics, they are still trying to get to know each other, since there are so may new players, and since there is so much depth, they have been trying out all kinds of combinations. A lot of this will presumably continue to go on as the season starts. This is not a team that is likely to burst out of the gates like a juggernaut. It's more likely that they will struggle, as they search for their identity as a team, and as Rondo once again works through the process of figuring out how to lead this team.
It's going to be hard for fans to be patient. Truthfully, the Big Three team underachieved. We expected more than one championship in five years, and for good reason, the Big Three were amazing, and when Rondo began to rise, they became the Big Four. Part of the reason 2008 continues to loom so large in our collective memory is that we have been disappointed each year since. It's hard not to expect this team to make up for all that frustration, but it's a different team, and, in a way, it's a very young team.
On paper, we SHOULD be a far stronger team than the team that almost went to the finals last year. We run at least ten deep, high quality players all the way. The first guy off the bench last year might not come off the bench much at all, if he was on the team this year. If Wilcox comes back strong, and Darko continues to play well, we are solid at center. Our backup power forward is as good as our starter, wether it's Sullinger or Bass. Green might be the best backup 3 in the league, and he can play multiple positions. Our two guard position is stacked three deep, when Bradley returns, if not four. We don't really have a backup point guard, but we should have enough ball handlers anyway.
What most contenders have, though, that we don't have is a top notch scorer. As great a scorer as Paul is, he's no longer consistently in the same class as Kobe, Melo, Lebron, Durant, etc.. We just don't have anyone who can get the ball into the basket when the shots aren't falling, who puts fear into the hearts of defenses on a consistent basis. We have to play outstanding team offense consistently, and we should be more successful there this season, finally threatening the 100ppg mark, we hope. Our bench clearly has more scoring punch this year, and with Rondo pushing the pace, our starters should score more. But, as we saw last night, when we settle for Js and don't attack the basket, we struggle if the Js aren't falling. Even if you don't actually score a lot in the paint, you still have to attack the basket to break down the defense. If teams know that you prefer to settle for Js, they can pretty comfortably rely on the law of averages to defeat you.
Not only is this team young, in that there are many new players, but in order for it to make the most of the many highly talented players on the team, it will have to run a lot of clever sets. I think Rondo is right to empasize, in his post game comments last night, that the team needs to continue to work on its sets. But the key remains that you have to attack the basket if you want to break down an opposing defense, always remembering that the point isn't always to score. It's sometimes, or even mostly, what happens after the penetration, or the post-up, that leads to the score.
But defense remains the key to this team. Even when the shots aren't falling, you can defend, because that relies on knowledge and effort. It was painful, this preseason, to see stalwart bigs like Copeland and Hawes tear us to shreds, looking all world against us. Copeland isn't even that big! Sullinger, in particular, seemed to really struggle on defense. He gives us an attitude in the paint, on both ends, that we haven't had for a while, but he seems to give up a lot defensively. Just as it did last year, I think this team's defense will depend a lot on the guards. Outside of KG, we just don't have a lot of speed, length and athleticism up front, especially in combination. We need our guards to make life harder on opposing guards, as they try to bring the ballup and initiate the offense.
So it all begins with Rondo. On both ends. Rondo may carry a heavier load for the Celtics than any other player does for their team, maybe even more than Lebron does. I'm no coach, but my view is that he is going to have to get his rest a few minutes at a team here and there. Never has it been more true that as Rondo goes, so we go.