Mailbag: Can Rondo, Baby keep this up?
Five games deep into the Celtics' 2010-11 schedule, we now boast a quality sampling size and readers responded with a wide variety of questions (and concerns) about this team in the early stages of a new season.
But in a season that's already featured locker room shenanigans and scuffles, as well as Wednesday's Kevin Garnett-Charlie Villanueva controversy, most folks seem to be focused on the product on the court. Which, as Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted Wednesday night, is his preference (at least when Boston is playing to its potential).
Let's dive into the 'bag:
Q: Do you have any concerns that the starters are playing too many minutes? I think the bench has to play better and more minutes or the team will be spent by the playoffs -- Brad (Cleveland, Ohio)
A: While I'm indeed concerned, I'll say this: The Celtics do have the luxury of extending minutes early in the season so long as, when the roster stabilizes, they make a concerted effort to limit veteran minutes as the playoffs approach (maybe not to the extent of last year, but injuries will dictate that). Unfortunately, due in part to current injuries and suspensions, the Celtics are treading shorthanded in the early stages of the season, and combined with underwhelming bench play from everyone not named Glen Davis, that's left additional stress on the starting unit.
Q: Where is the bench? -- Mary (Nashville, Tenn.)
A: Fair question. Let's start with the obvious: The absence of Delonte West and a rotating cast of centers certainly hasn't made finding continuity very easy for the second unit. That said, Davis is performing just fine, even if he's benefitting from the few minutes each night he shares the floor with Kevin Garnett and the starters. To me, the key here remains West. If it wasn't obvious last season how uncomfortable Nate Robinson is in the role of primary ball-handler, it's apparent now. He needs a secondary floor general to allow him to flourish as both a shooter and slasher. Right now, the lanes aren't there, the passes aren't finding him when they should, and he's struggling with his own jumper, meaning a lack of overall production. I think the same can be said for Marquis Daniels, who has been relatively quiet so far. Put West on the floor and all of a sudden those lanes to the basket open up a little more, the floor gets spread out, and there are more open looks for everybody (as we saw in the preseason). I've thought this from the start of the season: Delonte West might be the most important player on the Celtics' roster because the second team is so vital to Boston's success this year and West is the glue.
Q: If Baby keeps playing the way he has, do you think the Sixth Man award is a possibility? -- Ryan (Middlebury, Vt.)
A: Much like how no one on Boston's first unit is likely to win the Most Valuable Player award, I do think it's a long shot for any of the Celtics' reserves to land the Sixth Man crown. There's just too much overall talent and too much distribution of statistics for the entire Boston roster. That said, Davis is averaging 13.4 points and 5 rebounds per game, while shooting 60.9 percent from the floor (which, considering the amount he picks-and-pops, is incredible). What's more, he's quietly shooting 91.7 percent at the charity stripe (while getting there more often). And we haven't even touched on his most impressive stat of all (charges taken; more on that below). In a contract year, Davis is really blossoming and the only question is whether he can sustain it over a prolonged stretch. Ask me again in February.
Q: Lost in Rajon Rondo's assist count and Paul Pierce's point total is Baby's charges taken. Is there an official NBA record for charges taken in a season, and do you think Big Baby can break it? -- Snacks (Atlanta, Ga.)
A: Needless to say, we're fascinated by this as well. Amidst his quick start, we decided to start tracking all the charges taken by Boston players this season and Davis is already up to nine (nine!?!?!) through five games. Put another way: Boston has 13 total charges taken for the season and no one else on the team has more than one. Unfortunately, at least through our research thus far, there's no official NBA record for charges taken in a campaign. HoopData.com's numbers suggest that, over the last three seasons, the league leader has averaged roughly 55 charges taken per season (Nick Collison topped their list with 57 last year; Steve Nash led the way with 53 in 2008-09; while Derek Fisher produced 54 in 2007-08). We'll continue to dig, but it appears that Davis is indeed on pace to challenge all sorts of unofficial records regarding offensive fouls drawn and charges taken.
Q: What would you put the odds of Rajon Rondo breaking the single-season assists record this year? -- Peter (Melbourne, Australia)
A: Utah's John Stockton owns the single-season record with 1,164 dimes during the 1990-91 season. Think about it: That's an average of 14.2 assists per game over an 82-game season. I just can't imagine that happening, as we've often seen Rondo morph from distributor to a more focused scorer and back depending on 1) What his team needs and 2) What the defense allows. I just can't see his assist totals staying high enough. Stockton put together a stretch early in that 1990-91 season in which he posted 96 assists over five games (18, 17, 23, 21, and 17, respectively). Then another stretch where he went 28, 19, 7, and 17. That's just filthy. What's more, from game No. 43 until game No. 82, he had only one outing where he didn't have double-digit assists, finishing with nine in a late-March loss to Sacramento.
A more reasonable goal for Rondo this year might be 1,000 assists. He'd need to average 12.2 assists over the course of an 82-game season, but he would become only the 10th player in NBA history to reach four figures (Stockton did it seven times, while Isiah Thomas and Kevin Porter did it once apiece).
Q: Is Rondo hurt? I thought I saw him limping late in the game against the Bucks on Wednesday night. -- Monica (Charlotte, N.C.)
A: Good eyes, Monica. I'll admit I missed it until Rivers brought it up in his postgame Q&A with the media. Rondo's feet were sore, but he told Rivers he's fine. Something to watch moving forward, anyhow. Read more HERE.
Q: Do you think Doc will be able to help the Celtics find a way to cut the turnovers down? -- KWAPT (Brighton, Mass.)
A: The first step in solving any chronic problem is admitting you have a problem, which the Celtics finally seem to be coming to terms with (they've acknowledged it before, but seemed indifferent to solving it). Maybe the Cleveland game served as a wakeup, but turnovers have absolutely killed this team over the past two seasons. Any time the Green have lapses, Rivers needs to pull out the tape of Tuesday's win over Detroit and show them how efficient the offense can be when it values the ball. The Celtics scored a season-high 109 points on 89 possessions -- that's ridiculous. It took 102 possessions Wednesday night against Milwaukee to generate 105 points, their efficiency (points per 100 possessions) dropping roughly 20 points thanks in part to 16 turnovers. Rivers must find a comfortable balance between having his players look for the extra pass and making sure there's not an unnecessary extra pass after the extra pass.
Q: I noticed that some of these technicals getting called are ridiculous (i.e., the one they called on Glen Davis in the Pistons game). Did they raise the number of technicals you need to reach for a suspension when they changed the way technicals were being called? If not, I'm worried come playoff time. -- Aaron (Boston)
A: The folks at ESPN Stats & Info crunched the numbers through the first handful of games this season and technical fouls, not surprisingly, are indeed up over the numbers from recent years. By my count, Boston has been tagged with six T's through five games and that's not a pace they'd like to keep up -- particularly when Kendrick Perkins is off the court and Rasheed Wallace is retired. The one thing Boston really needs to be careful of is the double technical, a referee's favorite weapon against escalating tempers. Garnett has already been hit with a pair this week and, if that continues, he is likely to find himself near that suspension ledge as the playoffs near since the NBA did not raise the infraction limit.
Q: In your story, Shaq mentions that the body replenishes chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is only attainable in plants and a very small amount of single-celled organisms. Point that out to him the next time you interview him. -- Williams (Stockbridge, Ga.)
Q: Why is Rajon Rondo not wearing the headband anymore? -- Sheila (Boston)
A: The NBA updated its uniform rules to prevent players from flipping their headbands upside down, which Rondo was wont to do. Read more HERE.
Q: My son wants a pair of Garnett's ANTA shoes. Where can I buy them? -- Jim (Chicago, Ill.)
A: I'll admit, I just spent 10 minutes fumbling around the KG section of ANTA's website and I don't have an answer for you (thanks in part to the language barrier). I'm guessing with enough diligence, you might be able to figure out how to order direct from the company. But let's try using the power of the 'bag: Sneakerheads, how can Jim here net his son a killer X-Mas gift (short of staking out the streets of Sudbury and hoping Shaquille O'Neal drops another pair with the cows on Route 2).
Q: I made a comment to a friend the other day on how of all the contender teams (ORL, MIA, LA, and BOS), the Celtics are the only team that looks mortal (in that they can't put [weaker] teams away). And on any given night they could lose to a team they should be able to beat handily. Agree?-- Zain (Davis, Calif.)
A: Sure, but you probably would have said the same thing last year, no? Maybe subbing Miami for Cleveland. It's very early in the season. The Celtics will be a remarkably different team by year's end if you add in Kendrick Perkins, Delonte West and -- maybe, just maybe -- some healthy O'Neals. The Celtics certainly can't afford to endure the sort of disappointing losses that decorated the schedule last year, but hopefully the Cleveland stumble simply served as an early-season reminder of that.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.