Boston Celtics: SeasonCountdown2013
1. Is this the most talented team of the Big Three era?
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.
1. Is this the year Boston's bench finally becomes a consistent weapon?
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.
1. Are the Celtics better this year with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee than they were last year with Ray Allen?
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.
1. Is KG the most important player to Boston's overall success?
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.
1. What should the C's starting lineup be on opening night?
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.
1. What's the top reason that Sullinger should be in the starting lineup?
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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