Shelden Williams turning heads with his solid play

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When he signed, people scratched their heads. The Celtics had already penned Rasheed Wallace to a deal and would soon resign Glen "Big Baby" Davis. What did they need Shelden Williams for?

To most NBA fans, Williams had already been labeled a bust. He had been the fifth pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, but had never lived up to his college reputation during brief stints in Atlanta and Sacramento. He was still a very good rebounder, but Williams couldn't find enough time on the court to produce anywhere near the rate a fifth pick is supposed to. Even playing for bad teams, Williams toiled on the bench.

Once upon a time, he had been a star for one of college basketball's darling programs, on national television every night and producing every game. He was the "Landlord", aptly named for owning the paint, and had won two Defensive Player of the Year awards during his time with the Duke Blue Devils. Four years after Shelden began his college basketball career, he ended it with 1,859 points and 1,217 rebounds.

Then he was drafted into the NBA, and all of a sudden everything changed. The bright lights of national television were traded for dull regional coverage, and Shelden's personal stardom was traded for a whole bunch of time on the bench. And his nickname? They might as well have changed it to "The Benchlord".

While everybody else was scratching their heads over the Williams signing, I didn't know what to think. With 'Sheed in the fold and Big Baby soon to be, I didn't see how the Celtics needed him. I didn't know how Williams fit into the Celtics' plans, and I certainly didn't expect him to see much playing time. After all, he couldn't find the court in Atlanta or Sacramento -- why would things be any different in Boston?

At the same time, I remembered Shelden from college. You see, I'm a Duke fan. And not just your run-of-the-mill Duke fan who might watch the Blue Devils when they're on T.V. I'm the type of Duke fan who watches Syracuse football this year just to see Greg Paulus play quarterback. You could say I'm a little bit obsessed.

So I remembered Shelden at his best. I remembered his game-changing blocks and tough rebounds. I remembered the way he was never afraid to throw his body around and, above all, his consistency. Shelden was always a guy you could count on to deliver, somewhere around 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks every single game.

When Shelden was a senior, he played his last college game against Glen Davis and the L.S.U. Tigers. I was in prep school at the time, and the game coincided with our dreaded study hall. During study hall, which happened every night of the week, we were locked in our rooms for two hours. We weren't allowed to watch T.V., we weren't allowed to play video games, we weren't allowed to leave our rooms, and there were no exceptions. But my Duke Blue Devils were playing in the NCAA tournament, so I had to figure out a way to make sure "no exceptions" didn't apply to me.

I snuck out of my room and into my dorm head's apartment. He was gone for the night, so I knew I'd be safe in his room. I might have been breaking and entering, but what did I care? There was a chance it was Shelden and J.J.'s final collegiate game.

As it turned out, it was, but not because of Shelden. While J.J. was compiling only 11 points on putrid 3-18 shooting, Williams was busy getting the best of a talented frontcourt consisting of Big Baby and Tyrus Thomas. Duke lost 62-54, but I wouldn't soon forget Williams' gigantic effort. When his team needed him the most, Shelden outplayed two highly-touted players and was the most dominant player on the court. It wasn't enough for the win, but it was enough for me to understand Shelden's importance in everything Duke did... as if I hadn't already.

Still, I didn't expect much when Shelden signed with Boston. I didn't expect his career to suddenly turn around just because he was wearing a new jersey. He was a bust, and that was that. I still loved him from his college days, but I never expected Williams to be of much help to my Celtics.

Then, a day before the season, Glen Davis went down with an injury, and Williams was pressed into service. I was still skeptical. If Williams couldn't perform for the Kings and Hawks, I didn't think he would for the Celtics either. He played 13 minutes the first game, and his stats were underwhelming; 4 points and 3 rebounds are nothing to write home about. But sometimes stats don't tell the whole story. Williams threw his body around that day, and did all the dirty work. He wasn't spectacular, but he was solid. And that's all the Celtics needed from him.

The next night, it was more of the same. This time, Williams ended up with better stats, but the way he played was the same. He was just solid. Nothing flashy, nothing spectacular, but as solid as it gets.

Now, five games into the season, we know what to expect from Shelden Williams. There will be some nights when his stats are better than others, but he'll provide the same effort every night. Just like he did in college, Shelden is playing with consistency, passion, and confidence. He bangs down low, gets to the line, and pulls in plenty of rebounds. Shelden won't ever be a star, but he sure has been dependable, hasn't he?

Williams may never live up to his billing coming out of college, as the fifth overall draft pick, and he may never reach the expectations certain people had for him after his storied Duke career. He might even be right back on the bench once Davis comes back.

But don't make the same mistake I made.

Don't doubt that Shelden Williams can still play.

Rajon Rondo contract extension sets Celtics up nicely for the future

Monday, November 2, 2009

I woke up this morning to 13 text messages. Now, I'm not a very popular guy, so 13 text messages is more or less a career high. Upon receiving the messages, my first thought was, "I hope everyone in my family's alright." My second thought was, "Uh-oh, I hope my girlfriend's not mad at me." My third thought was, "Damn, 13 text messages? I'm really blowing up."

Well, my family's alright, my girlfriend isn't mad at me, and I STILL don't have many friends. So what happened? The Rajon Rondo contract extension finally got done. Five years, $55 million for Rondo, and 13 text messages about the deal for me.

Out of everyone I know, I was probably the biggest advocate for the C's resigning Rondo. I'll just restate the facts, for those of you who haven't read any of my ramblings about Rondo before. Rondo is 23 years old. He's gotten immensely better each year, and has continued that trend into this season. He's as confident as players come, has already PG'ed a championship team, and seems to always rise to the occasion in big games. While there was some talk about Rondo being a pain in Doc Rivers' ass, there can be no denying that Rondo plays with unselfishness and poise rarely seen in the NBA... especially for a player so young.

As good as Rondo is now, he has the potential to be even better. Imagine him with a consistent jumper. If Rondo could consistently put it in the bucket from outside, nobody in the world would be able to guard him. He has the speed and handles to go by anybody, the vision to find open teammates, and the awareness to maintain a low turnover rate. With a jumper added to the mix? He could be scary, scary good. Already, his jumper looks way better. He finally has good form, and results might soon be on the way.

Another reason to wrap Rondo up: If they didn't, he would have been a restricted free agent. I know the market for restricted free agents this summer was mostly dry, but next summer, with teams prepping for the vaunted summer of '10, there will be a lot more money to go around. And if Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decide to stay with their own teams, that money will go to the next tier of free agents. In the NBA, teams with cap space rarely keep it for the following year. They spend it on the remaining free agents, whether they're worth the cap space or not. (See: Detroit Pistons and Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva.) If Rondo hadn't gotten his contract extension, then had had a good season this year (and he looks well on his way to his best season), he might have commanded a lot more on the free agent market than the Celtics got him for today. The Celtics would have been able to match any offer, but the offers might have been higher than they went today.

So rejoice, Celtics fans. The future doesn't look as bleak. Even after the Big Three are gone, a potential superstar will be in Green for the next five years, and the Celtics got him for the very reasonable price of $11 million a year.

And me? I'm not as popular as I thought I might have been when I received 13 text messages this morning. But I'd much rather have Rondo for five years than have a few more friends.

After all, friends don't help win championships.

Running Diary: Celtics don't bring 'A' game, still dispatch Hornets

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This was supposed to be Rajon Rondo's measuring stick against Chris Paul. It was supposed to be the night he proved his worth among the NBA's top five point guards. People thought Rondo would be gunning to attack Paul's throne, looking to establish himself firmly among the elite NBA point guards.

Instead, Rondo was willing to do just what he's done the rest of the season. He facilitated the offense and found his teammates in spots where they could do damage. He didn't take many shots (only 7 FGA), but he accumulated 10 assists and played completely selfless basketball yet again.

On the night Rondo was supposed to be the story, the Big Three reminded everyone why they are still the Big Three. Paul Pierce was more or less unstoppable, scoring 27 points on 10-14 shooting and making sure the world knew Julian Wright and Peja Stojakovic will never, ever be able to stop him from scoring. Ray Allen had a great third quarter, keeping the Celtics in the lead while they struggled to bring any energy on a night where they came out lethargic and stayed that way for the rest of the night. And Kevin Garnett was Kevin Garnett; his stats (14 points and 7 rebounds) might not look great, but he did everything the Celtics needed him to do and was a big facilitator of the offense as the Celtics held off Charlotte's fourth-quarter charge.

The Celtics didn't play their best, but they'll come away with a win. To be honest, they should be happy there won't be videotape of this one in the standings. Boston was lethargic, lackadaisical, and -- searching for another L-word (just for the alliteration) -- lame. They allowed Peja Stojakovic to return to the form he displayed back when White Chocolate was his point guard and Chris Webber his post man. Chris Paul didn't do much in the first half, but ran a little wild in the second half and finished with 22 points and 8 assists, to go along with 9-13 shooting. The Hornets' bench, which had been outscored 91-43 combined in the first two games, outscored the C's bench 40-21.

All-in-all, it was a win. Rondo didn't beat Paul statistically, but he kept his basketball intelligence and never tried to get into a one-on-one battle with the Hornets' point guard.

Paul outscored Rondo, 22-6. But I think Rondo will take one stat in which Paul had nothing.

And that's the W.

For those of you who need more analysis and maybe a few laughs, here's a running diary of my thoughts during the game.

First Quarter

  • Flipped on the channel just in time to see the NBATV Keys to the game, which say that Boston must: "Control the head of the snake". I guess that one needs an explanation.

  • Steve Smith says Eddie House should be looked at as a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. I love House as much as anyone, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, Steve. That's like calling Leandro Barbosa a threat to win MVP.

  • Rondo blows right by CP3 for a bucket to make it 4-2, Celtics. I hope Rondo comes to play, I expect him to come to play, and I believe he'll come to play.

  • It's really early on, but the atmosphere seems incredibly dead at the Garden. The C's have not come out with the same intensity we've seen from them in the first three games, and the crowd seems to be mirroring the team's energy.

  • Six minutes in, five rebounds for Emeka Okafor. He's only on pace for 40 rebounds.

  • I love when Kevin Garnett blocks shots that come after the whistle. He just sprinted from the foul line to swat one. He does it for no other reason but to aggravate and intimidate the other team.

  • I also love when Garnett sprints the floor and catches a pretty assist from Rondo for an easy dunk. 11-10, bad guys.

  • The ticker on the bottom of the NBATV screen is now broken. It just told me that Al Harrington had 42 points in the Chicago-Miami game. Which, by the way, had a score of 21-18 at the time.

  • Paul Pierce has two and-ones and 10 points so far, with 3 minutes left in the quarter. With Julian Wright and Mo Peterson guarding him (and even Posey off the bench -- too slow), Pierce should be able to get more or less whatever he wants tonight. Look for him to have a big, big game.

  • Perk just looked like Kevin McHale in the post. And no, I'm not trying to say that he's white and gangly. He actually just had a terrific up-and-under post move that looked like McHale in his prime.

  • The "Sixth Man of the Year" candidate Eddie House just canned a two with his foot on the line. If Eddie House is voted Six Man of the Year I'll shave Rasheed's bald spot into the back of my head.

  • Eddie had a great hustle play, though. He and Posey both chased after a ball all the way into the backcourt, but Eddie beat him to it and positioned his body in a perfect spot to draw the Posey foul. It reminded me of the huge hustle play Eddie made in the Cleveland series during the title run. And yes, I am definitely living way too much in the past.

  • A sloppy and somewhat dull first quarter ends, 22-20 Celtics. The Celtics might pull away early in the second quarter; as long as the two benches are in, the C's have a distinct advantage.

    Second Quarter

  • Bobby Brown just made a three, and I swear I just heard "Kwame Brown for three" coming from the loudspeakers. It obviously wasn't really what I heard, but for a second I was very, very confused.

  • The Celtics are trying to abuse Chris Paul in the post. He's guarding Ray right now, as the Hornets are playing with a mini-backcourt of Bobby Brown and Paul. Ray, not especially known for his post game, scored an easy one the first possession and missed an easy turnaround the next time down. Look for the C's to go right down low as soon as the Hornets come with the small lineup.

  • The Hornets moved Peja onto Ray and Brown to the bench. Tommy Heinsohn, about Peja guarding Ray Allen: "Well, Peja's just going to run into screens and stay there." And later, "He'd be late for breakfast, lunch and dinner." Whatever the second quote means is beyond me. I think it's supposed to mean he's slow, but it could mean anything at all. After all, this is Tommy Heinsohn we're listening to.

  • Does Marquis Daniels ever show emotion? Does he even know how to smile or frown? I don't think I've ever seen him without a game face on.

  • Things getting a little chippy between Rondo and Paul. Just like we thought it might before the game, Rondo and Paul have begun to get into a little bit of a personal battle. Neither of them have done too much in the game, but a little bit of a shoving match that drew a double technical foul might light a fire under them both. I love Rondo for not backing down. He never backs down from anybody, no matter how big or how talented they are. You get the feeling he really feels he's the absolute best player in the NBA. Let's just hope he doesn't want to be paid like it.

  • Pierce stays on the bench for a long time, then comes right back and drills a three. He has 13 so far, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he ends up with 30. Pierce and Ray Allen have such big mismatches, every time down the floor. They must feel so great to be able to look at the man guarding them and see Wright or Peterson. As I'm typing this, Pierce hits another three, and now has 16. I feel great for saying Wright couldn't guard Pierce. But it's tough to take credit for that prediction; after all, my dog Montana knew Wright couldn't possibly stop Pierce from scoring.

  • Rondo throws an alley-oop pass to Kevin Garnett, who catches it, crams it through the hoop and then tells Rondo, "Nice f---ing pass." You could see it on the screen. Is anyone surprised Garnett swore? Not me. I'd be more surprised to hear that C.C Sabathia doesn't have a good diet than I am to hear Kevin Garnett swear.

  • I keep waiting for Chris Paul to do something. I thought he'd have a huge game after Rondo mouthed off a little bit. But he has yet to do anything. Please do not wake the sleeping 6'1" giant.

  • Pierce with the jab step to the left, drive to the right, and easy dunk after the baseline drive. Did I mention Julian Wright can't guard him?

  • A pullup Pierce jumper (on -- who else? -- Julian Wright) gives him 20 points and ends the first-half scoring and puts the Celtics ahead 47-38. The C's have yet to play their best basketball, or even close, but still have a nice little cushion. Look for them to open up the third quarter with a bit of a run to pull this game away. Also look for Chris Paul to improve upon a first half where you barely knew he was on the court. Rondo has a game-high 6 assists, Okafor has a game-high 7 assists, and Wright has a game-high for times leaked on by an opposing player.

    Third Quarter

  • NBATV switched the key from "Control the head of the snake" to "Control Chris Paul." Apparently, Chris Paul is the head of the snake. Whatever he is, the C's controlled him, holding him to only 5 points and 3 assists. Still, there's always the possibility he may completely take over this game.

  • On cue, Paul starts the second half with a jumper. Uh-oh.

  • Forget what I said about the C's coming out fired up in the third quarter. They came out with the same lack of effort they showed in the first. Just completely lackadaisical. Still, Boston is winning. I'm not sure whether that says more about Boston's talent or New Orleans' shortcomings.

  • Did anyone else love Perk giving up the ball on the fast break to Rondo, just so Rondo could pass it back to him and get an assist? 'Cause I did. Some might call it stat-stacking. I call it terrific.

  • Uh-oh. Paul starting to kill the C's. But it's good the C's haven't let him do much distributing. Even now, when he's starting to appear a little lively, almost everything he's gotten has been for himself. To me, he's far more dangerous making things happening for all his teammates.

  • The Hornets went small again, and immediately Ray went straight to the post and got another easy bucket. Ray's had a big third quarter. Unfortunately, the Celtics haven't. Another prediction for me that just didn't turn out well.

  • The Celtics lack of effort is finally catching up to them. The Hornets aren't playing well, either, but Chris Paul is quickly catching fire. He has risen from his slumber. And that is far from good for the Celtics. 72-69 Celtics at the end of the third.

    Fourth Quarter

  • Interesting matchup between James Posey and Marquis Daniels, Posey's replacement. Daniels is a more talented player, but Posey is such a great glue guy.

  • Peja's getting hot. Reminding me of the Kings days when he was as good a shooter and scorer as just about anybody in the league. Hopefully they'll leave him in for crunch time. Peja on the Kings never failed to miss clutch shots.

  • Bobby Brown is a gunner. I kept thinking he would stop shooting, but he just never has. It seems he fires up a jumper every time he catches the rock. And, thankfully, he is now 3-12 from the field.

  • Eddie House with a great pass to Shelden Williams to extend the C's lead to 80-74. Last season's bench was lucky to keep games close, or even to lose by a little. With this year's bench, you are surprised when they don't extend a lead.

  • Can the Celtics put a motherf---ing hand up on Peja? He can't put the ball on the floor. Not even a little. Somehow, he's been open every single play, and is straight up murdering the C's. Put a hand up and get in his mug. For the love of Red Auerbach.

  • Three minutes left. 88-83, Celtics. If Peja is scoring a lot, that means Peja must be defending somebody, right? Can we just go straight to the person who's defending him, call a clear out, and get an easy bucket every time?

  • Pierce scores a bucket on Peja with the stepback in the lane. Thanks, Doc. You only went to that about a quarter too late. I guess it's better late than never.

  • A great play by Garnett, driving the middle and dumping off a little pass to a cutting Rondo, who finished with a 5-foot floater.

  • Pierce puts in a three from the top of the key to go ahead by 9. Peja may have scored a lot, but he was no match for Pierce defensively. Then again, neither was anyone else. Pierce ended up with 27 points on 10-14 shooting. Celtics win, 97-87, but never brought their 'A' game tonight. 'A' game or not, they're 4-0. The world is good.

  • After the game, it looked like Rondo and Paul shared words. I have no idea what was said, and no idea what happened between the two, but it's something to think about.