Age is just a number.
That’s usually what old people say when they don’t want to believe that they’re, well, old.
But what about people, or in this case basketball players, who are wise beyond their young years?
Pretty much everybody would agree that the Celtics are a “veteran team”. But taking a look at the last five games — the best five-game stretch of the season by far – there are two players that stand out above the rest: Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley.
Those two players also happen to be the team’s two youngest players at ages 20 and 22, respectively, both drafted by the Celtics over the last three seasons.
Over the team’s last five games, including their 103-91 win over the Rockets Friday night, Sullinger is averaging a double-double — 10.2 points and 10.2 rebounds. Over that same span, Bradley has seemingly sparked a team with his on-ball pressure and defense-first mentality, as Boston has held opponents to 84.4 points per game.
But it’s not just what these two players bring on the court that benefits the Celtics, it’s how they are off the court as well. Over the past few seasons, the Celtics have brought in players that have on thing in common: high character.
Talent aside, the C’s last three draft classes have been filled with players that seem to “get” what being a young guy is all about. Bradley, Luke Harangody, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Sullinger, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph — all draft picks, all good young guys with the right attitudes.
The same can be said of their recent trades and free agent signings — Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, etc. – the list goes on.
Bringing on these high-character players has allowed the C’s to find success balancing being a veteran team while also making a transition to a younger one.
“That’s huge. We tried that other way for a little while as you know and that doesn’t work,” Doc Rivers told Metro Boston after Friday’s win. “When you try the ‘potential guy but maybe not high character and the gamble but he has a big upside’, usually those guys don’t work out. The guys with character and potential usually work out because they’re willing to listen and improve. They understand their limitations, they understand their roles, and they fit in. Especially with a veteran team, that makes it a lot easier.”
So much has been said about Sullinger’s basketball IQ and how he’s a rookie, but plays like a veteran. Now, though, we’re starting to see it.
“Not only do they come in with good character and attitude, but they have high basketball IQ,” Jason Terry told Metro Boston. “It’s very key to a veteran team so you’re not wasting time repeating things in practice, having to go over something countless times, and wasting your time. And I think Jared Sullinger is a prime example. He came in from Day 1, he has a high basketball IQ, and he just gets the job done.”
And hey, when he’s off, he’s off — he’ll sit on the bench and understand why, and hope to do better the next time in. There’s no pouting, there’s no forcing things out on the court. The Veterans like Terry, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett certainly appreciate that
“It’s definitely nice, it’s definitely nice,” Terry said. “And what it does, again, it makes your team that much better because at some point in the season you’re going to count on your rookies, and it just happens to be that we count on Sully every night. He’s a big part of what we do offensively and defensively.”
But don’t put all your eggs in Sullinger’s (large) basket yet. While it’s nice for the vets to have young guys like him and Bradley to lean on in big situations, Garnett is quick to point out that it’s the young guys who benefit from the vets.
“It’s important for young guys like Jared Sullinger and guys like that to come in and play with a veteran team,” Garnett said rather bluntly. “You got it backwards.”
Backwards or not, one thing is clear: with help from the younger guys, the Celtics are finally moving forward.
Communication is key for Rivers
Doc Rivers is never at a loss for words. As a player he certainly talked plenty on the court, as a commentator for NBA games he was, well, paid to talk, and as a head coach his communication with his coaches, players, and media is tops in the NBA.
He’s about as charismatic as they come from a public figure standpoint.
And being a former professional athlete and now coach, Rivers has seen (and most likely done) it all. He’s got stories to tell, but more importantly lessons to teach. Those lessons are undoubtedly taught to the younger players on his team — but they don’t just stop there.
The Boston Red Sox held their Rookie Program recently, a program designed to introduce the Sox’ top prospects to what life as a professional athlete is all about and what they city of Boston offers. Among other things, the young players listened to speakers, one of which was Rivers himself.
“Well the first thing I told them was that I didn’t talk to them last year, so I wasn’t responsible for any of that,” Rivers said as the room erupted in laughter. “We just talk. [They] used to have me come in, and last year I didn’t do it (the Red Sox didn’t hold a Rookie Program), but they brought me back this year, and it’s all their prospects and new guys. We just talk about being a rookie and young guys in sports and what to expect from a player’s perspective when I played 100 years ago, and coaching, and just the city of Boston. So it’s good for them.”