For the first time in several years it looks like playing time will be Smith Barney minutes--you’re going to have to earn them. While I think I can pick out the prospective starting lineup, at each position there is a hungry backup with enough skills to challenge the starter if he is not going all out. This should make for an interesting training camp, and an interesting season. If Stevens wants/demands the team to run to create good, early opportunities, and to play attacking pressure defense, I think he has the personnel to do it and the backups to keep up the pace.
I don’t think Rondo is going to be playing 40 minutes a game this season. I expect Smart to carve out a role in training camp, probably at both shooting guard and the point (although there is something to be said for letting him tackle one position at a time as he breaks into the NBA). This may make Phil Pressey a candidate for most likely to be on the inactive list. Let’s just say there will be some spirited match-ups in training camp.
The shooting guard incumbent is back and Avery Bradley should hold on to his starting position. Competition includes newcomer Marcus Thornton, draftees Marcus Smart and James Young, and perhaps even soon-to-be-acquired Evan Turner. You could include Chris Babb and Chris Johnson who will be trying to force their way onto the roster during camp, although their unguaranteed contracts may leave them on the outside staring in.
Thornton and Turner don’t have reputations for being defensive standouts, or enthusiasts. My guess is this is something that will have to change for either of them to carve out minutes. Somebody is going to play backup at the two, and my money is on Smart, if only because he will bring the defense. Young may get some spot duty in November but unless he comes on like gangbusters, he may go to Maine when the D-league starts up so he can be fed a large dose of playing time.
Small forward also has an incumbent firmly entrenched. Primary backup, however, is wide open without any automatic selection or order. All the candidates for second string have major questions, and how they answer them will be critical, and probably entertaining. The experienced, but limited, vet is Gerald Wallace who last season was active but unimpressive. Coming off double wheel surgery he is fighting the reality that short term fixes will be decidedly not be the trend this year. To me, Evan Turner is the odds on favorite to carve out a role. He will have to improve his efficiency, demonstrate his ability to work in an offense moving the ball to advantage, and increase his defensive intensity. He also will have to shed the reputation of sticking on every pick he comes anywhere near. Chris Johnson should have had a slight advantage with his experience on the Celtics last year. However, he tapered off after his quick start when signed late in the season; and then he followed up that tarnished impression with a decidedly sub par showing in summer league. He’s definitely facing an steep slope. Which finally brings us to the rookie James Young who missed summer play all together following an auto accident that left him with a sore neck and concussion symptoms. He won’t turn nineteen until the middle of this month so to say he is young is not only ironic and punny but is also something of an understatement. If he seizes the backup slot any time this season it will be a most pleasant surprise (assuming it is not just the competition taking two steps back). This pecking order, how it ebbs and flows, and how the contestants answer their questionable areas, should make October (and maybe far longer) most intriguing.
Power forward probably has the deepest competitive pool. The incumbent Brandon Bass may be the best October 1st but is not the frontrunner, unless you mean for the most likely to create discord as he is passed by. He, like Wallace, falls prey to the NOT-the-future curse and word is that the Celtics have been quite exhaustive in their efforts (thus far unsuccessful) to find a suitable trade for Bass returning some kind of asset. That leaves the two young bucks drafted with the highest Boston pick in 2012 and 2013--Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk respectively. Each had their moments (strings of games actually) in the sun this past year. Sullinger was saddled with playing out of position at center and a string of injuries to the digits of his shooting hand. Rookie Olynyk was fighting planar fasciitis coming out of training camp after being limited in his summer preparation leading into his first season. Each has areas needing substantial improvement. Kelly needs strength and conditioning to battle in the paint, both offensively and defensively. Sullinger showed a lack of conditioning after last summer’s rehab from the back surgery that ended his rookie season half way through. To make the move to his natural position at PF, he needs to drop 15-20 pounds, which would also benefit the back problems that have cast a shadow over his last three years. The young guy that moves the best and with the most certainty will probably have a leg up on securing the starting position but each will play substantial minutes. I strongly suggest that innocents not get between the combatants in this training camp war.
Finally the center position, MIA for the 13-14 Celtics, and was filled by a series of power forwards playing uphill. Things may actually be looking better, with two legitimate big men vying for the position. Finally and sadly the obligatory not-the-future vet also taking up a roster slot. The battle should be hot and productive between Vitor Faverani coming back from knee surgery and the newly acquired Tyler Zeller coming off a down season started by his emergency appendectomy. They have different strengths but share the weakness of inexperience. Both are in their mid-twenties and have their prime years ahead. Their growth should be a pleasure to watch and bodes well for a much stronger Celtic team next March than will take the floor in November.
Only 54 days until training camp.
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