Team Preview: Boston Celtics
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
We get the impression that Celtics general manager Danny Ainge does not handle rush hour traffic very well. We suspect that he impatiently zips from lane to lane, constantly pinning his hopes on those lanes that look potentially promising. We get this impression after watching Ainge wheel and deal this offseason, bringing in superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen while jettisoning ten members of last year’s 24-58 Celtics squad. To say that Ainge blew up the Celtics roster is an understatement, and what currently stands is a team based on a triumvirate of All-Stars, built to win a championship this year. While we believe that Ainge may not be the best rush hour driver, his impatience, in this case, may have been a virtue.
Past Allen, Pierce and Garnett, the Celtics are a collection of journeyman role players and unproven youngsters. The team picked up free agents James Posey, Eddie House and Scot Pollard, while drafting forward Glen “Big Baby” Davis and guard Gabe Pruitt. These players, along with guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins, will fill out what is easily the most top-heavy team in the league. Make no mistake – the success of this year’s Celtics rests on the shoulders of Allen, Garnett and Pierce. If one of them should falter, there is little else in the way of reinforcements.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
As they will dominate the headlines, the Celtics’ Big Three will also dominate the team’s playing time, with all three expected to play as much as they possibly can. Garnett at power forward should receive the most run, due mostly to the team’s lack of depth up front. Expect him to play at least 40 minutes per game. Pierce should see between 30-35 minutes at small forward, and Allen should see the same at shooting guard. However, this is where the certainty ends on the Celtics.
Rajon Rondo will be given every opportunity to establish himself as the team’s starting point guard; he should be on the court for between 25 and 30 minutes a game, possibly more if he fully embraces the point guard role. James Posey should serve as the team’s sixth man, backing up the 2 and 3 spots and seeing as much as 20-25 minutes. Newly signed Eddie House should see 15 minutes per game backing up both guard spots, possibly more while Tony Allen continues to recover from knee surgery. Expect Allen to be worked back into the rotation slowly when he regains his health, eventually topping out at 15-20 minutes per game while alternating between both guard spots. Pruitt will spend most of the year on the bench and should see less than 10 minutes a game when he does play. Free agent Jackie Manuel will battle for a roster spot and see very little playing time.
While Pierce and Garnett hold down the forward spots, the center position is less defined. The team has penciled in Kendrick Perkins for 25-30 minutes a game as the starting center, but his lack of athletic ability and offensive skill may cause rookie “Big Baby” Davis to eat into some of those minutes as the season continues. Davis is the team’s X-factor – if his offensive skills and rebounding ability translate quickly to the NBA level, he could see himself playing 20-25 minutes a game. However, if he does not progress as hoped, Davis may see only 15 minutes per game in a reserve role. Forward Leon Powe should spell Garnett at power forward and receive between 10-15 minutes of playing time, while perennial backup Brian Scalabrine should see the same, if not less. Backup center Scot Pollard and rookie Brandon Wallace will spend most of the year on the bench, earning DNP-CDs (did not play – coach’s decision).
* Kendrick Perkins – BOS [C]: Nothing about Perkins is terribly exciting, especially from a fantasy perspective. He will serve as the Celtics starting center by default and should pick up his usual four points and six rebounds while collecting fouls and letting Kevin Garnett do the heavy lifting. With Garnett around, Perkins will have to carry even less of an offensive load than he did teaming with Al Jefferson last year. His modest 4.5 point per game average may drop, even with added minutes. Look elsewhere for fantasy center help.
Scot Pollard – BOS [C]: Pollard has been little more than a warm body for the last few seasons, and we don’t expect that trend to reverse this year, even with a thin Celtics frontcourt. Pollard will only see minutes if the Celtics experience a rash of frontcourt injuries, and even then he won’t put up nearly enough production to become fantasy relevant.
* Kevin Garnett – BOS [PF]: Garnett’s move to Boston may have been the most significant trade of the last five years, and it could result in the first Celtic Most Valuable Player since Larry Bird roamed the fabled parquet floor. Garnett has the talent and motivation to win an MVP award this year, feasting on the weaker Eastern Conference for most of the season. Instead of the Nowitzkis, Stoudemires and Duncans every night, KG will get a chance to pad his stats in a division where Jamaal Magloire and Reggie Evans pass for starting power forwards. Last season, Garnett posted his best scoring average in four years (22.4 ppg) while leading the league in rebounds (12.8 rpg) and setting a career-high free throw percentage (84.0 percent). In Boston, we can only see those numbers going up, though his assist numbers (4.1 apg) may drop as he takes more of a low-post role. Garnett’s blocked shots (1.66 bpg, 16th in the league) should also increase while playing in the Eastern Conference.
* Paul Pierce – BOS [SG,SF]: Last year had to be the most frustrating season of Pierce’s career. This year may be the most satisfying. The Celtics captain courageously battled through foot and elbow injuries to average 25 points points in 47 games, though his field goal percentage (44 percent), steals (1.0 spg) and assists (4.1 apg) were near career lows. This year should be completely different, especially with Pierce finally at full health. The additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen mean Pierce won’t be saddled with the full offensive load, and should be free of the constant double-teams that have followed him for the better part of his career. Pierce may see fewer shots with Allen and Garnett in town, but we expect them to be better shots, so his scoring numbers will probably see little change. If anything, Pierce’s shooting percentages should increase with KG and Allen on the floor to draw defensive attention. Pierce will continue to be one of the top players in fantasy basketball, even with two new scorers on his team.
Leon Powe – BOS [SF,PF]: Powe was somewhat of a surprise last season as a second-round pick, with seven double-figure scoring games and even one double-double night. However, the arrival of Kevin Garnett and, to a lesser extent, rookie Glen Davis, will mean fewer minutes and less production for the undersized Powe. He should start the season as Garnett’s backup, but Garnett plays at least 40 minutes per game; his backups are not usually good sources of fantasy production. If Davis emerges as many feel he will, Powe’s role could be even further reduced. Powe should not make any sort of fantasy impact this season.
Brian Scalabrine – BOS [PF,C]: Scalabrine made roughly $3 million last year to average four points and less than two rebounds while missing 28 games with various injuries. He will make the same amount of money until 2010, and there is a probability that those numbers will decline over time. While it is said that Scalabrine does the “little things” needed on a team, none of those little things transfer to the fantasy arena. Fantasy owners should exhibit the restraint that Danny Ainge could not and avoid Scalabrine.
Brandon Wallace – BOS [SF,PF]: The Celtics signed Wallace with little expectation of production, especially this season. Wallace possesses some semblance of defensive skill and put up decent numbers (12 points/10 rebounds) in the Las Vegas Summer League, but we expect the free agent signee to spend most of his time in the NBDL.
* Ray Allen – BOS [SG]: Before the mega-deal that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston, Allen was the Celtics’ big offseason acquisition, brought in to alleviate the offensive pressure on Paul Pierce and help the team win now. With Garnett now aboard, Allen has been somewhat forgotten, but his impact should be quickly felt once the season starts. Allen is possibly the best pure shooter in the league, and before ankle surgery ended his season, he was a 26 point-per-game scorer. We don’t expect him to put up those sort of numbers this year, but something near his 21.5 career scoring average would not be out of the question. Allen’s obvious strength is his shooting, both from three-point range (40 percent last year) and the free throw line (89 percent). Allen won’t see as many double-teams as he did in Seattle, but he also will probably be the Celtics third scoring option, behind Pierce and Garnett. This should result in lower total scoring numbers, but higher shooting percentages across the board. Pick up Allen for his shooting prowess, but be aware that he may not see as many shots as he did in Seattle.
* Rajon Rondo – BOS [PG]: The Celtics are handing the keys of their offense to Rondo this season, and his success could determine whether the team is a championship contender or not. Rondo had a modest rookie year last year playing behind Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair for most of the season, but both players are gone this year, and no veteran point guard was signed in their stead. That means that Rondo will receive major minutes and every opportunity in the world to be the team’s main distributor. With Pierce, Allen and Garnett, he will have more than enough passing options. Rondo’s assist average (3.8 apg) may nearly double this year, while his scoring numbers (6.4 ppg) could boost into the 8-9 ppg range. Rondo’s ability to pick up steals (3.36 per 48 minutes) also make him an attractive late-round speculative fantasy pick, and one that could pay off if he embraces the starting point guard role.
Tony Allen – BOS [SG]: Midway through last season, Allen finally seemed to be meeting his limitless potential. In one seven-game span, Allen averaged 21 points per game while providing lock down defense. The high point of his season came in a January game against Orlando, where he had 21 points, seven steals and nine rebounds. In the very next game, Allen tore his left ACL while stupidly attempting to dunk the ball after the whistle; he was lost for the rest of the season. Allen’s status for this year is one of the Celtics’ many question marks, though that he’s been medically cleared to practice for the start of training camp is an encouraging sign. Risk-taking fantasy players could take a late-round flier on Allen and hope that his knee is fully recovered, but the conservative play would be to closely monitor his preseason performances and react accordingly.
Eddie House – BOS [SG]: After signing a free-agent deal with the Celtics, House joins his eighth team in eight years. He will be assuming the “bench scorer” role in Boston that he has played so well elsewhere. He doesn’t collect many rebounds, assists, blocks or steals, but he can score, averaging 23.8 points per 48 minutes last year. If those ahead of him get hurt, House may be a decent short-term fantasy pickup for those in need of scoring, but without an injury he won’t play enough and doesn’t provide any sort of across-the-board contribution to warrant a fantasy look.
Gabe Pruitt – BOS [PG,SG]: An effective point guard at USC, the Celtics drafted Pruitt in the second round of this year’s draft with an eye to the future. This year, Pruitt will probably spend most of his time on the bench or even in the NBDL, honing his craft as an NBA point guard and building upper-body strength. Don’t expect him to produce much this year, and look elsewhere for young fantasy point guard talent.
Jackie Manuel – BOS [SG,SF]: Manuel was signed by the Celtics after spending last season in the NBDL. The defensive-minded North Carolina graduate will fight for a roster spot in training camp. Should he even make the roster, Manuel will see minimal time and make zero fantasy contribution.