Thursday, October 3, 2013

Post Position: Celtics' Newest "Pole Cats" Key To Any Success In 2013-14

It's no mistake that the two most recent additions to the picture posts in the lobby of North Station at the Garden are also two of the longer tenured players on the roster. It's also no accident that they happen to play the same positions as the two Hall-of-Famers whose shoes they’re about to step into now that they’ve gone cookin’ for Brooklyn.

But, as exciting as it might be for friends, fans and family members of Jeff Green and Brandon Bass to see these guys sharing facetime with the team's one true All-Star, point guard Rajon Rondo along with Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger (another more recent "pole player" and another key ingredient in the C's kitchen this year), their actual significance to the team and any hopes it may have of an even moderately successful year can't be overstated.

For many, the natural inclination is to say that Green is the new Pierce, and as far as filling the open small forward position, this would be accurate. And he will, indeed, be asked to shoulder some of the load that Pierce once carried. But, fans shouldn't be expecting “The Truth 2.0” or even “Truth-Lite,” or anything resembling the Swiss Army Knife that was Pierce for so many years "giving the game what it needs" whether it was scoring 41 against LeBron in a mano-a-mano Playoff duel or posting multiple triple-doubles in point-forward mode in Rondo's absence.

Well, okay...he's got the "scoring 41 against LeBron" thing handled just fine and then some, but he’s never carried a team for an extended period in any season of his short career and expectations that he fill the sizable chasm of leadership that now exists behind Rondo are not only wrongheaded but just plain unfair. There is only one Paul Pierce (as it will undoubtedly take until his induction into the Hall of Fame for casual fans to fully appreciate) and Green is clearly not cut from the same cloth – but, then, few people are.

What he IS is a hyper-athletic 6" 9' forward that is as comfortable in the low post as he is slashing in from the wing and banging one off some hapless defender's dome or popping threes from the corner. He is an underrated defender and has increasingly shown a willingness to pick up his aggression on offense and, as Garnett once implored him, "be an @$hole." With an even larger role to play and a quicker team to play it with, Green can now thrive in the open court and take more shots in an offense in which he is no longer third and sometimes even fourth fiddle while not having to carry the total scoring burden in the way that Pierce was often forced to with Garnett resting on the bench – especially after Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach.

Brandon Bass is the other key that will determine whether the Celtics sink to the level that experts have been projecting or whether they rise above expectations, particularly with Rondo on the sidelines for a portion of the season and Garnett and his Big D down the road and out of town.

While no one will ever be confusing Bass with The Big Ticket, he has an uncannily similar midrange game (though not quite as consistent), is also unafraid to put his head down and plow to the hoop for a power-flush, and is an above-average defender. In fact, his “D” is vastly underappreciated by most average NBA fans and announcers alike. Just look at the variety of stories written by a heap of knowledgeable voices about both his prowess according to Synergistics (not that I buy into that sort of thing) and about how he is now using his massive 6-foot-9, 250-pound body to try and plug the defensive leadership breach for the team.

One need look no further than his defense against Carmelo Anthony – one of the League’s premier scorers, in case your head has been cryogenically frozen for the past ten years – during the Celtics v. Knicks series in last year’s Playoffs to see what he is capable of.

I know that Bass fell out of favor with a lot of fairweather fans last year as he struggled to regain his footing after Doc Rivers employed a revolving door for his power forwards, alternately starting Bass, then Sullinger, then Bass again when Sullinger went down for the season. While the argument has been made that NBA players are professionals and should be able to handle being shuffled in and out of the lineup with their ego and confidence intact, I challenge readers to honestly consider how well they’d adjust to being “benched” by their boss in favor of that young go-getter from [insert department here] and then being asked to take over for him only after he goes out on sick leave for the year.

Yes, Bass should technically have been able to adjust to the adversity and come to play when his name was called (jeez…I just completed the trifecta of modern sports clich├ęs!), but it seemed clear that his brain was a little scrambled by the process and it took him a while to straighten himself out – not coincidentally around the same time that his main competition for the position was cleared out of the way for the season.

Ultimately, it’s about the team and the sum of its parts, whether Coach Brad Stevens can adjust quickly to the pro game and whether Rondo comes back before the All-Star break – both physically AND mentally. But, for the team to defy the haters and prognosticators, it will be the actions of Uncle Jeff and B Bass that determine whether the Celtics will be stuck under water or if they’re able to stick their heads up and catch a breath or two.

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