The Resurgence of Kevin Garnett

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics traded one-third of their team and two future first-round draft picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kevin Garnett on July 31, 2007.

Five years later, Garnett, who’s just 50 days shy of being 36 years old, continues to prove that Boston got the better end of the stick.

When the league-shifting trade was consummated, everyone knew that the Celtics were receiving the best player involved in the trade – he was already a 10-time All-Star and former league MVP. But everyone also knew that Garnett was in the twilight of his career and would only provide a few seasons of championship contention, at best, for Boston’s storied franchise.

Or so they thought.

Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett

Doc Rivers asked Kevin Garnett to change his position from power forward to center back in February. The Big Ticket has percolated since the switch.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty

After experiencing statistical declines over his first three seasons with the Celtics, thanks in large part to undergoing right knee arthroscopy and removal of posterior knee bone spurs in May of 2009, Garnett has returned to the uptick. His numbers in 2010-11 were better than those of 2009-10. His numbers this season are better than those of last season. And it’s not even close of late.

Garnett’s rejuvenation must be stumping those who have not been watching the Celtics on a regular basis this season. How is a guy who’s heading into his late 30s, who has played in more than 1,300 NBA basketball games, who is in the midst of the most physically demanding schedule of his 17-year career, getting better as this season progresses?

It’s as easy as F to C. As in forward to center.

Boston headed into this season’s All-Star break with a sub-.500 record at 15-17. Changes needed to be made, yet no roster moves were on the horizon. Knowing this, Doc Rivers was forced to put a puzzle together with the pieces he already had in house.

After staring at those puzzle pieces for 32 games, Rivers finally had an epiphany in mid-February: move Garnett over to the center position.

And with that it was born: the resurgence of Kevin Garnett.

Since his shift from power forward to center took place, which Rivers has said was predetermined before Jermaine O’Neal’s season-ending injury, Garnett has experienced a renaissance of sorts. In 18 games since the All-Star break, which coincide with his position change, Garnett’s numbers have ballooned. He has, as Rivers says, turned into an All-Star center.

“I was joking, but it’s true,” Rivers said on Wednesday. “If you had an All-Star vote at the center spot in the league right now he’d be right up there, because that’s what he’s been since the break. He’s been a ‘5,’ and he’s been terrific.”

If terrific means playing at nearly the exact same level that resulted in a third-place finish in the 2008 NBA MVP voting, then yes, Doc, he’s certainly playing terrific.

Garnett’s numbers since the All-Star break have been so close to those of his 2007-08 campaign – his first season with the Celtics, five years ago – that it’s scary.

Spencer Hawes, Kevin Garnett

Due to his position change, Kevin Garnett is now forced to battle with big bodies like Spencer Hawes of the 76ers.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty

The Big Ticket wrapped up his first season in Boston with averages of 18.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 53.9 percent shooting. Those numbers equated to averages of 27.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per 48 minutes.

Since sliding over to the center position, Garnett’s numbers have nearly mirrored the ones above. He is averaging 17.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG on 53.0 percent shooting. When altered to per-48-minute numbers, Garnett is scoring 26.4 points and grabbing 13.0 rebounds.

On top of his offensive and rebounding numbers, Garnett is also competing at a high level defensively. He won the 2008 Defensive MVP award thanks to a league-best defensive rating of 93.9. His defensive performance since the All-Star break this season is even better. Garnett possesses a defensive rating of 93.7 in 18 games since the break, a number that would be the best season-long rating since Tim Duncan in 2004-05 (93.2).

If you’re shaking your head right now trying to unboggle it, don’t worry, we understand. It’s crazy to think that Garnett is turning back the clock a full five years to an MVP-type season, but the proof is in the pudding. The Garnett we’re watching right now is dominating the game in the same manner he did in 2007-08.

“I hear you all calling me old. I hear you all calling me old-er, weathered,” Garnett said with a grin Wednesday night after racking up 23 points and 10 rebounds against Al Jefferson, one of the players who was traded for KG. “I’m motivated. It doesn’t really take much to motivate me, man. I’m older in basketball years, but in life I’m 30-something.”

Garnett went on to subtly point out that those in the media herd around him weren’t exactly gleaming in their glory days either, yet they were still doing their jobs at a high level. After calling out a few balding and lightly-colored heads of hair, Garnett continued with his self-evaluation.

“The first half of the season wasn’t the most pleasurable for us,” he said. “I thought I could be better and I’ve been working towards that. I’ve been giving myself a true analysis in the mirror. I’ve been looking at myself, telling myself, ‘What can I do better?’ And I’ve been going towards that.”

Garnett has gotten better. And better. And better. He has helped lead his team to a 13-5 record since the All-Star break and back into contention for the Atlantic Division title and a top-four seed in the playoffs. He is motivated, and he’s not shy about telling us all why.

“They tend to not respect you as much when you’re older and tend to put you on the back burner for what you can’t do versus what you used to be able to do,” Garnett told WEEI on Thursday.

Well, based on his numbers over the past month, Garnett can do what he used to be able to do. Nothing has changed except the year on the calendar.

Respect him, and respect the fact that a half-decade later, he’s still working tirelessly to be the player Boston gave up so much to acquire.