Big summer ahead for Celtics young core

Big summer ahead for Celtics young core
May 9, 2013, 9:45 am
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BOSTON —  The shelving and re-shelving of the Boston Celtics roster will be a work-in-progress most of this summer.

But there are four players with the C's - for now at least - with a future that's on pretty solid footing.

Four-time All-star Rajon Rondo headlines a quartet of likely Celtics returners that includes Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and rookie Jared Sullinger.

Rondo and Bradley make up the Celtics' starting backcourt, while Green has played his way into being a starter as well.

Ditto for Sullinger who was a starter at the time he underwent season-ending back surgery.

Here we examine each of these players and the role they have with the C's moving forward, both in the short-term and long-term.

 
RAJON RONDO

Summary: The lone All-Star among the C's young core of players, it's anyone's guess as to how the season-ending torn right ACL injury he suffered on Jan. 25 will affect his play when he returns to the floor.

Boston managed some degree of success without him, posting a 23-20 record in the games this season he did not play in which was slightly better than the 18-20 record the C's posted with him in the lineup.

But once the playoffs arrived, the absence of Rondo was significant. Regardless of what he does in the regular season, there isn't a single Celtics player who elevates his game as consistently as Rondo does seemingly every season.

He has been to the playoffs five times, with each of the last four trips involving him increasing his scoring average in the postseason compared to his regular season numbers.

"When the lights come on, that's when you see what you're made of," Rondo said recently. "I love the spotlight, I love the pressure situations. And what better pressure situation than the playoffs?"

However, the load that Rondo must carry this season will be heavier, regardless of whether Kevin Garnett and/or Paul Pierce are back with the C's.

Rondo is the unquestioned leader of this team now, and going forward. Following the C's Game 6 loss, just about every player on the roster under the age of 30 said they were going to make plans at some point this summer to go see Rondo for workouts.

A year ago, it was Rondo reaching out to his teammates.

Now, it's the other way around.

His ability to lead this new age of Celtics players, coupled with him elevating his regular season game to be more in line with his playoff performances, will be central to the C's efforts at returning to the pack of title contenders.


AVERY BRADLEY

Summary: A defensive pest, this 6-foot-2 dynamo gives you an on-the-ball defender who is at his best when disrupting playmakers trying to get in their sets. Fans saw in January how great a lock-down defender Bradley can be.

His ability to defend at the level we saw in the first couple months of his return from shoulder surgery in both arms, will go far in him establishing himself as one of the best defenders - not just on-the-ball defenders, but defenders, period - in the NBA next season.

There's no mistaking the ginormous impact Bradley makes on this Celtics defense.

The analytical evidence that validates his defensive prowess is plenty.

But a simpler way to view his role is this:

When he plays decent minutes, the Celtics win ... a lot.

In the last two seasons, Boston has a record of 47-29 (or 61.8 percent) in games in which Bradley logs 20 or more minutes of court time.

In the games in which his minutes are less than 20, Boston (33-38) has a winning percentage of just 46.5 percent.

Becoming a more consistent scorer is among the many things Bradley will work on this summer.

The C's were 15-7 (68.2 percent) in games last season when Bradley scored in double figures.

If you take his defense and attach 10 or more points per game to it, the Celtics have a nice complimentary scorer who forces opponents to at least respect him offensively which in turn opens things up for some of his other teammates.


JEFF GREEN

Summary: Kevin Garnett believes Green can be one of the greats to play this game. While that is indeed lofty praise that Green hasn't come close to living up to, he has nonetheless shown signs of developing into an All-Star caliber player.

A year removed from heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm, Green began to establish himself as a more complete player as the season progressed.

During the playoffs, Green become one of the Celtics primary scorers as he led the C's with a 20.3 points per game average.

He was scoring at a level that gave Celtics Nation reason to be excited about both his future as one of the C's leaders and top players.

Like most players, this will be an important summer for Green to improve his overall game and in some areas, expand it. Rebounding and defense, more than anything else, are areas he has to show growth in this summer in order for the C's to become one of the Eastern Conference's better teams.


JARED SULLINGER

Summary: The youngest member of the Celtics young core, Sullinger might be the biggest X-factor not only in this young core's development, but for the Celtics moving forward.

He has the size and skill-set that gives him a chance to be a high impact performer, either as a starter or coming off the bench.

As a rookie, he averaged 6.0 points and 5.9 rebounds while playing less than 20 minutes per game.

The numbers don't lie, but they come well short in telling the story of how this 6-foot-9, undersized power forward was coming on strong while establishing himself as a reliable inside presence.

In his last 15 games prior to season-ending  back surgery on February 1, Sullinger logged more than 20 minutes on the floor 11 times. Among the four games he failed to do so, was his final game against Sacramento on Jan. 30 when he left after four minutes with back spasms.

Not only was Sullinger playing more, but his last two games both came as a starter as he moved past Brandon Bass to play with the first unit.

Going forward, most of the questions and concerns about Sullinger will center around his back which was red-flagged prior to last June's draft which ended with him slipping to the C's down to No. 21 after being a lottery-pick (top 14) throughout his final collegiate season at Ohio State.

Sullinger needing surgery only validated to some degree the concerns many NBA teams had in using a high draft pick on the two-time All-American.

But at No. 21, regardless of the back issues, he was more than worth the risk.

Although he still has a lot to learn about the nuances of being an effective NBA player, he has already shown the ability to be an impact player in some areas (offensive rebounding, reading defensive coverages on the block) that are uncanny for a player so young who doesn't get by on athleticism.

Whatever he lacks in athleticism, he more than compensates for by having a high basketball I.Q. and understanding of the game that makes him a player that when healthy, will be a key cog in this team's growth.

But there lies the biggest concern with Sullinger - his health - which following back surgery, is not expected to be an issue. But only in time will anyone know whether Sullinger's Feb. 1 lower back (lumbar) surgery took care of all of his back issues, or whether it will serve as the first of more health-related setbacks for a player who the C's desperately need to continue improving in every facet of his game.