We had some very talented youth on the team last season. Al Jefferson may very well be a super star before his career is over. Ryan Gomes will have a solid career as will Delonte West. But, they were so young and inexperienced that they made mistakes because of it. We can see the difference between having talented youth with a ton of potential and having veterans who have been through the wars can be seen by taking a look at the Timberwolves vs the Celtics. Or, we could look at the Celtics last year vs the Celtics this season.
The biggest difference can be seen in close games and at the end of games. This is from Talkin T'Wolves:
It’d be easy to say that the Timberwolves are bad, but that simply isn‘t the case. At 1-10 on the season, it’s easy to make that assumption, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they aren’t bad, but simply a young team struggling to finish off games. They’ve been close in nearly every single game, and if games only went three quarters, they may be above the .500 mark. Unfortunately for them, games are played with four quarters, and each time the fourth quarter starts, the Wolves seem to fall apart. So far in eleven games, their average margin of defeat is nine points. But, even this number is a little deceiving. Take the Lakers game for example. The Wolves were leading, or down by a few baskets up until the last four or five minutes in the game. Then, they went on a slump, the Lakers built a bigger lead, and the Wolves ultimately gave them about six more points on free throws to cap off the game. This has been the story in more than a handful of games this season.
If you think back to the Celtics of last year, this might have been written about them. Of course, we are talking about many of the same players as well. The Celtics lost so many heart breakers at the very end of games. Many of us blamed Doc for not coming up with good strategy at the end of games and in some cases, that was true such as when he chose not to cover the inbound pass against the Pistons when Hamilton hit the game winner. But then too, if the team defense was better, Rip might not have gotten that open look. But last year, it often seemed as though teams such as the Pistons were just playing with us up until the end of the game, with the young Celtics keeping up and even building a lead, only to have them forge ahead at the very end. Now, we are seeing the same thing happen in Minnesota with their young players losing tight games, often in the last minutes of the game.
On the other side of the coin, we look at this year's Celtics. Most of the games have been blowouts. These have been the games when all parts of the team has been functioning and even if one player is playing poorly, the rest of the team makes up for it. Good teams, and veteran teams, can do this. They play strong from the opening tip until the end. On nights when they struggle as a team defensively as they did in Charlotte, and they have trailed most of the game, they still find a way to win it. They make the big plays down the stretch. It is instinct that takes over and gets the steal or hits the big shot.
Another area that you can see the difference between young teams and veteran teams, and this may be the most important, is on the defensive end. It takes time for most players coming into the league to learn to play NBA defense. Some players, like Rondo, who have made defense their calling card throughout their careers in high school and college take to it easier, but even Rondo has lapses and needs to still work on his defense to make it better. Most players coming into the NBA take years to finally figure out the nuances of the NBA defensive game. If you recall, that was always the question about Al Jefferson. He had a great offensive game but struggled to learn the defenses.
Looking at the Celtics this season, we can see the huge difference on the defensive end over the Celtics from last season. And that defense is what keys the offense. If it wasn't for Eddie House getting his hands on that inbounds pass, Ray Allen wouldn't have had the option to hit the game winner. Almost every game, we see the difference between youth and veterans. Danny drafted well and we had a lot of talent on our team, but winning was still a few years off until we grew those young players in to veterans. Danny's plan from the beginning was to gather chips that would allow him to trade for veterans. I'd say, looking at our 11-1 record, it was a very good plan.