Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Roles of Rookies Semih and Luke

We are almost halfway through the Celtics’ regular season, and despite their 30-9 record which tops the Eastern Conference, it seems like a lot of Celtics fans out there are not happy with the current roster, which currently features a significant amount of minutes played from rookie big men Semih Erden and Luke Harangody. Boston’s first round pick Avery Bradley also still holds a spot on the 15 man active roster, despite being sent down to the D-League this week to play for the Maine Red Claws, not because he’s another hopeless case of first round pick gone bad, but because Doc Rivers wants the kid to get some reps and solid minutes doing what he does best… playing basketball. The Celtics have plenty of veteran guards right now, as well as a sharp-shooting Delonte West returning from his wrist injury in a couple of weeks, so Doc thinks Bradley will benefit more from solid minutes on the Red Claws than riding the bench all season for Boston. Also, Bradley and Harangody, the two “true” rookies, both seemed timid and uncomfortable on the court at first when playing against and alongside NBA stars. However, while Harangody has embraced his amplified role and now looks much more comfortable on the court than he did at the season’s start, Bradley still looked uncomfortable and intimidated on the court for the rare minutes he was given. Don’t completely forget about Avery during his D-League stint. He will be back, as the kid is an incredible athlete, can knock down threes, and throw down dunks like you wouldn’t believe. He may be the quickest guy on the C’s other than Rajon Rondo, and I am still looking forward to seeing the two explosive guards run all over opposing defenses together in the Celtics’ future.

As for Semih Erden, he has looked relatively comfortable from the start, and this can be attributed to his professional play in Turkey and the Euroleague before coming over to play for Boston. After these first 39 games of the season, I have to say that I am not only incredibly happy with the solid play and excellent record of the Celtics, but with their overall roster and development of their rookie players. If this team has managed to stay atop the Eastern Conference even without starting big men Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, how good are they going to be once all the starters are healthy? Right now it appears that this team is already very good with Shaq starting and the two energetic rooks logging big minutes off the bench for the C’s, and when healthy, this team is only going to get better.

The Celtics do not need to add Rasheed Wallace or alter their roster in any significant way because other than Kevin Garnett, nobody brings more energy to the floor than Erden and Harangody. The two of them are always hustling, and Erden controls the paint, makes smart cuts, and contests every shot, while Harangody sets good picks, plays tight defense, boxes out, and can make his open jumpers. While both guys have a lot of room to improve, they show a lot of heart, hustle, and do all the little things that a coach really wants to see from his rookie players. An important thing to realize about these guys is that they are only getting all these minutes right now because of injuries to Boston’s starters, and they’re going to keep getting better and better with all this experience. And while I realize there are better ways to make a playoff run than with a team stocked with rookies (even though Bill Belichick could convince you otherwise) it is important not to forget that Erden and Harangody are only third-string big men for the C’s. Perkins and KG will return soon enough to the starting lineup, which will send Shaq and Big Baby Davis to the second unit, and then the Celtics will have not only a nearly unstoppable starting lineup, but a bench that can contend with opposing starters all around the league. As long as those guys recover successfully from injury and do not get reinjured, Erden and Harangody’s critics can relax because the rookies’ minutes will practically disappear down the stretch. The worst case scenario is foul trouble or injuries resulting in Erden or Harangody getting back on the court, and if given this opportunity, both of them would absolutely play hard and bring valuable energy to the floor that other guys on the team feed off of, such as Nate Robinson and Glen Davis. Right now this team may be scrappy, but with KG possibly coming back Monday night against Orlando, and Perkins still on the mend, the Eastern Conference leading Celtics will only keep getting better. These rookies play harder than just about everybody, and with each of them having the potential for a double-double every night, and the starting big men soon returning, I still am not feeling the need for Sheed, or any significant change to Boston’s solid roster.

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