Doc Rivers has quickly developed quite an affinity for Keyon Dooling, the Celtics’ smile-happy, mediocre backup point guard with a penchant for making the right play. (Boston Herald)
“I love him,” Rivers said. “I love him. I think we couldn’t have picked a better guy to back up (Rajon) Rondo — with his spirit, his knowledge, being a veteran, the fact he can make open shots. And he challenges Rondo every day in practice.
“Rondo has laughed about it several times, ‘This guy doesn’t back up at all.’ And it’s been great. They go at each other in a positive way, and I think it’s the first time Rondo’s had that, and it’s been great for him.”
Boston’s backup point guard position in the Big Three era had been a rotating carousel of crazy. First there was Eddie House, a pro’s pro, yet one of few point guards in NBA history who dribbles like he has ping pong paddles taped to his hands. Then there was Sam Cassell, the veteran known for his loud mouth and oversized testicle dance, who wasn’t nearly a great shooter by the time he signed with Boston but fired away like he needed to reach a shot quota. Cassell gave way to Stephon Marbury, who loves eating Vaseline, smokes marijuana on camera, believes selling shitty sneakers for $10 apiece might actually be profitable, and has a tattoo on the side of his face. After Marbury came Nate Robinson, who’s jovial and laugh-happy, but believes a pull-up 30-footer qualifies as a good possession, occasionally runs around in Shaq’s size 23′s and probably needs to shop at Baby Gap, at least when he doesn’t just wear Earl Boykins’ hand-me downs. Robinson was traded away and the Celtics later acquired Delonte West, a gritty left-handed player with playmaking skills on both ends of the court, who suffers from bipolar disorder, fought Von Wafer almost immediately after beginning Celtics training camp and got a job moving furniture during the NBA lockout.
Don’t think I’m badmouthing all these former Celtics point guards. I love West and mean no disrespect to his mental illness, appreciate Robinson’s charm (if not his shot selection), believe Marbury was on his best behavior in Boston, adore Eddie House and get a kick out of Sam Cassell, at least when he’s not shooting ten shots in four minutes while Doc Rivers watches from the sideline with an “I know I can still do better than this, and I haven’t played in the NBA since 1996″ look. I’m just saying that Boston’s bench has hardly been the place to find normalcy, at least if you’re looking for a level-headed point guard who easily fits in.
Until Dooling. He’s not flashy. He doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the field. He isn’t a former All-Star (like Marbury and Cassell), never won the dunk contest (Robinson), won’t threaten to break Boston’s three-point accuracy record (held by House) and doesn’t have West’s starter-level playmaking skills. Dooling DID fight Ray Allen once, but it was five years ago and completely out of character for both men. The fight was probably the most highly-publicized moment of Dooling’s career, a career that to date has been mostly bereft of signature moments. Dooling, despite a colorful personality that includes a smile that sometimes seems omnipresent, is a bland player, one who thrives on making the simple play rather than the highlight-reel one, perhaps because he’s mostly incapable of making plays that are worthy of SportsCenter.
After seeing all different types of crazy backing up Rajon Rondo through the last few seasons, I imagine bland is just what Doc Rivers ordered. Dooling isn’t going to score 30 points in any game this season. He’s not going to inspire memories of Bob Cousy. He won’t make anybody’s list for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s just going to show up to work, play his role without complaint, and act as the second unit’s leader while doing it. And if he’s not as talented as the other backup point guards Boston has had in recent years, Rivers is okay with that.
“It’s always a problem, role players understanding they’re role players,” Rivers said. “We’ve got a group of guys who clearly know who they are. But they’re also very comfortable in that. They think they can play as well as the starters, but they accept where they’re at. I think Chris (Wilcox) and Brandon (Bass) are learning the stuff.
“Keyon’s been off the charts. He’s been like he’s been here forever defensively. He protects the nail (the middle of the free throw line); he does everything for us. So he’s been the easiest by far. At times I think he’s been (in) front of some of our guys who’ve been here. He’s been good, and everybody else is just kind of learning.”