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C's quarterly report: Room for growth

1/29/2012 - Boston Celtics

In only a month's time, the Boston Celtics are already at the quarter mark of this condensed 2011-12 NBA season, passing that checkpoint with Thursday's game in Orlando. That affords us the opportunity to offer up progress reports on the 15-man roster, highlighting what we've liked and what needs improvement (all stats through 16 games):

Rajon Rondo

Stats: 15 points, 9.4 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 36.4 minutes per game

What we like: Rondo's being more aggressive offensively than in past seasons, attacking the rim with more regularity and showing confidence in his jump shot. He's shooting a career-high 51.7 percent from the floor and, most encouragingly, his free throw attempts per game are up 3.5 attempts per game over last season. The Celtics need this attack-mode Rondo this season.

Needs improvement: Free throw shooting remains one of the only quibbles. Rondo is shooting 60 percent at the stripe, not much below his 62.1 percent career mark, but more trips to the line should produce more consistent results. Rondo also needs to tighten up that perimeter defense and prevent dribble penetration that has hurt the Celtics.

Ray Allen

Stats: 14.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 33.4 minutes per game
What we like: Coming off a season in which he established new career highs in field goal (49.1) and 3-point (44.4) percentages, all 36-year-old Allen is doing is looking like he might challenge those marks yet again. Allen is shooting 50.4 percent from the floor and a ridiculous 56.3 percent beyond the arc.

Needs improvement: Turnovers are about the only thing afflicting Allen at the moment (beyond a minor ankle injury). Allen's turnover percentage (15.4) is the highest of his career, and, like the rest of his teammates, he simply has to value the ball more (especially considering how frequently it's going in when he actually gets his shot off).

Paul Pierce

Stats: 16.5 points, 5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 32.5 minutes per game

What we like: Slowed by a heel injury that kept him out of training camp and forced him to miss the first three games of the season, Pierce has struggled to get into his preferred game shape, but has masked his shooting inconsistency by elevating other areas of his game, including his play-making abilities. Pierce's assist percentage (27.2) is off the charts (up from 16.1 percent last season). While he's struggling to find his offense, he's creating opportunities for his teammates.

Needs improvement: Pierce's shooting numbers have improved over the past two weeks, and his field goal percentage (41.4 percent now, after shooting a career-best 49.7 percent last year) should climb because of it. It's the only area in which he hasn't quite been vintage Pierce.

Kevin Garnett

Stats: 13.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 30.8 minutes per game
What we like: Garnett was slow out of the gates this season, expressing his dissatisfaction in a shortened training camp, and his offensive numbers are down a bit. But his defense hasn't lagged. According to Synergy Sports data, Garnett still ranks in the 91st percentile of all NBA players, allowing 0.667 points per play this season (opponents are shooting a mere 34.3 percent against him). He remains the defensive backbone of the starting unit.

Needs improvement: Garnett's offensive numbers should creep up during the season, but his rebounding is the key area to watch. Garnett's defensive rebound rate (22.7) is down 6 percent from last season and his total rebound rate (14.3) is off more than 3 percent overall. Given their lack of true size, the Celtics need more from Garnett on the glass.

Jermaine O'Neal

Stats: 5.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 23 minutes per game
What we like: O'Neal's individual defense is lagging a bit (0.848 points per play, 48th percentile, according to Synergy data), but the team is still thriving defensively when he's on the court. And much of that can be traced to both his shot-blocking and charge-taking abilities. With Glen Davis departed, O'Neal seems reinvigorated to carry the charge torch. As he's pleaded, don't look at the offensive numbers, but instead the charges, blocks and rebounds he's providing on a nightly basis.

Needs improvement: OK, we can't ignore all of his offense. O'Neal is shooting a mere 40.7 percent overall, unacceptable for a player who takes 3.3 of his 5.4 shots per game within 9 feet of the basket. His numbers around the rim simply must improve.

Brandon Bass

Stats: 11.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 28.3 minutes per game
What we like: The bench desperately needed a no-conscience shooter and that's exactly what Bass has provided. He's averaging a career-high 10.5 shots per game and is carrying the scoring load for the reserves. His defensive rebound rate (20.3) is his best mark since his first two years in the league and has been a pleasant surprise, as Bass utilizes his athleticism to help clean up the glass.

Needs improvement: Bass is struggling near the rim, shooting a mere 44.9 percent. His attempts there are a career high (3.1) and he's leading the team in dunks -- two positives -- but he simply has to finish better when he's not able to throw it down. He's getting blocked 13.7 percent of the time, almost double his rate from a year ago (7.3).

Mickael Pietrus

Stats: 8.7 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals, 22.1 minutes per game

What we like: Talk about stumbling into the perfect situation. The Celtics needed some 3-point shooting off the bench and Air France has been more than happy to fire away, connecting on 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers through seven appearances. And his defense has provided a spark, as well. It took only one game before coach Doc Rivers was convinced Pietrus had a regular spot in this rotation.

Needs improvement: For a player who's 6-foot-6, it'd be nice to get a little bit of rebounding. His defensive rebound rate (6.1 percent) is roughly half his career average (12). He doesn't have an assist yet, either. Alas, he's thriving in his designated roles and that stuff should simply come through the flow of the game.

Avery Bradley

Stats: 3.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 14.5 minutes per game
What we like: With Rondo sidelined, Bradley has gotten a chance to showcase his talents, and what he's shown in pressuring opposing point guards might have finally secured him a full-time role on this team. We knew his defense was NBA caliber, but we didn't know it could be such a game-changer and, even when Rondo is healthy, there's room for him to be a defensive pest off the bench.

Needs improvement: The biggest thing working against Bradley right now is his inability to run the offense. If he's going to be the backup 1, he needs to be able to do more than initiate the offense and space the floor. What's more, his speed allows him to generate his own offensive opportunities, but his jumper still needs work.

Marquis Daniels

Stats: 3.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 16.1 minutes per game
What we like: The fact that Daniels is simply back on the court is cause for celebration given the spine injury last season, but the Celtics still need more consistency from him. He has the ability to fill up a stat line with his versatility and athleticism, and he's shown that in bursts again this season -- but it's something he's struggled to do consistently in his three seasons here.

Needs improvement: Daniels desperately needs some shots to fall around the basket. He's shooting a miserable 29.2 percent overall, including a mere 46.7 percent at the rim (down nearly 22 percent from last year). What's more, from 3 to 9 feet he's shooting just 15.8 percent, according to HoopData. Daniels thrives off of confidence, and turning those offensive woes around will allow his natural talents to take over.

Keyon Dooling

Stats: 7 points, 1.2 assists, 0.9 rebounds, 18.4 minutes per game
What we like: Dooling is a better offensive player than we imagined and it's clear he's better suited to play off the ball than run the second-team offense at the moment. He's shooting 46.3 percent from the floor (nearly a career high) and 40 percent beyond the arc. The question is how many minutes can the Celtics find him at the 2 spot given Mickael Pietrus' recent arrival and emergence.

Needs improvement: The Celtics still need Dooling to be comfortable with running the offense, and right now he's averaging more turnovers (2) than assists (1.2). In fact, his assist rate is a career low (11.4 percent), this after being at 23.4 percent last season with Milwaukee. It will be interesting to see what Dooling was able to learn and grasp while missing extended time recently due to a right knee injury.

Chris Wilcox

Stats: 1.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 7.6 minutes per game
What we like: The potential. Having battled shoulder and calf ailments, Wilcox has missed more than half the season so far and he hasn't seen much floor time when he's been healthy. The Celtics used the taxpayer's midlevel exception ($3 million) to bring him in and need the player they were counting on to provide a bench spark with his energy and athleticism.

Needs improvement: Just about everything, but simply being healthy and on the court should aid that cause. Wilcox needs to move better without the ball, looking for his offense through cuts and putbacks. The Celtics need to do a better job of finding a way to get him the ball in transition (maybe his strongest asset). At the other end of the court, they need his size to help with defending bigs and grabbing rebounds.

Greg Stiemsma

Stats: 1.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 9.3 minutes per game

What we like: Obviously, Stiemsma is a terrific shot-blocker who provides some youth and athleticism to Boston's aging (and somewhat unathletic) frontcourt. He's also got a quietly efficient offensive game, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor.

Needs improvement: It's all about improving his man-to-man defense. When he's not blocking shots, opponents are thriving against him. According to Synergy data, he's allowing 1.017 points per play, which ranks in just the 8th percentile of all players (only Wilcox has been worse this season for Boston). Working against Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal in practice will aid that development.

Sasha Pavlovic

Stats: 3.3 points, 1.1 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 13.5 minutes per game
What we like: Pavlovic proved to be very Scalabrine-like when, after sitting out eight of 11 games this month, he got thrust into the starting lineup Monday against Orlando and had a solid all-around game. His defense has always been his calling card, but he's capable of putting points up when he's confident in his shot.

Needs improvement: Pavlovic simply needs to maintain his confidence. Rivers has stressed to him time and time again that Pavlovic's biggest obstacle is between his ears. When confident, he can be a quality role player on this team. When he's not, he's going to be hard-pressed to get off the bench.

E'Twaun Moore

Stats: 1.8 points, 1.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 8.7 minutes per game

What we like: For a late second-round pick, Moore has a lot of confidence in his game and Rivers has taken notice. Despite being mainly a 2 guard in college, Moore has shown an ability to run the offense and not turn the ball over. He's challenged Bradley for that backup 1 role and provides a more consistent offensive threat at that spot.

Needs improvement: His shot isn't falling yet and Moore is shooting only 23.7 percent from the floor (and 14.3 percent from beyond the arc). Even Rivers said he simply wants to see a couple of shots go down to get the rookie over the hump. Once those shots do start falling, his opportunities should increase.

JaJuan Johnson

Stats: 1.9 points, 0.7 rebounds, 3.1 minutes per game

What we like:
Johnson's athleticism is off the charts. Again, maybe it's just the fact that the Celtics are an older team, but you put him on the floor and he's jumping out of the gym and making moves that inspire confidence about his future. Rivers has also raved about his attitude toward his rookie role, simply showing up for work every day and looking to improve without complaining about his lack of minutes.

Needs improvement: Early indications are that Johnson simply needs to get bigger and stronger, like most young big men. Again, much like Stiemsma, spending time around guys like Garnett will only aid his development and show him all the little things that he needs to do to work his way into a role player.

Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.