- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Are the Celtics better off with Courtney Lee (left) and Jason Terry (right) instead of Ray Allen?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: Shooting guards.
1. Are the Celtics better this year with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee than they were last year with Ray Allen?
Payne: I think the Celtics are better off this year, for a few reasons. One thing that often goes unnoticed is that when Allen was here, when the offense was geared toward him, he had to come off of several screens just to get open, and when that opening wasn't there, Rajon Rondo was often left to hoist a jumper or make some other spectacular play just to get a shot off. So, we'll probably see some different looks on offense with Lee and Terry in the lineup and that might rectify that problem. Additionally, the C's didn't sacrifice much in the "clutch" department, as Terry loves the big moments and will knock down plenty of shots late in games. Add in that Lee is a better overall playmaker and defender at this point than Allen is, and the C's got more versatile at the position, and better defensively.
Robb: Too early to tell, but my gut is leaning toward yes. The Terry/Lee combination provides a unique balance of offense and defense that Allen wasn't able to give Boston last year due to his injury woes and lack of defensive prowess. While Allen shot as well as ever from long range, his inability to create his own shot on the offensive end was limiting, especially within a lackluster Celtics offense. Terry and Lee have shown the ability to get to the rim, and Terry has been a master of finding an open shot off of a pick-and-roll his entire career, and that will not change in Boston. With Lee emerging as an above-average defender and both players serving as above-average shooters from downtown, it's hard not to think Boston upgraded at the position this offseason.
Forsberg: The Celtics will miss a fair amount of what Ray Allen brought to the offensive side of the floor. As hard as some might try to ignore it now that he's gone, Allen did average a whopping 1.105 points per play last season, which ranked in the 98th percentile among all NBA players, according to Synergy Sports. Allen remains one of the league's best spot-up shooters and the Celtics will miss his consistency from beyond the arc. But let's face it, Allen struggled to consistently free himself for clean looks and was otherwise limited on the offensive end. As the pick-and-roll ball-handler, his production plummeted to 0.543 points per play, ranking him in the 11th percentile. He thrived as a cutter, but only 3 percent of his offensive plays came in that play type. The Celtics desperately needed players who could generate their own offense off the dribble, and that's what they've got now in Terry and Lee (and both can help fill the 3-point void). Defensively, Allen's individual numbers were solid, but masked somewhat by dribble penetration, where his inability to keep a ball-handler in front of him forced teammates to help and led to open looks elsewhere on the floor. Terry has his own defensive limitations -- despite a solid preseason -- but Lee is an intriguing hustle player who will mesh nicely in Boston's defense-first system. While needing multiple players to replace one superstar is rarely a recipe for success in the NBA, this appears to be an overall upgrade for the Celtics, particularly given the long-term potential in Lee.
2. Who will emerge as a bigger contributor this season, Terry or Lee?
Payne: I think Terry will make a bigger splash, because he'll be playing late in games and he'll hit some of the big shots, while Lee is going to do so many little things for this team that, while imperative, will go overlooked. It's tough to say who'll be the bigger contributor, because they're going to contribute in very different ways. Lee will earn his stripes on the defensive end and he'll attack the basket with more regularity, while Terry will provide more pure scoring and another clutch shooting hand late in games. Lee might boast an overall edge in terms of production in different areas over the course of an entire game, but it wouldn't shock me if this was really a wash midway through the season.
Robb: Terry. Lee will, in all likelihood, get the starting nod for most, if not all, of the regular-season games, but I expect Terry to be on the floor more when the games are being decided in the final few minutes. The former Maverick has the experience, savvy and skill to help Boston break out of its usual late-game scoring droughts. He'll be the offensive anchor for a second unit and should see 20-25 minutes per game, at minimum. I have no doubt Lee will be a meaningful contributor on the defensive end, but his scoring opportunities will be limited at times with the starters, making Terry the stronger candidate to standout at shooting guard.
Forsberg: Given that bench scoring is Boston's most glaring need from last season, Terry almost certainly will be in the spotlight from the start of the season (though if the Celtics can get varied and consistent offensive contributions from their bench players, including Terry and Green, maybe Lee's all-around efforts will gain greater exposure, particularly during his run with the starters). Ultimately, it's Terry's experience that will set him apart. It's more likely he'll be on the floor for final-shot opportunities and if Terry can thrive like he did in Dallas in those situations, he'll be deemed more impactful. Personalities might help distinguish them, too. While Terry is the brash veteran not afraid of putting a leprechaun and the Larry O'Brien trophy on his biceps, Lee is more soft-spoken and might let his gritty play do his talking. Either way, the two have potential to complement each other nicely.
3. Who will be the starting shooting guard when Avery Bradley returns?
Payne: Lee will still be the starter, and that's not a knock on Bradley. The Celtics will find that Lee's overall game will complement the starting lineup very well, and that includes his defense. While he might not be right at Bradley's level defensively, he's really not that far off. He'll emerge as one of Boston's top on-ball defenders this season. Meanwhile, when Bradley returns, running him with the second unit not only gives it a serious defensive punch, but he showed legitimate potential on the offensive end late last season, not only in terms of making open shots, but emerging as a playmaker, and I think he could team with Terry to keep the second-unit offense consistent. It wouldn't shock me if the Celtics began with Bradley on the bench to work him back, and from there he'll carve out a niche with the reserves.
Robb: It will depend largely upon how well the team is playing at the point when Bradley returns, but I bet Doc Rivers sticks with Lee, at least early on in Bradley's return to the floor. After such a lengthy absence, throwing Bradley back into the starting 5 when there is a more than capable replacement doesn't seem to be in the C's best interest. With Boston's added depth, Rivers will be able to ease the third-year shooting guard back into the rotation as he finds his rhythm. There's also the distinct possibility that the shooting guard spot will become a part of a transitional starting lineup in the second half of the season, with both Bradley and Lee getting the starts for specific matchups. Ultimately, performance on the floor and chemistry with the remainder of the starters will dictate who gets the spot as the team inches closer to the postseason.
Forsberg: After replacing Allen last season, Bradley set a pretty lofty benchmark for Lee to maintain as a starter. According to Basketball Value, Boston's overall playoff rating was minus-6.76 (96.27 offensive; 103.02 defensive) with Allen on the floor with the starters and plus-22.31 (109.91 offensive; 87.61 defensive) with Bradley and the starters. And that's no short sample; those were Boston's two most common lineups (though you can make the case that Allen got a tougher draw with a seven-game series against Miami factored in, while Bradley carried the earlier rounds). Regardless, the regular-season numbers offer a similar suggestion and Bradley's impact on the first unit is undeniable. The question is whether Lee can produce similar defensive numbers. If he can, his more consistent offense and his size will leave Rivers inclined to stick with him (particularly if that chemistry he showed with Rondo carries over to the regular season). But if the numbers don't leap off the page, it wouldn't surprise me if Rivers tries Bradley in the starting role again as part of transitional lineups. Again, there's 82 games to experiment this season and, so long as personnel shuffling doesn't have a negative impact on the win column, Rivers should give all common-sense combinations a chance.
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
6dESPN Stats and Information Group