What should the Celtics — who stand to gain from a shortened season, and lose miserably in the event of no season — be doing to prepare for the prospect of a 2011-12 season? Head coach Doc Rivers isn’t allowed to organize practices. Danny Ainge can’t buy up another big man or resign Jeff Green and Glen Davis (if he wants to).
But the players are allowed to meet at non-team facilities to practice on their own, and there’s word Ray Allen might organize such events at the University of Connecticut, his alma mater.
In the meantime, I’m gonna completely overstep my bounds and offer some advice to the starters on how they should spend the lockout. When life gives you lemons, after all, you should make things with lemons.
1. Rajon Rondo
Free throws and jump shots are too obvious to list here. We all already know you’ve spent the past five seasons working tirelessly on that aspect of your game, and it’s slowly paying off. Your true shooting percentage (49.5 in 2010-11), effective field goal rating (48.2 percent) and offensive rating (104) have all improved dramatically since your rookie campaign in 2006-07. You somehow managed to get worse at free throws this past season (56.8 percent), but let’s chalk that up to over-thinking it.
What I want to focus on here are (1) Your health, and (2) Defensive consistency. There were more than a couple of games this year when you hobbled around the court with that bad case of plantar fascitis. It affected that trademark quickness and at times made you seem human against the likes of Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. Stay off your feet plenty this summer and fall.
No one can doubt you’re a defensive phenom. Heck, between the freak athleticism and long arms, you’re capable of guarding LeBron James pretty effectively, as you proved in February. But you’re also in love with letting an opponent by you, then trying to poke the ball out from behind. It works sometimes, but nowhere near enough to justify its constant use. Exploit your quickness to stay in front of your man.
2. Ray Allen
Get better at shooting. Sure, you broke the Celtics’ single-season record for 3-point percentage (44.1), but that means you still missed more than half. Sheesh.
Outside of that, your offseason is going to revolve around keeping those legs in tip-top shape. You’re approaching 36 years old, and we all know your line-drive jump shot relies on an incredibly high release point. Keep up whatever you’ve been doing to stay so fresh.
3. Paul Pierce
It’s hard to find much to complain about. Statistically, you just logged one of the best seasons of your career — 50 percent from the field, 86 percent from the charity stripe, 5.4 rebounds and 19 points. Every one of those categories represents an improvement over your 2009-10 numbers.
So where can you improve? Take-over-the-game mentality. During the 2007-08 championship run, the Celtics were your team. Yes, Ray and Kevin Garnett were your equals, but when Boston needed a couple of big baskets in the closing minutes, you took charge. Not to say that you shirked that responsibility in 2010-11, but you became one-dimensional: jump shot, from the elbow. In 2008, you might’ve taken that shot, or you might’ve taken it to the hole to draw a foul.
The evidence lies in your free-throw attempts per game, which have dipped for three straight seasons, from 6.8 in 2008-09 to 5.6 this past year. Use your strength and length to help take over games at the crucial moments — in more ways than one.
Also, get back from La La Land as soon as possible. I know you live in Los Angeles, and there’ll be plenty of temptation to stay out there as the lockout drags on. But the rookies and second-year guys need the captain back in Beantown even before the lockout ends.
4. Kevin Garnett
Again, as with Paul and Ray, your numbers belie your age. Despite turning 35 years old just ahead of the playoffs, your 2010-11 season was statistically better than the year before. Part of that is explained by the improved condition of your knee, but still, 53 percent shooting, nine boards and 1.3 steals have Boston convinced the Celtics’ window isn’t closed quite yet.
Defensively, you were as superb as always, ranked No. 1 in the league against the pick-and-roll (according to Synergy Sports) and finishing the campaign with a defensive rating of 95, the third best mark of your sterling 16-year career.
But on offense, you’ve become a spot-up shooter, and little else. You draw few fouls and score infrequently from inside. Get back into the paint more often in 2011-12. The shots are higher-percentage, and teams will get into foul trouble more quickly.
5. Jermaine O’Neal
Asking you to stay healthy, like asking Rondo to shoot better, is too obvious. You played just 24 regular-season games this past season for Boston, so I know asking you to go injury-free in 2011-12 is unreasonable.
But while you are on the court, be more assertive offensively. The Celtics have a lot of weapons, I understand, but your field goal percentage went from 53 percent in 2009-10 with Miami to 46 percent in 2010-11 with Boston. Perhaps concerned about suffering another injury, you spent much of your time on offense outside the paint, lofting up jump shots. It helps explain why your offensive rating and offensive rebounds per 36 minutes also dipped.
You’re 6-foot-11, 255 pounds. Act like it.
The bench players, whichever ones end up on the Boston roster this year, could also make some adjustments. We’ll take a crack at those next week.