So the season is finally here, and it's put up or shut up time. So, Gary and I have waited until the last possible moment to gather our thoughts on the upcoming season and see just how well we can predict the Celtics' 2006-07 performance. And to be honest, for me at least, I am even less sure of my picks than I would have been had I made them in the preseason. Because let's be honest, we really didn't learn a whole lot this preseason. The C's were never able to put their whole team out there for us to assess, as many C's dealt with every possible type of injury you can think of.
Nevertheless, we'll use what we can only best describe as our own highly subjective personal logic to see how close we can come to guessing where this team ends up. Without further ado:
Final regular season record
I've gone back and forth on this, shifting from above-.500 to below-.500 and back again in my mind. Let's face it, there's a lot working against the Celtics drastically improving their record this year. They haven't yet really played together as a complete team, they still have lingering injury concerns, there are many other teams, especially in their own division, who seem to have improved more than the Celtics (the Raptors, Knicks and Nets as seem to be better teams than they were last year -- the 76ers, not so much). The roles of so many players is still unknown to the point where you honestly don't know if a couple guys are going to log 30 minutes, or zero, per game in the first month. The defense doesn't really seem to have improved at all. The offense untested against top competition. So many things can go wrong that it's hard not to predict another losing season.
But, there are positives: Rajon Rondo has been a revelation, and even if he performs up to a fraction of what he showed in the preseason, gives the C's a type of point guard they haven't had in a long time, and will definitely be an upgrade of Orien Greene. Sebastian Telfair has shown he can create his own offense, and occasionally create for his teammates. Al Jefferson is in a make-or-break type of season, and if everything he says is to be believed, he will be better this season (and he has shown flashes in preseason -- although not nearly enough flashes). Paul Pierce should be healthy to start the season. Brian Scalabrine should see much less court time than last year. Kendrick Perkins will still foul a lot, but being a year smarter on D should improve that. Wally Szczerbiak has looked the best he has since he became a Celtic, and looks like a legit second banana to Pierce.
So, I'm going to ride some cautious optimism here and predict a 43-39 record, and a seventh seed in the playoffs.
This is a better team than last year. But the Celtics still have too many young players and not enough minutes for all of them. Because of that, I don't think they can improve dramatically enough to win more than 45 games. And 45 games assumes some very big gains as it is.
For the Celtics to win 45, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins are going to have to come up big. Theo Ratliff is going to have to play more than 20 games. And Paul Pierce is going to be even more perfect than he was last year. The point guard play should be improved, and Delonte West will become one of the best all-around guards in the league because he will be allowed to roam and create havoc for opponents.
Jesse: Sebastian Telfair
I feel like I'm really going out on a limb here, but I think Telfair's slow start in preseason, combined with Rondo's impressive performance, has really lit a fire under him. He is the starting point guard and knows if he's not up to snuff, people will be clamoring for Rondo before the second month of the season starts. There is great motivation there, and I've seen Telfair exhibit the skills to be an effective penetrator and scorer on this team. I think his defense will steadily improve as he gets better acquainted with his teammates. It will never be at Rondo’s level, but I don't think many point guards in the NBA are (and remember, Steve Nash is back-to-back MVP and he hasn't played a minute of defense in his life).
Gary: Michael Olowokandi
Would have said Rondo, but now everyone expects him to be Bob Cousy. If Kandi contributes at all it will be a surprise, and it seems like he will, so this seems a pretty safe bet.
Jesse: Tony Allen
I hate to say it, because I'm a big Allen guy, but his play has been troubling this season, and even though he no longer has to worry about his contract getting picked up, he still has the court case to deal with down the road, as well as a glut of players at his position that are ready to play when he stumbles. It's hard to think he'll get the minutes he got last year now that he's battling Delonte and Gerald for bench minutes, and Tony seems like the kind of guy who presses when faced with adversity. Tony pressing means more dribbling, more tunnel-vision for the hoop, more lapses on the court. I am not optimistic about Tony's performance this year. He's not going to approach the 19.2 minutes and 7.2 points per game he averaged last year. He may top his 1.31 turnovers a game from 2005-06, though. I hope he proves me wrong.
Gary: Al Jefferson
I predict another injury-filled year for Jefferson.
Jesse: Delonte West
He'll start the season as the sixth man and finish it as the sixth man (providing Wally stays healthy for the entire year.) Although many would love Wally in that "scorer off the bench" role, he's played too well in the preseason to lose his starting spot, plus he's got the experience edge. Delonte will provide steady, if unflashy, numbers from the bench, and rarely be a net negative when he subs into the game.
Gary: Delonte West
If Wally starts over West, this one isn’t even close.
Jesse: Michael Olowokandi
(I made my choice with the caveat that this person be an active Celtic player with least amount of playing time/per eligible game. Injured players, or players on the inactive list, weren't considered.)
Kandiman is the insurance policy at center, but he won't see court time unless the situation turns dire and Doc abandons small ball. He'll be available to play most games, but won't even get to rip off his warm-ups more often than not. I think he's a good 12 guy at the end of the bench to have, especially for the veteran minimum, but thankfully the C's won't be relying on him to do too much.
Gary: Allan Ray
Ray should barely see the court.
Jesse: Paul Pierce -- 24.9 ppg
Like the guy on the radio who wants you to refinance your mortgage says, this is the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. His scoring will dip slightly from last year's 26.8 average, as a healthy Wally, a speedy Telfair, and a scoring-minded Delonte will help him put the basket in the bucket.
Gary: Paul Pierce-- 27.9 ppg
This one is easy, and I think Peasey will kick it up a notch.
Jesse: Rajon Rondo -- 6.3 apg
The only pure distributor on the team will probably get less playing time than Telfair, but he looks for his own offense at such a small fraction of Telfair that he should be able to average more assists.
Gary: Rajon Rondo -- 4.5 apg
Rondo will lead the team, but he won't get enough PT to challenge the league leaders.
Jesse: Kendrick Perkins -- 8.2 rpg
This is a tough one because I think a healthy Ratliff will give Perk a run for his money, and never count out all the hustle boards that Gomes gets, but it's hard to see anyone but Perk lead the C's here, since there's not much other competition. The one category where Perk is being relied on to produce, and he will. Now, staying on the floor and out of foul trouble long enough to really dominate the boards? That remains to be seen….
Gary: Kendrick Perkins -- 9 rpg
Perk is a big man. He should control the glass with his size and toughness.
Jesse: Rajon Rondo -- 2.1 spg
For three reasons: 1) He's great at getting his long arms and fingers into the passing lanes; 2) He'll be playing against other teams' second units, and will terrorize inferior pgs; and 3) he doesn't slack for a second on the court, and is crafty about anticipating opponents' moves.
Gary: Rajon Rondo -- 1.5 spg
If the preseason was any indication, Rondo will get his hands on quite a few steals.
Jesse: Theo Ratliff -- 2.1 bpg
Assuming he plays, or course. But when he does, he'll average more blocks than Perk, Al, Gomes, Kandiman, Pierce, or anyone else who may be able to block a shot or two. In fact, even if he plays half a season, I still think he blocks more shots than any of the other C's would block in a whole season.
Gary: Kendrick Perkins -- 1.7 bpg
Perk will have to clog the lane with the oft-injured Ratliff out for long stretches of time. Did I mention he was big?
Jesse: Wally Szczerbiak -- 1.2/game, 42 percent
A healthy Wally means an efficient three-point shooter (career average over 40 percent). I don't know if he'll average the most attempts on the year (Delonte and Pierce may challenge for that), but he'll average the most three-pointers made. With penetrating point guards and a driving Pierce, Wally should get plenty of open looks outside.
Gary: Paul Pierce -- 3.3 per game, 40 percent
Give the man the rock and good things will happen. Rondo and Telfair will have a field day driving and dishing to an open Pierce.
End-of-season starting five
Jesse: Paul Pierce, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair
I have Delonte in there as I play the odds that Wally may break down at the end of the season, or at least be limited in his minutes. I think if Al can show anything off the bench this season, he should overtake Gomes as the starting power forward (plus, I love Gomes off the bench more than I do as a starter). Paul, Perk and Telfair keep their starting jobs to the final game (unless Ratliff comes back as the bionic man and summons his performances from 3-4 years ago -- but I am not confident this will happen).
Gary: Rondo, West (Wally will either be hurt or resting), Pierce, Gomes, Perkins.
Most Tommy Points
Jesse: Ryan Gomes
Now, I admit, this is almost as hard to predict as the C's record. As I see it, it's going to be a four-man race between Gomes, Delonte, Perk and Rondo. Tommy's emerging man-crush on Rondo will garner him many votes, and Perk's all-out toughness is bound to win some Tommy Awards when he attacks the boards with reckless abandon. Ryan's penchant for getting a hand on any and all loose balls will also win some votes. But in the end, I think Delonte's all around hustle, shooting, passion, and involvement of teammates will give him the advantage. But it's a tough call.
Gary: Leon Powe
The original was Walter McCarty, a role player who saw limited action but made the most of it. I think Powe could fit that role. He may not play much, but if he grabs a couple of big boards and throws a nice outlet pass here and there he should have this thing sewn up.
Jesse: Paul Pierce
OK, Pierce is the obvious choice here. Barring injury, there can be no other. But a better question is: who's second in the voting? I'm going with Al Jefferson here in a stretch for the ages. If the C's are going to live up to my predicted record, it's going to take a huge breakout year from Al, and even though he hasn't done much to indicate that it's happening this year, I'm hopeful that the confidence he may gain from now being available at two positions will help him. There's not much competition at the 4 and 5, but if Al flounders he knows Gomes is taking his minutes. I feel ready to be pleasantly surprised.
Gary: Paul Pierce
Seriously? Of course it's Paul. Pierce will once-again carry them as far as he can. I consider last season to be Pierce's finest, and I see no letdown from that this year. Paul has a little more help this year, but look for him to continue to put up big stats across the board. If the Celtics were anywhere near the top of the league last year, Pierce would have gotten some votes for league MVP. He should have the team award locked up by Christmas.
That's it. Have a thought on our picks? Some predictions of your own? Send us some feedback.