Wednesday, September 8, 2010
What to expect from Delonte West
By Chris Forsberg
Barring any last-minute shuffling, the Boston Celtics capped off the roster they'll carry into training camp later this month with the addition of Delonte West. So what can we expect from the soon-to-be seventh-year guard?
That's the question we put to our panel of 18 writers from eight of our favorite Celtics blogs for the 13th installment of ESPN Boston's Celtics Summer Forecast. West is truly a wild card and his off-the- court troubles will sideline him for the first 10 games of the season, putting him a bit behind when it comes to defining a role on this year's squad.
But our panel expressed great optimism about West's ability to find a role with this team, pegging him as the potential first guard off the bench, adding much-coveted depth behind both Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen with his ability to play both guard spots.
Asked to guess his season stat line, however, our panel seemed more guarded, and their projections averaged out at 7.6 points and 2.5 assists over 17.1 minutes per game. It seemed a bit on the low side for a player who has averaged 10 points and 3.7 assists over 28.4 minutes per game in his first six NBA seasons.
Recent history certainly suggests that players should expect a decrease in their stat lines when coming to Boston, due in large part to the depth of the squad and how contributions are spread out over the roster. And considering West averaged 8.8 points and 3.3 assists over 25 minutes per game in a reserve role with Cleveland last season, maybe our panel's guesses are on point.
But this is the time of year for inflated expectations. Earlier in this series, John Karalis of Red's Army suggested Marquis Daniels could average 12 points and
4 rebounds per game next season. And while some immediately questioned his sanity, others shrugged it off. After all, hope springs eternal this time of year.
Here's my take on West: Last season, the Celtics desperately craved the type of depth West can provide, but he will still have the chance to make a serious impact on this year's team. While Boston is hopeful Nate Robinson can settle in at the backup point guard position, the addition of West adds another layer of depth that already included rookie Avery Bradley (who will have to learn the position and is likely to be brought along slowly). If Robinson flourishes as he showed the potential to do in the NBA Finals, West can also thrive at the 2, a spot thin on depth (Von Wafer must prove he can get back to the 2008-09 level he played at in Houston). If nothing else, West can help preserve the legs of Rondo and Allen, while maintaining a high level of play on the court. It might take some time for West to carve out a role, but into the new calendar year he has the potential to be a key cog with a beefed-up second unit. Let's say, 7.5 points and 2.5 assists over 20 minutes per game with potential to hop up a bit depending on how Robinson, Wafer and Daniels pan out this season.
The key for West will be his ability to get to the rim. While he's got a solid (and familiar) mid-range game, the majority of his shots have come at the rim during his career. Last season, West averaged nearly as many shots at the rim (2.4 per game) as he did beyond 16 feet (2.8 per game). His production is highest when he's able to create off the dribble and attack the basket (which also loosens up the outside shot). West also appears to be a better 3-point shooter the more shots he takes, but if he's on the floor with Robinson or Wafer, maybe that allows him to concentrate more on going to the basket and kicking it outside to those shooters.
Our panel weighs in with thoughts and expectations below:
Delonte's 10-game suspension will obviously be a detriment in him making an impact out of the gate, but I expect the returning Celtic to not only make the team, but be a valuable contributor off the pine, especially at the point. Rajon Rondo was the team's MVP last year, but he was also run into the ground, especially during the playoffs.
Overall, Rondo played more minutes in the NBA than anyone last year (if you include the playoffs). Why did this happen? Well, obviously the team has needed Rondo out there, but the sobering truth is that the C's haven't had a reliable backup point guard since they traded away West in 2007. Although West is not a natural 1, he is still a better option than anyone the C's have going into this season, a reliable candidate to run the offense for 15 minutes per game as he did regularly in his first three years with Boston. I can even see coach Doc Rivers giving him regular minutes at the point during the postseason, when the Celtics need someone Rivers can rely on.
Overall, West's versatility, distribution skills, familiarity with the team and adequate outside shooting make him an under-the-radar candidate to be one of Doc's top men off the pine as he enters the prime years of his career.
Delonte West may have been the final piece added to what Celtics fans hope to be the Banner 18 puzzle, but he's hardly last on the depth chart. While he won't replicate his performance from his inaugural go-around in green, the Celtics won't (and don't) need him to. He will be behind the 8-ball a bit due to his 10-game suspension, but I think the Celtics will use him as a backup to both Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. West has always been a combo guard, so he can fill in nicely at either spot. Depending on how effective Nate Robinson is with a full training camp, I see West averaging about 10-15 minutes, 6 points, and 2 assists per game. Those are hardly the numbers of a fantasy stud, but this team isn't about individual stats. It's about the collective team, and West's game is perfect for what this group needs coming off the bench.
Delonte West will be a major contributor this season. His fearless mentality on both ends make him the perfect role player for this team.
I expect him to be the primary backup to Ray Allen, and if Nate Robinson doesn't play well defensively, West can also back up Rondo.
I think Delonte West comes in and plays a key role off the bench this season. He's a better scorer than Daniels or Wafer, so, to me, he immediately takes a chunk of minutes from them (which I'm all for). I think this means that Daniels will also have to become more of a defensive player along the lines of Tony Allen last season. Also, it turns Wafer into a benchwarmer (assuming he's not cut). West will do a great job spelling Allen for periods of time during the game, so he doesn't lose his legs in the fourth quarter. If West can keep it together mentally and emotionally, I see this being a great signing for the team. I think West is the first guard off the bench, assuming things go to plan in the preseason. It's tough to predict the stats of such an unpredictable guy, but if he's got a clear head, I don't see why he can't log about 20 minutes with averages of about 9 points and 2 assists per game. It seems to be getting to a point where there just aren't enough minutes to go around for all these veterans.
I'm confident Delonte West's personal life will not keep him from having a positive impact on the Celtics this season, largely due to the support systems he has around him in guys like Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, Paul Pierce and Shaquille O'Neal. I expect West to see time both as the team's backup point guard and backup shooting guard. His style of play is definitely geared toward the second unit, which has the potential to be a pretty effective fast-breaking group, even with Shaquille O'Neal on the floor at times. West will be his typical gritty self, play aggressive defense, hit the occasional clutch shot, and bring forth that sense of reckless abandonment we were accustomed to during his first stint in Boston. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if Rivers elects to put West at the point guard spot in some tight games this season, ahead of Rajon Rondo (because of his poor free-throw
shooting) and Nate Robinson (because West is more of a playmaker and initiator, as opposed to a pure scorer).
Delonte West, on the court, helps the Celtics. He's a rugged defender, legitimate shooter, and he understands his role. Simply put, West is a winner. That's the reason Danny Ainge called himself a big fan of West's, and that's the reason the Celtics signed West. He's instantly the Celtics most talented, well-rounded guard off the bench, and his selflessness and toughness make him a coach's dream -- on the court, at least. But let's not pretend West is perfect. He comes with a lot of baggage, after being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and later getting arrested while doing his best impersonation of Al Pacino in Scarface. That being said, with a strong support system led by Shaquille O'Neal (who West calls a big brother-type), Doc Rivers, and a few former teammates, West is in a good situation to succeed. Call me optimistic, but I'd be surprised to see another setback.
From a basketball standpoint, I am very excited about the Delonte West signing. West immediately usurps the backup shooting guard role from Von Wafer -- no training camp necessary. West will bring toughness and consistency to a high-octane but sporadic second unit. West is a smart player who will do whatever needs to be done. In some games, West will score 15 points and focus on offense. Other times, when Shaquille O'Neal or Glen Davis are playing well, West will distribute the ball and focus on defense. West is also a player Doc Rivers can trust in crunch time, or in high-intensity playoff games.
The Delonte West signing is the biggest question mark heading into the season in my mind. First of all, he's suspended for 10 games for pleading guilty to weapons charges in July. Secondly, West is reportedly going to be playing on a non-guaranteed contract, which will put even more pressure on him to contribute when he does get minutes, and, quite frankly, I'm not sure how he's going to handle that. What was a hole at the 2 spot just a month ago has now been filled by Von Wafer, who wasn't fit enough to play in the NBA when he couldn't pass a physical, and now West who is kind of a head case coming into a team where I predict no one is going to be truly happy with their roles outside of the starting five (well, maybe Luke Harangody will have that "Happy to be here" smile at the end of the
bench). Bottom line is he can either contribute as the backup to Rondo, while moving Nate Robinson to the 2, or he could be cut before December. It really is a crap shoot with a relatively low risk and decent upside.
I am ecstatic about the Delonte West signing. The day after he was traded by the Cavliers and sent over to the Minnesota Timberwolves, I had high hopes that Danny Ainge would take his talents into consideration. Although West struggled with off-the-court issues in Cleveland, he actually developed into a better talent on the court.
There were times during the past few season when West was the second or third best option on that team behind LeBron James. Now that West has battled through his off-the-court issues, I believe that he will be more motivated than ever to prove the doubters wrong. With a reported non-guaranteed contract, West will have to earn his spot on the squad, but I don't believe that will be very difficult. As far as his place on the depth chart, following his 10-game suspension, I expect him to be the man off the bench responsible for relieving Ray Allen. We could also see him playing spot minutes at point guard when the Celtics may need to insert another shooter in the lineup.
I'll spare ESPN Boston readers more gun yuks, but, without any pun intended, Delonte West's shooting is truly what the doctor ordered. Certainly, there is a bit of sentimentality for those of us who saw West put up solid numbers on bad Celtics squads, yet we've also seen West be a valuable contributor on playoff teams that poorly utilized his strengths. West is nobody's point guard, but he's the perfect combo guard to play behind (or with) Rajon Rondo, and West's tenacity and energy could serve as a solid boost off the bench for the Celtics. I'd prefer seeing West serving as the team's backup point guard as his defensive liabilities against larger players are typically nullified in that setting. West's arrival, and comfort playing for Rivers, will make Nate Robinson expendable and trade bait for a deal to bring in a legitimate backup shooting guard.
Based on his recent brushes with the law, it's hard to predict how Delonte West's off-court issues will affect his potential on-court contributions for the Celtics. That said, much like how "Princeton could use a guy like Joel," the Boston Celtics most certainly could use the unique gifts of West. At his best, he can shoot, create for others, defend both guard positions well and win most fights for the loose ball. He's like Eric Williams, in the sense that, talent level aside, he's usually the toughest guy on the floor. Boston needs more of that, especially with the James Posey's bench toughness void left unfilled these past two seasons. Bearing all of the above in mind, I see West not only making the active roster but cracking the rotation, maybe not right away but certainly by mid-season.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.