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Is This Doc’s Best Celtics Team Yet?

With the 2010-11 NBA Season just about to get underway, Doc Rivers recently discussed how he felt thats this upcoming Celtics team could be one of the best teams he has had to coach in his career. Sure, there are plenty of personalities and a great deal of talent on the team, but will they be the best team Rivers has been able to send out night after night?

Let’s not forget how just last season, the Celtics were minutes away from their eighteenth banner, and just two years ago the Celtics raised their seventeenth banner to the rafters of the Garden. This team hasn’t proved anything yet and will look to soon enough, but for now let’s compare some of the recent teams that Doc has coached.

The Starters:

The starting line-up for the past three seasons has been relatively the same game through game with the occasional fill in/spot start due to injury. The “Big Three” of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce have been supported by Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins for the past three seasons. The only major change coming into this season will be the absence of Perkins until February or so. Which O’Neal is going to fill Perk’s shoes is yet to be determined. The aging Shaq or the smaller Jermaine O’Neal will be the starting center in late October for the C’s.

So, there isn’t really much to be compared here to past Celtics teams when it comes to the starters, but I think I would take this upcoming team over some of the past years and here’s why. Sure, Pierce, Allen, and Garnett are older, but so are Rondo and Perkins. The team does need to rely on the Big Three to carry them as much as they did in 2008. Rondo is starting to emerge as the new face of the franchise, and as the premiere point guard of the Eastern Conference. Perkins is a force to be reckoned with under the basket, and if he can stop getting so many technicals and put the ball up quicker under the net, he has to be considered one of the best centers in the East. So, big deal that the combined age of the Big Three is now 101 years young, they still have a lot of talent left in their old bones. That old talent is infused with the younger energetic talent of Rondo and Perkins, that was not as present in the past few seasons.

The Bench

The depth of the Celtics the last few years has always been a strong point for the team. One thing that was always missing in the past for the Celtics bench though, was size. Last season they got a boost in size with the acquisition of veteran C/PF Rasheed Wallace. However, Wallace (until the playoffs) was more or less disappointing  in terms of playing his position as Perkins’ back-up. He was a bigger name then some other back-up centers of the last few years for the Celtics (Leon Powe, Shelden Williams, Patrick O’Bryant, Mikki Moore, Brian Scalabrine, Scot Pollard, P.J. Brown, etc.), but did not outperform most of these other back-ups to the ability that he should have been able to.

The Celtics have some large help coming in off the bench this year in Jermaine O’Neal and “The Big Shamrock” Shaquille O’Neal. We also can’t forget the Celtics’ second round draft pick Luke Harangody, who was extremely impressive for the Celtics summer league team. So where out-rebounding their opponents was a problem in the past, the C’s hope that their second unit that will include the two O’Neals and Glen “Big Baby” Davis will make those problems nothing more than a distant memory.

Size is not the only area where the Celtics bench has improved, as shooting has become a much better game for the Celtics bench this past season and into next. Nate Robinson was acquired at the trade deadline last year and has become the back-up point guard that the Celtics have been desperately searching for the past few years. Robinson replaced Eddie House, who was a good shooter as well, but not so much of a true point guard as Robinson can be. When looking at past point guards for the Celtics bench (Eddie House, Stephon Marbury, Sam Cassell, Gabe Pruitt) Robinson has, with the exception of Pruitt, an advantage in age. Robinson is 26 years old as he enters his sixth season in the league. He has a chance to fully work himself into the Celtics system from training camp and on, unlike other former point guard acquisitions for the C’s in the past who entered mid-season and were not re-signed.

What’s Missing?

The biggest thing missing for this upcoming season is a reliable back-up shooting guard to Ray Allen. In the offseason, the Celtics failed to bring back Tony Allen, who has been successful in that spot in recent years. They have given second chances to Marquis Daniels, who was another disappointing player last season for the Celtics, and Delonte West, who was traded to Seattle in 2007 for Allen. Who emerges in that role is something that will be interesting to watch. Rookie Avery Bradley shouldn’t be taken out of the picture either once he becomes healthy. The first round draft choice of the Celtics had decent shooting numbers in Texas and is supposed to be a great defender.

It is crucial to have a reliable back-up to Allen. He is the oldest member of the Big Three, and has also logged the most minutes of the three since their arrival in Boston. Ray is a bit streaky at points with his shooting and if he can get some more rest due to a dependable back-up, the streaky times may cease to exist.

Best Team for Doc?

This is definitely a question that really cannot be answered until the team is tested in the regular season. There is an enormous amount of talent on this team, but it does not necessarily mean that everything will happen according to plan. This team is overall not very young, and at times it seems that Boston has become the retirement home of the NBA. Injuries could pose problems for the Celtics again this season as they did last year.

Just think what might have happened if Perkins had been playing in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year or if Kevin Garnett had been available for the playoffs two years ago. Who knows how many banners might be hanging today if  they had been healthy? There is also a new coaching staff under Doc this year, so with all these changes it is hard to tell if this team is better than the 2008 championship team or the two teams since. They definitely have the potential to be better, and now all they have to do is go out and prove it.

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