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Monday, October 29, 2012
3-on-3: Better than all the rest?

By Chris Forsberg

:bBrian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesAre these reloaded Celtics deeper and more talented than recent seasons?
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: Stacking up this Celtics teams to ones in the recent past.



1. Is this the most talented team of the Big Three era?


Payne: No, I'll still give that label to the 2008 championship team. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were all still playing at a higher level than they are now, and between the likes of James Posey, Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, and Eddie House, there were plenty of quality role players behind a truly dominant starting 5. I agree with Danny Ainge: This is the deepest team we've seen in recent years. There's quality backup at every position, particularly among the guards and the bigs. The only position they're not totally stacked at is small forward, but they'll be just fine there between Pierce and Jeff Green.

Robb: I'm going to agree with Doc Rivers here and say it's the most talented group "on paper" of the Big Three era. Whether or not that translates on the floor remains to be seen, but the staggering amount of depth in this group, especially in the backcourt once Avery Bradley returns from his shoulder injury should be unrivaled in this era. Despite that distinction, there are still a lot of question marks for this group, if they are going to live up to that label of most talented. Will Jeff Green live up to his preseason hype? Will Pierce and Garnett be able to avoid a decline in their play due to age? Will all the revolving new pieces of the roster mesh well on the floor? If the C's can answer yes to these questions once the season begins, they'll able to maintain their most talented distinction.

Forsberg: Even accounting for declines from Garnett and Pierce, this truly might be the most talented team the Celtics have fielded in this new Big Three era. It goes back to this young core that Boston has quietly constructed in Rondo, Green, Courtney Lee, and Bradley. This team has more guys on the upswing (or at least closer to their prime) than the 2008 group and I think we'll look back in five more years and think, 'Wow, that 2013 Celtics team was loaded,' particularly if these younger players emerge as the next generation of stars. Think about that 2008 group: 38-year-olds Sam Cassell and PJ Brown rode off into the sunset after the year; James Posey hasn't been the same player since; Glen Davis was a bit player as a rookie; and even Tony Allen was hardly the key defender he emerged as for the 2010 Finals squad. Even still, all the parts meshed perfectly together, delivering that title. This squad still has to figure out how -- and if -- all this talent works together, but the overall ability and skill is undeniable.



2. How will depth help Boston most this season?


Payne: I think it'll take a load of pressure off of the likes of Pierce and Garnett. Those two will be the biggest concerns in terms of getting the necessary rest leading up to the postseason. They're going to need to enter the postseason as fresh as possible, and Doc Rivers can now afford to play them a bit less if need be, and even give them certain nights off should they need it or should he deem it appropriate.

Robb: Keeping minutes down for the starters. It's been the biggest challenge for coach Doc Rivers over the past five years, as he has tried to pursue the top spot in the Eastern Conference without the aid of a second unit he could rely on, especially on the offensive end. More often than not, the starters were forced to play longer than they should and that reality forced Rivers to often see his veterans run on empty when the games mattered most. The team's fourth-quarter collapse during last season's Game 7 loss versus Miami serves as the most compelling example of this that comes to mind. With a plethora of talented offensive weapons waiting in the wings on the bench for the 2012-13 season, the onus will no longer fall as much on the starters, night in and night out during the regular season. Garnett and Pierce should see their minutes drop to career lows and that should prove valuable in the C's quest to make another deep run in the postseason.

Forsberg: Depth is never a bad thing, and not only for the way it'll defray workloads. Let's remember that last year the Celtics were leaning on Greg Stiemsma -- who had zero healthy feet -- and scrap-heap pickup Ryan Hollins for key frontcourt minutes in the postseason. If Boston can stay healthy this season, there's quality depth behind Garnett in Darko Milicic and Chris Wilcox before you even have to ponder someone like rookie Fab Melo as an emergency center. What's more, competition should bring out the best in players. Look at Wilcox: He missed most of camp and all eight preseason games, sliding a bit on the depth chart. He's going to have a little extra motivation in games (and even practices) to show he deserves the quality minutes he had last season before health woes interrupted.



3. Is there enough minutes to keep everyone happy?


Payne: Nope. But the guys should know that by now. When Bradley comes back, there'll be a logjam at the guard spots, and we might even see a similar situation arise among some of the bigs, with so many available for Rivers. It'll just come down to the players embracing the team goals and maintaining a sense of professionalism. If they aren't playing, they need to realize that injuries and inconsistent play from someone else can crop up at any time, and they need to stay ready and take advantage of any opportunities that do arise.

Robb: Yes, at least until Bradley returns. Before that, while Rivers may a variety of bench options, especially in the frontcourt, players who perform well in their roles will see ample minutes. It's not likely fringe rotation players like Darko Milicic, Chris Wilcox, and Jason Collins will play in all games, but to be honest, none of those guys really have the right to whine about playing time. Each of them knew exactly what they were getting into when they signed with Boston and they should be able to accept the fact they aren't guaranteed minutes in a crowded frontcourt. With the signing of Leandro Barbosa, things will get interesting and incredibly competitive in the backcourt rotation once Bradley is healthy, but that's a good problem for Rivers to have. With a bunch of team-oriented guys rounding out that guard group, I don't foresee any happiness issues on the horizon.

Forsberg: No, especially with Rivers noting that he'll maintain a 10-man rotation at the start of the season. Even if rookies Melo and Kris Joseph dance off to Maine for game reps in the D-League, that leaves three guys competing just to get on the floor once Bradley is healthy. Someone like Barbosa, who will get a chance to shine early in the year while Bradley recovers, is going to have to prove he should stay in the rotation when Boston is at full strength (if early returns are any indication, Barbosa is ready to fight for a regular role and he looked great at the team's open practice). Again, the intra-squad competition should only encourage everyone to elevate their games. And, as we know with Boston, injuries are inevitable. All 15 players will be called upon at one point or another over an 82-game grind and into the postseason.