Last night’s 103-92 loss by Boston’s JV team (or worse) wasn’t just a meaningless preseason game. It was also our first extended look at some of the guys who will make up the end of Boston’s bench. With that in mind, my first impressions of every Boston Celtics offseason addition.
Stephane Lasme- A diamond in the rough, perhaps? Lasme opted out of a two-year deal in Russia for what he called a “big, big, big” pay cut, and what the Russians lost might be the Celtics’ gain. The UMass product isn’t anywhere close to a polished product, but he provides energy and production every time he subs in. Whenever Doc Rivers calls Lasme’s name, I expect that good things will happen. For a guy fighting for a 15th spot, that’s rare.
Unfortunately, Lasme doesn’t come without faults. He dribbles about as well as Steve Nash (if Nash were wearing wooden orrs on each hand), shoots with the accuracy of JaMarcus Russell on a syzurp binge, and doesn’t exactly have a position. He’s a bit small for a power forward (even though that’s his natural position) and not as skilled as most (any?) NBA small forwards. He’s still overcome his shortcomings to give the C’s a boost every time he steps on the court, so I can’t complain. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Celtics to have a small forward who can block shots, or a power forward with the quickness to defend threes.
If Lasme keeps doing his thing, he should make the roster. He entered camp as the 18th or 19th man and has now overtaken the pole position for the final roster spot.
Von Wafer – When the Celtics picked up Wafer, I thought they might have signed a larger Nate Robinson. There was a risk to the signing, of course (Wafer isn’t exactly the ideal team member), but the potential reward was high. Wafer has the talent to provide instant offense, to put his right hand in the oven in a hurry. I remembered him only from his time in Houston, when he was a constant threat to score, and — despite Wafer’s overseas debacle last year — I had high hopes for him.
He hasn’t shown me much. I expected a larger Nate Robinson, but Wafer actually has a lot of Tony Allen in him. He overdribbles, hasn’t exhibitted any control whatsoever, and seems confused at all times. Maybe it’s just because he doesn’t yet know the offense, but watching Wafer is like riding a roller coaster while blindfolded. You never know when something good’s coming, and you never know when Wafer might self-combust in a cloud of smoke. Maybe Wafer will figure things out, slow himself down, and let his natural talent shine through. But by the time he does that, he very well could be playing in the Chinese Basketball Association.
Luke Harangody- I was never sold on the Harangody draft pick. I don’t know who else I would have chosen (the player drafted after Harangody, Pape Sy, doesn’t exactly scream “Future Star!” either), but Harangody wouldn’t have been on my draft board. He’s too short, too lead-footed and I can never get over the fact that he looks a lot like Buzz from Home Alone. (Kevin!!!!!) Yet drafting him wasn’t the worst thing in the world; at the 52nd pick, Hall of Famers aren’t usually available.
The problem was offering Harangody a guaranteed contract. Now, the Celtics either have to swallow his two-year, $1.26 million deal or keep Gody on the roster, even though he hasn’t shown much in the preseason. Gody shot the ball well last night (and had a nice drive to the hoop around Thaddeus Young), but there are a lot of 6’7″ shooters out there who bring more to the table than Gody does, right?
Gody could eventually become a serviceable pro. He’s got a little Matt Bonner in him, and Bonner just earned a nice $16 million contract. But even Bonner is three inches taller than Gody, and– beyond that — the C’s are built to win now. They don’t need a roster spot being wasted on a 6’7″, lead-footed power forward who can’t defend a soul and hasn’t yet found himself offensively.
Shaquille O’Neal- When I pictured Shaq on the Boston Celtics, my mind immediately thought, “Slows down offense. Cannot move. Pick-and-roll defense from hell. AHH!!!”
But we haven’t seen much evidence of Shaq’s flaws yet. Sure, he’ll never be Kevin Garnett in a pick-and-roll situation, but we already knew that. Other than that, he’s impressed. He rebounds, clogs the lane (for the other team, not the Celtics), and actually runs the floor well enough that he occasionally beats opponents down the floor for layups. It’s clear that Shaq isn’t an All-Star anymore (have you seen his credit card vertical leap on alley oops?), but the Celtics don’t need him to be. They need him to take up space, rebound and finish layups. So far, so good.
Even if his hips aren’t 100%, I’m a lot higher on Shaq than I was before the preseason. He’s kind of like the perfect ten girl who put on a little weight. She doesn’t look as good as she used to and has lost all her “wow factor,” but now she gives good gifts, learned how to cook, and ceased being so high-maintenance. And no, I’m not as big a pig as that comparison made me sound.
Semih Erden- Danny Ainge, I know I don’t trust your Harangody pick, but do you ever stop drafting gems in the second round? From Ryan Gomes to Leon Powe to Big Baby to Gabe Pruitt (okay, not Pruitt), Ainge has a knack for adding talent late in the draft. Erden’s his latest treasure.
I doubt the Turk will ever be an All-Star, but it’s hard to envision him becoming anything less than a top-notch backup center. There’s a lot of Marcin Gortat in Erden, and I don’t make that comparison just because they’re both goofy-looking foreigners. Erden moves his feet well, passes like a guard, and has a tough streak foreigners aren’t normally known for. Best of all, he knows the game. That may sound cliche, but it’s also true.
Erden’s high basketball IQ allows him to make plays most rookies don’t, and his time spent maturing in the Turkish professional leagues taught Erden how to play a role. Unlike a lot of NBA players who came out of college, Erden has never been a star. He’s spent his whole basketball life contributing to wins with defense, rebounding and passing, and that’s translating to the NBA level. Erden probably won’t play a lot this year (he’s behind 21 combined All-Star appearances on the depth chart, after all), but the Turk’s future is promising.
Jermaine O’Neal- Jermaine O’Neal was frustrated enough after last night’s loss that he called his high school coach to help him regain his offensive mojo. What’s weird about that is O’Neal actually played a great game yesterday. Sure, he was 1-6 from the floor, but we know his shooting percentages will even out at some point. What’s far more important than J.O.’s scoring average, or his shooting percentages, is his defense. And his defense was on point.
There was one play in O’Neal’s first game where he covered about 15 feet from the weak side to swallow an opponent’s shot. After that play, I only thought one thing: “Thank God he’s not Rasheed Wallace.” Wallace would have been stuck in cement during that play, rather than sprinting to block a shot.
Seriously. O’Neal might be overreacting by flying his coach in from South Carolina, but his pride in what he does is refreshing. Sheed spent the whole season tossing up one fer sixes and never once did it click, “Well, I’d better put a lot more work in.” O’Neal had a single one fer six, in a preseason game, and he’s already calling in help to snap him out of a slump. I repeat: Thank God he’s not Rasheed Wallace.
Delonte West – If I had to pick one word to describe West so far, it’d be “brilliant.” Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but West has been everything Celtics fans hoped for and more. Best of all, he is the yin to Nate Robinson’s yang. The two players could not have developed chemistry more quickly, and both possess the quickness and energy to be one of the peskiest backcourt’s in the NBA — not just one of its most talented. When you think that West is replacing Michael Finley in the rotation (a weird thought, right?), he looks even better. Now let’s just hope those back spasms don’t become a problem.
Mario West- West doesn’t do anything spectacular (that insane block of Jodie Meeks was the exception, not the rule). He doesn’t wow you with physical attributes, and he probably couldn’t hit ten jumpers if he was left alone in a gym for 24 hours. But he’s The Caged Pitbull. As soon as you let him out of that cage, he’s going to be hounding someone all day long. He doesn’t quit, never relents, and would defend Kobe Bryant the same way he guarded Jason Kapono last night: right in his mug, not giving an inch, never backing down. The Caged Pitbull probably won’t make the Celtics, but he earns respect every time he steps on the floor. That’s one tough hombre.
Avery Bradley- We haven’t seen much of Bradley, so this is really a first-glimpse impression. I wouldn’t put too much weight into thoughts that were shaped after only 12 minutes of game action, but here goes.
Plus one for defense. Bradley spent his first defensive possession glued to Lou Williams’ side, and Williams probably had a tough time breathing, never mind dribbling. Bradley could become a Lindsey Hunter-type defender down the road, which may not seem great but is actually just about the highest compliment you can give to a ball-pressuring defender. Even now, Bradley will give plenty of opponents a hand full of trouble while bringing the ball downcourt.
Unfortunately, Bradley’s offensive skills aren’t as developed as the other side of his game. Bradley struggled to get the Celtics into sets, threw away a few careless passes, and generally looked about as comfortable handling the ball as Gheorge Muresan would feel at a midget convention.
Maybe it’s unfair to even attempt to judge Bradley. He’s played 12 minutes of a single game, and he did that with a sore ankle, after only two measly practices to learn every play in the Celtics’ playbook. Maybe it’s better to judge Bradley from what Doc Rivers said yesterday: “He’s going to be a really good player.”
Nate Robinson – Hold on, you wonder. How is Nate Robinson a newcomer? He’s not, technically. He’s just playing like one.
When I went away to college, my little brother Chris was 5’0″ tall, had a squeaky high voice, and could barely lift a pencil to write with. A few months later I came back for Christmas break, and Chris was suddenly 5’6″, sounded just like my dad, and looked like a force to be reckoned with. Robinson’s maturation from last season to this one reminds me a lot of Chris. He isn’t any taller than last year and his voice hasn’t changed. But he sure has grown.