ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg was kind enough to invite Celtics Life to contribute to it's Summer Forecast series. Last week we posted the first four days of Forsberg's and Celtics Life's columnists' predictions to some pressing questions. On Monday we posted Part 2: Our writers predict this season's overachievers & underachievers and Rondo's return on ESPN. Here's Part 3:
9) Who will emerge as team MVP?
Rondo is the MVP if he's on the court for at least half the season. Boston's early schedule is brutal and -- even if Rondo is around for it -- the Celtics are likely to endure some serious lumps before Christmas. Rondo might aid his MVP chances just being a spectator as Boston's lack of battle-tested ball-handlers will have fans salivating for his return.
But my MVP vote comes down to this: This is a monster year for Rondo. Gone is the safety net of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Rondo must show he can lead this team, utilizing his playmaking abilities to make those around him better, while also increasing his own scoring output and improving his defensive consistency. Pundits are writing off his team and many will diminish their expectations for Rondo himself because of his injury. These are exactly the type of situations that Rondo has thrived upon in the past. With low standards, Rondo has the ability to exceed all expectations for himself and the team by being the team MVP on the court (and off).
(Jeff Green) During the last 45 games of the 2012-13 season (including the playoff series against the Knicks), Jeff Green became the player that all Celtics fans wanted him to become. He averaged 17 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep during the period between Jan. 25 (interestingly enough, the game against the Hawks that Rondo got hurt in) until the end of the season. Now the challenge for Green will be to maintain that level of production while becoming "the man" on offense. Rondo has never been a dominant scorer and, with Pierce and Garnett gone, opposing defenses will be locked in on Green. Personally, I think he is up for the challenge as his combination of explosive finishing skills and his ability to shoot give him a variety of ways to fill up the scoring column. One of the biggest gripes with Green since he entered the league is his consistency, but he is now 18 months removed from heart surgery and has a chance to build upon the momentum that he had at the end of last season. I think Green goes for 18 points and 5 rebounds per game this season, more than earning his $9 million salary.
(Rajon Rondo) This is a no brainer. If you're among those who believe the Celtics will battle for a playoff spot (and I am), you know there's absolutely no way this can happen if Rondo isn't the MVP.
(Rajon Rondo): Depending on when Rondo comes back from his knee injury and, if he is 100 percent upon his return, this question is a no-brainer. Rondo will be far-and-away the most talented and most accomplished player on the roster. Sure, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and the rest will shoulder more of the load, but there isn't a single player on the team that you can look at and say, "He could be just as good or better than Rondo." No question about it, this is Rondo's team now.
(Rajon Rondo): While I think Rondo will fall short of the lofty expectations we all have for him this year, he's still undoubtedly the best player on the team and the only player that has a realistic chance of sniffing the All-Star game. There are plenty of concerns, of course. He's coming back from surgery and the pass-first point guard just saw his two best targets get shipped to Brooklyn. Still, the fate of the Celtics season depends entirely on how well Rajon Rondo plays. There's no denying that. He's just that talented. Some even think he can be good enough to mimic Adrian Peterson's story and drag his terrible team to the playoffs. If he can do that, he might be in talks for the league MVP, nevermind the team MVP.
10) What are your expectations for Jeff Green?
Green will likely have to substitute quality for quantity this season. Without a bunch of All-Stars on the court with him, Green won't have so many open lanes to navigate or clean looks for jumpers. But the Celtics will lean hard on him to produce points and Green will get every opportunity to prove himself as the star scorer.
Green is my pick for team MVP, so needless to say my expectations for him are quite high. In terms of raw offensive scoring skills, it's difficult for me to name more than 10 guys with a better inside-out game than Green, and now that he is entering his second full season in Boston and Paul Pierce is no longer around, it's time for him to make the proverbial leap. Green stepped up in a big way after Rajon Rondo went down, averaging 17 points and 4.8 boards over the last 45 games of the season (including playoffs), and for the entire season his per-36 minute rates of 16.6 points and 5.1 rebounds combined with his overall efficiency (47 FG%, 39 3PT%, 15 PER) show what he is capable of when given starter minutes. Green also took steps defensively last season allowing only 0.81 points per play, according to Synergy Sports, down from the 0.85 ppp he allowed in 2010-11, and way down from the 0.91 ppp he gave up in 2009-10. During the summer of 2012, Danny Ainge paid Jeff Green starter's money, and during the second half of last season Green slowly quieted down those who said that was a terrible decision. I expect Green to take another step this season and, once and for all, shut up those who think the Green-for-Perk deal was a mistake, when in reality it was one of Ainge's better moves. Statistical prediction: 18 points, 5 rebounds and 1+ steal and block in 35 minutes per game.
I think Green will lead the team in scoring, probably averaging 17-18 points per game. It will be interesting to see if he takes over the Paul Pierce last-shot role. With Rondo as the veteran leader and primary ball-handler/distributor, I expect the C's to have a fairly balanced offense overall, and that may actually keep Green from really busting out the way some people might expect.
It's put up or shut up time for Green. He is Boston's best option at small forward. No more Kevin Durant or Paul Pierce ahead of him on the depth chart. He's also entering this season fully healthy after recovering from heart surgery. This season will be Green's best and first real opportunity to show what kind of player he truly is. Scoring 20+ points per game is not out of the realm of possibility for Green, as he has all the talent in the world to be the team's No. 1 scoring option. Whether he can do it or not is another story, as most of his career he's been labeled an immense talent who has never quite lived up to his skills. I expect a decent year for Green as he adjusts to being the team's go-to guy with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists in 30+ minutes per game. Anything less and the team may need to look in another direction for a wing. For better or worse, the "Who is Jeff Green really?" question will be answered.
I don't expect anything different from last year. He's not going to be an All-Star, but he's not going to be bad either. Classic Jeff. I think Jeff Green is going to be very fun to watch. He'll be catching alley-oops from Rondo galore, he'll also undoubtedly have some games like he had against the Heat last year where he'll go off for 40+, but I absolutely wouldn't expect him to do that consistently. I think the Jeff Green you got last year is close to the best Jeff Green you're going to get.
11) What are your expectations for Avery Bradley?
With the departure of Kevin Garnett, it's on Bradley to sort of set the defensive intensity for these new-look Celtics and he must continue to be an on-ball pest. Offensively, he needs to show consistency, and we'll find out if full health is enough to bring that on. If Boston struggles as a team, it could diminish his chances for All-Defensive first team, but he should be in the mix at the guard position, particularly if Rondo gets back on the court and allows Bradley to settle in at the off-ball spot.
With the team in need of increased scoring, Bradley needs to be a double-digit scorer, even if the majority of points comes off cuts and open 3-point looks (though the increased bulk could help him with finishing around the basket). The bottom line for Bradley is consistency and that's the greatest expectation for him this season.
If the NBA awards voters wake up and vote for the right guy, Bradley will join Tony Allen on the NBA All-Defensive first team. Unfortunately for Bradley, the voters still look at raw steal numbers over actual defensive production (as in how many points you give up), which allowed Chris Paul to sneak on the team last year when Bradley was more deserving. In 2012-13, Bradley was among the best defensive players in the league, according to Synergy Sports. Considering he was coming off of double shoulder surgery, it's completely realistic to imagine the now fourth-year guard will get even better defensively this season. Which has to be terrifying for opposing guards. The question with Bradley remains: can his offensive production ever come close to matching his defensive production? Down the stretch in 2011-12 it appeared that he was making strides offensively, but he regressed badly last season shooting just 40 percent from the floor and putting up a ghastly 9.6 PER. I'd like to believe that he can be closer to the guy we saw two years ago, but his overall track record offensively is really poor dating all the way back to his time at Texas, so for now my expectations are that he is a slightly better overall player than we saw last season but that he still struggles mightily at times on the offensive end. Statistical prediction: 11 points, 2.5 assists, 2 steals in 32 minutes per game.
Celtics fans have yet to see a full season of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo together in the backcourt. Last year Bradley's game suffered dramatically when he was forced to takeover ball-handling duties when Rondo went down. Rondo's presence on the floor alone also makes Bradley better -- a lot better. When both of them are healthy I expect to see many more of those great back cuts and wide open layups we were treated to back in late 2012 when Bradley first stole Ray Allen's job.
This upcoming season is a big one for Bradley. The last we saw of him, Bradley was getting worked over by Raymond Felton, of all people. Whether it was having to take over the point guard duties when Rondo went down or if he was still recovering from his shoulder surgeries, Bradley did not have a great year. Expect Bradley to round into his All-NBA caliber play on the defensive end of the floor as he should be fully healthy, as well as having Rondo back to take over as floor general. The real question is what can Bradley do on offense? He showed flashes of brilliance last season, but Bradley needs to be a more legitimate threat with a consistent jumper if he is to be penciled in as a team's starting two-guard for the foreseeable future. Bradley doesn't need to score 20+ for the season to be a success, but around 15 points per game would be nice. That's not a giant leap for a guy who averages 12 points per game (per 36 minutes) for his career. At 22 years old, there is no sense of urgency yet for Bradley as he still has time to develop. But he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and how he gets paid will be tied to how well he plays in 2013-14. Other teams will surely offer Bradley a serious salary boost over the $3.5 million qualifying offer Boston can make based solely on his potential and defense. It will be up to Boston to decide if they want to double-down and match the offer or let their pit bull go and rebuild in a new direction.
I think the book on Bradley is that he's really just a great defensive player that won't do much on offense. I'm not sure this is entirely true though. Bradley has shown flashes of some great offense, he's just been wildly inconsistent. We've seen very little of the Rondo-Bradley combo that was so impressive that it forced Ray Allen to the bench. The team as a whole was hurt when Rondo went down last year, but perhaps no player was affected more than Bradley. With a healthy Rondo at the end of the 2011-12 season, Bradley's coming out party was highlighted by a stretch where he was shooting 76.9 percent from 3-point land. Compare that to the end of last year when he was forced into being a ball handler while doing nothing offensively and getting abused by plump Ray Felton. I think Rondo's importance is clear. With an actual point guard back on the team, Bradley won't have to worry about pretending to be one.
12) What is the most intriguing game of the season?
When we polled our panel, the only question was whether the Celtics-Nets game would be a unanimous decision. Just about everyone agreed that it doesn't get any bigger than Jan. 26, but some in our blogger crew did a nice job trying to highlight some less-obvious dates on the calendar. And since you'll be reading plenty about Jan. 26 from our panel, allow us to use this space to highlight three other games that pique our interest next season:
• Jan. 5 at Oklahoma City: The Thunder actually serve as the appetizer for the big Nets visit with a tilt in Boston on Jan. 24, and yet a rare Kevin Durant appearance here will be completely overshadowed by the Pierce/KG return two nights later. With Jeff Green set to be thrust into a blazing green spotlight this season, the Jan. 5 visit to Oklahoma City intrigues us because it's a chance for Green to show the team that traded him away what he's fully capable of in a starring role. Oh, and Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook is always fun, too.
• Feb.21 at Los Angeles Lakers: The trade deadline is Feb. 20 and Boston spends an offday trekking from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Every meeting with the Lakers is a big deal -- even if both teams are projected to struggle this season -- but the curiosity of how Boston's post-deadline roster will look adds a dash of spice to this rivalry game.
• Dec. 8 at New York Knicks: The Celtics have an overhauled roster that sort of diminishes this playoff rematch. But while everyone's all hyped for the other Empire State rival, here's why the Knicks game is interesting to us: Avery Bradley vs. Raymond Felton. After getting dominated in the playoffs, Bradley (and two healthy shoulders) gets a chance to redeem himself and -- if Rajon Rondo is sidelined at the start of the season while rehabbing from the ACL tear -- this could be around the time the All-Star point guard makes a return as Boston's schedule calms down from a hectic November.
Again, there are more obvious dates that you'll read about below (like opening night or Doc Rivers' Boston return in December), but those are just a few that should generate some additional buzz.
(Dec. 11 vs. Clippers) I'd be lying if I said anything but Jan. 26th when the Nets come to town, but for the sake of being different I'll also note Dec. 11th when Doc Rivers and the Clippers visit the Garden. After all, we already know the type of reaction Pierce and KG are in for. Doc on the other hand, well that could be interesting. I'd like to believe that the Garden crowd will give Rivers the standing ovation he badly deserves, but the way he left has many fans upset. Personally, I wish Rivers had "owned" leaving more than he has so far. If he was simply more up front about not wanting to be part of the rebuild, people would have accepted his departure a little easier than they did at the time. At the end of the day, Rivers gave this team and this city nine great years and helped put a banner in the rafters, and he deserves to be honored for that. Hopefully most of the fans in attendance on Dec. 11 agree.
(Jan. 26 vs. Nets): I've been a season ticket holder since Game 1 of the new Big Three era, and the second that Pierce and Garnett were traded all I could think about was how emotional it will be to be in the building on the night they come back. Honestly, the game itself won't even matter that much, just the starting lineup announcements and the tribute videos on the big screen. I get goosebumps now just thinking about it.
(Dec. 11 vs. Clippers) It has to be the home game against the Clippers on Dec. 11. Yes, the games against the Nets will be huge and heartfelt as KG and Pierce play against their old team, but that trade was business. The Doc Rivers fiasco is personal. It's been well documented that Doc said himself that he wanted to be the Jerry Sloan of the Celtics only to turn his back on the franchise when they needed him most. Did Boston's ownership really not want to pay Rivers $7 million per year and initiate his ouster? That rumor just doesn't seem likely as Boston had one of the best coaches in the game and he was signed to an extension with full knowledge that this team would be rebuilding at some point during his tenure. Doc wanted out, went back on his word, and deserves any and all criticism he gets for it. How great would it be if the team he left because they weren't good enough ended up beating his new "championship caliber" team? It'll send a nice little message like, 'Have a nice flight back to L.A., we'll be just fine without you.'
(Jan. 17 vs. Lakers) Lakers vs. Celtics. The historic rivalry. What could be better? It's actually better that neither team is expected to be very good. That way it'll be evenly matched. Kobe vs. Rondo! We've even got our own lanky awkward dude now! Can't wait. Plus, why would I want to see the matchups I used to look forward to? Heat vs. Celtics? No thanks. I'd rather not spend two hours watching what's left of my favorite team get crushed by the two-time champions we never defeated. I'll still watch, of course, but by no means am I looking forward to it.
Agree with Chris, Mark, Eric and the Mike's? Disagree with them vehemently? Leave your answers to the 4 questions in the comments section.
Check out the full series on ESPN Boston.
Related: Celtics Life writers talk the upcoming season on ESPN (Part 1)
Our writers predict this season's overachievers & underachievers and Rondo's return on ESPN (Part 2)
JR 8/29/2013 12:39:00 PM Tweet Edit