By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON The All-star break is still about a month away, but the official midway point for the Boston Celtics (31-9) arrives tonight when they host the Detroit Pistons.
And what a first half of the season this has been.
We have seen Rajon Rondo take his game to another level, proving to be more than just another ripple within this new wave of elite NBA point guards.
With many of the players that entered the league with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce on the downside of their careers or out of the game altogether, the C's aging stars are both enjoying one of their best seasons ever.
Marquis Daniels is healthy, Glen Davis is doing more than the 'Dougie,' the list of accomplishments by this group goes on and on.
This group has been impressive across the board, and it can be seen in some pretty cum laude-esque grades as we hit the midway point of the season.
GUARDS (Starters in all CAPS)
He's no longer in the MVP discussion, but Rondo is still doing all the things that a great point guard has to do. He's dropping dimes at a rate the NBA hasn't seen in years. Although he's not shooting the ball as much as Celtics coach Doc Rivers would like, he's connecting on a career-best 52.8 percent. All and all, Rondo has been everything the C's needed.
Of all the Celtics who have played well this year, Ray Allen has done it in stealth fashion. How else do you explain him being so wide open, all the time, every night? Second on the team in scoring, Allen's 17.7 points per game is his highest scoring average since joining the C's in 2007. And unlike most veterans nearing the end of their career, Allen is actually shooting the ball better now which when you consider how well-conditioned he is, is downright scary.
When Rondo went down with a sprained ankle injury and Nate Robinson got a chance to start, Robinson was a surprisingly effective fill-in. But since Rondo's return, Robinson has struggled shooting the ball. He doesn't defend as well as Rondo and isn't as good a passer. So if he's not making shots, he's not bringing much to the table.
With only five games to work from, it's difficult to give Delonte West a grade but we're going to, anyway. The more he played, it was clear that this was going to be guy to provide some relief to Rondo and Allen in the backcourt during the postseason. His broken (non-shooting) right wrist injury is healing to where he may be on the court next month which can only help West and the Celtics moving forward.
If there was a most improved award from training camp to the midway point of the season, Von Wafer would have to get some consideration. The lone player without a guaranteed contract when the season began, Wafer has made tremendous strides. He's always been able to shoot. But the way he has bought into playing Celtics' defense has been remarkable.
Even if he didn't have offseason ankle surgery which set him back, Avery Bradley was going to have a tough time cracking the rotation of his veteran team. The C's recently sent their first-round pick from last June's NBA draft to the D-League which is a good thing. He wasn't going to play anytime soon. And with limited practice time, this was the best way to 1) keep him active and 2) get an opportunity to evaluate his progress and more important, identify what he needs to improve on.
FORWARDS (Starters in all CAPS)
The Captain has been as clutch as ever this season, with his most recent save-the-day-escapade coming in the final minute of Boston's 109-106 win over Orlando.Putting up big numbers and delivering big shots is nothing new to Pierce. But this season, he has done it in about as efficient a manner as we've ever seen from him.
The nine games he missed with a muscle strain in his lower right leg may be a blessing in disguise. Garnett has been bothered by a number of bumps and bruises this season, and the down time has allowed those injuries to heal as well. Regardless of how well the C's are playing, their chances at winning an NBA title hinge on the health of Garnett whose presence defensively has a way of elevating the play of those around him.
When Garnett went down and Davis filled in as a starter, we learned a valuable lesson: Glen Davis should be a reserve. It wasn't so much that he played poorly, as much as he simply seemed out of place logging major minutes with the starting unit. Now that he's a backup again, he can continue putting up solid numbers which can only enhance his Sixth Man of the Year campaign.
Every team has one or two X-factors off the bench. For Boston, there may not be a bigger one than Marquis Daniels. It seems every time he plays decent minutes, he provides a much-needed boost of energy and maybe even more important, a favorable matchup for the Celtics to explore.
Like most rookies, he had that one game that made you think, "if he played more, he could do this every night." Not true. Harangody can really get it going offensively, but he needs to continue improving as a defender and somehow develop better lateral quickness. Otherwise, he'll continue to have problems matching up with power forwards.
CENTERS (Starters in all CAPS)
The Shaquille O'Neal of old makes a cameo appearance once or twice a month. But the Shaq we see on those other nights, isn't too shabby, either. You can't get too caught up in the numbers he's putting up this season. His impact can be seen in the play of his Celtics teammates, who are all having career seasons in some aspect of their game whether it be shooting (Allen and Pierce), passing (Rondo) or rebounding (Garnett).
If there has been a downer about this season for the Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal and his aching left knee have to be it. It's clear that the C's are unlikely to get even half a season out of O'Neal which is not what they were thinking when they signed him to a two-year, 12 million contract this summer.
Easily the most impressive rookie for the Celtics, Erden has played well when given an opportunity. But with the C's gradually getting their bigs healthy, it's obvious that Erden's chances of playing will continue to dip as we inch closer to the playoffs.
We saw how Kendrick Perkins remade his chunky body after the C's drafted him. This fall, call it KP 2.0 because Perkins is in arguably the best shape of his career. The torn MCL and PCL injury he suffered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals last season, has afforded him time to lose some weight as well as re-sculpt his body into a fine-tuned, rebounding, hard-pick-setting machine. He hasn't played in a single game, but he has targeted Feb. 4 vs. Dallas as the date he wants to return.