XMas countdown: Frontcourt breakdown
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics return an All-Star frontcourt of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett this season and will lean on a new-look supporting cast featuring veterans Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox, as well as rookie JaJuan Johnson, to provide some scoring punch up front off the bench. Meanwhile, with Jeff Green lost for the season due to a heart ailment, the task of backing up Pierce calls to Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic. A complete breakdown of the team’s current frontcourt personnel:
Paul Pierce2010-11 stats: 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists
2011-12 outlook: Pierce's age now matches his jersey number (34), but you can make the case that he remains the team's MVP with all that he does on the floor. A durable Pierce logged 80 games last season (sitting out the final two contests of the regular season for rest) and shot a ridiculous 49.7 percent from the floor (well above his career average of 44.8 percent). About the only thing to complain about with Pierce was a dip in his 3-point percentage. If you offered the Celtics a guarantee that Pierce would produce similar numbers in 2011-12, they probably wouldn't think twice before accepting. The Celtics have to watch his minutes -- like all their veterans -- but Pierce shows no signs of slowing down.
Kevin Garnett2010-11 stats: 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists
2011-12 outlook: Garnett will turn 36 during the playoffs, a somewhat daunting number, especially considering the 17 seasons of wear and tear on his knees. That said, Garnett bounced back strong from knee woes last year, particularly noticeable in his rebounding numbers. Celtics coach Doc Rivers is changing Garnett's minute pattern this season, hoping to squeeze max efficiency out of him and eliminate fourth-quarter drop-offs. Thin at center, expect Garnett to play the 5 at times for Boston this season, potentially giving Boston some unique looks on the floor given the amount of talent at the power forward spot.
Brandon Bass2010-11 stats: 11.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.7 blocks (with Orlando)
2011-12 outlook: The similarities between Bass and departed Glen Davis are uncanny (and we're not even talking about their childhood friendship back in Baton Rouge, La.). The two put up very similar numbers last season -- career years for both guys before being swapped in a sign-and-trade. Bass will have to settle with being a sixth man in Boston after starting 51 games for Orlando last year, but Bass can rest easy knowing that his minutes (26.1 last year) might actually climb on this team. Bass isn't quite the defender Davis is -- an underrated aspect of Baby's game -- but he's far more consistent with his mid-range jumper. The biggest difference, of course, is their personality. Bass is regarded as a run-through-the-wall type of guy who thrives off his energy on the floor. Davis struggled to properly harness his energy at times, often getting in bickering wars with coach Doc Rivers.
Chris Wilcox2010-11 stats: 7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists (with L.A. Clippers)
2011-12 outlook: The fact that the Celtics spent their taxpayer mid-level ($3 million) so quickly to lure Wilcox is somewhat surprising, but the team identified an athletic big man who's been stuck on some pretty bad teams during his career (Wilcox has never been to the playoffs) and probably think he can thrive here. Wilcox is a monster in transition and it could be a lot of fun watching him running alongside Rajon Rondo. He's got enough size (and grit) to bounce between power forward and center, and he's a nice luxury to have behind both Garnett and Bass. He was a national champion at Maryland and the Celtics are hoping to ignite his play by putting him in a championship environment.
Marquis Daniels2010-11 stats: 5.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists
2011-12 outlook: Before a scary spine injury in February, Daniels was putting together maybe his healthiest campaign in eight NBA seasons. What's more, he was thriving on the floor (even if the stats weren't overwhelming). What the stats didn't show was that Daniels ranked as one of the league's elite as a wing defender, despite playing only 49 games. This season, he's displayed no hesitation following the offseason spine surgery and has potential to pick up where he left off. Early returns from the 2011-12 season have Daniels playing inspired preseason ball.
Sasha Pavlovic2010-11 stats: 1.8 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.3 steals (17 games in Boston)
2011-12 outlook: A bit of a head-scratching re-signing at first, Jeff Green's injury shed a little light on why Pavlovic might be back after a less-than-stellar time here at the end of last season. Remember that Pavlovic has shown flashes of being a better-than-average player in this league (just look at his Cleveland years). Rivers stressed it's all mental for him. An engaged and confident Pavlovic will get a chance at the wing positions, but he's got to avoid getting down on himself in order to thrive again.
JaJuan Johnson2010-11 stats: 20.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks (with Purdue)
2011-12 outlook: The team's first-round pick (27th overall after a draft-night exchange with New Jersey), Johnson brings a big, raw body with potential to develop under Kevin Garnett (who he will -- fair or not -- be compared to because of his body type and preference to shoot from the wing). Like most of Boston's bigs, Johnson thrives away from the basket, relying on a mid-range game (and easy buckets running in transition or off alley-oops). With quality depth at the power forward spot, it would initially seem a logjam, but Johnson needs floor time at the NBA level to develop. If others shuffle up to the center spot, he could get some chances at the 4.
Expect the Celtics to monitor what's available in the free-agent and trade markets, particularly at the wing. Even if Daniels and Pavlovic exceed expectations, one injury still leaves the Celtics dangerously thin at that spot -- something that might have contributed to forcing their hand with the Kendrick Perkins trade last season. Adding a proven scorer on the wing would aid the bench. It's hard to imagine the team adding another power forward. Then again, Boston was hot for David West in the offseason and Rivers has implored president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to simply load him up with the most talented bodies and he'll figure out how to use them all.
Play Podcast The ESPN Boston High School football crew previews the 2014 high school football season.
Play Podcast ESPN NFL reporter Field Yates covers expectations for Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots' outlook, LeSean McCoy's injury and Alex Smith's contract negotiations with the Chiefs.
Play Podcast Buster Olney and Justin Havens discuss how teams that made major deals have fared since the deadline. Plus, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer on the strange circumstances caused by weather.