By Rich Levine
Were officially halfway through the season, and I know what everyones thinking:
Hey, who was the Celtics first half MVP?
So I ranked the candidates 1-15.
But well count them down in reverse order:
15. Jermaine ONeal
Last weekend, I finally saw Grown Ups.
I knew it was a risky decision, considering the movie (if you dont remember, it's the one with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and friends that invaded last years NBA Finals) was panned by critics, and multiple friends had already told me not to see it, and I couldnt even laugh at the trailer. But still, there was a part of me that wanted to give it a chance.
Maybe it wont be great, I thought, but those guys are still pretty funny, it cant be that bad.
Naturally, it was.
Everything that everyone had said about it was true. It was awful.
But even though I wanted to get upset, I knew I couldnt. After all, it was my own fault for believing my experience would be any different. All the evidence was there. I chose to ignore it. Id been duped by my own optimism, and now I was paying the price.
So I sat through the movie, a little disappointed, but not at all surprised. In reality, it was exactly what it was supposed to be.
Anyway, enough about that.
Lets talk Jermaine ONeal.
Heres the one number that still gives me a glimmer of hope for JOs season:
PJ Brown only averaged 13.6 minutes a game in the 2008 playoffs.
Thats it. And PJ was a huge part of that run. So, if ONeal is just healthy enough to give them that this spring, he can still have an impact. Maybe some nights its only five minutes, maybe some nights its 25, but if he can just give them 14 minutes a game, then . . . who knows?
Either way, considering how much hes being paid and how much hes given so far, no one falls lower than JO on this list, and thats disappointing,
But is it really much of a surprise?
14. Kendrick Perkins
Ill say this for Perkins: He loves being a part of this team.
Have you ever seen an injured player more involved than Perks been over the first few months?
Its funny, considering how introverted he was earlier in his career, but in a weird way Perks almost taken over for Scalabrine as the inactive ambassador to the fans. Hes on the radio. Hes on TV. Hes riding the T. Hes a regular at community events. While most players who suffer an injury like his (or even one far less severe) fall off the planet, Perkins has been with the Cs almost every step of the way and seems to be making the best out of what must be a very frustrating situation.
Between the injury (and the frustration that comes with it), the presence of Shaq (which could have been an issue but hasnt been yet), and the pressures of a contract year (he hits the open market in July), Perk had plenty of legitimate reasons to take a selfish turn this season. But hes taken all that potentially negative energy and just run the other way. (Hopefully with his brace on.)
13. Avery Bradley
I wont call this a lost season for Bradley, because this is about what everyone expected. The Celtics drafted him knowing that his rookie season would play out mostly behind the scenes, on the practice court, or up in Maine. And while Im sure well catch another glimpse or two before the seasons over, theres no reason to be concerned if he doesnt blow you away.
Hes not supposed to yet.
12. Delonte West
It was only five games, but you could see it. You could see how much he helps the second unit. You could see how much he helps Rondo. You could see how much better and more complete the Celtics are with Delonte West coming off the bench.
Now you just have to see it again. So when will that be?
Well, if you listen to Delonte, he should have been back a month ago. In fact, hes deemed himself two weeks away, every two weeks for the last eight weeks. But in reality, it seems more like mid- to late February. When the injury first happened they said three months (and Februarys three months). Dr. Wests the only one whos messed with the timetable sense.
11. Luke Harangody
Little known fact: The Celtics have never lost a game in which Luke Harangody registers a double-double.
10. Von Wafer
Here are five words I never thought Id type:
I dont mind Von Wafer.
And while I dont know how much hell play once Delontes back, I wouldnt be surprised if the Cs found a small role for him.
Im just typing out loud, but lets say Nate Robinson falls into a funk for a few games. Why couldnt Doc throw a WestWafer backcourt out there for a few minutes a night? As long as they dont start playing one-on-one against each other, it might actually work.
Wafers a little like a poor mans Ricky Davis. You might not always love the way he does things, but from time to time he can still get it done. He can get to the hoop. He can create his own offense. He can score in bunches. Hes brings a ton of energy and is athletic enough to play some decent defense when he wants to.
Im not trying to get crazy here. I understand that this is still Von Wafer were talking about. But you can do a lot worse at the end of your bench.
9. Semih Erden
In my book (yes, I keep a book), Semihs still the surprise of the season. Granted, its easy to surpass expectations when there arent any to begin with, but theres no doubt this kid can play.
Once Perks back, and if JO ever gets back, Semih might fully disappear. But hes still done enough especially considering JOs no-show to make his rookie season a successful one. He still accomplished far more than anyone outside of Turkey (or maybe Danny Ainges office) could have imagined.
8. Nate Robinson
When the season started, it seemed like Robinson may have figured things out a little. He came into camp with a better perspective, and after a half-season of learning how the Celtics worked, it looked like he might find a real solid role with the Cs.
And he has. But he just has a hard time staying in character. The good Nate Robinson is better than ever. But bad Nate still exists, and when he comes out, things can get out of hand pretty quickly I think he once might have even killed a guy with a trident.
This might not be a fair time to rank Robinson, seeing that hes in the midst of the worst month of his season. In retrospect, he has had a few solid stretches and did fill in admirably when Rondo was hurt (although the Cs were only 7-4 when Nate started). But the fact is that hes still looking for that permanent consistency, or at least less drastic inconsistencies.
7. Shaquille ONeal
There have been times this season where I could have had Shaq as high as four, others when he wouldve been down in the double digits playing Bouree with Jermaine. But in the end, I guess thats what we expected from Shaq.
We know he cant do it every night, but were not expecting that. We know there will be nights where hes diving across the floor and putting up double-doubles; we know there will be nights where hes like Eh, Im not feeling it and then picks up five fouls in six minutes. But at this point Im far more encouraged by the double-doubles than I am worried about the nights off. As long his bodys right for the playoffs, hes proven that he can still make a difference even if its just in spurts.
In the meantime, No. 7 is fair. And I think the Celtics will take that.
6. Marquis Daniels
Well have to see what happens with his ankle, but as of now, Marquis Daniels is the only Celtic to come off the bench for all 41 games this season. But its not just that Daniels is playing in these games. After all, he played in plenty of games last year without making the slightest difference. Last year, he suffered a thumb injury in December and never made a difference again. He was completely out of whack.
No one could ever quite peg what it was that was holding him back, but needless to say, its gone; the Marquis Daniels the Celtics have this year is the one they were anticipating for the last two. He makes everyone on that second unit better, and not by doing anything extraordinary. He does it just by being himself, and the Cs are thankful to have him back.
5. Glen Davis
When Kevin Garnett went down with his upper lower rightish leg muscle strain, the Celtics not only lost their emotional leader and defensive cornerstone, they also lost their sixth man. With Garnett out, Big Baby struggled with the pressure of trying to fill KGs shoes, and as a result got away from the kind of ball that had made him an early candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. But now that KGs back, and Davis can put the Ticket Stub on the shelf and return to plain old, board-crashing, charging-taking, drain-a-jumper-if-youre-open Big Baby, well be quickly reminded of why he deserves the No. 5 spot.
4. Rajon Rondo
Rondos the most important player on this team. On any given night, no one has the ability to affect the flow, tempo and outcome of a game quite like he does and that will be the case straight through the playoffs.
But if were talking first half MVP, you cant give it to a guy who missed more than a quarter of the games even if he still has more assists than the next three players combined.
But anyway, enough of me trying to defend an imaginary MVP award, and on to something important: Have you notice Rondos jumper lately?
Theres something about it that just looks a little more fluid; maybe just a little more confident. I watch it now, and . . . it actually looks like a jump shot. And he hasnt been ashamed to bring it out.
I always wondered what it would take for Rondo to finally realize how much a jumper and not even from three-point range; just 15-17 feet could expand his game. I thought it might not happen until he was older, lost some of his speed and couldnt get around guys quite as easily as he once did. Because otherwise, why bother? Why develop a jumper when you can get to the hoop whenever you want, regardless? And dont forget that Rondo can be a little stubborn. He loves to show people he can do it his way; and his way was to become an All-Star point guard without having a jump shot. And he did that.
But now, with all the injuries, I wonder if Rondo isnt starting to realize, Hmm, maybe if I take a jumper, theres less chance of a 6-10, 250-pound monster pile-driving me into the court. And I dont think that would be a bad train of thought.
Rondo broke down at the end of last season, and he was already breaking down a quarter of the way through this season. If he can finally stay focused on becoming more of a consistent shooter, than not only will his game get better, but it might also help him stay stronger.
In the meantime, I guess 13.2 assists a game isnt bad.
3. Kevin Garnett
If Rondos the most important player on this team, then KGs a close second. And if I run this column back at the end of the season, I wouldnt be surprised if KG makes the leap to No. 1.
What hes accomplished this year has been nothing short of amazing. If last season was about questioning whether we were witnessing the downfall of one of the NBAs all-time greatest players, this year has been about re-discovering how great he actually is.. And now that it appears that the muscle strain was nothing more than a little speed bump, he can get back to business.
But as great as hes been, he still missed more than 20 of the games, and Im a stickler for attendance. So, my first half MVP still came down to two other guys
2. Ray Allen
(Note: If you want to read my extended thoughts on Ray Allen, I devoted a whole column to him here)
I was reading through my season preview last night and came across this section, which in retrospect looks pretty ridiculous. (The preview was a series of 18 questions and answers, this was No. 16)
16. Can Ray rebound?No, not rebound, rebound. I mean, rebound from what was his worst three-point shooting season since 1999. Obviously, you can do a lot worse than .363 from long range, but when you're talking about Ray Allen, you expect much better.And as we were reminded during the Finals, and as you knew long before you ever read this, the C's are a very different team when Ray gets comfy behind the arc.
OK, first of all, Im really sorry for using the word comfy. Second, I think its safe to say that Ray rebounded.
A year after posting his worst three-point shooting season since 1999, hes delivering the most efficient three-point shooting season of his career (.468). Hes also sporting the best field-goal percentage of his career (.513) and is playing more minutes and scoring more points a night than he did back in 2008.
He came in with the reputation as one of the deadliest, most clutch shooters in the game, and as only improved upon that rep since coming to town.
And he does it every night. Theres no one who the Celtics have leaned on more on a day-to-day basis on the way to the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Well, maybe one other person.
1. Paul Pierce
Ray probably leads the team in late-game heroics this season although Pierce is still real close on that level but no ones willed the Celtics to more victories this season than the Captain.
As usual, its never been exceptionally flashy (unless you count that dunk in Toronto, which for Pierce is enough flash to last the whole season); workman-like is the best way to describe it. But over the course of this long season, no one has taken more potentially lazy, regular-season losses and turned them into wins like Pierce.
Like Allen, hes having the best year of his career from the field (.514) and is one-hundredth of a point behind his career best from three (.413). Hes leading the team in scoring for the 11th straight season, and despite the fact that KG is the teams most vocal onoff the court leader, and Rondo might be the most statistically impressive guy on that roster, Pierce has still maintained a quiet control of the situation.
Hes still the guy they lean on when it matters most, and still the guy capable of carrying the greatest load.
And hes also the first-half MVP