Let me get this out of the way first: I expect big things out of Delonte West. I think he is a great fit for the Celtics’ second unit. He can take some of the ball-handling responsibilities away from Nate Robinson; defend the other team’s best guard every night; shoot from outside; and he can spell minutes for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce — both of whom have been run ragged during the season’s first ten games. West’s intensity should also serve Boston well. He’s the type of player who would shove his mother out of the way in order to retrieve a loose ball.
Alright, now let’s try to discuss what we can specifically expect from West. To do that, I’m going to ask myself questions. I believe this is a monumental moment for Celtics Town: the first self-interview I’ve ever conducted.
How much is West going to help Nate Robinson?
I’d like to think West will alleviate all of Nate’s many problems this season (though Nate has played very well for the past one and a half games). I’d also like to think West will free Robinson to make plays and be more aggressive trying to score the basketball. But the truth is, I really don’t know. The two looked to have great chemistry in the preseason, defending with pressure and finding each other open shots. But Robinson was great during the preseason whether West played or not. In the first game West missed this preseason, Robinson dropped 26 points on only 13 shots. In the second game West missed, Robinson scored 23 points on only 12 shots.
So yes, West looked like he would help Robinson a lot this preseason. But Robinson also looked damn good on his own. That said, even if West doesn’t cure all of Robinson’s problems, he should help him at least a little. With West able to handle some of the ball-handling duties, Robinson should be freed to do what he does best: score.
In a terrific post on WEEI, Ben Rohrbach discussed Robinson’s plus/minus last season. He played 26 games for the C’s and had a minus-53 rating. So far this season, Robinson’s negative trend continues: he is one of only two Celtics with a negative plus/minus. (The other being Semih Erden.) Robinson clearly needs some help. West should help a little, but I’m not sure it’s the perfect match from heaven like it seemed to be in preseason.
By the way, West’s plus/minus over the past three seasons (according to Rohrbach)? +731. He helps his teammates.
Can West spell Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen?
This might be West’s biggest contribution, at least while he gets his feet wet. So far, Pierce, Rondo and Allen have been playing monstrous minutes. Allen is 35 years old. He should be retired, for Christ’s sake. Instead, he is playing 39.7 minutes per game. Rondo is only 24 years old, but youth alone can’t explain playing 41.7 minutes per contest. And Pierce? Well, he’s averaging only 37.5 minutes per game. Only.
Three overtime games have something to do with the inflated minutes stats, but so does Doc Rivers’s lack of faith in his bench. Robinson has already been given the quick hook sometimes, and Marquis Daniels was the only other trusted guard/forward during West’s suspension. Rivers doesn’t even trust Von Wafer to walk his dog, never mind play meaningful minutes.
West will be trusted. He’s a consistent, hard-nosed player who — if it weren’t for off-court incidents — would be an absolute coach’s dream. He doesn’t screw up and he plays his ass off every night. Rivers will trust him to play bigger minutes than any other small reserve, and Pierce, Rondo and Allen should all see their minutes decrease.
I still wish Rivers would limit the starters minutes no matter what, but that’s another story for another day.
What will West produce by himself?
Last year was a down year for West. With all the personal problems he developed, West posted some below-average statistics: 8.8 points, 3.3 assists, 44.5% shooting, 32.5% three-point shooting. Those numbers, I repeat, were not his normal production. Especially his three-point shooting, which is normally far better (37.3% career). Even so, those stats would have made West the most productive backup guard of the Big Three Era. Of course, he doesn’t have much competition – Eddie House was probably the most effective to date.
But maybe that lack of competition is the point. The Celtics haven’t had a weapon like West off the bench — someone who can shoot, score, make plays for others, and defend — since the Big Three came together. James Posey was a perfect fit for the Celtics, but not even Posey brought as diversified an attack as West. West can do a lot of different things, and maybe most importantly he brings that production on a consistent basis. He isn’t a Robinson type, who scores 18 points one night but makes you want to strangle him the next. West is far more consistent than Robinson, and even when he doesn’t score he impacts games defensively and with his playmaking ability.
So what’s the verdict? How much does West help?
I almost said that West has been the latest subject of the classic “Backup Quarterback” theory. (What’s that, you ask? My own definition follows:)
Fans almost always expect the backup quarterback, the player out of the spotlight, would be a star. I can remember being a Patriots fan in the early 2000s and believing Rohan Davey was going to be a stud. Then the Patriots sent him to NFL Europe, and then they cut him. Davey was later acquired by the Cardinals, who released the LSU product before the following season. I am almost 100% positive he never threw a regular season pass in his career, but I was damn sure Rohan Davey was on his way to stardom. Until I realized, once he was gone and never amounted to nothing, that he was awful.
Same thing with Micheal Bishop. I can remember one of my uncle’s raving about Bishop’s potential. Bishop was going to be the next big thing. If you listened to my uncle, Bishop was like some crazy combination of Michael Vick, Dan Marino and Joe Montana. Alas, he was probably even worse than Rohan Davey. Two years after the Patriots drafted Bishop, they cut him. He never latched on with another NFL team.
Marquis Daniels was a victim of the Backup QB theory last season. When he went down, everyone thought his presence would change everything when he returned. Our expectations rose, and Daniels never met them. Even this year, playing better, Daniels isn’t great. He’s nothing more than a solid piece off the bench. He was never the savior type people made him out to be during his injury.
For a second, I almost thought our expectations for West were too high, like they became with Daniels last year. And maybe they are. But then I realized, hell, it’s reasonable to expect big things out of West. It’s reasonable to expect him to improve a lot of things the bench does. That’s precisely what he’s done throughout his entire career.
I’m not saying West is perfect. I’m not saying he’s a savior. But he’s not a victim of the “Backup Quarterback Theory” either. There’s a reason (actually, lots of reasons) everyone expects big things out of Delonte West. He’s going to help.