Are the Boston Celtics really THAT good?

Believe it or not, as good as the Celtics have played, that’s a tough question to answer.

Sure, on the surface the Celtics look absolutely unbeatable and have folks in “beantown” dreaming of a title trifecta (with the Cs in basketball potentially joining the New England Patriots in football and Boston Red Sox in baseball as World Champions). Led by the new “big three”, Pierce, Allen and Garnett, Boston has racked up an out-of-this-world 18-2 record and, to steal a line from Stuart Scott is beating down on teams like they stole something. And it’s not like the games are close, as they’re beating opponents by a league-leading margin of 13.8 points per game. At their current pace the Celtics would win 74 games, blowing by the Chicago Bulls record of 72 – possibly establishing their legacy as one of the greatest teams ever. It would seem then that the obvious answer to our opening question would be, “Hell yeah, Bawston is wicked good! Order the Guiness and plan the paraaide route!”

The only problem in all of this is that the Celtics haven’t really played anybody significant yet.

They haven’t played the Detroit Pistons, the perennially “forgotten” Eastern Conference powerhouse. They haven’t had to face the World Champion San Antonio Spurs. Perhaps Duncan and company would have something to say about that title celebration being planned in Boston. They also haven’t played many of the other teams, mostly in the Western Conference, sporting solid records themselves. They haven’t faced the New Orleans Hornets, the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets, the Utah Jazz or the Phoenix Suns. Of course, it can be said that the blame for the Celtics relatively cupcake 20-game run should fall on the NBA schedule-makers, but the fact remains that Boston is an untested team.

The combined record of all the teams that the Celtics have played so far this season – teams with names like Hawks, Nets, Pacers, Heat, Bobcats, Knicks, 76ers, Bulls, Kings, etc. – is 162-181, adding up to a less-than-stellar .472 winning percentage. That’s certainly not anything close to a murder’s row of opponents that the Los Angeles Lakers have been facing, for example.

Not that the Celtics are only getting their fill of cup-cakes, they do have a couple of quality wins. Boston did blow out the Denver Nuggets by a score of 119-93 and the Golden State Warriors 105-82. Though, it can be argued that both the Nuggets and Warriors have been anything but consistent so far this season. And, the Cs did beat the aforementioned Lakers 107-94. But, they also lost to the Orlando Magic when Dwight Howard and company were red hot and came up short against the Cleveland Cavaliers before Lebron James went out with his injury. So really, fact is that Golden State, Denver, Los Angeles and perhaps Toronto Raptors are the only decent teams the Celtics have defeated all year.

So, it’s easy to argue that the jury is still very much out on the Boston Celtics.

The good news, for those looking to gauge the Celtics true greatness and place among the NBA elite is that they won’t have to wait long to formulate a verdict. Boston plays the Detroit Pistons, broadcast on the four-letter sports network, on December 19. Then, it’s a home game against the Orlando Magic on December 23. And after that begins a 3-game string against tough Western Conference opponents, including back-to-back games against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers on the road, followed by a home game against the Houston Rockets.

Of course, the Celtics schedule wasn’t going to remain docile for too long. And, sure enough, after a string of open-book quizzes, the Celtics are finally going to face the big mid-term exams. By mid-January then, we should have a clearer, high-definition picture on whether the Boston Celtics are really THAT good.


Old school baller of the week: Sam Jones

Our “old school baller” for this week is former Boston Celtics great Sam Jones. The original “Mr. Clutch”, before Lakers great Jerry West was dubbed as such, Jones won an amazing 10 championships during his 12 seasons with the Celtics – a feat that will likely never be repeated again. So, while Sam Jones barely missed our list of the top 10 Celtics of all-time, let’s take a look at why he is easily the undisputed “old school baller of the week”.

Name: Sam Jones
Position: Shooting Guard
Height/Weight: 6'4"/200 pounds
Teams: Boston Celtics
What made him so special?

The aforementioned 10 championships in 12 seasons are impressive enough, but Jones had plenty of individual accolades to go along with the team success. He was a five time NBA All-Star, was selected to the All-NBA second team three times, was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984 and was named among one of the 50 Greatest Players of All-Time in 1996. Jones scored more than 15,000 points in his 12-year career, averaging 17.7 points per game while shooting 46% from the floor. The lean and muscular Jones also mixed it up in the paint grabbing an average of 4.9 rebounds, while dishing out 2.9 assists per game for his career.

But, success didn’t come right away for Jones. Although drafted with the 8th overall pick in the 1957 NBA draft, Jones, hailing from unheralded North Carolina Central college, came into the league virtually unnoticed. He proceeded to sit on the bench his first four seasons in the league, watching and learning from established Celtics greats Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy. But, in his fifth season when Sharman hung it up for good, Jones took the starting shooting guard spot next to Cousy and used his silky-smooth shot and stellar playoff performances to get all the way to the Hall of Fame. A master of the bank shot, Jones took on the leadership role later in his career teaming with another Celtic great K.C. Jones – a duo that fans affectionately called “the Jones boys”.

Sam Jones’ game is most like...

Ray Allen. They have a similar build, both muscularly lean. Jones was 6’4” and 200 pounds, while Allen is listed at 6’5” and 205 pounds. As mentioned previously Jones averaged 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, while shooting 46% from the floor and 80% from the free-throw line. Allen for his career is averaging 21.4 points, 4.6 boards and 3.9 assists per game, while shooting 44.5% from the floor and a stellar 88.8% from the free-throw stripe. But outside of the pure numbers, the way they moved on the court and played the game were very similar. Offensively, both could hit a jumper from anywhere on the floor and was strong enough with the dribble to get to any point on the court. On the defensive side, both played a hustling style to say in position and didn’t overpower or outmuscle their opponents.

The biggest difference though between the two is that Sam Jones was a winner and proved that he could step up his game in the clutch. Ray Allen of course has very little successful playoff experience. In Allen’s defense though, it helped Jones that he played with Sharman, Cousy, Russell and later K.C. Jones on the legendary Celtics teams. Perhaps Allen, now teamed with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the current Celtics will finally prove his playoff mettle this season.

Bill Russell on Sam Jones

"In the seventh game of a championship series, I'll take Sam Jones over anyone who stepped onto a basketball court. When the pressure was greatest, he was eager for the ball."

If he played today

At 6’ 4” Sam Jones was considered a tall guard for his time, but by today’s standards he would be undersized at the shooting guard position. Still, there isn’t one team in the league today that couldn’t use Jones’ uncannily accurate jump-shooting and clutch play. He would probably have to adapt his game to be able to play more at the point, as opposed to the off-guard spot, in today’s league and would have to bulk up to be able to hang defensively, but Jones could easily put up 15 to 20 points per game even today.


Atlanta Hawks need to deal to stay relevant

The Atlanta Hawks are 10 up and 10 down, at .500 in mid-December for the first time in a long time, after taking out the big, bad Orlando Magic last night by a score of 98-87. The roster is peppered with talented and promising young players like Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Josh Childress and rookies Al Horford and Acie Law. In general, there is much rejoicing in Atlanta, as the lowly Hawks, currently tied with the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers for the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference, look ready to make the leap into the playoffs. Really, for the first time since sharpshooter Steve Smith roamed the land in Atlanta during the mid-1990s the Hawks are finally relevant on the NBA landscape.

But while the team has certainly improved over the past season, their solid record and impressive wins over the Magic, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks don’t quite tell the whole story. One reason for the solid start, if you watch a few of the Atlanta games, is that Coach Mike Woodson, who received his coaching tutelage under the legendary Larry Brown, is following Brown’s defense-first philosophy and doing a good job keeping games close. In fact, the Hawks don’t really get blown out anymore, having lost only 1 game all year by more than 15 points.

But, they also don’t blow teams out themselves – they’ve won only 1 game (against Milwaukee) by more than 15. A closer look at the number clearly reveals that the Hawks are pretty atrocious on offense. They don’t score a lot of points at a paltry 93.2 per game. They don’t take a lot of shots at 43.9 per. They don’t shoot the ball particularly well, making only 43.9 percent of their shots. They’re near the bottom of the league in assists at 19.5 per game, as well as rebounding at 41.1 per contest. In fact, if you look at their differentials – where the Hawks’ average stats are compared in each category against their opponents’ – Atlanta comes out at the positive end only at the free-throw line, and in steals and blocks. And, those last two categories are severely inflated by the stellar play of swingman Josh Smith, who by himself is contributing 2.1 steals and 3.6 blocks per game this season to the team totals.

The bottom line analysis when peeking behind their respectable .500 record is that Atlanta is only winning by slowing the pace down and dragging teams through the mud. They simply don’t have the talent and the offensive fire-power to sustain their relatively strong start. The strategy is a good one by Coach Woodson, given the lack of scorers on his team, but it’s certainly not a recipe for sustained success. Sooner or later, the bad karma and talent deficiency that has plagued the Hawks for so many years will drag them back down among the Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers. Unless of course, GM Billy Knight and the disastrous front-office makes some bold moves.

It’s time to trade a few of the young pieces in order to guarantee long-term success. Because Billy Knight passed on Chris Paul and Deron Williams in order to draft the overrated Marvin Williams, the Atlanta Hawks are still in search of a serviceable NBA-caliber point guard. That would be the first place to start. Good news is that particularly huge faux pas is rectifiable, as a perfectly fitting point guard may be available a few hundred miles up US-95 in Philadelphia. Andre Miller, who has career averages of 14.1 points and 7.5 assists, has been languishing on a rebuilding 76ers team. He is exactly the type of veteran, pass-first point the Hawks need in order to set the table for finishers like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. Miller may be had for a combination of young talent like Sheldon Williams, Salim Stoudemire and a first round draft pick. The Hawks should try to make the deal.

Speaking of the aforementioned Williams, Knight needs to take a page out of the book of the Wizards’ Eddie Jordan and Ernie Grunfeld and ship him out of town, just like the Wizard’s brain-trust did with the also overrated Kwame Brown. Williams is off to a solid start this season, averaging 15.4 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor. With his value likely at its peak, it’s time to ship Williams and Lozen Wright’s expiring contract out of town for a player who can step out and shoot the 3-ball. Toronto may be willing to send Anthony Parker, who is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc this season, and little used Juan Dixon (who is on the last year of his deal) to the Hawks.

Once they make these moves the Hawks will be better balanced offensively, and able to score with some of the more prolific offensive squads in the Eastern Conference. With Miller at point, Joe Johnson at shooting guard, Anthony Parker at small forward, Josh Smith at power forward and Al Horford at Center the Hawks will have scoring both inside and out from their starting lineup. Then Juan Dixon, Josh Childress and Zaza Pachulia can anchor the bench, while Andre Miller could groom Acie Law during the 2 years remaining on his current contract.

These trades we suggest aren’t incredibly bold and are all pretty realistic, but they would significantly improve the Hawks’ changes of maintaining their current .500 record and making a run at the playoffs this year. Otherwise, the 10 and 10 record they posses now may only go downhill from here.


The greatest Lakers and Celtics of all-time

If only the Los Angeles Lakers could hold up their end of the bargain, one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports would once again be rekindled. While Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are leading the Boston Celtics reclamation project, Kobe Bryant and his emergent teammates are trudging along on the road to respectability in Los Angeles.

But, this blog post isn’t about the future, or even the present, it’s about the some of the greatest players ever to lace on a pair of sneakers, chuck basketballs at a rim 18 inches in diameter and pass through the NBA locker rooms in Boston and Los Angeles. From Wilt and West to Russell and Bird, some of the biggest, most recognizable names in NBA history wore either purple and gold or green and white. But, who were the best of the bunch?

Keep in mind that we’ve given extra weight to players that spent most, or all of their careers with their team. So, while Shaq is one of the greatest players of all-time, counting this current season he has spent just as much time playing for other franchises as he has for the Lakers. Same with players like Wilt Chamberlain, who only spent the last 5 years of his illustrious 14-year career in Los Angeles.

So, after much conjecture, we present our list of the top 10 Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics of all-time.

Top 10 Los Angeles Lakers of All-Time
  1. Magic Johnson
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  3. Jerry West
  4. Kobe Bryant
  5. Elgin Baylor
  6. Shaquille O'Neal
  7. Wilt Chamberlain
  8. James Worthy
  9. Gail Goodrich
  10. George Mikan
Top 10 Boston Celtics of All-Time
  1. Larry Bird
  2. Bill Russell
  3. John Havlicek
  4. Dave Cowens
  5. Bob Cousy
  6. Kevin McHale
  7. Robert Parish
  8. Paul Pierce
  9. Tom Heinsohn
  10. Dennis Johnson
As you can see, while the Celtics 10 might have a bit more depth, the Lakers’ 10 would probably win out in any fictional head-to-head match-up given their advantages in height and athleticism.