Boston Celtics: SeasonCountdown2013

3-on-3: Better than all the rest?

October, 29, 2012
: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.


Does this season's Celtics team have more talent than the 2007-08 championship team did?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,190)

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.

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3-on-3: Something in reserve?

October, 26, 2012
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesCan 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.

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3-on-3: Shooting stars

October, 25, 2012
Getty ImagesAre 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.


Are the Celtics better this year at shooting guard with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee than they were last year with Ray Allen?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,118)

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.

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3-on-3: The elder statesmen

October, 24, 2012
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesPaul 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.

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3-on-3: Transitional lineup for C's?

October, 23, 2012
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesWill Courtney Lee find himself running with the starters this season?
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. Today's topic: Boston's lineups.

1. What should the C's starting lineup be on opening night?

Payne: On opening night the Celtics should go with Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, and Kevin Garnett. The last handful of preseason games saw Lee really gel with this group -- Rondo in particular -- and he put on display so many of the things that will help this team win games this season. He'll be a huge asset defensively against Dwyane Wade, and he'll help Boston secure easy baskets in transition, which they'll definitely need to beat Miami. As for Bass, the continuity with this group cannot be ignored. They have the experience together and, even though Jared Sullinger played very well throughout the preseason, he could be a serious weapon off the bench for Boston. The Celtics will see a host of pick-and-roll plays from Miami and the 1-2 punch of Garnett and Bass along the frontline is Boston's best bet to defend those.

Robb: Rondo, Lee, Pierce, Bass, and Garnett. I've been fully on board with the idea of Sullinger taking the power forward slot in the starting 5, but when it comes to matching up with an undersized Heat lineup on opening night, I grew a bit weary of the idea. Forcing Sullinger to match up with an undersized Shane Battier, while being asked to handle defensive rotations against the likes of LeBron James, Wade, and Chris Bosh is a tall order, especially for the first game of someone's NBA career. Bass has seen plenty of success and experience defending this Heat squad, so I'd expect him to get the nod on opening night, along with Lee at shooting guard for defensive purposes on Wade.

Forsberg: You guys nailed it: Rondo, Lee, Pierce, Bass, and Garnett. The Celtics very well may shuffle their lineup at times this season, but there's no reason to get crazy the first night out. Miami's smaller lineup (with Bosh at center) makes it more beneficial for Boston to keep an athletic 4 on the floor. Boston could flirt with the idea of throwing Jeff Green in the mix (in a small lineup with Pierce and Lee), but the familiarity with Bass makes most sense. The Celtics then have a formidable second unit to roll in with Green and Jason Terry off the bench, and Sullinger might be the first reserve in for Garnett.

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3-on-3: What's on tap for Sully?

October, 22, 2012
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesJared Sullinger is poised for a big role in his rookie season with the 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 breakdown a key topic surrounding the Celtics' 2012-13 season. Up first: Jared Sullinger's potential rookie impact.

1. What's the top reason that Sullinger should be in the starting lineup?

Payne: He fits. Sullinger's game works with how the starting lineup wants to operate. Not only has he grasped the system and won't be a defensive liability, but he can perform any of the basic tasks required of a big man in Boston's offensive sets. Though we didn't see it much during the preseason, he can step back and knock down an elbow jumper, similar to Brandon Bass, or he can slide down low and serve as a reliable post presence. Additionally, pairing him alongside Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce gives the Celtics their best rebounding frontcourt in years -- an area they haven't exactly excelled in of late. Factor in him setting beefy screens for the likes of Rajon Rondo and Pierce, and his ability to outlet the ball quickly and move up the floor better than people realize, and Sullinger could easily emerge as a productive member of Boston's first five.

Robb: Rebounding, especially at the offensive end of the floor. Statistically, the Celtics were one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in history last season, and while part of that distinction is due to the team's philosophy of getting back on defense, there's no doubt personnel factored into it as well. Sullinger has established himself during the preseason as perhaps the team's best offensive rebounder and certainly a more capable one than Brandon Bass. With the C's first unit offense predicated on plenty of spacing and jump shooting, having a guy like Sullinger down low with a nose for the ball, and a willingness to do the dirty work, could be a major asset.

Forsberg: It might make the team stronger overall. For all the handwringing about the Boston offense in recent seasons, the first unit hasn't had too much trouble putting points on the scoreboard. When you've got Rondo running the show and Pierce and Garnett next to him, offense will come one way or another. With that in mind, you don't necessarily need a shot-happy power forward (particularly if you have a shooter like Courtney Lee or Jason Terry running with the first unit as well). As much as the Garnett-Bass pairing inverts the offense and pulls bigs to the perimeter, Sullinger adds a post presence that the team could surely benefit from (and he still has that sneaky range to his jumper). More importantly, Sullinger doesn't need his number called for him. According to Synergy Sports data, Sullinger averaged 1.088 points per play this preseason, a phenomenal number for a power forward (Bass was 0.955 points per play last season). A whopping 17.5 percent of Sullinger's plays came on offensive rebounds, second only in play types to post-up opportunities (25 percent). The Celtics don't necessarily have to start Sullinger every night, but there are going to be matchups where it makes a lot of sense. And having Garnett nearby will mask his defensive deficiencies during his rookie campaign.

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Jeff Green
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9