- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are the veteran leaders of the Boston Celtics.Each weekday leading up to next Tuesday's opening night, I'll play a game of 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston colleague Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brian Robb to break down a key topic surrounding the Celtics' 2012-13 season. In the spotlight today: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
1. Is KG the most important player to Boston's overall success?
Payne: This is always a tough question to answer because, really, all of Boston's key players are essential. If KG goes down, it's over. Same goes for Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Having said that, though, Rondo's really the key now. He just does too much, in terms of orchestrating the team and being the point man on defense. This, in no way, diminishes KG's importance to Boston; you could easily argue that it's a tie between him and Rondo right now. But with all of the lineups that we'll see this season and the different styles of play that will be incorporated and relied upon, Rondo will be truly imperative to making it all flow smoothly.
Robb: No. While Garnett is easily the team's best player on the defensive end, Rondo now has the distinction of being the most important player to the C's success. Garnett's diminished importance is largely due to the additional parts Danny Ainge was able to bring in this season. With ample depth in the frontcourt for the first time in years, combined with a number of new offensive weapons, the Celtics will be less reliant on the 36-year-old power forward than ever and that's a good thing for a player that has so many miles on his tires. While both Rondo and Garnett are irreplaceable on the Celtics roster, the C's dependence on Rondo to set the table on the offensive end earns him the "most important" distinction to the team's success.
Forsberg: We can spend all day tossing (well-deserved) bouquets at Rondo, but I still firmly believe that Garnett is the key to Boston's overall success. Let's remember that this is a defense-first team and without Garnett, well, the defense isn't anywhere near as daunting. Look at it this way: If Garnett didn't re-sign this offseason, what was Boston's plan? Sign a middle-of-the-road power forward/center and trudge on? No, they were probably going to have to blow this thing up. Garnett is their defensive anchor and their conscience. Yes, the team has more depth to absorb his loss this season than it would losing Rondo, but to win a title, Garnett remains the most important piece. I think one thing we can all agree on: Keeping Garnett, Pierce and Rondo upright for the playoffs is of premium importance, regardless of who you classify as most important.
2. What do you expect from Paul Pierce this season?
Payne: I expect Pierce to still lead the team in scoring, but I think we could see him score in different ways than he has in the past. I don't think he'll have to rely as much on isolation plays and 1-on-1 moves to score his points. As we saw in the preseason, when the floor is loaded with Boston scorers, Pierce can easily get open looks, both from the 3-point line and from the 15-to-18-foot range. He'll still attack the basket and get to the free throw line, but I think Pierce won't have to work quite as hard for his points this season.
Robb: I expect a slight drop off for Pierce, particularly in his offensive production largely based on a necessary reduction in playing time this season. With Jeff Green primed for a standout season coming off the bench for Boston, Doc Rivers should feel confident dropping Pierce's minutes per game below 34 for the first time in his career. The 35-year-old small forward has always carried a significant load in Boston's offense, but as is the case with Garnett, I expect additional scoring options to reduce the onus on Pierce, which should help keep him fresher and more efficient throughout the season. Look for a career-low 16 points per game, with an uptick in his shooting percentages (46 percent FG and 36 percent from downtown.)
Forsberg: We might see the happiest Pierce we've seen in a long time. Having Green around will keep his minutes down and having all these extra scoring options should alleviate some of the offensive load he tends to carry. If the preseason is any indication, Pierce should have a bounce-back year beyond the arc and the clean looks he gets there should allow him to maintain a lofty scoring average (even with a downtick in minutes). His overall stat line might not be as packed as recent years, but I think his efficiency is going to get a boost, even at age 35.
3. Will health be an issue for Garnett or Pierce this season?
Payne: In terms of recurring injuries, I'd have to say no. Aside from Garnett's knee, which hasn't really been trouble since the initial surgery, neither player has dealt with an ailment that has to be flagged and consistently monitored. That said, any player can come down wrong at any time and sprain an ankle or twist a knee. There's always the potential for those kinds of injuries, but that goes for every single player in the league. I'm sure KG and Pierce will each deal with some sort of minor malady at some point during the season, but right now, there's no reason to think either of them is in store for some sort of significant injury.
Robb: Yes. With both players starting a march into their late 30s, it would be a major stroke of luck for Boston if both stars escaped serious harm throughout the season. The good news for the Celtics, however, is that they have positioned themselves to be able to withstand a minor injury to either player, thanks to their added depth. Doc Rivers also will be able to be more cautious with both players, reducing minutes and resting both guys whenever they have nagging injuries, knowing a supporting cast of Jason Terry, Green and Co., are capable of picking up the slack in their absence. Look for the C's to play it safe with either guy if troubles arise throughout the regular season, knowing their health for the postseason is what matters the most.
Forsberg: Injuries are impossible to predict (though I think we can all agree that Boston will endure them given its recent track record). Their older age certainly leaves Pierce and Garnett more susceptible to a minor injury and I think B-Robb nailed it when he noted that the Celtics are probably more likely to tread cautiously with them given the added depth this season. Again, we circle back to the key point with this team: It can ill afford injuries. Despite a restocked roster, you still can only play five guys at a time and this team is best when Garnett and Pierce are on the floor.
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