Many in the local sports media have fueled this vague sense out there that the Celtics are demonstrating an extraordinary commitment to youth – in particular, a rather large crop of first and second year players.
The C’s have five active players either in their first or second year – Tony Allen, Ryan Gomes, Orien Greene, Al Jefferson and Delonte West. The club has two other such players – Dwayne Jones and Gerald Green – that are inactive. Through last night, the five Celtic players listed above have combined for 3,306 minutes, or an average of about 650 minutes each.
That might sound like a lot. But I checked three other teams, and was surprised to see that all three of them had given more time – in two cases, a lot more time – to first and second year players.
Let’s start with the Knicks, another major rebuilding project. They have five first or second year players that have totaled 3,353 minutes between them, at an average of about 670 minutes each. They include Channing Frye and Nate Robinson.
Let’s look at the Hawks. They are stacked with eight first or second year players that have totaled 4,880 minutes, at an average of about 600 minutes each. They include Josh Childress and Josh Smith, Salim Stoudamire and Marvin Williams.
Let’s now turn to the rising Chicago Bulls, They have only six first or second year players, but unlike the Celtics, the Bulls’ youngsters are getting tons of playing time and are producing. They have 5219 minutes between them, at an average of about 870 minutes each. Four of the players – Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni – each have in excess of 1,100 minutes (or an average of 26 minutes per game). On the Celtics, only one player – Delonte West – tops 1,000 minutes total.
Of the very small number of teams I sampled, the Celtics do not in any way appear either stacked with very young productive players, or terribly committed to giving them playing time. The Bulls appear to be a team not only committed to that approach, but one that’s been successful as well.
This does not mean that Jefferson, Allen, et al. are not good young players, or that they do not have big upsides. It just means that GM Danny Ainge and company are a long way from demonstrating that they know how to acquire really great young players, or that they are committed to giving prospects a lot of time on the court to develop.
The latest Celtics trade involving Ricky Davis, Wally Szczerbiak and a host of others appears to be yet another effort to makeover a team that has been reshaped more than Oprah Winfrey. (More about her next week.)
Since the start of the 1997 campaign, following the C’s has been a chore. Unless you check the sports pages daily, you just don’t know who’s going to be there when you show up to watch.
The 97-98 season featured Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Dana Barros, Kenny Anderson, Travis Knight, Bruce Bowen, Walter McCarty, Andrew DeClerqc, Pervis Ellison and a bunch of young guys supposedly on the way up. The following season, 98-99, the team acquired Paul Pierce, Vitaly Potapenko and Tony Battie. Eventually, Mercer departed and Rodney Rogers, Danny Fortson, Eric Williams and Adrian Griffin came on board. A bunch of these men played on the team that reached the Eastern Conference finals in the spring of 2002.
In more recent seasons, the roster turnover has been dizzying but the playoff wins have been few. Players like Vin Baker, Chuckie Atkins, Chris Mihms, Gary Payton, Bimbo Coles and Mark Blount signed on, but none of these guys was able to make the team particularly interesting, or successful.
With the exception of Paul Pierce, none of the Celtic players were with the team more than three years ago. And the team (at least as of this writing) is really young. It has four rookies – Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Orien Greene and Dwayne Jones; three sophomore – Tony Allen, Al Jefferson and Delonte West; and three other players, Dan Dickau, Brian Scalabrine and Kendrick Perkins, with less than five years experience. Remarkably, the team has no player age 30 or older. Pierce, the star, is just 28.
I am tempted to salute the apparent commitment to youth, but I am going to wait and see if GM Danny Ainge has the patience to let these guys develop. The Celtics have, in recent years, given up on young players much too soon. Two of the top 25 scores in the league are Chauncey Billips (who the Celtics traded during his rookie campaign), and Joe Johnson, who they dumped to get Rodney Rogers (for just 27 games) and Tony Delk (remember him?) back in ’02.
Not having Billips and Johnson in green has been a drag. The team cannot afford to make mistakes like that again.