(This is my first attempt putting up an article, and it'll take a few attempts to get it like FL's, so please be patient :D)
Our first preseason game of the 2008 season was everything we wanted it to be--everything, that is, except for a "W". But fans shouldn't put much stock in our preseason record because the primary focus is not about winning every game. Rather, our coaching staff will use these games to prep our players for the start of the regular season.
Early on, more emphasis will be placed on our bench players. Our coaching staff needs to use these preseason games to get a better idea of what they have in the young players, as well as other players who are coming off of injuries. One game is not sufficient to analyze players, but the initial look has thus far been encouraging.
Patrick O'Bryant showed some nice things both offensively and defensively. He rebounded nicely (8 boards), scored efficiently (10 pts on 4 - 6 shooting), and swatted away 3 shots. Honestly, I don't expect him to average these numbers, but what he's showing is that in the right situations (like playing alongside of KG), he can have his moments in the sun. What I'd like to see from O'Bryant the rest of the preseason is consistency. We can't have him appearing and disappearing from game to game. It'll be fun monitoring his development throughout the season. He's a guy with talent who may finally be motivated to do something with it.
What Patrick O'Bryant potentially gives us at Center, Leon Powe gives us at Power Forward. Powe may not know every single defensive scheme in the book, and he may get lost in his assignments here and there, but put him on the court and he'll instinctively rebound anything within his reach and convert missed shots into putback points. As if this weren't enough, Powe also pours out his blood, sweat, and tears every minute he's privileged to play, and will give up his body for the team to draw charges. I'm predicting a breakout season for Powe--he'll be one of our consistent producers off the bench. His low post offense is underrated, but we may finally see what he can do with regular touches on the low blocks. It breaks my heart to see Big Al Jefferson tearing it up for Minnesota, but hopefully Powe's emergence will take some of the sting away and make me forget what we've lost in Jefferson. Tonight, Powe was the team's high scorer, putting up 12 points on 50% shooting.
Tony Allen is my other dark horse player I predict will breakout and be a key player off the bench (Powe being the other). Its not fair for one player to receive this prediction year after year, but when a player is as talented as Tony, and has had injuries set him back year after year, its only a matter of time before he makes me look like a prophet. I don't think I've ever seen Tony as dedicated towards honing his skills as he has been this summer, and his attitude in training camp has been encouraging. He wants to be an impact player off the bench, and he's declared himself to be a better player than James Posey. Now this might be suicide for most players, since Posey was one of the main characters in last year's championship run. But Tony may be right--he's certainly got more skills. Now its up to him to prove that he is indeed better than Posey. Everything he's learned up to this point, he's got to incorporate. Every skill he has in body, he must utilize. He won't be replacing exactly what Posey provided us, which was excellent team defense, timely three point shooting, and numerous floor burns. What Tony brings is better man to man coverage, more steals, more fastbreak scoring opportunities, a better slashing option, and a better playmaker. Tony will impact the game in different ways than Posey, and I'm confident he'll be able to replace Posey's importance to the team. Many fans don't share the same optimism as I do regarding Tony Allen, but in time they will. Tonight, Tony filled the stat sheet with 11 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
Another newcomer to our beloved Celtics family is Darius Miles. Hardly a new name around NBA circles, Darius will attempt to resurrect his name after enduring a "supposedly" career ending knee injury. Blessed with natural basketball abilities and a body that was built for this sport, Darius has a lot of things going in his favor. But his uphill battle will be overcoming his injury and gaining confidence in himself to raise his level of play higher than its ever been in his 8 years in the league. Darius gives us a true SF who can match the Shawn Marions and the Andre Kirilenkos of the world in terms of height, length, athleticism, and quickness. He's struggled in the past with motivation, but he's got good help on this team. KG, Pierce, and Ray are excellent examples of players pushing themselves to the limit to be the best they can be, and they certainly aren't going to let a lazy teammate ruin their chances at winning their second consecutive NBA championship. Miles is in a unique situation here in Boston. He's got a chance to redeem himself and have the last laugh. Many have criticized Darius' career thus far, and Portland dumped him in the trash bin to be cast off and forgotten. By proving to be a valuable part of this team, Darius can turn his entire career around and raise his stock for when he enters free agency in 2010. Darius didn't have a big night in his return to NBA action, but he was a perfect 3 - 3 from the field. As the year goes on, and as he develops his game and understands his role, he will be more productive.
Eddie House/Sam Cassell. I'll group these two together because they're pretty much identical and we basically know what we'll get from them. Though they score in different ways (House more on pick and pops, while Cassell excels on isolation plays), both are viewed as scoring PG's rather than PG's who create opportunities for their teammates. I'm under the impression that Doc will pick and choose when Cassell plays, since its wise to keep the often injured Cassell fresh for the playoff run. This means House will get more playing time overall. House is a steady player, and as long as Sam I Am doesn't get too greedy with his offense, our backup PG depth will be just fine. Sam didn't play tonight, but House did, and he scored 10 pts, came up with 4 rebounds, and had 2 assists.
The rest of the roster is not as clear to me. I think Brian Scalabrine and Baby Davis will be traded at some point this preseason to free up roster space. Gabe Pruitt may feel the numbers crunch at PG and be sent back down to the NBDL (although he's proved to be ready for the next challenge). The rookies are likely to be sent down to the D-League, but Bill Walker in particular, is making this decision hard for Doc. I was fairly confident that both Jr Giddens and Walker would be in the D-League without a second thought, mainly because of our crowded roster (only 12 players can be on the active roster). And it probably will be the case after all is said and done. But if Walker keeps up with Tony Allen, he could very well prove me wrong and remain with the parent ballclub. And I for one will be very happy (that Walker is that good) and will gladly announce my mistake. In limited minutes tonight (11+ minutes), Walker scored 8 pts on 3-7 shooting. Giddens only played in 4 minutes and recorded an assist, a rebound, and a steal.
And there you have it in a nutshell. From my perspective, our bench is deeper and more versatile this season than it was last season. We've gotten younger and less experienced, but we've gained athleticism, length, quickness, and more energy. Its not the bench we came to know and love from last year, but Celtics fans will fall in love all over again with this set of guys.
For those of you still skeptical of our bench, you probably won't be convinced just by reading this. So all I can say to you is see for yourself.
Please join in on our conversations and debates at the Celtics Green forums. We are discussing this exact topic right now.