Sunday, December 11, 2011
Winning move for Chris Wilcox
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
WALTHAM, Mass. -- When his agent called with the list of initial suitors, Chris Wilcox didn't even have to think about the decision. After nine seasons of losing, all he wanted was an opportunity to taste the postseason. Pretty much the moment he heard the word Boston, he was a member of the Celtics.
Few players are as desperate to win as Wilcox. Not only has he never been to the postseason, he's never finished a season on a team with more than 37 wins. In nine seasons, he has collected a mere 267 total wins, or an average of 29.7 wins per season (or, if you're a glass-half-empty kinda guy, that's 52.3 losses per season).
But wait, it gets worse.
Selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2002 draft (sandwiched between Nene Hilario and Amare Stoudemire), Wilcox labored through three seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. Finally, during the 2005-06 season, L.A. started to turn things around en route to winning a first-round playoff series.
Chris Wilcox, who played with the Pistons last season and in nine NBA seasons has never been to the playoffs, says coming to the Celtics was a no-brainer.
However, Wilcox never got to be a part of it as he was dealt to the Seattle SuperSonics, a team that won just 35 games that seaosn, in a deadline swap for Vladimir Radmanovic.
"It's definitely tough [not going to the playoffs]," Wilcox said. "Luckily, I got into a situation here where I could play and it's a playoff team. In the past, I've been on teams where I got traded and they went to the playoffs. But at the end of the day, it's all been a learning experience and hopefully this year things change up for me."
The struggles of Wilcox's teams shouldn't be viewed as a reflection of him. Heck, he won an NCAA title with Maryland in 2002 before making the jump to the NBA.
Wilcox is undersized (generously listed at 6-foot-10) but is a scrappy rebounder (posting a career-best 22.7 defensive rebounding percentage last season with the Pistons). For his career, he has averaged 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds over 20.7 minutes per game.
After inking a one-year deal with the Celtics, Wilcox will add depth at a well-stocked power-forward spot, but said he's willing to shuffle to a decidedly thinner center spot if the team needs him there.
"I've just got to do what I've got to do," he said. "I have to go out there and bring energy and just play my game. If the 5 position is open, then that's where I have to go. I mean, I've been there before. I just have to bring energy and be a physical presence in the paint."
Nine months shy of his 30th birthday, he's been one of the elder statesmen at some of his recent stops, but here he's a young guy learning under Kevin Garnett. Celtics coach Doc Rivers thinks that -- and a winning atmosphere -- will go a long way toward bringing the best out of Wilcox.
"I know here, the environment he's in, will help him," Rivers said. "Playing with Kevin has to help. I was laughing today. He said, 'We've not had a water break in three days.' I said, 'You'll be saying that at the end of the year too.' You can go get it whenever you want, but we're not going to break for 15 minutes so everybody can sit down and have water. The water's there, you can have it whenever you want. Just go over there, have your glass, and get back into practice.
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"I don't believe in having a 15-minute sit-down so everybody can have a cup of water. He's laughing, 'Oh, that's new.' That's the way it is. And he's getting used to it. I saw him today, four or five times he went and grabbed the cup. I said, 'I want you to drink water all practice, but we're just not going to have a whole seance about it.'"
All that tough love can only toughen up Wilcox, who averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds over 17.5 minutes per game last season in Detroit. He shot a career-best 58.1 percent from the floor and he does the majority of his work around the basket, something the Celtics are in desperate need of up front (with their power forwards gravitating more toward the perimeter in recent seasons, including Garnett).
According to Synergy Sports data, Wilcox graded out as excellent (92nd percentile) by averaging 1.06 points per play last season. He's among the league's best in transition and he has potential to thrive running alongside Rajon Rondo.
Said Ray Allen: "[He'll bring] a lot of excitement. A lot of people don't know him, I think, because he was on the West Coast most of his career and then playing in Detroit, where he didn't play a whole lot. So a lot of people don't really know him, haven't had the opportunity to see him. But when he gets on the floor, and seeing his athletic ability, it does make the team more exciting, because it gives Rondo a different dimension, fast break-wise."
Defensively, he struggled last season one-on-one, particularly in the post, but he's solid in the pick-and-roll. Boston's system is likely to mask some of his deficiencies.
Asked what he brings to the team, Rivers said: "Energy, athleticism, running the floor. I think, defensively, he can be solid for us. He's got a good motor. That's what we're expecting out of him."
All Wilcox expects is winning. That's the reason he didn't hesitate when his phone rang earlier this month.
"I was prepared to go anywhere," he said. "But when they said Boston, it was just like no question."
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.