As the Boston Celtics attempt to navigate a thus far rocky two-week stretch without All-Star center Kevin Garnett, one of the rallying cries has been how it affords the new faces on the roster the opportunity to show what they can do. With that in mind, Celtics coach Doc Rivers has to give increased consideration to one particular option.
With Boston thin on bigs and even thinner on bigs willing and able to consistently rebound, it's high time that Rivers trots out 6-foot-10 Shavlik Randolph for extended minutes to see what he can do. Bite-size appetizers have intrigued the palate since Garnett was shelved due to left ankle inflammation; now it's time for the full meal.
Scoff if you want; we're not suggesting Randolph is any sort of savior for Boston's recent woes (the Celtics needed a feverish rally and Jeff Green's buzzer-beater to snap a five-game losing streak in Cleveland on Wednesday). But glimpses suggest that Randolph's skill set can help this team and there won't be a better time to throw him into the fire.
After all, what is there to lose? The Celtics were in experimentation mode Wednesday night when they moved Chris Wilcox into the starting lineup to add size. That move came one week after Wilcox, nearly traded away at the deadline, was shuffled from his gig as first big off the bench as the Celtics elected to go small with Green first off the pine. Injuries to Garnett and Courtney Lee have thrown the entire rotation off kilter.
Here's Boston's glaring problem (or at least one of them): Garnett is the team's only consistent rebounder since rookie Jared Sullinger was lost for the season. The Celtics' remaining rotation-caliber bigs -- Green, Wilcox and Brandon Bass -- are all below-average on the glass despite their above-average size and athleticism.
Enter Randolph. In six appearances, he's grabbed 3.8 rebounds per game -- and that's in a mere 9.8 minutes per contest (he hasn't played more than nine minutes in any of his past three outings). Randolph has posted obscene rebound rates, particularly over those three games without Garnett, grabbing 34.8 percent of all available defensive rebounds and 27 percent of total rebound opportunities in that span.
Sure, it's a small sample size, but consider this: In the same three-game stretch, the next-best numbers on the team are from swingman Paul Pierce (20.8 percent on defensive glass; 12.6 overall). Wilcox (17.1 defensive, 11.4 overall), Green (17.6, 10.4) and Bass (15.8, 10.8) aren't even close to Randolph's levels.
Even Rivers noted earlier this week: "When Shav comes in, I don't know how he gets it, but the ball ends up in his hands under the basket on rebounds. You like guys like that."
The numbers are hard to ignore, even when the rebounds don't land in Randolph's hands. Over the past three games, Boston's total rebound percentage is better when Randolph is on the floor (51.4 percent) versus when he's on the bench (45.7). Just his fundamental ability to box out -- something his teammates tend to struggle with -- is keeping opponents from pulverizing the Celtics with second-chance points off offensive rebounds (you saw that Knicks game on Tuesday, right?).
What's more, Boston's defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) with Randolph on the floor the past three games is 82.4, nearly 26 points better than when he's not (108.3).
Fluky? Absolutely, given the sample size. But dig deeper into Randolph's individual defensive numbers: He's been excellent. According to Synergy Sports data, Randolph has allowed a measly 0.48 points per play (12 points in 25 plays defended). Opponents are shooting 21.1 percent against him (4-for-19 overall) and have scored on just 28 percent of total possessions.
Seeing a pattern? The Celtics have simply performed better when Randolph is on the court. Over the past three games, Boston is plus-7 when Randolph is on the floor; minus-25 when he's on the bench.
Unprompted, Rivers noted after Wednesday's win: "I thought Shav, by the way, was terrific again. He was wonderful for us."
Wonderful enough to get a real test drive?
Is Randolph going to be a rotation player in the postseason? Probably not. But why not give him the opportunity to show what he's got now when you're just trying to muddle through anyhow?
He's clearly limited offensively and he has been alarmingly bad at the charity stripe (missing his first eight attempts from the free throw line before his first make Wednesday in Cleveland).
But he's got talents that can help the Celtics: defending and rebounding. And with rotations set to crunch in the postseason, all you're hoping to find is someone who can get on the floor alongside a healthy Garnett and not be a liability.
Should Rivers start Randolph? That might not be the worst idea against a team with pure size (New York on Sunday?). Clearly the Celtics have to do something in the rematch to prevent the assault on the offensive glass that occurred Tuesday night at TD Garden.
What's the worst that can happen? We find out what we think we already know, that Randolph can't sustain his level of play over long stretches, hence why he started the season over in China trying to earn another NBA opportunity.
But there's always that chance that you find out the opposite. That maybe there's something in this 29-year-old kid that just hasn't emerged in sporadic NBA opportunities. From a team that maximized the talent of the likes of Greg Stiemsma and Semih Erden, why can't Randolph find a role? Maybe all he needs is the opportunity.
Free Shavlik. Let's see what he's got.
Statistical support for this story was provided by NBA.com.