- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The question seemed innocent enough: Which of Boston's rookies will have the biggest impact next season? Our acerbic-tongued panel of Celtics bloggers wasted little time pouncing on the query.
"Impact may be a strong word considering the coach of this team and his track record for splintering the hindquarters of his freshman class with pine needles," quipped Justin Poulin of Celtics Stuff Live.
Nick Gelso of North Station Sports added, "The rookies will all have a big impact -- in the D-League!"
Yes, our panel will be here all week. Tip your waitstaff.
But the 18 writers from eight of our favorite Celtics blogs have a point. Ever since the Big Three united in 2007, it hasn't been easy for young players to make an impact on this team, particularly in their freshman campaigns. Just look at Boston's recent draft picks (or draft-day acquisitions) and their playing time during their rookie seasons:
Lester Hudson (2nd round, 58th overall) -- 16 games, 70 minutes (5 games in NBDL; cut in December)
J.R. Giddens (1st round, 30th overall) -- 6 games, 8 minutes (26 games in NBDL; traded in 2010)
Bill Walker (2nd round, 47th overall) -- 29 games, 216 minutes (15 games in NBDL; traded in 2010)
Gabe Pruitt (2nd round, 32nd overall) -- 15 games, 95 minutes (18 games in NBDL; waived in 2009)
Glen Davis (2nd round, 35th overall) -- 69 games, 940 minutes
Take away Davis, acquired in a draft-day trade with Seattle, and that's a mere 389 total minutes over 66 games, or less than six minutes per appearance. Further take away Walker, acquired in a draft-day trade with Washington, and you've got three Boston rookies, acquired in the Celtics' natural drafting position, logging a mere 173 minutes over 37 games.
Should this season's rookies get used to handing out Gatorade or seek second residences in Portland, home to Boston's NBDL affiliate, the Maine Red Claws?
While our panel cautioned against expecting too much from any of the rookies, half of the Celtics observers suggested first-round pick Avery Bradley (1st round, 19th overall) would have the biggest impact.
Things don't look as promising for Luke Harangody (2nd round, 52nd overall) and Semih Erden (2nd round, 60th overall in 2008). As Red's Army's Chuck McKenney wrote, "I'm not sure Harangody and Erden will see much action, buried behind the deepest frontcourt in the history of the NBA."
Indeed, the second-most popular voting option turned out to be "none of the above." Here's the breakdown:
2010-11 Celtics Summer Forecast: Rookie impact
Can Bradley overcome the rookie hurdle that others have gotten stuck behind? None of the players mentioned above was selected as high as Bradley; you'd have to go back to Rajon Rondo (21st overall) in 2006 or Gerald Green (18th overall) in 2005 for better comparisons. Even Rondo had to bide his time at the end of the point guard depth chart before emerging late in the season. Green made just 32 appearances for 374 minutes on a 33-49 team.
Here's my take: While Boston boasts a veteran roster with a revamped frontcourt, there is certainly the opportunity for a rookie to make an impact on this season's team. Doc Rivers raved about Bradley's NBA-ready defense, and that could help Bradley see the floor with the reserve unit, particularly in lopsided games. But he'll still be only 19 when the season tips off (he'll turn 20 on Nov. 26 and, if you want to feel really old, he's the first Celtic born in the '90s), so the team is likely to do its best to bring him along slowly. But a lack of depth behind Ray Allen at the 2 could open doors for Bradley, depending on how Boston fills its final roster spot. The same can be said for Harangody. While he's an undersized power forward, if he can show the ability to handle the 3, it might generate increased playing time with only Marquis Daniels providing depth behind Paul Pierce. With Kendrick Perkins sidelined to start the season, Erden could sneak in some minutes early despite a traffic jam on the frontcourt depth chart. Injuries to either of the O'Neals would also thrust Erden into a more consistent reserve role. Ultimately, it's up to all three rookies to show they are capable of playing at this level during training camp and the preseason and start building the trust of a rookie-weary coach.
Here's a sampling of opinions from our panel of bloggers:
Brendan Jackson, CelticsHub (Luke Harangody)
It won't be long before you start hearing "second-round steal" and "Luke Harangody" in the same sentence. Like his predecessors Ryan Gomes, Leon Powe and Glen Davis, Harangody will take all that he has learned being a productive four-year college player and find a way to make an impact with the Celtics. On a team full of veterans with defined roles and little room for rookies to find playing time, there is always room for energy guys. As his college career and summer league play showed, Harangody has no shortage of energy, drive and desire. While Bradley may be more highly touted coming into the NBA, recent history has shown (Gerald Green, Bill Walker) that Rivers is tentative to give court time to players wet behind the ears. With Bradley having only one year of college under his belt and not being able to play in summer league because of an ankle injury, it will be quite a while until Rivers is ready to give him any reins. Look for Harangody to turn a lot of heads this season -- if not for his production, at least for his unorthodox (to say the least) shooting release.
John Karalis, Red's Army (Luke Harangody)
Rivers hates to play rookies. I'm so tempted to say Bradley because of Rivers' quote that "he's an NBA defender right now." That makes me think Rivers will use him. But the Celtics are just too deep at the guard spot. Harangody, however, might get some burn at the 3 because (a) it is Boston's thinnest spot and (b) Daniels is a stiff breeze away from getting hurt. Now, Harangody isn't exactly a 3, but he'll have to be. And he's the most likely to get minutes out of sheer necessity.
Jimmy Toscano, CelticsBlog (No rookie impact)
To be honest, I don't see any rookies on this team making an impact this season, which is fine. I don't think Danny Ainge drafted Bradley with the intention of inserting him into the rotation anytime soon. That being said, Bradley was extremely hyped coming out of high school and has been noted as a superb defender. Without seeing Bradley play in the summer league (ankle surgery), it's tough to put a finger on how he will help this team, but a Rondo-Bradley defensive backcourt would surely bother opponents. Harangody looks to be a really hard worker and someone who you'd want on your team, but he's not somebody you'll see on the floor unless the Celtics are up (or down) 20 late in the fourth quarter. Erden is a distant last on the depth chart as far as centers go.
Greg Payne, CelticsBlog (Avery Bradley)
Unfortunately for the rookies, Rivers doesn't have much of a history of playing young players when he has perfectly capable veterans to work with. While I like the idea of the rookies being around for depth purposes, the Celtics already have a number of options at each of the positions Bradley, Harangody and Erden play. As of right now, I can't see Bradley taking time away from Rondo or Nate Robinson at the point guard spot, mainly because Rivers already stated that Bradley needs to "learn" the position. Unless Robinson regresses extensively on defense, he'll serve as the team's backup point guard. As for Harangody, I'm strangely excited to see how his game translates to the NBA, but at 6-foot-7, he is most likely to find himself stuck behind Davis and the other slew of big men. The same goes for Erden. However, based primarily on potential, as well as his apparently instinctive knack to play defense, Bradley will have the biggest impact.
Tommy King, Celtics Town (No rookie impact)
None of the rookies will have an impact next season. Rivers is notorious for not playing rookies and, on a veteran-laden team pushing for a championship, these guys have very little chance of cracking the rotation.
Brandon Paul, Gino's Jungle (Avery Bradley)
With the way Rivers has used rookies in the past, I don't see any of them having a huge impact. If there's one player I can see having any impact at all, it's Bradley. With the Celtics being one of the better defensive teams in the league, I can see him providing some key minutes off the bench checking some of the league's top guards.
Lee Herman, North Station Sports (Avery Bradley)
Because Boston's mantra is defense, Bradley will make the biggest impact simply because his defense is near NBA-ready. He can be put in as a stopper (or a pestering defender, at the very least) in place of Allen and get some minutes with Rondo. Bradley is an athletic kid, and just thinking about him and Rondo on the break gets me excited for the season.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Luke Harangody)
The biggest rookie impact during the 2010-11 season has to come from Harangody. Though not blessed with blazing foot speed, Harangody is far closer to being a finished project than his competition. During summer league play, Harangody lit up the opposition with NBA 3-point range, and the likely absence of Brian Scalabrine opens up a potential role for the Notre Dame product as the big small forward/shooting power forward that Rivers employs against certain lineups. While I see Erden as a Red Claw for 2011, Bradley has the potential to be a contributor for the Celtics this season based upon his "phone booth" style man defense. However, Bradley is still rail-thin and needs a better handle before he can be expected to play more in prime time.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Celtics Summer Forecast: Which rookie will make the biggest impact?