Sunday, November 18, 2007

He's still got game

Part Deux of TATB's player-by-player look at your once-beaten, rejuvenated, and remarkably enjoyable Boston Celtics.

RAY ALLEN: I must not have seen Seattle play much the past few seasons, because Mr. Shuttlesworth is a much more complete all-around player than I gave him credit for. We all know about Allen's knack as a shooter - he's probably got the most effortless release on his jumper of anyone since another ex-Sonic two-guard, Dale Ellis - but considering he's been in the league for 12 years and has made seven All-Star teams, I should be embarrassed that it's a revelation that there's much more to his game than drilling open jumpers. At 32, Allen still can slice to the basket with effectiveness (he made little hesitation move in the open court in that first game against New Jersey that was about the most graceful play I've seen a Celtic make in years), he's a willing and clever passer (though he's been inexcusably careless with some entry passes lately), and there's absolutely no wasted movement to anything he does on the court. Even though he's been in a minor shooting slump lately, it has been a joy to watch him play. (Footnote: I don't think I've seen this mentioned elsewhere, but it's worth noting that Allen and Kevin Garnett actually were teammates previously, albeit very briefly. Allen was chosen by Garnett's Timberwolves with the fifth pick in the '96 draft, but he barely had time to shake David Stern's hand before he was dealt to Milwaukee along with a draft pick for No. 4 Stephon Marbury. And we all know how that turned out.)

PAUL PIERCE: I can usually tell how much someone actually pays attention to the Celtics by how they perceive Pierce. To put it simply, those who thought prior to this season that he was a selfish, undisciplined gunner who would be content chucking up 25 shots a night and collecting a fat paycheck for a lousy team have about as much credibility as an NBA analyst as Stuart Scott. Pierce has long been one of the elite dozen to two dozen players in the league, an offensive talent so polished and complete that Tommy Heinsohn insists he's the best pure scorer in franchise history. And unlike some of his All-Star peers, he always played hard, and it's a tribute to his professionalism that he has kept his professional frustrations to himself despite the burden of carrying a franchise that until this year never gave him a teammate better than Antoine Walker. (Think about that for a minute.) Yes, Pierce sometimes falls into bad habits offensively (with the talented teammates he has now, there's absolutely no reason Pierce should ever again go 1 on 3, spin into the lane, and get stripped of the ball, as he seems to do at the end of every other quarter), and it certainly was fair to question his maturity after he showed up to a postgame press conference wearing a bizarre makeshift sling wrapped around his face following a playoff loss to the Pacers three years ago. But I will never forget how Pierce, with 'Toine riding shotgun, drove those Jim O'Brien Celtics to much greater heights than their talent level suggested they could achieve. Does the 46-point effort in a decisive Game 5 against Iverson and the Sixers in '02 ring a bell? Or his 19-point fourth quarter as the Celtics overcame a 26-point deficit and pulled off the greatest final-period comeback in NBA playoff history against the Nets later that same postseason? Let me leave it at this: Paul Pierce convinced me a long time ago that he's a winner. I'm glad for him that he finally has the teammates to help prove it.

GLEN "BIG BABY" DAVIS: The rookie second-round pick already is the darling of the fat guys and the pink hats (or whatever the Celtics' version is), and for obvious reasons: The effervescent "Big Baby" has a personality as outsized as his physique. He's a very easy player and person to like, which is why everyone is pulling for him to become a consistent contributor. Will he? I'm not completely sold, in part because so much of his value is tied to his low-post offense, and he really lacks the the lift to get his shot off against taller opponents. On the plus side, he has astonishingly quick feet, especially for someone of his build, and if he can continue to control his weight (it's a hopeful sign that he's in considerably better shape that he was when he came into national prominence as a sophomore on LSU's '06 Final Four team), he could be another one of Danny Ainge's draft-day bargains. You know the vast majority Celtics fans are rooting hard for that to happen. It's up to him whether it does.

JAMES POSEY: Ainge is getting endless plaudits and praise for acquiring Allen and Kevin Garnett, and while one can make the case that some of that might have been accidental genius, the Celtics' boss probably isn't getting enough credit for the shrewd move of signing this intense former Heat forward. Posey is the perfect complementary player for this team, a versatile and fierce defender who can knock down the three (even though his unorthodox form seems to cause him to fade to the left on every attempt), rebound, run the floor, and generally do everything Coach Garnett and Assistant Rivers ask of him. Here's what his former coach, Pat Riley, said after Posey hit 5 of 8 shots, dogged Dwyane Wade into missing a potential game-winner, and corralled the clinching rebound in the Celtics' 92-91 win over Miami Friday: "He’s a big-game player. As the season gets longer he’ll be there even more for them.” We're really going to appreciate this guy before it's over.

SCOT POLLARD: I appreciate some of the attributes he offers - hustle and aggressiveness on defense and on the boards, a willingness to put his elbows to effective use, comically unfortunate grooming decisions - but I can't shake the feeling that a player of his age, limited skill, and recent injury history really should be farther down the bench on a legitimate championship contender. P.J. Brown slipped a lot last season and probably wouldn't have been much of an upgrade, but it's a bummer Juwon Howard decided to go to Dallas instead. I'm not a huge Howard fan, but he's tight with Garnett and probably would help more than Pollard. (Of course, I should note that Pollard did a nice job beating on Dwight Howard in Orlando Sunday when Garnett was in foul trouble. Maybe he'll be more useful than I'm giving him credit for.)

LEON POWE: Did he do something to offend Doc Rivers that I don't know about? Maybe make a smart-aleck remark about how Spud Webb was the real floor leader of the late-'80s Hawks? Does he call him "Glenn" rather than "Doc" or "Coach"? There's got to be something more to this than what we see on the floor, because otherwise I can't find a reason why Rivers refuses to give the bruiser from Cal more playing time. Yeah, Powe is a 'tweener, undersized for a power forward and not quite quick enough to play the 3, but he's a downright excellent rebounder (he averaged nearly one rebound per three minutes of playing time as a rookie), he's tough and fearless, he has a decent nose for the hoop, and he seems to make some sort of positive contribution every time his coach allows him to see the court. I realize there are only so many minutes to go around, but I'm convinced Powe could help this team more than Davis or Pollard, if only he got a legitimate chance.

GABE PRUITT: So can the scrawny rookie from Southern Cal play? Hey, he's played exactly five minutes so far; your guess is as good as mine. At the moment, I'm hoping he can be this generation's Terry Duerod. We'll alter our expectations from there when the time comes.

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