Amidst the Celtics’ early season struggles, an unexpected bright spot is emerging from the end of the bench. Former Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa has made his presence felt despite a plethora of depth at the guard spot in Boston this season. While his numbers through eight games may not have you sold on his impact (7.1 points and 1.7 assists per game in 14.6 minutes a night), the Brazilian Blur is on the verge of carving out a more defined role on this Celtics team.
Barbosa was a little late to the party this year as the Celtics signed him for the veteran’s minimum on October 18. He wasn’t around in time for Rajon Rondo’s pre-training camp flag football fiesta, nor the team bonding trip to Istanbul. Instead, he had his own coming out party on opening night in Miami. He lit up the fourth quarter with 16 points in a desperate comeback attempt that eventually fell short. Since then, Doc Rivers has been toying around with his lineups and rotations, leaving Barbosa as almost an afterthought until the team’s road win in Chicago.
Logging his highest minute allocation since opening night in Miami, Barbosa played 15 minutes in the Celtics 101-95 road win over the Bulls. He went for six points, going 3-for-7 from the field (1-for-2 from beyond the arc), and chipped in three assists. Nothing to rave about. However, the majority of his 15 minutes came when Rajon Rondo was on the bench. His most impressive stint came at the start of the second quarter in which Rondo sat after playing the entire first quarter. Barbosa was aggressive with the ball, driving the lane, leaving his defender surprised he wasn’t settling for 25-footers. This style showed the potential of an increased role for Barbosa.
Rondo went down after rolling his ankle with five minutes to go in the third quarter of the Celtics 98-93 win against the Jazz two nights later and he didn’t return. On cue, Barbosa took over most of the ballhandling responsibilities and provided the team with an offensive push that helped them secure the win. He finished the game with 16 points, two boards and three assists in a season-high 23 minutes.
That sprained ankle kept Rondo from matching up with fellow All-Star Deron Williams last night in Brooklyn. Once again, Barbosa filled the void for the Rondo-less Celtics.
The much greater task of running the offense in its entirety (although Paul Pierce took over some of the ballhandling responsibilities playing point forward) proved to be a little bit too much for Barbosa. His unfamiliarity with the Celtics’ offensive sets resulted with the team relying heavily on pick-n-rolls and a strong transition game, which was almost nonexistent due to Brooklyn’s high offensive rebounding rate. Still, Barbosa did his best to rise to the occasion, chipping in 17 points, two assists and two rebounds in the loss.
Putting the wins and losses aside, what does Barbosa’s unexpected level of play mean for the Celtics? Will any of this matter come playoff time? Will any of this even matter when the injured Avery Bradley returns? Where does he fit with a healthy guard rotation?
What Barbosa offers the Celtics is instant offense. He doesn’t really look to get other guys involved, which is why he isn’t cut out to play 30 minutes at point guard every night. That doesn’t mean he won’t be able to relieve Rajon Rondo when needed – this could actually be an effective system for the Celtics. The way Rondo controls the game cannot be duplicated, and Barbosa won’t try to do so. Instead, when he creates controlled chaos when he comes onto the court. He’s an unpredictable scorer, meaning defenders can’t be too sure if he will blow by them and get to the rim, or work off screens and pull up for threes and 20-footers. He’s not afraid to look for his offense, which is important on such a non-selfish team (even to a fault sometimes) like the Celtics.
When Avery Bradley returns, Jason Terry will eventually return to his more comfortable sixth man role and Courtney Lee will gobble up whatever guard minutes are left. Until then, Barbosa will continue to see significant minutes backing up Rondo at the point. Terry is a better ballhandling, playmaking, big shot-making player than Barbosa, and Courtney Lee is a much better two-way player than Barbosa.
Nonetheless, while the Celtics get acclimated with one another and recover from injuries, Barbosa will be expected to contribute what he can. As for when the playoffs roll around, he proved in the past he won’t be phased in big game situations, and will probably end up coming in and providing an offensive spark that contributes to a victory.
His time in Boston has already been more than he bargained for. After signing with no guarantee of playing time, his role went from bench warmer to picking up scrap minutes to playing meaningful minutes to starting a game. Given the circumstances, he’s performing admirably, and should continue to do so. There are variables that’ll have an effect on his role in Boston, but having a player of his caliber waiting patiently for his moment is a luxury. When Doc calls his number, you can be sure he’ll be up for whatever task lies before him.
Will Barbosa play a significant role for Boston this year?
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