Boston Celtics: Chris Wilcox
Last July 1, Doc Rivers made Jason Terry his first phone call, trying to recruit the veteran sixth man who the team thought would certainly cure its longstanding bench anemia. The Celtics loaded up knowing full well that the 2012-13 campaign might be the last run for a veteran core led by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, throwing three years and $15.7 million at the now 35-year-old guard. Terry tattooed a Celtics leprechaun spinning the Larry O'Brien trophy on his arm and immediately endeared himself to the region; maybe he can use some of the 7.5 percent trade kicker that Boston will soon pay him to aid the removal.
This year? The Celtics don't even have a coach to make recruiting pitches. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is more likely to call a rival general manager about a deal than try to sweet-talk a big-name free agent.
Terry is just the latest of Boston's mid-level misfires (Jermaine O'Neal, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Wilcox before him). Alas, as an over-the-cap team, the Celtics have often been at the mercy of their few exceptions in hopes of giving their veteran core a boost.
Now, as the Celtics simply count the days before a blockbuster swap that will send Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Terry to Brooklyn can be officially completed, the team is more likely to examine the trade market while trying to unclog cap constraints with the goal of overhauling its roster as quickly as possible.
Player: Chris Wilcox
2012-13 averages: 4.2 ppg, 3 rpg, 13.6 mpg, 71.9 FG%
2012-13 salary: $1.35 million
Season in a paragraph: The fact that Wilcox was back on the floor in November was nothing short of amazing considering he underwent major heart surgery for an enlarged aorta just eight months prior to that. A thumb injury paused his season for a bit into the new calendar year, but Wilcox was a consistent presence -- to the dismay of some armchair coaches -- later in the season. Wilcox was insanely efficient on the offensive end, but struggled to maintain defensive consistency and rebound the ball, leaving him a spectator for most of his first taste of the NBA playoffs.
Season highlight: Wilcox's best individual effort came in Phoenix in late February. With Kevin Garnett resting his tired legs, Wilcox put his to good use, running the floor while putting up a season-high 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go along with eight rebounds over 22 minutes. What made the effort all the more noteworthy was that it came on the heels of ...
Season lowlight: In need of guard help after injuries eroded Boston's depth, the Celtics attempted to deal Wilcox to the Washington Wizards as part of a swap for Jordan Crawford at February's deadline. But utilizing a bit of a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement, Wilcox was able to veto the deal (due to impending Bird rights) and forced Boston to send out veteran center Jason Collins instead. That the Celtics were willing to move Wilcox showed their frustration with the inconsistency in his play.
Final grade: D+
Teacher's notes: It speaks volumes when one of the league's most efficient offensive players, competing for one of the league's most stagnant offenses, can't carve out a steady role. Unfortunately for Wilcox, his inconsistent defense and a low rebound rate (he hauled in just 16.4 percent of available defensive rebounds and 12.5 percent of total rebounds -- marks that were close to the worst of his career) made it tough to keep him on the floor (the Celtics were minus-43 in his time on the court). The Celtics eventually gave midseason import Shavlik Randolph a chance and he responded by devouring the glass (rebound rates of 26.3 percent on defensive glass; 22.4 percent overall). You want to give Wilcox the benefit of the doubt coming off major heart surgery, but in two seasons in Boston, he just hasn't been able to put the whole package together. Incredibly, Wilcox was the league's most efficient offensive player during the regular season, averaging a whopping 1.21 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data (albeit in a somewhat small sample size of 214 total offensive possessions). Regardless, Wilcox shot a staggering 71.9 percent from the floor and did a tremendous job of scoring when opportunities presented themselves around the basket. All of this while playing half the season without his alley-oop running mate in Rajon Rondo.
What's next?: Wilcox is the only player on Boston's end-of-the-season 15-man roster who is not under contract for next season. He's eligible for a slight bump in pay if the Celtics desired to keep him around, but with roster space at a premium -- at least at the moment -- it's likely the team will examine other options. Wilcox was a good locker room guy who had supporters, including Rondo, but while the talent is obvious, he hasn't been able to be a 20-minute-per-game guy since his 2007-08 season in Seattle. Wilcox will turn 31 before next season and might find more playing time elsewhere next season, though he clearly values the opportunity to play for a contender.
Honor roll: Click HERE to read past report cards.
Don't agree with teacher? Just want to sound off on Wilcox's 2012-13 season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Part of the reason why the Celtics were willing to send Wilcox away was because they weren't seeing the kinds of performances that he delivered in Sunday's 107-96 win over the Wizards, in which he contributed 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go along with five rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
Instead, Boston had been getting a steady wave of inconsistency from Wilcox that not even increased opportunities with Kevin Garnett out for eight games could help.
Garnett returned on Sunday, but in the eight games he missed, Wilcox averaged just 3.5 points and 3.6 rebounds, playing more than 20 minutes just twice over the stretch. But Wilcox was able to channel on Sunday what has garnered him success in the past: an ability to make a difference through sheer activity and hustle around the basket.
"I just wanted to go out there and be aggressive," Wilcox said. "It was Kev's first game back and I just wanted to go out there and run the floor and just try to get involved a little bit more. In the past I kind of went away from getting in there, banging and stuff, so I think tonight I went in there and just tried to get a couple easy baskets and it worked tonight."
"You've just got to step up, guys have to step up," Wilcox said prior to practice on Monday. "I've got to step up and we've just got to go out there and compete. We've got to go out and play hard, run the floor. We can't be Kevin, but we've got to be ourselves and just go out there and bring energy."
Through 12 games in March, Wilcox has averaged only 14.8 minutes per game, which has translated to averages of just 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds. The one encouraging stat for Wilcox this month? He's shooting 77.8 percent from the field, having missed only six of the 27 shots he's attempted. In fact, 25 of those 27 shots have come from less than five feet from the rim, and many have been generated in transition, where Wilcox is always most effective.
Wilcox might not produce the majority of his own offense -- 66.7 percent of his looks this month have been assisted by teammates (Jason Terry's accounted for the most) -- but his value still stands through his ability to stay open and finish around the basket.
The bigger test for Wilcox will come on the other side of the ball. Paul Pierce said prior to Monday's practice that defense still needs to be what the Celtics hang their hat on as they seek to break out of their current four-game losing streak. While Wilcox won't be able to make quite the defensive impact that Garnett can be counted on for on a nightly basis, he can be dedicated to his rotations and, perhaps more importantly, be a vocal presence on the floor. Boston still needs to communicate on defense, even without its loudest defender.
"We've all got to talk, and that's part of it," Wilcox said. "We've all got to talk, we've all got to communicate. It's good that we've got a couple practices right now that we can get on the same page, and I think that's going to help us out along this stretch. It's definitely going to take all the guys to step up and communicate. Kevin is more vocal when he's out there on the court, but now it's going to have to be other guys. Everybody has to talk, and we've all just got to be on the same page."
Garnett indulged in a rare night off -- his first of the season -- after coach Doc Rivers asked him to rest his weary legs as Boston visited the Suns. But Garnett isn't the type to retreat to the spa, and he almost certainly spent the night holed up watching the TV broadcast and likely shook the hotel with every encouraging sight from his teammates.
And, oh, there were plenty of them. Jeff Green, starting in place of Garnett, erupted for a season-high 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting, while newcomers Jordan Crawford and Terrence Williams highlighted a well-rounded bench effort as the Celtics stomped the Suns 113-88 at the US Airways Center.
There was never going to be a good time to rest Garnett, whose legs have simply never quite bounced back since playing 47 minutes in a triple-overtime win over the Denver Nuggets earlier this month.
Garnett, who has hinted he's battling some minor maladies as well, looked gassed for much of Wednesday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and Rivers lamented not sitting him then -- as impossible as it was to consider holding Garnett out in a rivalry game.
So even with his team 0-2 to start a daunting five-game road trip, Rivers swallowed hard and asked the 36-year-old to take a vacation day. The fact that Garnett obliged speaks volumes itself of how needed the break was.
Green was otherworldly, adding seven rebounds, five blocks, and four assists to his stat line over 39 minutes. Chris Wilcox, pulled aside by Rivers earlier in the day and implored to up his level of play, responded by registering 14 points and eight rebounds in 22 high-energy minutes. Jordan Crawford came as advertised, chipping in 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists in 17 minutes (despite no familiarity with the playbook), while Terrence Williams continues to show versatility that makes it seem like a crime that he was out of the league until this point.
"It was just a good win, a feel-good win for all the guys," gushed Rivers. "The new guys played great. Jeff was phenomenal. We started the game running a set that we had never ran in our lives. We drew it up literally right before the first play, but they just had the basketball IQ to keep working and they actually showed us options that I didn't know we had.
"It was just a good feel-good win, everyone did their job. Courtney Lee, all the guards rebounded and stayed in there. Because Jeff got off to the start, it forced [the Suns] to have to match up. Then it was a small game, and that's the only way we could be. So that was good for us."
Wilcox logged a mere 3 minutes, 40 seconds of action in Sunday's win over the Clippers -- the team that drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft. He made the only two shots he took -- finishing an alley-oop lob from Jason Terry, then working a little pick-and-roll with Avery Bradley for a left-handed layup -- while adding a rebound and a steal in a brief, but solid first-half stint.
Wilcox is now shooting 72.9 percent (51 of 70 overall) in limited action and has been one of the league's most efficient offensive players (1.26 points per play, 99th percentile, according to Synergy Sports data) with his penchant for running the floor and finishing around the rim. Defensively, his individual stats have been decent, but Rivers noted Sunday that he wants to see more.
"He’s spotty. We want him to be more consistent," said Rivers. "We talk about guys doing their job. He has really one great job he has to do: he has to be our defensive energy guy, and then on offense he has to run the floor. He has to do that consistently and I don’t think he does that yet, but I think he’s gotten better in practices each time and definitely in the games."
Wilcox missed 19 games with a thumb injury before returning last month. Three of his first four appearances since rejoining the rotation have been for five minutes or less. Boston's desire to play small-ball (especially since Jared Sullinger was lost for the season) has bitten into Wilcox's opportunities, as has the serviceable play of veteran center Jason Collins.
Wilcox showed he can still be effective in larger chunks of minutes. Last week he logged 17 minutes against Sacramento and registered six points and five rebounds (on the flip side, he was minus-3 overall in plus/minus). The Celtics would like to see Wilcox's rebound rate return to familiar levels (his 11.1 total rebound percentage is a career low at the moment) and greater consistency on the defensive end will help drive his floor time back up.
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics forward/center Chris Wilcox returned to full-contact practice activities Sunday, testing his injured right thumb for the first time since being shelved in mid-December.
Wilcox sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb on Dec. 18 in Chicago while bracing himself during a fall to the court. He engaged in some shooting activities with the team before Thursday's practice, but Sunday's session was expected to be a chance to gauge where he's at with his rehabilitation.
"I'm going to get out there and just see what I can do," Wilcox said before the afternoon session. "The other day I got out there and did some shots and layups and stuff like that with the team. So, today, try to get more active, just take it one day at a time."
Wilcox playfully celebrated the ability to once again palm the basketball, a step in his recovery, but admitted he's still uncomfortable given the injury is to his dominant hand.
"Look, I'm back in action," Wilcox joked while palming the ball. "So, like I said, I'm just going to go out, get a good practice in, play a little defense, push off and things like that and that will let me know where I'm at.
"It's still sore, but it's going to be like that for a while, so I'm just trying to do whatever I can and just get back out here on the court and then see what I can go through and see what's comfortable."
Kevin Garnett thinks Sunday's session will be good for Wilcox.
"This is when you need practice times right here for guys who haven't been in the flow of things," Garnett said. "It's good to have him back. Today should be a very interesting, passionate day, so it's good to have Chris back."
"I’m going to go out here and see what I’m comfortable with," Wilcox said before Boston's afternoon session. "That’s not saying if I go out here, I’m going to play tomorrow. I want to go out here and see what I can do and what I feel comfortable with...
"I’m going to definitely get out there and get up and down with the team, just try to get some plays -- we put in a couple new plays -- run through that stuff and see how I am. Catching the ball, getting the feel of shooting a little bit, and we’ll go from there."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested Wilcox would be out as much as a month when initially detailing the injury in late December, which would suggest his projected return is still a ways out, even if he accelerated that time table.
"He’s ahead," said Rivers. "I don’t know what that means, because I don’t really know what the schedule was. But it’s funny, [team trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] told me yesterday that he’s ahead of schedule, and I said, ‘Well, I never knew what the schedule was.’ I guess that’s good news. That’s all I can tell you."
Wilcox sported a thick tape wrap around the injured thumb and wrist to stabilize it. His return to the practice floor alone added some much-needed depth up front for a Boston team cobbling its way through some injury woes.
Rivers said veteran center Jason Collins is battling minor hamstring and ankle ailments and the Celtics have tried to limit his game action while he heals. Collins has played a total of just nine minutes over the last three games, but a need for pure height pressed him into minor action against both the Hawks and Suns.
"Jason is still injured, so we’re still trying to get through this stretch without using him much," said Rivers.
Rookie Fab Melo, sidelined since late December after sustaining a concussion while hitting his head on a doorway while on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, was on the floor before Boston's practice on Thursday. But team officials said Melo has not been cleared for contact and remains unable to participate in team activities as he attempts to pass the league-mandated requirements to return from the head injury.
Once healthy, Melo will almost certainly be returned to the D-League in order to resume his development. He had a couple of breakout games before the accident in South Dakota forced him to push the pause button on his time with the Claws.
Celtics forward/center Chris Wilcox will avoid surgery on his right thumb.
Wilcox suffered a sprained ulnar collateral ligament while trying to draw a charge during the Celtics' 100-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 18, and received the dispiriting news a short while later that he would be out what was originally pegged as 3-4 weeks.
"I fell in the Chicago game and I tried to catch myself. After the game I thought I just jammed it," Wilcox said prior to Wednesday's 93-83 loss to the Grizzlies. "Then when I came here, we had a game, I went to grab a ball, and I couldn't palm it. I couldn't grab it or nothing. It was killing me. So the [doctor] told me I had to take some time off. It would be a while. I've got to let it heal.
"Definitely frustrating. I just want to come back and just play. It's always frustrating when you're hurting and it's just been the same story for me for a minute here. I just want to get out there and just play, so that's why I'm here. They were like, 'You don't have to come in,' but I just want to be around the fellas. I was out all of last season."
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics forward/center Chris Wilcox will miss nearly a month with an ulnar collateral sprain in his right thumb, according to coach Doc Rivers.
Wilcox injured the thumb on Tuesday in Chicago and has sat out the last two games, though Rivers had admitted he was going to lean on other bigs given Wilcox's recent defensive struggles. Now the injury will keep him on the shelf.
"Chris is out; he’s out for a while," Rivers said after the team's practice on Sunday. "I don’t know how long, but the first report I got was three to four weeks."
With Wilcox injured and the departure of Darko Milicic earlier this season, the Celtics are thin yet again at the center position and have been forced to lean on undersized big men like Brandon Bass and rookie Jared Sullinger. Rivers was asked if the team needed to make a move for a big man.
"You would think, but obviously that’s the one position where they don’t grow on trees. They actually grow," quipped Rivers. "We just have to be patient. Obviously, we need another big with Chris being out. I don’t know if we’re going to get another big on this trip."
The Celtics could attempt to muddle through until Jan. 7 when free agents are eligible to be inked to 10-day contracts. That would afford Boston a chance to add a player to Milicic's vacated spot without forcing a move that clogs a roster spot for the remainder of the season, leaving the team able to still be active at the trade and waiver deadlines when the players available might be glitzier.
And what about rookie Fab Melo, who set a D-League record with 14 blocks as part of a triple-double effort on Saturday in Maine?
"I haven’t talked to anyone that thinks he’s ready to come up yet," said Rivers. "There might be your answer."
The Celtics dressed only 10 bodies for Friday's overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Leandro Barbosa missed that game due to a personal matter and will not be with the team on Christmas Day in Brooklyn (he is expected to rejoin the squad in Los Angeles for the final three games of that road trip).
Avery Bradley is nearing a return after enduring double shoulder surgery, and Rivers didn't rule out the possibility of him debuting on this road trip, but said he didn't want to pressure the training staff. Bradley had been eyeing a return on Jan. 2 when the team returns home, but had planned to travel on the road trip.
"I think there’s a chance [he'll play on the trip], but I don’t know what the chances are," said Rivers. "I haven’t talked to anybody. The fact that he went through, again, today’s practice great ... I don’t know, I just try to stay out of that. Because he’s close and I don’t want anyone feeling like I’m pressuring them -- Avery or, more importantly, the doctors. Because Avery wants to play. I guarantee he wants to play the next game. But that’s something that I try to stay away from."
Rivers was asked if Bradley appeared game ready from what he'd seen in practice.
"He could play, there’s no doubt," said Rivers. "He’s ready to play. I don’t know about the healing part of it. Does it take those extra two weeks? He had two surgeries, and I think that’s what we forget. The first surgery was on one day, the second one was a lot later. And that’s the shoulder that still needs to heal. Now, if you can go through a practice, the way we’ve gone, especially today, can he play in a game? He might be able to. But maybe it’s still too early. I don’t know the answer."
Less than nine months removed from surgery to repair an enlarged aorta that cut his 2011-12 season short, the 30-year-old Wilcox is quietly averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 rebounds over 13.1 minutes per game. Maybe most noteworthy, Wilcox is shooting a staggering 70.8 percent from the floor, which would easily be a Celtics' franchise record if he could reach the minimum-attempt threshold.
Eased into the new campaign after battling some health woes that forced him to miss much of training camp and the exhibition season, Wilcox has emerged as a key frontcourt reserve, providing a much-needed length when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.
"He’s good; A lot of energy," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Still, defensively, we need him to be better. But the one thing he really does is run the floor. He sets picks, and he can roll; he’s a great pick-and-roller. And Rondo takes advantage of that.”
During a fourth-quarter timeout, Wilcox gave an in-house cameraman broadcasting on the video board the middle finger when a "Kiss Cam" segment ended with a shot of him and teammate Jared Sullinger sitting next to each other on the Celtics' bench.
Wilcox, one of the nicest guys in the Celtics' locker room, is playing on a one-year, veteran-minimum contract.
This is the second fine of the season for Boston. Kevin Garnett was also fined $25,000 for his part in a dust-up with the Brooklyn Nets last month that left Rajon Rondo suspended for two games.
"He got the big block at the end," said Celtics assistant Armond Hill, who was running the seven-player practice. "It was a huge block. You should ask him about that later."
It turns out the Celtics had some of the coaching staff on the floor to bump up numbers and while no one would divulge exactly what happened, Wilcox rejected an assistant (maybe Hill?) pretty emphatically.
"No, we can't count that," said Wilcox. "That was on one of the coaches. I mean, we can't count that. [Practice] was good though, because it was a chance for all of us to get in here, get in the gym, and get some extra work."
Wilcox did note he was feeling better after battling the illness, which he's been somewhat cryptic on previously.
"It was just a quick little virus I had, and it's gone now, so I'm good now," said Wilcox.
The Celtic have leaned on veteran Jason Collins as the first big off the bench the last two games while easing the workload on Wilcox. Both players got a chance for extra practice reps on Monday with veterans like Kevin Garnett taking the day off.
"It was good, because guys that come off the bench, we got a chance to kind of get things that we needed to fix fixed and we got a chance to go through some palys that we needed to work on," said Wilcox. "We had a good practice today."
"Yeah, Jason gives us size and he's playing well," Rivers said afterward. "He played well [Friday], he helps out. Chris does his things, too, so I got a feeling it'll be back and forth all year."
It's worth acknowledging that Wilcox was in a bit of a funk the latter part of last week, dealing with a strange stomach bug that forced him out midway through last Wednesday's loss to the Brooklyn Nets and caused him to miss practice on Thursday. Even though he played Wilcox for 14 minutes in Friday's win, Rivers cautioned before the game that he wasn't looking to overextend him.
As Wilcox rights himself, he could easily re-obtain the consistent minutes he was getting before his illness, though two productive outings by Collins over the weekend could adjust Rivers' thinking a bit.
A productive night for Collins consists of solid defense and rebounding. His stats will never jump off the page; judging his impact on the game will be more about the eye test than anything. But with the team's defense still trying to catch up to its offense, Collins' knowledge of the rotations might take on a greater weight, particularly with Boston still trying to plug up some serious gaps when Kevin Garnett is off the floor.
Rivers' decisions in this particular case might not be as significant as some of his earlier ones, like his call on keeping Brandon Bass in the starting lineup over Jared Sullinger, for example. Both Wilcox and Collins have very specific roles, and playing inconsistent minutes shouldn't impact their ability to fulfill those roles the way it might impact some of Boston's core guys.
Whether he plays five minutes or 15, Wilcox will be expected to spark the second unit, run the floor, and connect with Rajon Rondo on an alley-oop or two. The same goes for Collins and his responsibilities. No matter the minute count, he's expected to be a presence inside defensively.
Rivers won't etch his plans in stone for either. As he alluded to after Saturday's loss, this could be a back-and-forth endeavor for the remainder of the season.
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