For the third straight season the Celtics enter the year with a new starting point guard. Nine-time All-Star Gary Payton will be the starter, while Jiri Welsch, Delonte West and Marcus Banks will battle for backup duties. The Celtics need a big year from Payton, and will also need some of the young guys to step up and have a big year.
Tale of the Tape: 6-4, 180, Oregon State, 15th Season
2003-04 Stats: 14.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.17 spg, 47.1 FG%
Skinny: Gary Payton has arrived in Boston and is fully on board with what the Celtics are doing, which could be the biggest key to the season. Payton gives the Celtics an experienced point guard, who can run a team and brings leadership to the locker room. Payton, who has averaged 18.0 points per game over his career, forces defenses to respect him, which will allow the Celtics shooters (mainly Paul Pierce) to be more effective. His impact on the offense and the team as a whole should be immeasurable.
Questions: The question with Payton is, has he lost a step? Maybe he has, but Payton a step slow is still better than two-thirds of the point guards in the NBA. If Payton can get double-digits while also ranking among the league leaders in assists, then the C's could be one of the surprise teams in the NBA.
Tale of the Tape: 6-7, 208, Czech Republic, 3rd Season
2003-04 Stats: 9.2 ppg., 3.7 apg., 2.3 rpg.
Skinny: Entering training camp, the thought of Jiri Welsch at point guard was more of a gimmick used to throw off opposing defenses, but as the preseason went on Welsch proved he can handle the job on a regular basis. With Welsch at the point, the Celtics give up some speed but add size and basketball IQ. Welsch is one of the smartest players on the team and almost always makes the right play, something that has put him in the position to get minutes. Put Welsch on the floor with Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis and the Celtics have quite a dangerous offensive lineup.
Questions: Can Welsch handle the pressure? When at point guard in the preseason he has proved he can run a half court set, as well as a fast break, but he has struggled at bringing the ball up court against a set press. The Celtics can always use Pierce or Davis to get the ball up court, then hand off the Welsch to run the plays.
Tale of the Tape: 6-4, 180, St. Joseph's, Rookie
2003-04 College Stats: 18.9 ppg, 4.7 apg., 5.4 rpg., 51.0 FG%
Skinny: West played well in the preseason and proved he has a very high basketball IQ. He has the ability to get the ball up court quickly with the pass, something Coach Rivers has been preaching from day one with his fast break offense. If West can continue to run the offense and knock down open shots when the regular season opens, then he could be one of the surprise rookies in 2004-05. However, fans will need to wait a few games to see West in action as he recovers from a broken thumb on his right hand.
Questions: West needs to prove he can make the transition to point guard, and handle pressure against much stronger and quicker guards in the NBA. A key for West early will be knocking down shots. In order to earn a larger role, West will need to parlay his good preseason play into regular season production, in what will most likely be limited minutes early on.
Tale of the Tape: 6-2, 220, UNLV, 2nd Season
2003-04 Stats: 5.9 ppg., 2.2 apg., 1.6 rpg., 1.09 spg.
Skinny: Banks struggled a bit in the preseason, but he can definitely have an impact on this team. Banks is one of the quickest players in the NBA and one of the toughest perimeter defenders. If Banks' offense can catch up to his defense then he could work his way into the backup position. The development of Banks could go a long way to determining just how successful of a season the Celtics can have.
Questions: Banks can already play defense in the NBA, but will his offense catch up? Early on in his career Banks has struggled in his decision making as a point guard. He will need to show the coaching staff that he can make the right passes and run an NBA team.