With the most exciting moments of the offseason behind us, Celtics Town is counting down the Celtics’ roster from 16 to one. We’ll offer speculation on the role each player has to play, and where they’ll be in the rotation as we look towards the upcoming season. If you missed the last column in this series you can check it out here.
From 2008-2011, we’ve known exactly what we will get from Kevin Garnett on a night-in, night-out basis: 18-20ish points, 10ish rebounds, five-ish forehead bumps against the basket support (six or seven on nights when Miami visits the Garden), two skirmishes, and the kind of defensive intensity usually reserved for a bear fight (bar fight? Whatever). But last year, the script got an upgrade. Garnett became even more important to Boston’s offense.
Don’t believe me? Understandable. A glance at his offensive numbers don’t seem to back me up. Garnett averaged just a point more per game on two more FGAs. Garnett’s field goal percentage and effective field goal percentages were both below his career average.
But the Celtics as an offensive unit were much, much better with Garnett on the floor. So what happened? What was different?
As many of you know by this point, the main difference was Garnett’s position. KG played center for much of the year, and, per 82games.com, whenever KG played center, that 5-man unit averaged better than 1.0 points per possession. Garnett played just 52 total minutes at center in 2011 (as a part of a unit that averaged 1.14 ppp, I might add).
So if Garnett shot worse at center, why was the team so much better offensively with him playing in the middle? Mainly because the Celtics were absolutely absurdly good at defense, especially when Garnett was in the game.
Boston played at a very slow pace last season (21st in pace in the NBA), but the best way they could generate a transition opportunity was by creating a missed shot and giving the ball to Rondo to work his way up the floor.
In this play, Garnett is guarding Haslem and thus defending the center position in Miami’s super small lineup. For what it’s worth, the James/Battier/Haslem combination was absurdly efficient last season (1.24 ppp), so the C’s are likely to see that lineup again. Chalmers created problems for the Celtics throughout the Eastern Conference Finals, but on this particular play, Garnett was able to cut him off before he get a layup in the air. When Chalmers dishes to Haslem, Garnett is so long and athletic that he is able to get back to Haslem easily and contest the shot. Haslem missed badly, Rondo got the rebound, and the Celtics were off to the races. It’s a simple step to his side, but this style of help defense is part of what makes Garnett so effective, and the fact that the Celtics got more athletic in the offseason should help quite a bit if Garnett’s defense from the center position affords them more transition opportunities.
As always, it’s important to note that championship teams are rarely a group of individuals. Even last season, when the team with the best player in the NBA won the championship, the Heat were a unit that gelled together. There have been few players, if any, who have embraced this concept of a unit more than Kevin Garnett.
That’s why this countdown, though entertaining and certainly a way to pass the offseason blues, can also be difficult to write. Garnett’s defense is important, but it doesn’t mean much if the Celtics give up second- and third-chance points, which is why Sullinger matters. Sullinger’s rebounding wouldn’t matter if the Celtics couldn’t get out in transition, which is why Rondo matters. Rondo can’t hit a jumpshot in transition, which is why Pierce/Lee/Terry matter. Everyone affects everyone else. Garnett, it would seem, affects everyone else a little more, which is why he earned the second spot on the countdown.
Of course, the next player on the countdown (hint: his name rhymes with Shmajon Shmondo) probably affects everyone on the team even more. But we’ll get to him later.
Follow Tom on Twitter, where he promises never to freestyle rap: @Tom_NBA.