Last week Doc Rivers made a bold statement, that the Celtics have the best backcourt in the NBA:
“I tell you what,” Rivers declared, “You give me [Rajon] Rondo and Avery [Bradley] and Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and I’ll take that four-guard rotation over any other in the league.”
The veracity of Rivers’ statement is yet to be determined, but this is certainly a better backcourt than last year’s. Following Avery Bradley’s season ending injury, the 2011-12 Celtics trotted out Keyon Dooling, Michael Pietrus, and Ray Allen (minus his ankles). Once Bradley returns this season, this backcourt looks to not only be light-years better, but more versatile.
The Celtics backcourt now has (*deep breath*) three ball-handlers; three long-range shooters; three dynamite defenders; two athletic slashers; a shot creator; and quite possibly the best floor general in the NBA. Last year it had the ghost of Ray Allen’s jump shot and flexin’ (okay, maybe there was more than that, but not much). Even better, while health ravaged the Celtics backcourt last year, the C’s have jettisoned three players who struggled with injury (playing in a combined 67% of games last year) for two who didn’t (playing in a combined 91% of possible games last year). So what to do with all this talent? We know Rondo won’t be playing shooting guard anytime soon, but what about everyone else?
Having four guards who each deserve minutes is the best kind of problem to have, but it could be devastating if mismanaged. Fortunately for the Celtics they have two high-character guys in Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley who check their egos at the door and will do whatever Doc Rivers asks of them (that’s not to say Rondo and Terry are bad guys, they’re just going to get their minutes no matter what). Lee will start the year at shooting guard but once Bradley returns things will get a little messy. It’s hard to predict right now who will start, but it’s safe to say once Bradley returns Lee will see more time at the small forward position. Doc has made small ball a point of emphasis this year (because there was never a Celtics lineup that featured Posey at the four and KG at the five… wait a minute…) and Lee’s size, speed and athleticism could be a nice fit at the three when Pierce is off the floor. Lee’s career numbers at the three aren’t flattering, but physically he should be able to match up with any bench player at the position.
Bradley on the other hand will be playing shooting guard. While there’s an outside chance we may see a super small Rondo-Terry-Bradley lineup at some point this year (and I don’t doubt Bradley could guard three’s — he played some excellent defense on LeBron James in limited possessions last year) it’s not going to be something Doc puts out there on a nightly basis. Bradley is unique however in that while he doesn’t excel at the point (I do not think we will ever see a lineup with Bradley at the one and Lee at the two if Doc can help it), he compliments Terry (and Rondo to some extent) by providing another capable ball-handler. If Bradley doesn’t return to the starting lineup, I would wager it has less to do with Lee being better than Bradley and more to do with Bradley and Terry being able to share ball-handling duties off the bench. Even last year we saw Bradley used at times as the primary ball-handler with Rondo playing off ball. Bradley plays his best point when he’s not tasked with creating for others every possession, and you can still expect him to be harassing both members of the opposing team’s backcourt next year.
Terry on the other hand will likely be forced to man the point when Rondo is off the court. Rivers was reportedly impressed with Terry’s ball handling skills enough to hold off looking for a backup point guard (which is good because can you imagine adding a fifth person to this rotation?). While Terry is a bit of a gunner, he did play plenty of point early in his career and should be more than competent especially if he’s sharing ball-handling duties with Rondo and Bradley. With Terry’s shot creating ability you likely want the ball in his hands as much as possible anyway — it’ll just be up to him to find a balance between creating for himself and others. Expect Terry’s role to shift based on who he shares the floor with, playing off ball with Rondo, sharing point duties with Bradley, and running the offense with Lee.
But honestly, nothing is out of the question here. Don’t be surprised to see the odd lineup with Bradley at the three, or maybe Lee sneaking out to the four at some point. The Celtics guards can all play a variety of roles and have tremendous talent as a group (and this isn’t even factoring Dionte Christmas, who can play three positions as well). Doc Rivers has a lot more to work with on this end of the roster now, it’s just up to him how he decides to use it.
Jordan is pretty sure Jay keeps making him write columns where he has to mention Ray Allen on purpose. Follow him on Twitter: @OffensiveG.