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Costume change for KG: the evolving role of our superstar binkie.

September 12, 2009

October 27, 2009. Kevin Garnett makes his return to the Celts in Cleveland against Lebron, Shaq-Daisy, and the rest of the Cavs.
KG returns with a new right knee, and hopefully a new role.

There was a time when KG averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks, 5 assists, 1.5 steals, shot 50% from the field, and played 40 minutes per game. Let me repeat: PER GAME. This also happened to be his MVP season: his only MVP season in his illustrious career that could have easily included more. Let us remember that KG has been an All-Star 12 times– only missing his rookie year in 1996 and also 1999. But the real big hits on his resume would include 2004 MVP, 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, 2008 World Champion.

Alongside Kobe and Duncan, KG is a man that has easily been one of the top 3 most dominant players in the league for the last decade and a half. KG, in his prime, was arguably the best player in the league for years.

This is not the same player we have returning in Celtic green this year.
And that is fine.

If we truly believed we’d be getting back an MPV-caliber player, we’d be fooling ourselves and taking a dip in the pool of naivete in the process. But what we are getting back this season is a player that no other player wants to guard or be guarded by. I’m sure if you polled every single PF in the league and asked them to name 5 guys they hate to defend, KG would make that list 90% of the time. If you asked every single PF in the league to name the 5 guys they hate having defend them, KG would make that list 90% of the time. While we aren’t getting the 24-14-2-5-1.5 guy from 2004, we are still getting a  great guard-dog.

KG is our binkie. He’s our freakin’ safety blanket. There are some players where you NEED on the court because it makes everything seem ok. When KG is suited up, you feel great. When KG is on the floor, you feel invincible. KG has an ability to make you feel safe even when shit is going wrong left and right. This has not changed even though he is about to crack the 40,000 minute barrier (3rd highest among active players) as a big man– in fact, it only provides additional evidence that in fact KG is a freak of nature, a cyborg, a robot, an alien, or something out of a Pixar movie: his longevity has only recently been tested for a man that has made a living near and above the rim.

KG’s role on the Celtics will change this year because it has to change. Obviously he’s still an incredibly talented, skilled, and powerful player. But we have to expect changes. In fact, I would argue that the way this team adjusts to these changes will determine how far the Celts can go this season.

KG still demands attention– KG’s still a part of every opposing team’s game plan. His old legs won’t let him play 34 minutes, or be the #2 option on offense, or fight to rip down 10 rebounds. Doing those things won’t make him a team MVP. Instead, it’ll be the non-statistical parts to his game that will make him most valuable. KG will have to realize playing 28 minutes is okay because he has a bench support. KG will have to become the 3rd option behind Ray and Pierce… even the 4th if Rondo’s hitting shots… even the 5th option if Sheed were in the lineup and knocking down shots. KG’s smart enough to know that if he’s out to pad his “career twilight stats”, the Celtics will not make it far in the road to #18. But if KG’s role shifts to the intangibles, the Celtics will undoubtedly see the Cavs in the ECF. KG hopefully doesn’t want high numbers, but instead another ring.

Here’s where KG’s attention should be in 2009-2010 in order to help the team BUT also to keep his legs healthy:
Return as the quarterback of the defense– he’s the guy that needs to lead the team into war on this end of the court. His anticipation and vision are second to none, and his vocal cords should be patented by Bose.
Return as the defensive anchor of this team– his energy on the floor would be better spent NEVER MISSING defensive rotations and chasing down 2s/3s that think they can avoid KG in their face, even if it sacrifices his energy on offense.
Box out– as long as he boxes out 1 of the opposing team’s big man, then that should clear the path for Perk and/or Rondo to pull down the boards. Not having to jump while in the process of boxing out should save his legs.
Rolling out, not in– KG has set the standard in the past for how to roll off a screen, but perhaps this season instead of rolling towards the hoop, roll out to the elbow. Again… save those legs! Facing up for shots will be easier on the body/legs than backin in.
Speaking of which: more jumpers– KG is a creature of habit. I would love to see him take even more shots at practice from the elbows and the baseline so that he can boost his shooting % and become even a bigger threat from the outside. I’m not saying drop his post game, but less posting up will save his legs.
The hockey assist– if the NBA kept track of hockey assists (the pass leading to the actual assist), I’m convinced that KG would be in the top 7 in this category every year. Again: anticipation and vision allow KG to play almost a point-power-forward. His ability to move the ball makes it even more difficult for defenses to guard him.
Reduced minutes– this is going to be the most difficult task for our Senior Statesman. But, with bodies like Sheed and Big Baby off the bench, why push KG to more minutes than we ABSOLUTELY have to? This needs to be a season of playing KG in the least amount of time possible in each game that allows for a W. Our front-court bench has Sheed and Baby… 2 guys that could be starters. Let them get their minutes, and let KG get his rest.

My college track coach had many brilliant coaching adages, but one of them I heard so frequently was, “You can’t help the team if you’re hurt”. Being smart about your training and performance was so important. But equally as important was someone there telling you when too much was in fact too much. In this case, Doc and Danny have to be monitoring KG all season to ensure that his insatiable need to contribute isn’t doing more damage to that $20 million dollar knee.

Less is more.
Our binkie returns for real in 2 months.

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