Tonight, the Heat try to make it four in a row. Their opponent? The Boston Celtics. While it may appear that the team is in a clear rebuilding mode, they're still an NBA caliber team. What kind of surprises can we expect? I asked Bill Sy from the SB Nation Celtics blog, er, CelticsBlog.
Kevin (HHH): The Celtics are just...not very good this season. What is management's long term plan to get back to the top of the mountain?
Bill (CB): It’s a little unfair to say that they’re not that good. More accurately, they’ve actually been very good at some things (defense) and very had at others (offense). They’re great through 36 minutes of play, but awful in closing time. Despite the record, the glass is certainly more than half full. Long term, it’s anybody’s guess. Teams have proven (Thunder, Pacers, Warriors) that if you can have successive smart drafts, you can build a young team that can be very competitive. Mark Deeks at SBNation NBA took a very good look at how important young, cheap talent can be in a longer title run. With nine first round draft picks in the next five years, Ainge is primed to go that route. However, there’s always the Big Three option that he pulled off in 2007 and the Heat copied to some extent in 2010. The Celtics have a franchise player in Rondo at a very affordable contract and young talent in Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Avery Bradley that could be flipped for stars. I’d prefer to go the longer road of developing our guys and drafting smart, but you never know with Trader Danny at the helm. My gut tells me that giving Brad Stevens a six-year deal and with the number of expiring contracts of good role players coming off the cap in the next couple of years, he’ll be patient rather than look for the next Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett.
Kevin: What can you tell me about your rookies, centers Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk and diminutive point guard Phil Pressey?
Bill: El Hombre Indestructible has been an absolute diamond in the rough. He had been playing pro ball in Spain for the last eight years and it shows. He doesn’t seem to have the yips and jitters that most rookies suffer early in the season. What I’ve been most impressed with is his attitude. When asked at Media Day how he’d describe his game, he said, "I like to fight." That may have been lost in translation a bit, but he shows that mentality on the floor. He hasn’t shied away from contact and he understands positioning very well. With Olynyk, people have compared him with Kevin McHale and Dirk Nowitzki, but I actually see more Larry Bird in him. He’s not the quickest or strongest player on the floor, but he’s smart and understands angles very well. His assimilation to the NBA hasn’t been as quick as Vitor’s, but he’s come along in the last two games. I’m surprised Pressey wasn’t drafted. Sure, he’s small, but he’s got a great handle and so far, he’s played mistake-free basketball. Like any pure point guard, the game changes when he’s on the floor. When you have players that can dribble out of pressure and alone break his man down, it makes it so much easier on his teammates. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs against Miami’s aggressive double-teaming.
Kevin: Jordan Crawford clearly looks like the best player on the team. Why is he only on the floor for 20 minutes per game?
Bill: Did Steez tweet you this question word-for-word from the Drew League? He’s been good, but it’d be hard to call him our best player so far. For what it’s worth, my vote would go to Brandon Bass. Yes, his average right now might be 20 mpg, but it’s going up and it’ll probably be around 25 until Rondo comes back. I’ve been impressed with his makeover. He’s got such a bad reputation around the league as a pure gunner, but so far, he’s played the point very well. Avery Bradley said yesterday that he enjoys sharing the back court with him because there’s a certain swagger that he brings to the game. In years past, that might have gotten Jordan Crawford in trouble, but in Boston, he’s been able to channel that ego into being a fairly affective playmaker. When you watch him now, you get a sense that he’d rather make the great pass than the long jumper.
Kevin: When do you expect Rajon Rondo to suit up again, and how is the coaching staff covering his absence?
Bill: I think he’s closer than expected. During the preseason, the party line was that Rondo would return in the fall/winter and my guess is that he’ll suit up late November, early December. There’s a stretch of games in the second week of December where the Celtics face the Nets and the Clippers back-to-back and I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes his return then. I don’t think he has any ill will towards Doc, KG, or Pierce, but I’m sure he wants to prove to them that he’s back. Replacing him has been a patchwork of shooting guards playing point. Bradley and Crawford have taken turns at initiating the offense, but Stevens has run more motion than Doc ever did so it really hasn’t mattered. However, everybody’s curious what the offense will look like when RR returns. Rondo ran the show under Rivers and handled the ball a lot, but there are so many good passers on this team, I’m not sure if that will be necessary anymore.
Kevin: A hypothetical question: Boston wins tonight - how did it happen?
Bill: Defense, defense, defense. As of right now, the Celtics boast the 2nd best defense in the league, allowing only 93.4 points a game. A lot of that is pace and opponent, but it’s become clear what Brad Stevens has focused on in terms of attacking NBA offenses. Boston is one of the best teams at defending the three and forcing opponents to shoot in the mid-range. They haven’t been great at protecting the rim, but as long as they can run Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Marion Chalmers off the three point line, they might have a chance to steal one at AAA. They’ll also lean heavily on Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Gerald Wallace to slow down LeBron. If they can limit his penetration and make him a shooter, I’ll be happy with Dwayne Wade trying to create for the rest of the team against Avery Bradley.
HHH would like to thank Bill and the crew over at CelticsBlog for playing along. You can head on over there to find out how the HHH crew answered his questions, and don't forget to check in here throughout the day, season, and forever for more HEAT.