C's midterm grade: Incomplete
Injuries to Pierce, KG, Davis, Daniels have left team a shell of itself
While the NBA All-Star break remains a little less than a month away, the Boston Celtics will reach the true midpoint of their 2009-10 regular-season campaign Friday night when they host the Portland Trail Blazers at the TD Garden in Game No. 41 on their schedule.
As Boston makes the turn to the back nine, we take a player-by-player look at this year's team and assign letter grades based on their performances thus far.
If we were grading the Celtics as a whole, they'd probably deserve an "I," for inconsistent and incomplete. Boston has yet to play a single game with an entirely healthy roster. The closest it came was at the very start of the season when only Glen "Big Baby" Davis (right thumb surgery) was sidelined.
Since then, Paul Pierce (right knee infection), Kevin Garnett (hyperextended right knee), Rajon Rondo (sore left hamstring), Rasheed Wallace (sore left forefoot), Eddie House (illness) and Tony Allen (illness) all have missed at least one game.
Kendrick Perkins battled food poisoning and missed a practice (and nearly a team flight). Davis returned after missing the first 27 games, only to suffer a sprained ankle that forced him out against Phoenix last month. And Marquis Daniels (left thumb) will remain sidelined through the All-Star break.
Despite all the ailments, the Celtics still boast the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 27-13, a record that coach Doc Rivers gladly accepts.
"If someone told me before the season that, with all the injuries and all the distractions we've had, that this would be our record, I would have said, 'I'll take it,'" Rivers said. "Having said that, I don't like the way we're playing."
Losers of eight of their past 12 games, including the past three, Rivers called his team's play inconsistent, but expressed optimism that, when healthy, the Celtics belong among the NBA elite.
"I love our team," Rivers said. "I like who I think we can become once we get [healthy]."
Boston has a 21-5 mark with the starting five of Rondo, Perkins, Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen, the group that led the team to a world title in 2007-08. It's a combination that will be reunited if Garnett returns to the lineup, as anticipated, Friday night against the Trail Blazers.
Numbers suggest Garnett is the key to Boston's success, something the team found out during last year's playoffs, and again during their recent skid. The players know that Garnett will not solve all their troubles, but the Big Ticket might be the biggest X factor in Boston's success in the second half of the season -- and beyond.
For now, here comes the red pen; it's time for midterm grades. Grades were assigned A-F, with no pluses or minuses. An "A" represented consistently exceptional work, while a "B" suggested slightly above-average performance. A "C" is a passing grade, but it typically identified that the player typically underperformed. A "D" might as well have stood for disappointment. Fortunately for the Celtics, no player was assigned a failing mark and, despite injuries, we did not grade anyone as incomplete, instead judging based on their limited body of work (or the team's performance without them).
Report Card: Chris Forsberg's midseason grades for the Boston Celtics
Kevin Garnett, Forward
Part of Garnett's grade is based simply on how poor the Celtics have looked during his absence, as clearly Boston is not among the NBA elite without him. Sure, Garnett's scoring (15 points per game) is down to its lowest mark since his rookie season, but he's shooting the highest percentage (54.7) of his 15-year career. The Celtics are desperate for Garnett's intensity, particularly on the defensive end, given their recent struggles.
Paul Pierce, Forward
Easily the team's MVP before a right knee infection sidelined him for five games, Pierce has actually been statistically better since his return earlier this month. Forced to shoulder the offensive load without Garnett, Pierce is averaging 20.3 points per game in January (18.7 for the season). Most impressively, Pierce is fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 46.6, giving the Celtics a sustained threat beyond the arc as Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace and even Eddie House have been woefully inconsistent.
Ray Allen, Guard
Stop us if you've heard this before: Allen is the third member of the Big Three to be averaging his lowest scoring average since his rookie season (16.1 points per game this year). Unlike the others, his struggles are a bit more concerning since he's also shooting a career-low 35.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, where he has thrived throughout his career. On the positive side, Allen has eaten minutes as one of the few Celtics to avoid injury this season. He's seemingly in the best shape of his career and you have to believe his slump will end sooner than later.
Rajon Rondo, Guard
If it didn't before, the five-year, $55 million extension the Celtics inked Rondo to earlier this year now seems like a steal. Rondo has emerged as the catalyst on both ends of the court, averaging 14 points, 9.6 assists and an NBA-best 2.5 steals per game. The fourth-year guard, though streaky at times, has shot a career-best 52.7 percent from the field, while upping his scoring average nearly four points per game this year. His first All-Star nod could come when reserves are announced later this month.
Kendrick Perkins, Center
Some will bark at the notion of an "A" for Perkins, but consider this: While the Big Three's offensive production has dipped across the board, Perkins is averaging nearly twice his career scoring average (12.3 points per game this season), while also leading the NBA in field goal percentage (63.8). What's more, he's on pace to break Cedric Maxwell's franchise record in field goal percentage. Perkins, the best defending big man in the Eastern Conference not named Dwight Howard, boasts 14 double-doubles this season, including five in nine games so far this month.
Rasheed Wallace, Forward/Center
We've seen flashes of what Wallace can do, including a turn-back-the-clock, 29-point performance versus Toronto earlier this month, but we can't help but expect more from him. As much as Rivers raves about the way Wallace spreads the floor given his ability to shoot from the perimeter, he seems reluctant to go dominate in the paint, even when teams show no ability to stop him (and especially as the Celtics struggle with perimeter shooting overall).
Wallace, who inked a three-year deal in the offseason, is -- you guessed it -- averaging his lowest scoring total since his rookie season (10.4 points per game this season) and his rebounding is down nearly three boards per game from a year ago.
Glen Davis, Forward
After averaging 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in 14 playoff appearances sans Garnett last season, expectations were through the roof for Davis. Many fans breathed a sigh of relief when the Celtics inked him to a two-year extension as a restricted free agent this past offseason. But it's been a turbulent season at best for "Big Baby," who missed the first 27 games of the year after fracturing his right thumb in an embarrassing off-court scuffle two days before the start of the regular season. Struggling at times as he recovers from the injury to his shooting hand, Davis got in more trouble this week when he was fined $25,000 by the NBA for making obscene remarks toward a fan in a loss to Detroit on Wednesday.
Marquis Daniels, Guard
Much like Garnett, Daniels sees his grade elevated given how much the Celtics have underperformed without him. Let's be honest, the bench has been atrocious without Daniels. Eddie House and Tony Allen are playing out of position, having to handle the ball at times, and there's a general lack of scoring punch. Daniels played hurt for much of November and clearly suffered from what later emerged as a torn ligament in his left thumb. But the glimpse we got in the preseason and early in the regular season suggests that a healthy Daniels is exactly the spark the second unit needs.
Eddie House, Guard
House's role is simple: Instant offense, often by way of the 3-pointer. But not only is his production down this year
(7.2 points per game this season; down 1.3 points from last year), but he's shooting a mere 37 percent from 3-point land, his worst mark in seven seasons.
Tony Allen, Guard
A month ago this grade probably would have been a B. Allen came back from an ankle injury just as Daniels was departing for thumb surgery. He provided an instant lift, particularly while filling in as a starter for Pierce, scoring double figures in six of eight games from Dec. 18 to Jan. 2. But ever since Pierce returned against Miami on Jan. 6, Allen, who has been relegated back to the bench, has been virtually invisible (except for some maddening turnovers). Take away the 11 points in 25 minutes in a lopsided win over New Jersey and Allen has scored eight points over 58 minutes in his past six games.
Brian Scalabrine, Forward
It's not that Scalabrine isn't doing his job, it's just he's not doing it any better (or worse) to elicit much of a reaction. Scalabrine is just as likely to log a DNP as he is to be a spot starter. He filled in admirably for three games last week with both KG and Wallace sidelined due to injuries, but then Wednesday against Detroit, Scalabrine logged six underwhelming minutes highlighted by a turnover and three fouls.
Shelden Williams, Forward
Maybe we were expecting too much for Williams after a strong start to the 2009-10 campaign. He reached double figures in points in three of his first five games with the Celtics, even posting a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) in an October win over Chicago. For January, he's averaging 1.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in just 9.1 minutes per game. He's had five DNPs since Dec. 22, even as the Celtics have battled injuries.
Bill Walker, Guard
It's tough to grade both Walker and J.R. Giddens based on limited playing time, but the fact Walker is stuck at the end of the bench seems to indicate that the coaching staff hasn't been floored by his performance during practice time. Walker, who is recovering from preseason knee surgery, did score six points in six minutes against New Jersey, with a highlight-worthy dunk over Josh Boone that proves he's in good health. But he's logged a mere nine minutes in four other appearances. Once the Celtics are healthy, a return trip to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League seems likely.
J.R. Giddens, Guard
Giddens kicked off 2010 in a big way, earning his first career start against Toronto on Jan. 2. He's promptly registered six DNPs over eight games since then. Like Walker, Giddens presumably hasn't done enough in practice to earn the trust of Rivers. Giddens was assigned to the Red Claws on Thursday, offering him a chance for extended playing time after logging 99 minutes in 21 games with Boston this season. Now in his second year in the league, the former first-round pick needs to establish himself and the fact the Celtics didn't pick up his 2010-11 team option is condemning.
Doc Rivers, Coach
Considering the injuries the Celtics have endured, particularly the ones that crop up mere minutes before tip-off, Rivers and his staff have done a phenomenal job simply keeping this team competitive. That said, Boston losing eight of its past 12 games is inexcusable. There's a problem beyond injuries and it needs to be addressed.
Danny Ainge, Executive Director of Basketball Operations
It's hard to judge Ainge and the moves related to the 2009-10 season until the year is over. What's more, the longer-range implications of bringing in someone like Wallace, who has another two years on his deal after this, could potentially alter the grade. The draft is rather irrelevant as the Celtics took a chance with Lester Hudson and were fine to cut ties before his contract was guaranteed for the remainder of the year. Ainge will ultimately be judged by the move(s) he makes at the trade deadline or the roster additions (Tyronn Lue?) that occur before the playoff push.
Given some strong individual marks, it's hard to determine why this team is struggling so much in recent games. How can a team with the vaunted Big Three and a pair of grade-A players (Perkins and Rondo) struggle so mightily to put teams away? Part of the problem is injuries, the other part might simply be a lack of focus. Doc Rivers has admitted since Day 1 of the season that Boston's toughest opponent would be itself and finding a way to motivate through an 82-game season.
The Celtics must avoid injuries the second half of the year and regain their mental focus in order to emerge as a true championship contender.
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