Even without The Big Ticket, the Boston Celtics still put on a hell of a show in the playoffs last season. At times Ray Allen looked like, well, Ray Allen. Paul Pierce seemed to wear out from all the pressure on his shoulders with Kevin Garnett's offense missing. "Big Baby" Glen Davis actually played like a basketball player on occasion--albeit like a fat, slow small forward with no handles. Some people said that the Chicago Bulls series was Derrick Rose's coming out party, but it wasn't. Game 1 was Rose's, that series was dominated by Rajon Rondo.
But this season will tell us more about Rondo then those playoffs ever could. What's Rondo's upside? Is it Jason Kidd, Andre Miller, or does he develop a jumper--and a foul shot--and become a true future of the franchise player with his own completely unique identity? All these questions and more are answered over the jump.
Rondo might be a major question mark, in a good way of course, but it seems pretty clear what to expect out of the old-guard of the Boston Celtics. Kevin Garnett is going to continue his fall from pure dominance, but will continue to be the best defensive forward in the Association. Ray Allen should be among the most effective shooters in the league, though I think he's due for some regression as he slows down and defenders have to respect his dribble a bit less. Paul Pierce, easily my favorite Celtic, is Paul Pierce. He's a crafty, shifty scorer who can easily drop 18 points a game over the season despite lacking the explosiveness of most elite small forwards.
The Celtics also have a couple new veterans joining the roster in Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels. 'Sheed needed a change of scenery to revive his career, but I don't think it will work. He will be effective backing up both Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett for about 12 minutes each; however, don't expect vintage mid-post dominance. Daniels was a sneaky good pickup. He'll score and defend for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and the Celtics won't lose size at either position when he comes in. They need to keep the old guys' legs as fresh as possible, and Marquis will let them do that without losing much on either end of the floor.
"Marquis Daniels' photo from the Celtics' media guide"
That core, healthy but without some extra glue, would probably piece together 50 win season. Fortunately for the Celtics, Rajon Rondo is as sticky as they come. His probing drives make up for Ray Allen's tendency to stick to the three point line. His rebounding range makes up for Big Baby, who doesn't rebound well, and Kendrick Perkins, who rebounds well but rarely outside of his zone. His developing scoring touch takes pressure off Paul Pierce. And his scrappy, dirty, much-maligned attitude mirrors and amplifies KG's poor, but effective, sportsmanship (I've linked to one of my favorite FreeDarko guest-posts ever).
Rondo's growth has mitigated the decline of the Old Three and is what keeps the Celtics a championship team when they should be more like an excellent team who just doesn't have enough to repeat (see: Detroit Pistons, 2005-2008). Count me among those who believe he'll continue improving, but I don't believe that he is going to be a superstar. Rondo will improve his shooting this season, but if he allows it to become a crutch it might actually lower his efficiency. In the past Rondo ALWAYS made the extra pass simply because he couldn't shoot it. Does he take those shots once he can make them at a decent, but unspectacular, rate? Maybe.
Breakout Player- Rajon Rondo: And that might not be a bad thing if you plan on drafting Rondo in your fantasy league. Rondo will probably fall to the 5th round in your fantasy league this season, but he will probably produce in the range of a top 25-40 player. If you're in a H2H categories league Rondo is even more valuable when used appropriately. He is THE point guard for a team that is trying to lock-up big man categories, since he fits perfectly in a team that values FG% and rebounds while punting FT% and 3-pointers. If you take Dwight Howard in the first round of a H2H league, you won't be disappointed by Rondo's production in the 3rd round.
"Small man, big man"
Bust- Rasheed Wallace: 'Sheed will be a nice compliment for the Celtics this season, but he won't be an impact fantasy player this season. I wouldn't even take Wallace in the last round this season, simply because he won't have the minutes to be effective. At this point he is all downside.
Useful Guys: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen: All three will be effective, but all three will also be drafted too early. I wouldn't take Garnett or Ray Allen before the 3rd round, and I doubt I'd take Pierce before the 6th. All three of these guys are injury risks and could very easily be playing very short minutes for starters.
My prediction: 55-27- (ESPN: 57-25)
Last season the Celtics benefited from a ridiculous, nearly unprecedented run early in the season. I don't think that they can pull it off again this year. Yes, Rajon Rondo is going to continue his emergence, but, as I noted earlier, that could actually be detrimental to a Celtics team that relies on ubuntu. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Old Three combine to miss at least 30 games, which will be fine with the Celtics depth, but will keep them well under 60 wins. The Celtics should expect their regular season to be good but not great, particularly in an Eastern Conference that has really improved over the summer. Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago, Orlando, and Washington are all trending upward, which is going to cost the Celtics a good few games. Oh, and Kevin Garnett still isn't playing full-court basketball yet.
Despite losing a few more games in the regular season, the Celtics should make a strong push in the playoffs this year. This veteran team is loaded with depth, which is always a huge benefit in the high-intensity playoffs. I'm going to decline to make any more comments this early in the series because I don't want to give everything away, but know that the Celtics will almost undoubtedly be more dangerous in the playoffs then their regular season record would suggest.