- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Will Kevin Garnett's name be on the back of a Celtics warm-up jersey next season?Over the three weeks leading up to start of the new league year on July 1, we'll take a player-by-player look at the Celtics' 2011-12 roster and how each player's season unfolded, assigning a grade for their overall performance. This is the sixth in the series of report cards:
Player: Kevin Garnett
2011-12 averages: 15.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1 bpg, 31.1 mpg
2011-12 salary: $21.2 million
Season in a paragraph: Slow out of the gates, leading some to wonder if he had anything left in the tank, Garnett put the Celtics on his shoulders as part of a second-half rejuvenation, which culminated with him being the most important player on the court during Boston's run to the doorstep of the NBA Finals. Garnett's defensive domination was no surprise, but it was an offensive uptick after shuffling to the center position following the All-Star break that made Garnett's play impossible to ignore. Despite turning 36 during the playoffs, Garnett played like he was 26 for much of the latter part of the season.
Season highlight: During the off day between Games 5 and 6 of an Eastern Conference first-round series, Hawks owner Michael Gearon Jr. (rather foolishly) made comments at a community event in Atlanta about how Garnett was the "dirtiest guy in the league." Garnett responded by posting 28 points (on 10-of-19 shooting) with 14 rebounds, five blocks, and three steals in an 83-80 series-clinching triumph in Boston. Afterwards, Garnett thanked Gearon for "some extra gas." Two nights later in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Garnett still had extra fuel, going off for a postseason-high 29 points in a 92-91 victory.
Season lowlight: You could make the case for Garnett as postseason MVP, particularly given Boston's head-shaking plus/minus numbers when he was on (and, more importantly, off) the floor. But despite putting up 26 points and 11 rebounds in Boston's Game 5 triumph over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, Garnett went quiet in Games 6 and 7, averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds during the two losses and being outplayed at times by counterpart Chris Bosh (who returned from an abdominal injury to give the Heat a boost out of a 3-2 hole). Garnett bolted out of AmericanAirlines Arena after Game 7 (earning a $25,000 fine from the league for skipping media duties), leaving a cloud of uncertainty over his basketball future.
Final grade: A+
Teacher's notes: Meet your 2011-12 valedictorian. Sure, Garnett wasn't ready for the start of the season and there were times in the early going where you couldn't help but wonder if he was toast. But in the second half, he had rolled back the clock and was downright dominant. Garnett found constant motivation in detractors and, maybe knowing this could be his final season, he pretty much willed the Celtics to the cusp of a third NBA Finals in five seasons. The stats won't surprise you: Garnett allowed a mere 0.694 points per play, ranking in the 94th percentile among all NBA players, according to Synergy Sports data (put another way, only three other players with at least 250 plays graded out as a better one-on-one defender this season, one of which was Brandon Bass). Offensively, Garnett thrived in the post (if only the Celtics could have gotten him to go there more often), averaging 0.977 points per play overall (83rd percentile).
What's next?: Despite standing to be one of the top free agents on the open market, Garnett is pondering retirement. If he does come back, all indications are it would be with Boston given his loyalty to the organization and coach Doc Rivers. Boston's entire offseason hinges on Garnett. If he does return, the question is how much money he will be looking for as his play this season put him in line for a solid late-career payday.
Honor roll: Click HERE to read past report cards.
Don't agree with teacher? Just want to sound off on Garnett's 2011-12 season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Over the three weeks leading up to start of the new league year on July 1, we'll take a player-by-player look at the Celtics' 2011-12 roster and how each player's season unfolded, assigning a grade for their overall performance.