- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Can Jason Terry ignite the Boston bench this season?Each weekday leading up to 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: Boston's bench.
1. Is this the year Boston's bench finally becomes a consistent weapon?
Payne: Yes. It's just too stacked to not perform this year. Assuming it isn't decimated by injuries, Boston's bench should emerge as of the best in the league. Consider a lineup like Leandro Barbosa, Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger (or Brandon Bass), and Darko Milicic. There are teams in the NBA that would love to have that group starting for them this season. Boston has guys to provide support at every position, and we shouldn't see any kind of steep drop-off in terms of offensive or defensive production. The bench will have a surefire go-to guy in Jason Terry, maybe another in Jeff Green, a strong offensive rebounding presence in Sullinger, and a massive body/defensive presence in Milicic. Add in the fact that it'll get even deeper, one way or another, when Avery Bradley returns, and the bench will consistently help Boston win throughout the season.
Robb: Without a doubt. Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers & Co. have sung the praises of the revamped bench from Day 1 of training camp. And for good reason. Danny Ainge has brought on proven contributors at nearly every position on the floor this offseason, which should help take pressure off the starters, while also providing the scoring punch the second unit has lacked in recent years. Perhaps most importantly, at the positions with question marks on the bench (center, point guard) there are multiple viable alternatives for Rivers for the first time in years. Whether it's Milicic or Chris Wilcox up front, or Barbosa in the backcourt, chances are someone will be able to step up enough to allow the bench to remain a consistent threat throughout the regular season and beyond.
Forsberg: Recent history suggests we should tread with caution here. If this were a sitcom, we'd see a quick-cut flashback of Greg Payne announcing things like, "Three years of Rasheed Wallace?! What could possibly go wrong?" or "A full offseason in Boston's system is exactly what Nate Robinson needs to thrive!" or "Shaquille O'Neal AND Jermaine O'Neal? Health won't be an issue this year boys. Cue the duck boats!" The last four offseasons have seen proclamations of the best bench since the 2007-08 season and it never panned out. But pessimism be damned, this group looks too good to not be a monster upgrade over recent seasons. The addition of two former Sixth Men of the Year (Terry and Barbosa) alone should put Boston on the right path in the backcourt, while whoever isn't starting among the group of Green, Bass, Sullinger and Milicic will beef up the frontcourt. Health will be a factor, but the Boston bench is poised to truly be a consistent presence.
2. Can Jeff Green maintain his preseason production?
Payne: I definitely think he can. I doubt we'll see a bunch of 20-point outings from him, but he'll come off the bench and consistently attack the rim, pursue rebounds, and -- the Celtics hope -- maintain a presence on the defensive end. The best thing Green can do is go at the rim as often as he did during the preseason. Though he sprinkled in a handful of jump shots and 3-pointers, Green was at his absolute best when he was working in the post or driving at the rim for a layup, a floater, or a strong dunk. Add in that he'll be one of Boston's best weapons in transition and there's no reason to think that Green can't be the same player he was during the exhibition season.
Robb: It's not fair to Green to say he flat-out can't, but I have my reservations. With increased competition in regular-season games, combined with a multitude of scoring options on both Boston's first and second units, it makes me believe Green is unlikely to maintain that phenomenal preseason production. The truth is the Celtics don't need Green to excel at that level for him to be a meaningful weapon. As long as the hybrid forward can maintain the aggressiveness he exhibited during his preseason campaign, the Celtics will be an improved team on the offensive end of the floor. Green's continued assertive play will give Boston's surrounding cast of scorers plenty of opportunities to excel on any given night.
Forsberg: The most encouraging sign in Green's preseason was his consistency. Not only in maintaining a healthy stat line, but the way he relentlessly attacked the basket on offense and worked hard on the defensive end. Those things are not always going to translate in the regular season against frontline starters (as opposed to the Knicks' junior varsity squad), but good things will happen if Green plays with the aggression he showed in the exhibition slate. His health concerns behind him, there's no reason to believe Green can't be the player he was before an aortic aneurysm sacked his 2011-12 season. But Boston's financial commitment this offseason -- and his play this preseason -- suggests there's more to his game than we've seen thus far.
3. Beyond Green and Jason Terry, who do you think emerges as a key bench contributor this season?
Payne: Darko Milicic. Don't laugh. Though his hand injury sidelined him for the final half of the preseason, Milicic proved early on that he can embrace the role the Celtics want him to play, and, more importantly, find success with it. His stats won't be considerable by any means, but doing things like helping to run the offense from the high post, rebounding, and blocking shots (both in 1-on-1 situations and help-defense scenarios) will seriously help the bench maintain a level of productivity. As much as we like to talk about what Terry and Green can do on offense, it's what Milicic can provide on the defensive end and on the glass that should be exciting. It won't be flashy, but it doesn't need to be. As long as Darko is consistent in his role, he'll do Boston a great service this season.
Robb: Jared Sullinger. I expect the rookie to come off the bench more often than not early in the season, and look for him to make a meaningful impact while he is out there. Sullinger has a nose for the ball and a soft touch around the basket, but, perhaps most importantly, he is one of the best rebounders on the Celtics' roster this year. On an aging squad that needs to improve its rebounding, Sullinger should provide a much-needed boost in that department. As long as he can become a capable defender despite his size limitations, I look for the Ohio State product to become a valuable mainstay in Rivers' rotation.
Forsberg: An encouraging sign for Boston isn't just that you two guys already picked different players, but that you can make the case for just about anyone on this bench. If Barbosa can be a steady ball-handler and find his old scoring touch, he could flourish with an opportunity at the start of the season. If Wilcox can put his health and conditioning woes behind him, he can thrive as a rebounder and someone who can run the floor with Rondo in transition. Either Bradley or Lee is going to be a nightmare for opposing reserves, depending on which one lands with the second unit. And don't understate the potential impact of Jason Collins, who will play limited minutes but provides a big body in an Atlantic Division that no longer lacks for talented bigs. Ultimately, I'll agree with you guys and go with a backup big. Sullinger seems like the guy who will get the lion's share of minutes and will likely be the most impactful beyond Terry and Green, but he'll endure rookie lumps. There's a lot to like about Milicic as a role player if he can avoid the injury bug.
Each weekday leading up to 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.