Why the Boston Celtics Should Play Joel Anthony

Randolph CharlotinAnalyst IIJanuary 24, 2014

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 17: Newly acquired Joel Anthony #50 of the Boston Celtics warms up prior to the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden on January 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Following the Jerryd Bayless for Courtney Lee trade, many people called the deal a salary dump for the Boston Celtics, as Boston was no longer responsible for Lee’s remaining two years and $11.125 million, while Bayless’ rookie contract expires at the end of the season. Yet the following week Jordan Crawford was dealt and Bayless is playing regular minutes as a reserve.

So before declaring the Crawford and MarShon Brooks for Joel Anthony and draft picks swap just to clear playing time for other guards and asset accumulation, take a wider look. The Celtics can actually use Anthony.

Anthony isn’t Omer Asik (whom the Celtics still might be able to trade with Houston for). And Anthony doesn’t have the potential of likely lottery pick Joel Embiid of Kansas. But with head coach Brad Stevens rarely playing Vitor Faverani, Anthony can provide defensive help off the bench.

Anthony’s defense and rebounding easily fits with Boston’s approach. While undersized, Anthony has experience defending larger players, and doing so effectively. This would benefit any of the undersized frontcourt players Anthony will be paired with.

Maybe no one would benefit more than Kelly Olynyk. All season long he has struggled defensively going toe-to-toe with opposing centers. Playing with Anthony frees Olynyk to defend power forwards, many nowadays with facing the basket offensive games as opposed to physical post attacks.

Boston really lacks a paint protector. Anthony is a solid shot blocker (2.6 blocks per 36 minutes according to Basketball-Reference.com), but more importantly, he plays the kind of team defense that limits interior scoring.

What Anthony does for a team doesn’t show up in box scores, but he’s the kind of player that coaches love for his play. Think of it this way: When Jason Collins was briefly a Celtic, then-head coach Doc Rivers consistently played Collins, despite averaging just 1.2 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.2 blocks for the Celtics.

But it was Collins’ team defense and the great picks he set for teammates that Rivers considered valuable to the team. Anthony’s contributions for the Celtics would be similar, nearly invisible to the untrained eye.

For Miami, Anthony was appreciated because of how well he defended pick-and-rolls. Many point guards couldn’t turn the corner on him. And while he won’t block every shot, Anthony altered plenty.

ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh best described Anthony’s importance to Miami’s defense in an April 12, 2011 article that gave an inside peek at how the Heat measure defense:

“The Heat employ their own version of the box score, and it’s extraordinarily comprehensive. Years ago, Pat Riley devised the method, Stan van Gundy implemented it and Erik Spoelstra used to chart it. Brian Hecker, one of the team’s scouts, currently does the dirty work, grading every player on every possession based on 56 criteria. Yes, fifty-six.

It’s a system of pluses and minuses. If a defender successfully thwarts a pick-and-roll out in front, that’s a plus. If he contains a player in the post, that’s another plus. If the player fails to box out his man, that’s a minus. Those are three of the 56 categories. Big men can tally as many as six pluses on a single possession.

And wouldn’t you know it, Anthony is an absolute monster by this measure.”

With Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless sidelined and Rondo’s playing time strictly controlled, right now Boston misses Crawford and Brooks. But when the Celtics are fully healthy, Anthony is more valuable to Boston than Crawford and Brooks. With Crawford’s declining play, he would have lost most, if not all, of his minutes to Bayless and Phil Pressey. Brooks rarely played, so Boston won’t miss him.

Anthony won’t transform the Celtics. He’s not a long-term answer at center for Boston. But Anthony is signed for the rest of the season and has a player option for 2014-15. Boston can’t trade Anthony for the rest of this season.

The Celtics might use Anthony’s expiring contract as currency, keep him for depth or wait for his deal to expire and spend the salary cap savings on another player. But until they find an upgrade, Boston should make use of Anthony’s defensive skills.

Questions? Comments? Send to randolphc82@comcast.net.