Monday, May 18, 2009

Cadillac Mescallade: Celtics Role Players Exposed As Magic Take Series

Photo: Getty

I know it is very easy to find faults in players after a loss in a game or a series, but I'm going to do it anyway.

The Celtics were likely doomed once Kevin Garnett went out with his leg injury and further lost once Leon Powe, a valuable asset off the bench, was done for the year. That said, they still maintained much of the same core of role players that helped them to win the NBA Championship in 2008. One of the guys not around was James Posey, who took more money and, in the end, a shorter season with the New Orleans Hornets. However, the Celtics were able to bring in Stephon Marbury, an all-star caliber player at the guard spot despite his other issues, and Mikki Moore, a hustling reserve center who seemed to be on the rise in the NBA.

These additions were still not enough. For the better part of the playoffs, Ray Allen was on point as he further cements his reputation as one of the great shooting guards of all time...and I emphasize the word shooting. I don't think it's possible for Paul Pierce to top the run he had a year ago, en route to being named NBA Finals MVP, but he was his reliable self as well. After that, the team had to rely on all these other players who, at various times during the season, came up huge. I think at this point, this was a case of these players overachieving, rather than performing at a level that could be expected regularly.

As great as Rajon Rondo has been in this postseason and has at times carried the Celtics, the fact is, he is still a starting NBA point guard who has no jumpshot. It's the one thing that keeps him from being an excellent player. It was proven time and time again that this guy can be left open and he won't make teams pay. Does he have to lead the NBA in three pointers made? No, but this guy has to keep teams honest. I imagine it's something he will work on in the offseason. Still, at his age he has such tremendous potential. It will be interesting to see if he can ever become a reliable shooter. As for this series and this playoffs, you can only throw yourself at the hoop so many times before teams figure things out. (Props to his dunk, right in Howard's face, didn't think he had those hops). Of course, I think Rondo is on the verge of being something very great, but to be in the NBA without a jumpshot is like graduating high school and being unable to read - it just doesn't add up. In either situation you should almost gain the skill by osmosis through all the years of involvement.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis. I'm not the first to mention that this nickname has become overused and annoying. It prevents me from taking him seriously. While he is the epitome of hustle and came through with that huge buzzer beating jumper against the Magic in Game 4, he is a power forward who can't finish reliably. Find me another power forward in the NBA who is 6'9" and struggles to dunk the basketball. I can relate to Davis. People often remark to me while playing basketball, "How do your shots go in?" I get that feeling when I watch Davis. Without any lift he goes through a variety of head fakes and wild shots to get his baskets. As Game 7 proved, Dwight Howard is onto this game as he put a host of Davis' shots on the window before they could go anywhere near the hoops. Davis, without question will always take one or two jumpers a game that are out of his range. He knocks down that baseline J and then starts thinking he is Glen Robinson and can pull up anywhere inside the perimeter. You should never be able to count on someone for two misses a night, it's no fun.

Kendrick Perkins starts at center for the Celtics, and outside of being a big body I have yet to figure out what his skills are. I wouldn't say he is a lockdown defender or an incredible rebounder (though he did have double figures in game 7). His offensive possessions are sometimes an adventure and he has been in the league for six seasons now and hasn't really developed any moves. Does he start for the Celtics because he should be or because it doesn't matter who you have at center when the big three are in the lineup? He works well in that system when all three are going well. He can be a garbageman and clean up misses and just work on rebounding and defense. However, when the Big Ticket is out of action, you find out Perkins is still the same guy on the Celtics from three years ago when they were lottery regulars.

The rest of the regulars that saw time are Eddie House, Brian Scalabrine, Stephon Marbury, and every once in a while Tony Allen. Simmons on ESPN already kills Tony Allen so bad, there is no need to bring him up. House can be a streaky shooter and really does exactly what he's always done so I don't hold him very responsible. His game has always been shooting and that is what he does. Scalabrine, we joked about on HHR a few weeks ago but this guy is getting minutes and not contributing a ton. Just hustling won't cut it at the NBA level. Yes, he did have some clutch shots against the Bulls, but this Celtics team needed consistency and didn't find it here. Finally, was Marbury, he proved valuable in some spots in the Magic series but overall didn't add the boost many had hoped. In one respect, it was nice that he didn't cause any issues and managed just to keep the focus on basketball, but for a guy as talented as he is, he was unable to really supplement the offense. Perhaps that was Doc Rivers fault for not using him as often. Oh and just to follow up, Mikki Moore was pretty much riveted to the bench for most of these playoffs.

I understand indicting these gentleman after the fact might be a contradiction because this collection of players are role players and generally, by definition, "role players" don't all have to be great all the time, but just one of them needs to come through all of the time. I bring it up because when things are going well for the Celtics, these players are hailed as better than perhaps they really are. If you are starting a team are you taking Perkins as your center, Davis as your power forward? Likely not. Are you taking them even as backups? I don't know. I think the Celtics got caught up in the alleged greatness of some of their own players. Looking back now perhaps they would have made a bigger play to keep Posey, or to not let PJ Brown retire. I think I bring all of this up because I somewhat got caught up in the hype myself, in believing these guys were better than they are. It might turn out that they aren't that bad, most are still young and can still develop. It's just amazing how perception of these players can change from 2008 to 2009. Who knows what 2010 will hold. With a healthy KG back, we might see a return to greatness for this whole group.

-Posted by Cadillac Mescallade

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