Celtics Question of the Day: Will Wilcox be the most improved?

Celtics Question of the Day: Will Wilcox be the most improved?
September 10, 2012, 1:57 pm
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When the season ends for the Boston Celtics and there's no victory parade down Causeway Street, there's a sense among all the returners that an opportunity was lost.

That disappointment serves as the fuel to ignite players to push themselves harder, longer during the offseason.

When that happens, it doesn't take too long for the transformation to manifest itself onto the floor.

Boston returns a handful of players from last season who all come into the 2012-2013 season with that goal -- to be a better player -- in mind.

But when you look at the players from last season who are returning, no player seems more poised for a significant improvement than Chris Wilcox.

It's not often that you look at a roster like the C's and point to a journeyman (Boston is the fifth NBA franchise he has played for) as being poised for a strong bounce-back season.

But Wilcox's situation is, to say the least, unique.

When he signed with Boston prior to last season, many were surprised that the Celtics gave the 30-year-old the mid-level exception which was worth about 3 million when he was viewed by some NBA teams as a minimum-salaried player.

It didn't help that Wilcox struggled early on with both his play and injuries, opening the door for then-26-year-old rookie Greg Stiemsma to play more minutes.

Stiemsma, a free agent this summer, signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves after a strong season with the C's in which he averaged 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and team-leading 1.6 blocks per game.

Eventually Wilcox found his niche with the C's, establishing himself as a viable big man option off the bench.

And then came the news.

A routine physical turned up a heart condition that required season-ending surgery.

Not only did the Celtics lose even more depth in the frontcourt which was already thin to begin with, but Wilcox would miss out on making the playoffs for the first time in his NBA career.

And making matters worse, he was developing into the kind of impact big man off the bench that the C's would desperately need in the postseason.

He appeared in 28 regular season games for the C's with four starts.

In those 28 games, he averaged 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds while playing 17.2 minutes per game.

Upon closer inspection, there was a noticeable spike in his last 14 games in which he averaged 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds while playing 21.9 minutes. In his first 14 games with the C's, Wilcox averaged just 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds while playing 12.5 minutes per game.

"I definitely have something to prove this season," Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "I feel as though I have some unfinished business in Boston, for sure."

With his health no longer an issue, the biggest challenge for Wilcox will be to avoid the random (or fluke-like) injuries that sidelined him at times last season prior to his season-ending heart surgery.

His presence, when healthy, helps the C's in so many ways.

He can come off the bench behind Kevin Garnett and provide hustle, energy and some much-needed frontcourt muscle. When you throw in the fact that he's one of the few Celtics veterans who can still play above-the-rim with some consistency, he then becomes an offensive threat on lobs and potential put-back opportunities on misses.

Throw in the fact that he has added motivation having never been to the playoffs, and it adds up to a player who is poised for the kind of breakout season both he and the C's will need.

And that will keep those dreams alive of driving down Causeway Street in late June.

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