Commentary

Believing in the bench

With Stiemsma, Bass and Bradley emerging, will Doc shake up his game plan?

Updated: January 3, 2012, 7:45 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Forget practice days, this condensed, game-heavy 2011-12 NBA schedule is making it tough to find Celtics Mailbag days.

But now that we're 10 days and six games into the regular season, it seems like a good chance to sort through the recent mail and offer thoughts on what we've seen thus far from a 3-3 Celtics squad.

After Monday's win over the Wizards, the mailbag is Stiemsma-heavy, so let's dive in:

Q: I know a lot of fans were upset to see Kendrick Perkins go and I was one of them. But the more I think about it, is Greg Stiemsma much different than Perkins? Except perhaps that he's taller, blocks shots better, will draw fewer technicals, and has a better offensive game? I know it's still early for Stiemsma , but replacing big, defensive-minded guys like Perkins with zero offensive skill should not be that difficult, right? -- Sanjay (Parsippany, N.J. )

A: Beep. Beep. Beep. Back up the Steamroller, Sanjay. Listen, Stiemsma's performance Monday night was a lot of fun and there are plenty of reasons to like his game. But before we put him in the Hall of Fame, let's see if he can become a consistent contributor and let's see how he fares against the non-Wizards of the world. No one is looking for him to replace what Perkins brought to this team -- and only time will help him develop similar chemistry with his teammates -- but if Stiemsma can give you serviceable minutes off the pine and chip in at both ends, then the Celtics have done well to give him his first NBA opportunity. But he's got a long way to go, even defensively despite his shot-blocking talents, before we can compare him to a guy who owns a championship ring.

[+] EnlargeGreg Stiemsma
AP Photo/Michael DwyerYes, C's big man Greg Stiemsma has been impressive early in the season, but let's not get carried away just yet.

Q: If Stiemsma keeps this up should he take over as the starter? -- Jake (Manchester, Mass.)

A: I've said all along that I like the idea of Jermaine O'Neal coming off the bench because of the way you can limit his minutes and increase his offensive touches with the reserve unit. That said, he's the starter until Stiemsma (or any late-season big man addition) shows consistently that he deserves to run with the first unit. As coach Doc Rivers noted Monday, starting Stiemsma was actually a way to protect him because he was playing alongside the four best players on the team. In a way, it's almost a tougher spot being the first center off the bench. I also think back to last year when Semih Erden had some real nice games with the first unit -- and the team dealt him away for what amounted to roster space. I think Jermaine O'Neal reminded us against Detroit how valuable he can be as a starting center. It's up to him to stay healthy enough to prove he can be counted on to consistently be in the lineup.

Q: When can we see Stiemsma jerseys for sale? -- AJ (Saugus, Mass.)

A: My dad turned 54 last week. Given the number, I toyed with the idea of getting him a Tedy Bruschi jersey to celebrate that occasion. Then Stiemsma went out on the night of his birthday and blocked six shots in his NBA debut. Maybe I missed an opportunity to be first in line for Stiemsma's No. 54. If he keeps playing like he did Monday, I'm sure the Celtics will put a rush order on his shirts.

Q: The Celtics have bounced back from a tough start, but their bench is concerning. What can the C's do about adding some scoring? Given the lack of talent available, is Marquis Daniels the C's best option? -- Cuneo (Reston, Va.)

A: Brandon Bass is doing his best to ease everyone's concerns about the bench's scoring potential. He looks like a steal right now in that Glen Davis sign-and-trade. I love that he's already having fun with the "No Pass Bass" nickname, but here's the thing -- a guy with no conscience who can score the ball on a consistent basis is exactly what this team needs. Would another bench scorer who could further space the floor help? Of course. But I do think the bench's production will grow once it gets some more practice time. I think Keyon Dooling has been slow out of the gate (outside of one big night in Miami). We've seen flashes from Daniels, but he can be more consistent. And, eventually, you have to hope that Avery Bradley will put it together offensively, because his defense has been tremendous. Let's give it some time, but I'm actually more optimistic about the bench -- maybe simply based on Bass' production -- than I was at the start of the season.

[+] EnlargeAvery Bradley
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertDanny Ainge believes Avery Bradley can blossom with minutes, and so far Bradley's defense has been just what the Celtics have needed off the bench.

Q: When do you think Avery Bradley will get his minutes cut in favor of E'Twaun Moore? -- Rob (Brockton, Mass.)

A: Doc Rivers hinted last week that he might give Moore some of Bradley's minutes, but then he leaned heavily on Bradley and his defense during the Washington home-and-home. What's more, Bradley responded well, at least defensively. Yes, his shots are still not falling (though he did get his first bucket of the season), but I still like the potential. He might not be putting up points -- and eventually you do need production from that shooting-guard spot -- but he's also not giving up a lot of points and he's frustrating opposing offensive-minded guards (like John Wall and Jordan Crawford). Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes Bradley can blossom with minutes, so here's hoping Rivers continues to give Bradley a chance to prove Ainge right. One thing Rivers would like to see is either Bradley or Moore really assert himself as the go-to guy as the backup 2 guard, making his decision that much easier.

Q: Given the disharmony between the Sacramento Kings' talented-but-immature young center DeMarcus Cousins and the team's coaching staff, should the Celtics try to acquire him? Can you propose a trade scenario that might work? -- Michael (Sacramento, Calif.)

A: Any time a young (21 years old), talented (14.1 points, 8.7 rebounds per game in his rookie season), 6-foot-11 big man potentially becomes available, you've got to think Danny Ainge is jumping on the phone if for nothing more than due diligence. Cousins is scheduled to make a mere $3.6 million in the second season of his rookie scale contract and that's attractive as well. But before I waste time trying to give you scenarios on how the Celtics could make that salary work, I think it's safe to say they probably don't have the sort of assets Sacramento would want in return. Not sure the Kings are interested in Boston's late-round picks (either the 2012 picks or recent draftees like Bradley or JaJuan Johnson). What's more, it sounds like both sides are backing off the "trade" assertion at this point.

Q: Will the Celtics look at any more free agents this season? -- Jonathan (Greenville, Tenn.)

A: Absolutely. While the only non-guaranteed contact currently on the roster appears to be Stiemsma -- and, at the moment, it's unlikely he'll play his way off the team -- Boston does have potential wiggle room if it doesn't mind paying for it. Sasha Pavlovic has been a healthy scratch the last two nights, and with the impending availability of swingman Mickael Pietrus, you can't help but wonder if the team would eat Pavlovic's minimum contract at some point in order to bring in another body. Pavlovic still has value, but if he can't earn time at shooting guard, you have to wonder if the increased depth on the wing with the return of Pierce and Pietrus would give the team motivation to add depth elsewhere on the roster. The team could also have maneuverability without eating a contract closer to the March trade deadline when it could move younger players to take on low salaries (or free roster spots for buyouts, as it did last year).

Q: Why doesn't Doc play the rookies? -- Brittany (Bronx, N.Y.)

A: If there's been one criticism of Rivers over his tenure, it's that it's been very difficult for young players to crack the rotation with Rivers leaning on his veterans even with somewhat comfortable leads. After starting the season 0-3, you can understand why Rivers leaned on his vets a bit more than maybe even he preferred because he couldn't risk a total disaster. In a way, it's on the Celtics as a whole to maintain big leads and give Rivers the confidence to keep his starters on the bench throughout the fourth quarter when the team is up, say, 16 points heading into the final frame. That rest for the veterans is key, while extended playing time might allow the likes of Bradley, Moore and Johnson to emerge more than what limited practice situations allow.

Q: Everyone was mentioning how, with the condensed schedule, Doc would be forced to play his young players. Nope. Now with Pietrus onboard, that'll take away Bradley's limited minutes and the rooks haven't even gotten a sniff of playing time. This seems to be a huge concern as the younger guys need playing time to develop and the C's need to get younger and more athletic. -- Mark (Astoria, N.Y.)

A: No doubt, Mark, I hear where you are coming from. I do want to see whether Rivers is forced to change his philosophy a bit now that the team is back to .500. Maybe he can play it a little looser. Alas, as we've seen early on, every game looks like it might be a grind for Boston and, for a team that needs every win it can find this season, uncovering minutes for younger players is easier said than done.

Q: My 19-year-old daughter is having the exact same surgery for the exact same thing (aortic aneurysm) three days before Jeff Green, so we know what he is going through. Thankfully, doctors found hers when she had a physical for a hospital job. -- Susan (Verona, Ill.)

A: Susan, I can't imagine what your family is going through right now, but I wish you all the best. I hope having a high-profile situation like Green's has helped your family navigate this process. As we find ourselves lamenting the on-court minutiae around the Celtics in this space, this seems like a good time to remember what Green (and others like Susan's daughter) are about to go through. It's been uplifting seeing Green around the team at the start of the season, but as he preps for surgery next Monday at the Cleveland Clinic, here's wishing him all the best. Forget about a return to the basketball court, which we all surely hope happens next season, let's simply hope Green's procedure goes well and allows him to start a successful rehabilitation process without fear of what could have happened without detection.

Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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