Boston Celtics

('88 Record: 57-25)

You know what they say: if you can't say anything nice, let someone else say it for you.

That's basically what I'm doing with the Celtics this year. I have asked a couple friends, Will Slate and Paul Dentinger, to give me reports on certain Celtic issues and I'll either quote them, paraphrase them, or check on them, doing my best to not criticize them and make them hate me.

"For the Celtics to be successful, they will have to get more from the bench, both in minutes and quality of play, than they have gotten in recent years." - Will.

The weak bench of the Celtics has been rubbed into them so well the past few seasons that Boston seems to have been specifically acquiring a lot of bench players recently, rather than good athletes who could star for the team. The Celtics traded a fairly old bench player, Jerry Sichting, for another, Jim Paxson, midway through the season. Paxson is not going to start for the Celtics, especially above Danny Ainge, and is not going to improve his game any more now that he is 31. They also acquired Dirk Minniefield to back Dennis Johnson up. Artis Gilmore was acquired to back Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. The Celtics drafted Brad Lohaus as a potential good reserve player, not as a future star. Mark Acres was another designated bench player they acquired. Their first round pick in '87, Reggie Lewis, was a certified star in college and was probably drafted in the hopes he'd be a future starter. He probably won't be very good, but there's still hope.

Dealing for designated bench players seems to be sort of like paying off a credit card bill with another credit card. It only postpones the inevitable downfall of an aging team and doesn't present a viable solution to the problem. The Lakers have been doing some of that, acquiring Mychal Thompson and Orlando Woolridge to back up Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and James Worthy. The Lakers also drafted David Rivers this year 'to back up Magic Johnson'. The Celtics this year drafted Brian Shaw, who seems to be a very good prospect; the Lakers wanted him, too.

My friend Paul, who went to school with Shaw in Santa Barbara, gave me a good scouting report on Shaw:

I think Brian Shaw could do very well in the pros. He doesn't have the pro jump shot (but it isn't as bad as the media portray it either) nor does he drive a lot either. He does pretty well when he decides to drive or is forced to, as in the last few minutes of a game, but nothing spectacular. His assets: he passes well and plays smart; he is very well-liked by his teammates; he plays good if not great defense; and he moves extremely well without the ball. He is a half court player and will hustle himself into being a very good NBA player. During one of the Olympians vs. NBA games, one announcer likened him to a former Olympian, Alvin Robertson. Another bonus is that he is on the Celtics. There, he won't have to start right away and won't be forced to score when he does start. His assets will be matched perfectly with the Celtics.

There are also two other things to be mentioned about Shaw. First, he was the outright leader of a team that played above its head all year. His 1988 Santa Barbara team went 26-7, went to the NCAA Tournament, and beat UNLV twice. His leadership resulted from his work ethic and his popularity with his teammates. Second, it is very hard to determine how much effect the role of 'defensive stopper' in college had on his offensive output. Imagine having to guard Gerald Paddio, then having to play offense with Stacey Augmon guarding you all game - with only one minute of rest! He also had to guard Ricky Berry, then come down on offense with the top defensive specialist from San Jose St. in his face.

In short, I think Brian Shaw will do very well because he's on the Celtics, average to good if he were on another, poorer team. If he played full time, I'd expect ten to twelve points, six to ten assists, and six to eight rebounds a game, plus the title of defensive specialist. Not bad.

Paul is a level-headed guy who tends to see the intricacies of basketball, especially noting how players move without the ball. I would figure that the report he gave me is somewhat biased, but not beyond reason.

Regarding the lack of a pro jump shot: that will hurt Shaw if he doesn't improve it. If he hustles in the pros as much as he did in college, it should improve. He will likely be taking his jumpers from farther out in the pros and with taller people in his face. He may shoot under 45% in his first year up, but could easily improve that. Shaw is listed at 6'6", which is a good size for today's guards. Many of the guards he will be facing will be shorter than that, which may mean that his shooting will not be adversely affected. If he shoots 47% or better, he should develop into a top gun.

One thing I wish Paul had noted is whether Shaw goes to both his left and right equally well. Dennis Johnson has always been a very solid ball-handler and could go left or right without problem. In the Celtics' passing game, his ball-handling skills haven't been used to full capacity, but Shaw's may be used more with the younger players getting more time. If his jump shot improves, his ball-handling will also become more of an asset to go by people playing close on his jumper.

Hopefully, the comparison to Robertson was a compliment. Robertson has outstanding skills, but has become an impatient shooter the past few years in the pros. Calling Shaw 'smart' probably means that the comparison was only to Robertson's skills and not to any sort of impatience. If Shaw's skills are similar to Robertson's, the Celtics have a great player.

Paul's statistical expectations for Shaw are quite impressive, especially the six to eight rebounds per game. The Celtics are hurting for offensive rebounds and if Shaw can contribute 6 rpg with the same percentage of his rebounds being offensive as Robertson's are for San Antonio, the only problem with the Celtic offense would be essentially solved. Regarding the six to ten assists per game: the starting point guard on the current Celtic team could get six assists per game without trying. Shaw should be able to average more than 10 or 11 assists per 48 minutes with the Celtics.

The Celtics don't have much to lose by giving Shaw lots of playing time next year. The Celtics will definitely make the playoffs next season and playing for the home court advantage may not help them because it didn't last year. Shaw looks to be their point guard of the future and the younger he can get experience, the more time he'll have to take advantage of it.

"McHale is the most promising of the starters...and if Bird does not recover from whatever was bothering him during the playoffs, [the Celtics] will be looking to Kevin to do a hell of a lot of scoring..." - Will.

McHale, though he seems to be feeling a little older, is still the most effective low post player in the league. His .620 floor % was best on the team and would be great for the Celtics to have him do that again next year. McHale scored over 26 ppg in '86-87, but only 22.6 ppg last year. The Celtics' offense was surprisingly more efficient last year, but that was because Ainge played so well. McHale will probably go on forever offensively in the NBA, as Abdul-Jabaar has done. He is so far ahead of any other low post player in the league that it's going to take some time before his scoring skills fall to average and his usefulness is gone. Next year, McHale probably will score more, up around 26 ppg again, even though Bird should return to form next year.

"McHale is by no means muscular and thus, last year, it looked like he was getting pushed around by some of the stronger guys he played against..." - Will.

That is news to me. McHale has always been impressive the way he uses his body and arms to establish low post position. If he was getting pushed around down low last season, it didn't affect his scoring. His rebounding was the worst it's been since his rookie season, though. Part of that was due to fewer missed shots to rebound, but he also lost some of energy to rebound. That does indicate that the younger stronger players are starting to push him around more. That may eventually affect his scoring, but it will be a long time before the league catches up enough to neutralize him.

"If the real Larry Bird returns this year, then all is well in the home of lobsters and liberals. If that imposter we saw during the playoffs returns, it will be a good time to buy Bruins tickets..." - Will.

Bird's bad playoff performance wasn't all that bad. Against Atlanta, he was in top form, battling Dominique Wilkins basket for basket in the classic Game Seven of their series. It was only against Detroit that Bird had his problems. The whole Celtic team had troubles against Detroit because the Pistons' defense matched up so well against Boston's offense. Questions concerning the stamina of the team after eight months of games and concerning Bird's mind-set on the Rodman incident of the previous year may also help explain Bird's poor performance against Detroit. There is no reason to believe that Bird won't be challenging for another MVP next year.

"The best guys on the bench may be Minniefield, Paxson, and Lewis..." - Will.

I can agree with Paxson and maybe Lewis, but not Minniefield. First of all, Minniefield doesn't seem to fit the half court offensive style that Boston runs. Minniefield is hyper and commits too many turnovers. His floor % of .521 was poor for point guards and ridiculous for a point guard on a team that has such great players to pass to. With the addition of Shaw, Minniefield probably won't be around next year.

"Mark Acres is heir to Greg Kite's position as non-shooter and foul magnet. It does, however, appear that he will enjoy much playing time as a back up center and big forward. I did notice him trying a few McHale-type fall-away jumpers last season..." - Will.

Actually, Acres is better than Kite ever was. Kite was a career 40% shooter with Boston, while Acres shot 53.2% for the Celtics last year. Both do have a tendency to foul anything that moves, but they're subs; they can do that. Acres has a reasonable chance to hang around the league as a sub. His rebounding and scoring skills will never make him a legitimate starter, but they are OK for a bench player. He can't afford to get any worse than he is, but if he improves his foul shooting and stops fouling people, he's doing a respectable job. If he's trying to learn from McHale, he probably will improve.

"Someone should teach Brad Lohaus when he should jump. It will take quite a bit of work to make him a good low post player..." - Will.

Huh? Brad Lohaus is a center in the mold of Bill Laimbeer. Lohaus likes to play the perimeter on offense and is actually a pretty good shooter from out there. Trying to teach him to play the low post would be difficult and probably fruitless. Lohaus does not rebound well, which hurts his value, but Boston doesn't seem to care as they recently signed him to a long term contract. Lohaus seemed to be gaining more playing time near the end of the season for the Celtics, possibly impressing the coaches with his play in practice. Lohaus is a project, but a good one because his rookie floor % was a decent .478.

"Bill Walton is like the Space Shuttle: it would be great if it worked, but God only knows if it ever will..." - Will.

With Walton already out for next season, the Celtics should just give up on him.

"I presume the A Train has left North Station..." - Will.

Artis Gilmore won't be coming back. He had a great career and still has something left, but it's time he says good-bye.

"K.C. Jones may have left a sinking ship, but Jimmy Rodgers will do as good a job as any." - Will.

The Celtics, despite their age, should have another moderately successful season in '88-89. Bird, McHale, and Ainge are considerably above the league averages for their positions and should keep the team at the top of their division. Parish is a smart center with deteriorating skills. He'll play fewer minutes again next year, but still should produce close to his current level. He's near the end of his career and next season should be an indication whether he has enough to stick around any longer. The defensive problems that Boston is suffering through (17th) will last as long as they play the old guys. If Shaw, Acres, Lewis, and Lohaus get more minutes next year, the defense should improve to some degree.

The guess here is that the young players will get more time, which will hurt the offense more than it will help the defense. The team will probably win 52-55 games next year, maybe a couple more if the young players don't get as much time as I think. The team's playoff experience will be valuable again, but making it to the Finals will require several fairly unlikely events to occur. If Shaw does very well...If Bird picks it up a few notches...If Atlanta and Detroit kill each other...

My thanks to Will Slate and Paul Dentinger for their contributions.

Basketball Hoopla, 1988, L. Dean Oliver