Friday, April 13, 2007

Bill Simmons is an amusing man. He has now taken it upon himself to lead the charge against the Celtics' team management. It is true that he has been sharply critical of Doc Rivers for some time now, but the Sports Guy has now moved on to criticize Danny Ainge and the buffoons who write the checks. Suddenly, now that a writer with an exponentially larger profile than mine has joined me, I am not enjoying the anti-Banner 17 movement as much as I should.

Simmons is convinced that the young players have not developed to the extent that many casual observers have been led to believe under River's slightly less than inspired leadership. That is clearly true, unless you consider Gerald Green winning the slam dunk competition as some tangible form of progression in genuine basketball skill and not raw athletic ability. The lone bright spot has been the continued development of Al Jefferson.

I must say once again I am not convinced that Al Jefferson is going to continue progressing. Last night, at the tail end of TNT's Inside the NBA Kenny Smith refused to consider Al Jefferson for his personal Most Improved Player Award. His rationale (loosely paraphrased) was that a reasonably skilled guy on a bad team has a lot of chances to take shots because no one else can score and better teams pushing for the playoffs are likely resting their best players when the games are in hand. Kenny Smith played on some preternaturally bad Sacramento teams in the late 1980s, so he knows a bit about the statistical benefits of being the big fish in a small, polluted pond.

At the moment, Al Jefferson's stats really aren't all that impressive to me, even on a Celtics team desperately yearning for mediocrity. He's averaging 15.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Jefferson is shooting nearly 51% from the field, but he turns the ball over 1.98 times per game while averaging only 1.2 assists. If that is the bright spot for the Celtics, it's going to be a long, long night.

As a point of comparison, at the same point in his career, Antoine Walker averaged 18.7 points, 8.5 boards, 3.1 assists versus 2.83 turnovers. He did not block as many shots as Al Jefferson does, but he had more steals per game. That was also the 98-99 season shortened by the labor dispute where Walker came back out of shape and submitted his worst season as a Celtic.

I realize that Antoine played two years of college basketball before joining the Celtics. But I bring him up not to be unfair to Al Jefferson but to show how the Celtics have fallen in the eyes of the basketball world. People booed Antoine mercilessly for putting up gaudy numbers on terrible teams. Now Al Jefferson is averaging just under 16 points a game and people are excited. I also bring up Antoine to link to this video of Toine talking about Red, since he was probably the last person to play for the Celtics who really understood what an honor that once was.

I just don't think it makes sense to take for granted that Al Jefferson will continue to develop at this pace, or at all for that matter. If the Celtics should somehow wind up with Greg Oden should he declare, or Kevin Durant, one or the other may not take minutes of playing time away from Al Jefferson but Jefferson won't be taking as many shots. It is possible that getting better looks for those fewer shots will still help his game.

Tony Allen will probably be coming back from his injury at the midway point next year. There will likely be a period of adjustment as he tries to rebuild the confidence in that knee. But he was on track to be the star of this team and its future. His comeback will also take shots away from Al Jefferson. And let's not forget that Paul Pierce will probably play more than 47 games next year, too.

That brings us to another of the real villains in the demise of Celtic pride - Paul Pierce. So many people, like Simmons in the piece linked above, believe that Paul Pierce is a great competitor who desperately wants to win. I don't believe it. I believe he hates to lose, but hating to lose and wanting to win are not necessarily the same thing. When push comes to shove, I think Paul Pierce would be happier putting up great numbers on a perennial doormat than he would be in taking fewer shots and contenting himself with less statistical production on a winning team.

For those of you who would disagree with me, I offer you the example of Game Six of the first round series between Indiana and the Celtics back in 2005. The Celtics ended up winning that game in overtime, but they very nearly lost it in regulation when Paul Pierce threw his infamous tantrum which resulted in his ejection. The Celtics went on to be routed out of the playoffs in Game 7, at home of all places, with Pierce scoring 19 (Antoine had 20). Since that time, the closest a Celtic has been to a playoff game is when Pierce went to games as Toine's guest in last season's championship run for the Miami Heat.

I don't know if Pierce likes the role of the tragic victim of a poorly managed organization or if he simply can't bear to share the limelight, but he simply can't carry a team to victory on his own in this NBA environment. Kobe isn't good enough to do it, and he brings a similar skill set to the table. Kobe is more athletic and a better defender and an even bigger tool when it comes to sharing the spotlight.

I wonder how long Ainge will be able to hang his hat on Jefferson, West and (maybe, even though I am not impressed) Rondo. I am not happy living in a world where a man turned the number 7 pick in the draft last season into Sebastian Telfair, even if it did banish Raef LaFrentz to Portland. Not when that pick is probably going to be Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy even though he missed 20 games.

I knew that the Telfair/LaFrentz trade was a bad idea all the way back on July 3rd when I took time out of my efforts to recreate the journey Ray Miland took in Lost Weekend over the holiday to complain about it. I've been ripping Ainge to my nation of two readers (to paraphrase the Kurt Vonnegut line from Mother Night) for a long time now. All that while disappointing my loyal reader the Kobra Kommander by mentioning a certain Japanese pitcher in a scandalous 10.4% of my posts.

PS - It's a shame that Kurt Vonnegut passed away. Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle are two of my favorite books. One of the underappreciated funny satiric sequences in the movie Back To School comes when the Rodney Dangerfield character hires Vonnegut to write a term paper on Vonnegut for him and ends up getting a D. It's just too bad, but with the way Americans continually conspire to produce generations of morons, America will probably never produce another writer of his caliber.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool info about the NBA, but I was also thinking of shedding some more light on the WNBA, which doesn’t get much publicity, although it should. Here are some interesting facts about the WNBA:

On February 15, 2005, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that Donna Orender, who had been serving as the Senior Vice President of the PGA Tour and who had played for several teams in the now-defunct Women's Pro Basketball League, would be Ackerman's successor as of April 2005.

The WNBA awarded its first expansion team in several years to Chicago (later named the Sky) in February 2005. In the off-season, a set of rule changes was approved that made the WNBA more like the NBA Wizards game stats.

The 2006 season was the WNBA's tenth; the league became the first team-oriented women's professional sports league to exist for ten consecutive seasons. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, the WNBA released its All-Decade Team, comprising the ten WNBA players deemed to have contributed, through on-court play and off-court activities, the most to women's basketball during the period of the league's existence.

In December of 2006, the Charlotte Bobcats organization announced it would no longer operate the Charlotte Sting. Soon after, the WNBA announced that the Charlotte Sting would not operate for the upcoming season. A dispersal draft was held January 8, 2007, with all players except for unrestricted free agents Allison Feaster and Tammy Sutton-Brown available for selection. Teams selected in inverse order of their 2006 records, with Chicago receiving the first pick and selecting Monique Currie.

For mens basketball resources please see the pages on the following teams:

NBA New York Knicks
Philadelphia 76ers
Chicago Bulls basketball
Detroit Pistons
Orlando Magic

Michael S.