The All-Star break is upon us, marking the unofficial halfway point of the season. With half the year in the books, how are the Celtics’ grades looking?
We’ll grade all 15 players based on how effectively each is filling his role and living up to expectations coming into the season. (In other words, Paul Pierce doesn’t get an automatic “A” because he leads the team in scoring – we expected that to be the case. Just as we aren’t giving Sasha Pavlovic an “F” because his numbers are so much worse than Pierce’s…although Sasha may still get an F)
Make sense? Good, then let’s dive in (Players listed in descending order of minutes played).
Paul Pierce: B
In his 14th season, the 34-year-old has been the most important player for the Boston Celtics thus far. As Pierce goes, so go the Celtics. Unfortunately, this is as much an indictment of Boston’s championship aspirations as it is a testament to the captain’s longevity.
The Celtics have not won a game this season without Pierce, who is once again Boston’s main scoring threat, leading the team with 17.3 points a night. With Pierce missing the first three games of the season due to a heel injury, and then struggling as he played himself back into shape, the Celtics stumbled to a 5-9 start.
But following their loss to the Suns on January 20th, Pierce lead the Celtics to nine wins over their next 10 games while averaging 22.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists per night.
In the overtime loss to the Lakers on Feb. 9, Pierce played 48 minutes. Since then, the Celtics have lost three of four while Pierce’s numbers have plummeted. He’s averaging just 11.2 points, 1.25 rebounds and 3.75 assists over 36 minutes per game in that stretch.
Given his age, expectations were that Pierce’s production would fall off a bit this year (it has, he’s averaging almost 2 fewer points per game than last season) and that the condensed schedule would wear him down as the season progressed. Whether the schedule is to blame for Pierce’s recent slump could certainly be cause for concern looking forward, but so far his performance has generally been in line with expectations. That the Celtics have relied so heavily on that performance is the real cause for concern.
Kevin Garnett: B-
Before the season Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told Garnett he needed to be more of an offensive threat.
So far, Garnett has not delivered. Across the board, his statistics are virtually identical over the last three seasons, averaging 14.1 points on 11.5 field goal attempts in 30 to 31 minutes a night.
Garnett’s primary contributions have always come on the defensive end and his performance this year has been solid if unspectacular. His rebounding is down this year, from 8.9 to 7.8 but the Celtics allow three fewer points per 100 possessions when KG is on the court, according to 82games.com. Many of Garnett’s contributions are tough to measure statistically. His toughness, energy and leadership have far reaching, if not quantifiable, effects.
Ray Allen: C
Allen was one of the few Celtics to show up in shape for the season and his shot is as effective as ever, averaging 47 percent from the field, 48 percent from behind the arc and 91 percent from the line. In seven of his first nine games, Allen scored at least 15 points but has done so only four times in his 17 games since. He relies heavily on screens and Rondo’s passing to get his shot and his production has suffered with Rondo’s absence.
Rajon Rondo: B-
The Celtics are in the midst of a rollercoaster of a season and perhaps no player on the roster better reflects the ups and downs like Rondo. When he’s aggressive, Rondo is without a doubt the best player on the team and, truly, can be one of the best players in the league.
When he is not, the Celtics may actually be better off without him, as when they won six of eight while Rondo recovered from a sprained wrist. What sort of effort and aggressiveness they get from Rondo is the most important factor in determining how the rest of the Celtics’ season shapes up.
Brandon Bass: B/B-
Bass is matching or outperforming Glen Davis’ 2010-11 contributions in almost every statistical category. He is averaging 11.6 points on 48 percent shooting and more than six rebounds in 29 minutes a night. (Davis averaged 5.5 rebounds and 11.7 points in 29.5 minutes a night, but took, on average, one and a half more shots to do so.) Bass’ performance has fallen off quite a bit in February however, as he has only played in five games this month and is out indefinitely with a sore knee.
Jermaine O’Neal: C+
O’Neal’s on court production is about in line with expectations but the key has been his relatively healthy start. The key word here being “relative” – O’Neal is averaging just 23 minutes a night and already missed six games altogether – but with 24 games under his belt, he has already matched his total for last season.
This is O’Neal’s 16th season in the league and the miles have taken their toll. Offensively, O’Neal has been a non factor, scoring double digit points just three times all season. He is still a sound defensive player however, and his size, length and experience often go under appreciated. Among centers who’ve played at least 20 games this year, O’Neal ranks seventh in defensive plays (steals+blocks+charges).
A nice summation of Jermaine’s contributions: When he is on the floor, the Celtics score one fewer point per 100 possessions but their defense gives up 4.5 fewer points.
Avery Bradley: A-
Bradley’s offense still needs a lot of work. He’s averaging only 3.8 points per game and is just one for 12 on three-point attempts. Bradley also struggles to distribute the ball, averaging one turnover for every assist.
But defensively? In a word: Wow. Bradley’s perimeter defense has been nothing short of spectacular. His ability – and willingness – to harass opposing point guards all the way up the floor throws off the timing of their entire offense and forces opponents to beg him to leave them alone. Bradley’s defensive energy was a big reason why the Celtics were able to win six of their eight games with Rondo sidelined.
Mickael Pietrus: B+
The nine-year swingman landed in the Celtics lap early this season after being cut by the Suns following offseason knee surgery. Pietrus missed the first two weeks of the season as he recovered but jumped ahead of both Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic in the rotation almost immediately thereafter. He is averaging 6.8 points in 21 minutes per game while playing very solid defense on opposing shooting guards and small forwards.
Pietrus recently acknowledged that he is taking too many outside shots and not driving into the lane as often as he used to, telling ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg that the knee injury limited his aggressiveness early on and that he intends to get to the rim more often in the second half of the season.
Chris Wilcox: B+
The energetic big man is developing a good chemistry with Rondo. Wilcox played very sparingly over the first month of the season but is averaging 20.3 minutes per game in February with Bass, O’Neal and Garnett missing games. In that time, Wilcox is scoring 7.2 points on 63 percent shooting while pulling down 5.2 boards a night. Most importantly however, for a Celtics team with one of the slowest paces in the league, Wilcox gives the speedy Rondo a big man who can run the floor and finish at the rim.
Marquis Daniels: C-/D
Daniels started the season off logging considerable minutes for a Celtics team riddled with injuries, averaging 24 minutes a game in December. Since then, the defensive specialist has seen the bulk of his minutes go to the more versatile Mickael Pietrus and has largely fallen out of the rotation, appearing in only four games during February for a total of 20 minutes.
Keyon Dooling: Incomplete
During training camp, the 11-year veteran received rave reviews from his teammates for his professionalism and leadership, and was expected to be the leader of the second unit. In the first four games of the season, Dooling averaged an impressive 9.3 points in 20 minutes per game but his scoring fell off over the next week and a half until he went down with a hip injury. Dooling has played only four games since but is expected back soon.
E’Twaun Moore: C
Moore got majority of his minutes this season between January 14th and February 1st, averaging 15.5 minutes per game in that stretch. Not quite a pure point guard, Moore is averaging just 3.7 assists per 36 minutes on the season, and shooting just 36.5 percent from the floor. Moore is not an elite athlete and defensively, he is a step down from fellow backup point guard Avery Bradley, but Moore’s toughness and energy help him compensate.
Sasha Pavlovic: C-
The 28-year-old former first rounder from Yugoslavia averaged 15.3 minutes per game in December and played fairly well, shooting 47 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc. With the return of Pierce and the emergence of Mickael Pietrus, Pavlovic’s minutes have virtually disappeared since.
Greg Stiemsma: B-
Move over Bill Russell, there’s a new shot-blocking king in town! In Stiemsma’s first five games as a Celtic, the undrafted center from Wisconsin had 13 blocks in 81 minutes drawing a silly comparison by Celtics’ color commentator Tommy Heinsohn to Tommy’s former teammate…and the greatest shot blocker the league has ever known…Bill Russell. (While Heinsohn’s comparison raised a lot of eyebrows among fans and media, to be fair, Heinsohn simply said they had similar technique, not ability.)
In any event, Stiemsma’s playing time has diminished over the last two months thanks to a penchant for getting in foul trouble (he is averaging eight personal fouls per 36 minutes) and Rondo’s aforementioned chemistry with Chris Wilcox. But with Garnett struggling with a hip flexor and Brandon Bass out with a knee until after the All Star break, (plus you figure Jermaine O’Neal is bound to miss time with some sort of injury sooner or later), Stiemsma should see his playing time pick back up.
JaJuan Johnson: C+/B-
Johnson is not ready to play but he’s getting closer. His biggest weakness? Weakness. Johnson is simply not strong enough to hold his ground in the post or fight for rebounds. Offensively he has a very nice mid range jumper with a high release, which, given his 6’10” frame, can be difficult to stop. Johnson played very sparingly over the first two months but on February 1st, he broke out with 11 points in 10 minutes on five of five shooting in Toronto. Two games later he scored 10 points with four rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes against Memphis. As he gets more experience and perhaps logs some more hours in the weight room, he should eventually move past Stiemsma in the rotation.