Summer Forecast: Doctor's orders?
Doc Rivers isn't just one of the best in-game managers in the league, he's the complete package. He's a phenomenal speaker, whether it's the pregame pep talk or sitting in as a TV analyst (like he did with the London Olympics). Off the floor, Rivers is also a persuasive recruiter, just ask Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, who are members of the Celtics now in large part because of Rivers' offseason sales pitch.
So we preface Day 12 of our Summer Forecast by noting this isn't an attack on Rivers' coaching abilities (there's a reason he's making $7 million per season). It's simply that no one is perfect, so we asked our panel to name us one thing they'd like to see Rivers change next season. It turned out to be one of my favorite forecasts of the series with our panel offering some creative ideas.
About the only real gripe Rivers has constantly heard in recent seasons has been his lack of flexibility in the rotation, something that's often driven up the minutes for Boston's starters. Injuries last season forced Rivers to utilize all his healthy bodies and the rotation deepened a bit at times (at least until the postseason). There have also been complaints that Rivers doesn't utilize his rookies enough, but Greg Stiemsma broke through that wall last season and you have to believe that Jared Sullinger (and the others from this year's rookie class) will get the same opportunity to get on the floor during the 2012-13 campaign.
So what should Rivers change next year? The ballot I'll stuff into the suggestion box is simply this: More creativity with end-of-game plays. We already know that Rivers is one of the best at ATO (after timeout) plays and he needs to get back to being the king of the dry erase board when the Celtics have opportunities to win on the final offensive possession.
Let's be honest, Celtics fans are going to flip if they see another string of Paul Pierce step-backs from the right elbow (at least if they continue to find back iron). It can be part of the rotation, but Rivers needs to shuffle the deck at times. Maybe the loss of Ray Allen will help foster some additional creativity, forcing Boston to reevaluate many of its late-game sets.
I think back a couple seasons to when the Celtics ran a brilliant alley-oop, lob play from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett in the final seconds of a thriller in Philadelphia. The Celtics can steal an extra win or two along the way if Rivers draws up those sort of gems in key situations.
Greg Payne, ESPN Boston
I'd love to see Rivers utilize what I refer to as the "horde play" more often. It's the play where Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett line up on the left side of the floor and the remaining three players stand shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder along the right wing. I call it the "horde play" (I'm guessing Doc has a better name for it) because of that small gathering on the right side of the court. Basically, Rondo and Garnett run a pick-and-roll or a pick-and-pop, while, simultaneously, on the other side, the center dives to the basket, the small forward darts to the right corner, and the shooting guard springs to the top of the 3-point line, creating numerous options that often befuddle the defense and tailor to Rondo's creative game. Specifically, I want to see this play used more when the Celtics fall into their dreaded offensive droughts. You know, the fourth quarter ones that basically lost them the 2010 NBA Finals and this past season's Eastern Conference finals. Given the number of open looks the play is capable of generating, it seems like a worthy candidate to employ when things break down and the C's are trying to stave off a hearty run from their opponent. I'm not exactly sure what Rivers' mindset is when it comes to this specific play, but I can't imagine it's not worth taking a chance on when the game is hanging in the balance.
Brendan Jackson, CelticsHub
Every offseason, Celtics fans have the same requisite hopes for their team: health and fresh legs. The playbook really hasn't changed when it comes to achieving this by season's end. Doc Rivers should go against his programming, lengthen his rotation, and play rookies meaningful minutes. His unwillingness to do this is one of the few elements of his coaching style that has consistently drawn the ire of Celtics' fans. The criticism, however, isn't entirely warranted. He simply couldn't afford to put guys like Von Wafer, Patrick O'Bryant, J.R. Giddens, and Bill Walker on the floor. Last year, Rivers was forced to break from tradition when the injuries starting piling up and ended up finding success playing Greg Stiemsma. This season, he has players like Stiemsma that he should feel much more comfortable playing regardless of the injury situation. Jared Sullinger, Kris Joseph, and Dionte Christmas had strong enough summer leagues to warrant consideration in the rotation. Put 'em in, coach!
Jordan Higgs, Celtics Town
The Celtics have never been a fast team, but after the infusion of youth this offseason, I hope Doc Rivers will finally crank the tempo a bit. Last year the Celtics were 21st in pace, and have hovered around that mark for the past five years. I’d like to see them make a similar jump to the Spurs, who went from 14th in pace in 2011 to 7th last year (working their way up from 28th in 2008). We saw glimpses of what Rondo could do with a running partner last year with Bradley and Wilcox, but this year he’ll have a lot more options on the break. With Green and Lee joining Wilcox and Bradley, Rondo should have athletic sidekicks no matter the lineup. Even a “slow” lineup of Rondo, Terry, Pierce, Bass, and Garnett could run circles around a fair number of Celtics lineups from past years. If Doc takes advantage of the athleticism on his bench, Rondo should be turning defensive stops into easy baskets in no time.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog
I think one change Doc Rivers will have to make is to rely less on Ray Allen's constant running through screens and more on pick-and-roll and letting Jason Terry create off the dribble. I understand why Terry would need to learn some of the plays they called for Allen, but he's not the same player and Allen made a career out of wearing his opponent down with that style. I'm no scout or coach, but it also seemed like those plays took a long time to develop and, if they didn't play out right, that left Rondo to heave up a prayer to beat the clock winding down. So maybe Rivers adds some sets that get the team looks at the basket earlier in the shot clock. He knows how to make it work on inbounds plays, I would imagine that, with all the talent he has on the floor, he can develop a plan to put more points on the board.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio
The Celtics have utilized ballscreens well over the past few seasons, but the screener almost always pops out for a mid-range jumper instead of rolling to the rim. With a plethora of deep-range shooters on board and depth at the four, Doc Rivers is equipped with the personnel to run an aggressive and dynamic pick-and-roll. The Celtics remain thin in the interior defense department, so they should game plan to get the opposition’s pivot man in foul trouble. Chris Wilcox, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett all showed the ability to fly to the rim last year while moving well in transition (especially Wilcox). These three can finish at the rim and flash good athleticism, or length in Garnett’s case. Rivers has always focused on dribble penetration with kick-out options spread around the floor, but the effectiveness of this system relies on execution from all five offensive players. This system is taxing, too, and sometimes comes to a screeching halt late in games when an athletic defense steps up its intensity (see Game 7 in Miami). With an effective pick-and-roll offense, the Celtics can get the ball closer to the basket more easily than relying on Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo’s dribble penetration. It may be something that is actually unorthodox for Rivers, but he has always done a good job of making small adjustments to accommodate his new talent.
Your turn: What's one change you'd like to see Doc Rivers make next season? Sound off in the comments.
Play Podcast ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg gives his take on the breakdown of talks between the Celtics and Clippers, talks about the chances Doc Rivers will be back with the Celtics and discusses how Rivers would be received by Celtics fans.
Play Podcast Ryen Russillo and Danny Kanell discuss the Clippers walking away from a potential deal with the Celtics, what this means for Doc Rivers and much more.