Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rajon Rondo and The Celtics Point Guards From the Past

Recently in these spaces I echoed what many Celtics fans feel when I said something like, "Rajon Rondo is the first Celtics point guard that is actually good since Sherm Douglass and has the chance to be the first great one since DJ". First off, I've made my feelings towards Rajon Rondo patently obvious over the past few months, which is to say I can't think of enough praise to heap on him. Therefore, upon first glance this may seem like more hyperbole coming from yours truly. Well, it's really not and that leads me to my second point which is that point guard for the C's has been something of a black hole since DJ's last season in 1990.

To prove this, I decided to go on good old and see the C's regular point guard(s) for each season since 1990 and the results are really startling. You can pretty much break these guys up into 7 groups.

Group 1 - WTF
Group 2 - Former Superstar Waaaaaay Past His Prime
Group 3 - Former Kind-Of-Star Past His Not so Great Prime
Group 4 - Two-Guard Forced to Play Point per Circumstances
Group 5 - Blossomed Greatly After Their Celtic Days
Group 6 - KEY Contributors on Championship Teams After Their Celtic Days
Group 7 - Pretty Good Players Who Actually Left Lasting Impressions

With those handy, let's look at all these point guards and place them in their proper group.

Brian Shaw - 1991
Group 6 through and through. He hit some huge shots for the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Oddly enough, his 1990-91 season with the C's was far and away his best (averaged about 14 points and 7.5 assists, both career highs) but he will always be remembered - at least I think - as a key bench contributor for the great Laker teams of the early part of this decade.

He gets bonus points too for being a part of Tommy Heinson's favorite collection of guards the C's have ever had - no way of proving this BTW - the "Zip Boys". Remember them? I'll give you until the end of this article to think on the other three. And yes I had their t-shirt.

John Bagley - 1992
Obviously John Bagley is a Group 7 guy. I mean who didn't love John Bagley? Talk about a guy who looked like he had no business playing in an NBA game. He looked like he could barely make it around the bases playing beer league softball. Still, he managed to average 7 points and 7 assists in just about 24 minutes per game his one year as a starter, and I still maintain that he was in fact a pretty solid player. Maybe my nostalgia is interfering with reality, I don't know but I will go to my grave with the belief that Bags was a good player and I am fine with that true or not.

Dee Brown - 1992, 1993, 1996
Brown split starting duties in each of those seasons mainly because he was an undersized two who liked to score making him not the ideal candidate to run the point. This makes him a Group 4 guy. Strange as it may sound, I cannot remember a single thing about Dee Brown's Celtic days because the memory of him taking down Rex Chapman in the Dunk Contest is such a strong memory. I guess your mind can only store so much about the Dee Brown's of the world and his Dunk Contest victory maxed out his bandwidth in my head. To be honest I am perfectly happy with that.

Sherm "The Worm" Douglass - 1993, 1994, 1995
Another obvious Group 7 guy here. I loved this player and whenever I see a guy throw up a floater in the lane surrounded by about three defenders and nail it, I can't help but think back on this guy and smile. In 1994 and 1995 he averaged 13 points and 9 assists and 15 and 7 respectively so he really was a pretty good player. He's also a guy I'll always have a soft spot for. I really enjoyed watching him play.

David Wesley - 1995, 1996, 1997
Did you realize that this guy started 5 games for the Cavs last year? Me either. Well, Wesley falls into Group 4 easily and Group 5 moderately as he was a pretty good player on some decent Hornets teams starting in 1998 and through 2005 playing alongside guys like Baron Davis and Jamal Mashburn. I really have minimal recollections of him on the Celtics although I do recall listening to WEEI one day back in high school and them talking about the MC at some sort of Celtics function going on an extended riff about the size of his ears and having the crowd in hysterics. He also has the distinction of anchoring the "Just Lose Baby" (can't think of who coined that; either Ryan, Shaugnessy, or Peter May at the Globe) Celtics of 1996-1997 to the tune of 17 points and 7 assists per games. That's gotta count for something too right?

Chauncey Billups - 1998
Let's see, obviously a Group 5 and a Group 6 guy. What else can you really say about this? You really can't crush Pitino too bad for pulling the plug here - even if it was after only 50 some odd games - because he bounced around before becoming "Chauncey Billups" in Detroit. He played for Toronto, Denver, and Minnesota before that after all, and he did not really blossom into what he is today until his second Detroit season in 2004. Still us Boston folk always enjoy a good reason to pick on Rick Pitino and this is a crowning moment for that.

Kenny Anderson - 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002
Kenny Anderson had a remarkably un-remarkable career in Boston. It was almost like his bust of a career in general (don't forget how hyped he was coming out of college). Obviously, he was the inspiration for Group 3 on my list.

Kenny also had the distinction of being the handpicked point guard by Rick Pitino during the putrid Rick Pitino Era in Boston. This is nothing to be proud of. However, Kenny did manage to play a key part in the Celtics improbable run to the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals. His name was also perfect fodder for Tommy Heinson to yell at random moments during Celtics broadcasts and oddly enough, in 2003 when they traded him, people found themselves saying the unthinkable when they were stuck more or less without a point guard. This is of course, "I wish Kenny was still around."

The real lasting impression that Kenny Anderson left in Boston is the fact that they traded Chauncey Billups to acquire him and then traded him to acquire Vin Baker. Think about that for a second. When they brought him on they gave away a guy that would later become a top point guard in the NBA and when they got rid of him they did so to acquire an out of shape guy that could not play, had a drinking problem, and would kill their cap for years to come. Talk about both ends of the spectrum. And what does that say about Kenny Anderson? Is that good or bad? I really don't know.

Randy Brown - 2001
WTF! Mainly an injury replacement for Kenny Anderson, I put him here because nobody encapsulates the Rick Pitino Era quite like Randy Brown.

Heading into the summer of 2000 the Celtics had all this cash that they were going to throw at free agents. They'd been hyping this up all year and swore that in the summer they'd make a big splash. Of course nobody wanted to come to Boston and play for an awful team AND Rick Pitino so no free agents gave them the time of day. Except for a Bulls scrub named Randy Brown. So the C's signed him and spent the next months telling everybody how great he was going to be and of course he was not. Randy Brown ladies and gentleman, the prize free agent acquisition of the Rick Pitino Era.

Tony Delk/JR Bremer - 2003
WTF!! Imagine if Eddie House was the C's starting point guard this year. Exactly! That was what it was like watching Tony Delk run the show. Amazingly, this team actually won a playoff series against a far superior Indiana team thanks to a couple of landmark Paul Pierce games, a steady and excellent series from Antoine Walker, and most importantly some truly ghastly coaching on the part of the one and only Isaiah Thomas. That Pacers team had the most talent in the East that year (Jermaine O'Neal and Artest in their Primes, a still decent Reggie Miller, the underrated at the time Brad Miller, and a coming of age Al Harrington) and there was no way they should have lost.

BTW, when Isaiah was set to take over coaching duties for the Knicks and people were making the case that he was a decent coach by citing his record in the Indiana years, I always thought back to the 2002-2003 Pacers as Exhibit A as to why he was NOT a good coach. The team was relatively loaded and had the best record in the conference at the All Star Break. Then in the second half they fell to the third spot in the playoffs and lost to a Celtics team in the first round of the playoffs they had no business beating. Great coaching there.

Chucky Atkins/Mike James - 2004
WTF!! Although Mike James was part of that shady three way deal between the Hawks, Pistons, and Celtics, which pretty much gift-wrapped Rasheed Wallace to the Pistons and won them a title so I guess that should count for something. I don't remember the specifics, just that everybody said that the C's were a key player in handing the Pistons a player of Rasheed's ilk for basically nothing.

Gary Payton - 2005
Hello Group 2! Prior to 2005 it was tough to tell really how washed up GP was because he was coming off an awkward year in LA where the Lakers tried to mix two current superstars used to the team (Shaq & Kobe) with two old superstars new to the team (Karl Malone and GP) and it just didn't work out. Sure they made it to the NBA Finals but that was thanks in large part to the improbable Derek Fisher Game and the fact that the T-Wolves were sans Sam Cassell in the Western Conference Finals. Eventually they got rolled by the Pistons in the Finals in five games in a series in which the the Lakers were massive favorites.

Anyway, that really does not have much to do with GP's Celtics years, but I say all that because when he came on board in 2005 nobody really knew if he was just partially or completely washed up (went from averaging about 20 and 7 in '03 to 14.5 and 5.5 in '04) due to the fact that he was playing in the Triangle Offense on a star studded team where he didn't need to score much and his numbers could have reflected that more than a deteriorating skill set. Of course it turned out that he was pretty much washed up as he averaged 11 and 6 for the C's in 2005.

I don't want to pick on GP though because he was one of my favorite players from the mid-90s. What I do want to do is answer the burning question that everybody is dying to know the answer to. Which past their prime superstar whom the Celtics have brought in in the past 15 years for a one year cameo had the better season, GP or Dominique Wilkins? I give a slight nod to 'Nique, but I'll need to qualify it in a second.

Nique averaged 18 points, 5 boards, and 2 assists per game in 1994-95 while Payton averaged 11, 3, and 6. If you assign one point to every point and rebound a player has and two points per assist then 'Nique tallies 27 to GP's 26. That scoring system seems fair enough so I'm going to roll with it. Nique had the better year.

However, if you look at what they did in the season prior, 'Nique was coming off a year where he averaged 26 a night, while I have Payton's stats listed a few paragraphs above. When taking into account expectations, I'd say Payton was the "better" of the two because 'Nique was a scorer through and through and saw 8 points a night get sliced off his ledger. Meanwhile, Payton was brought in to get assists and be a third scoring option - and later a fourth when 'Toine came back to town - behind Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis and that is what he more or less did. Therefore, even though 'Nique may have been the better player, GP lived up to his expectations much more.

Delonte West - 2006, 2007
Obviously D. West is a Group 4 guy. West was a quintessential crowd favorite who one day will find a niche as a solid role player on a winning team. He really is not a point guard though and his greatest attributes - very strong rebounder for a little guy and shooting - do not lend themselves particularly well to that position. Regardless, the guy is tough, he competes, and he can play so there should be a place for him in the league for a while. If they could swing it, I'd love to see him find his way back to Boston sometime soon as he would be the absolute perfect guy to fill the Sam Cassell role moving forward. Everybody loves D too so there will always be room for him on the team and I'd love to see him back. A few years ago I even sat behind his extended family at a C's/Wiz game (he's from PG County, MD right outside of DC) and last summer I saw him at BWI Airport so I feel like we're tight too. Best of luck D, it is not your fault you were forced to play out of position for some awful teams. Hope you make it back here some day.

Whew! There you go. Obviously the bar is not set that high for Rajon and I am pretty certain he will eclipse all of the above. And BTW, that was about as much fun as I've had writing an article in some time. It's fun going down memory lane like that.

Oh yeah, and the Zip Boys were:
Reggie Lewis (RIP)
Kevin Gamble (a deadly jump-shooter!)
Brian Shaw
Dee Brown

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