Celtics Mailbag: Gauging expectations


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The Celtics made a roster move last week, sending 2012 first-round pick Fab Melo and cash to Memphis for forward Donte Green. It was a sign that the Celtics had seen enough from the 7-foot Melo to cut ties with him. Melo has proven he can block shots at every level, but everything else about his game was a work in progress. Taken one pick after Jared Sullinger, Melo was always considered a project. Sometimes, projects don’t pan out. The Celtics will get salary cap relief from the deal if they choose to release Green, and Melo will get another shot somewhere else.

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Expectations are the focus of this week’s Celtics mailbag, with your questions focusing on individual players as well as the team.

Based on this team’s current roster, do you see them winning more than 30 games? This means last place in the East.
Larry, Tallahassee, Fla.

Have you seen the Bobcats play, Larry? In all seriousness, 30 is a good number to debate. Fans seem to be all over the place on where this team finishes, but I’m in the camp that the losses of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as Rajon Rondo’s recovery from knee surgery, leave the Celtics in a bad spot. Add in a new coach and a repetitive roster I’ll go just over and say the Celtics win 31 games. That leaves them out of the playoffs but maybe ahead of the Bobcats.

Jeff Green is one of the Celtics’ most versatile players. His natural position is small forward. But how much time do you think he’ll play at power forward and shooting guard? And if he averages 36 minutes a game at small forward, which other Celtic or Celtics will play small forward when he doesn’t?
Paul, Agawam

Green played a lot of power forward toward the end of last season with Garnett at center and Pierce at small forward. With those players gone and a glut of power forwards on the roster, the only time you might see Green play anything other than small forward is with Gerald Wallace in the game. As for shooting guard, I just can’t see Green playing there.

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Who do you think will lead the Celtics in PPG this season and around how many points do you think he’ll average per game?
Matt, Brookline

This is a two-man race between Green and Rondo. If it were total points I’d go with Green, as he should play more minutes right from the start of the season. In an upset, I’ll give the edge to Rondo. Teams will key in on Green all season, and everyone expects Rondo to pass. I’ll peg Rondo for an average of 19.5 points per game, with Green just slightly under that.

With a younger Brad Stevens being a self-proclaimed statistics nerd (and whiz kid Drew Cannon joining) what if anything do you expect to see differently from the coaching staff using their newly found analytics? Are these guys “moneyball” enthusiasts?
Mike, Palo Alto, Calif.

The best insight into how Stevens used Cannon at Butler comes from Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel:

Cannon sends Stevens a 10-page e-mail breaking down and analyzing the numbers after every Butler game. The report takes 10 to 12 hours for Cannon to put together.

Cannon’s greatest value is with lineup analysis, as Stevens terms his work “unreal.” “It includes every player, pairs of players, groups of three, big lineups, small lineups, etc.,” Stevens said. Cannon will also include the offensive and defensive efficiency of Butler’s players from previous matchups with an opponent, which Stevens said, “Will help me determine probable sub patterns, late game lineups, etc.”

With no salaries to worry about in college, Cannon was not operating on a “Moneyball” system, per se, but the idea of quantifying a player’s value in measures other than points and rebounds is something Cannon and current Celtics numbers guru Mike Zarren are focused on.

Here’s a list of the guys the Celtics have listed at center aside from Kendrick Perkins since 2008-2009:

Jason Collins
Fab Melo
Darko Milicic
Greg Stiemsma
Jermaine O’Neal (in the “bad knees” stage of his career)
Chris Wilcox
JaJuan Johnson
Ryan Hollins
Semi Erden
Chris Johnson
Nenad Krstic
Shaquille O’Neal at 38
Shavlik Randolph
Rasheed Wallace
Patrick O’Bryant
Mikki Moore

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Here’s my question for Danny Ainge: “Seriously?”
Bob, West Roxbury

You aren’t wrong, Bob. It’s a pretty terrible list, though I thought the Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal signings were at least good ideas that didn’t pan out. You can look at this a couple of ways. With money tied up in the Big Three and Rondo, the Celtics didn’t have the funds to go out and sign one of the better free agent centers on the market. You can also look at it as they never developed one. With Melo gone, that streak will continue for a little while.

Click the full entry button for more Q&A.


Which players will be the “Iron Men” , (playing over 75 games in the regular season),on this Celtic team?
Bon, Pahala, Hawaii

Tough to predict injuries and such, Bon, but I can see the Celtics running Green and Avery Bradley into the ground. They’ll play a ton.
I heard a rumor about the Celtics pursuing Paul George in next year’s free agency. How much better do you think the Celtics will be with a player like him and if the Celtics are good this year, do you see us getting better in free agency as opposed to the draft?
Stephen, Taunton
Why were the Celtics not able to attract big time free agents during Doc Rivers’ tenure? Will this change over the next few years under the new coach? Thanks.
Ed, Washington Township, N.J.

Two related questions. Related to a previous answer, the Celtics didn’t have much room on the books to add big-name free agents in recent seasons. But when Rivers arrived, the team wasn’t very good, and that didn’t help matters much, either. I’ve heard the cold weather blamed for free agents not wanting to come here, but I attribute the recent streak to a combination of factors, ranging from the makeup of the team to the salary cap. The fact that the Celtics are almost always competing for a playoff spot means they rarely have one offseason when they’ve got a ton of money to throw around. It hasn’t happened recently, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. The way the roster is shaping up, it looks like the Celtics may be gearing up for a run at a big player in the next season or two.
Do you think Humphries will be the starting center, and how does he project at the role?
Jack, Mims Fla.

Humphries is as good a choice to start at center as anyone, Jack. The position is up in the air right now, and Humphries is a solid rebounder and decent scorer. I like the idea of giving Jared Sullinger a lot of minutes, but he and Humphries seem to be somewhat redundant. Both are undersized for the five. Can they play next to each other? Seems like it would be hard to make that work.