By Brian Jones
Twitter – @JonesyNBA
*This article was written before the season on October 4, 2016.*
The Boston Celtics start their season on October 26th and look to improve on what was an entertaining up and down year in 2015-2016. The C’s finished with 48 wins and a disappointing first round exit against the Atlanta Hawks. However, it is important to realize that this team is still very young and ahead of schedule in the rebuilding process so Celtics fans have good reason to be optimistic about the future.
Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens appear to be one of the top GM-Head Coach tandems in the NBA. The team has consistently improved since Stevens has been there thanks in large part to the culture of grit and hard work that has been established in Bean-Town. Players around the league have noticed and Boston is now a premier free agent destination. The Celtics made some big moves in the offseason while keeping their young core in tact. With the addition of new players and the development of their young guys, this team may have what it takes to get past the first round for the first time since moving on from the Big 3. Let’s evaluate some of the moves Ainge made this offseason.
Al Horford – The Celtics may have lost in the bidding war for Kevin Durant but signing Al Horford is a great consolation prize. He is one of the most well rounded big men in the league and he has always put the team first. His range continues to improve but he can still score down low and throw it down every now and then (see his dunk on Kevin Love in the playoffs). He may not be a great rim protector but he has the defensive versatility to guard most big men and to help out on smaller guys when needed. His low ego, great work ethic, and veteran leadership will be just as valuable to this young team as his skills on the court will be. His stats don’t tell the story of how good he is and after years of watching our soft big men get bullied by him, it’s great to have him on our side.
Jaylen Brown – When Brown was announced as the third pick of the draft many Celtics fans were not happy. Most fans wanted to trade the pick but Ainge stated that the offers for it were just not good enough. The lazy scouting report on Brown that kept coming out was “raw athletic freak with no basketball skills”. He may be raw but he has some skills and an amazing work ethic. He spent time in the offseason working out with Jimmy Butler. Butler is one of the hardest workers in the league as shown by his consistent improvement every year so it’s great to see him take Brown under his wing. Brown has said and done all the right things so far but the only way for him to silence the critics is by playing well in games. While he clearly won’t reach his full potential this year, I think fans should expect to see a guy that is willing to do whatever it takes for this team.
Gerald Green – Green was an under the radar signing with very little risk coming off a down year. He was a fan favorite in Boston during his first stint with the Celtics because of his explosive dunks. He can still throw it down with the best of them but his shooting is what this team needs the most. In 2014, Green averaged 16 ppg while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. If he can come close to shooting like that this year he will be huge for this team.
Other additions – The Celtics made some other moves this offseason that are less notable but could end up helping the team in the long run. Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil were second round picks that could get an opportunity this year but will probably spend most of their time in the D League.
*Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic were also drafted but will spend the year overseas.
Evan Turner – Turner was picked up on a great value contract after coming off a bad year with the Indiana Pacers. Signing him was not a popular move but he ended up being a great teammate and a good all around player in Boston. He could pass, drive, and rebound very well for his position and he made some big defensive plays. The Celtics will need a new ball handler off the bench and that means it is time for one of the young guys to step up. The first person that comes to mind is Terry Rozier. He has shown flashes of being able to drive, rebound, and make plays but will he be able to do it at the same level as Evan Turner? That remains to be seen.
Jared Sullinger – The main thing the Celtics need to replace with the loss of Sully is rebounding. He was a solid scorer down low but he was not efficient and never reached his true offensive potential. He was a good teammate but he struggled to stay in shape and his work ethic was questioned for it. Al Horford should be able to replace everything Sully brought to this team and much more so it was just time to move on.
Guards – Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, and Demetrius Jackson.
Wings – Jae Crowder, Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, RJ Hunter, and James Young.
Bigs – Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller, Jordan Mickey and Ben Bentil.
As you can see there are 17 players fighting for 13 active roster spots. Barring injuries, 12 spots are set and the players in italics are trying to get the last spot. It will be interesting to see who wins that spot and if they will even play. Part of the problem with having so many draft picks is that it’s hard to develop some young guys because there just isn’t enough roster space and minutes to go around. However, it’s a long season and injuries happen so I’m sure we’ll get a look at these guys. Hopefully one of them takes advantage of their opportunity when it comes.
Guards – The two Washington guys, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley give this team a great combination of scoring and defense in the starting lineup. Last year they were a top 5 backcourt and you can expect more of the same this year. Marcus Smart provides amazing defense but needs to improve his offensive game (particularly his shot) to help take this team to the next level. Last year he shot 25% from deep and 35% from the field and that is just dreadful. He’s going into his third year now and it’s time for him to become an all-around player and not just a defensive specialist. Regardless, he is still a solid backup because of everything else he provides. Terry Rozier had a great Summer League and has been praised from seemingly everyone. He will be given an opportunity to prove himself this year with the departure of Evan Turner. Although he has looked good so far, the backup point guard is a bit of a question mark until we see him produce in the regular season.
Wings – Jae Crowder battled with nagging injuries last season but managed to play in 73 games for the Celtics. When healthy, he is one of the top two-way wings in the NBA. He works extremely hard and should be better than ever this year. As stated earlier, Gerald Green will be relied on heavily for his shooting ability. He is not shy about shooting and will be encouraged to take as many as he wants as long as he’s making them. He should provide great energy and scoring off the bench. Jaylen Brown will be a fan favorite because of his hustle and explosiveness but the Summer League showed he still has a long way in some aspects. The potential is clearly there but his ball-handling and shot need to improve to take his game to the next level. For now he will be a nice player that is great in transition and plays solid defense. Look for him to improve as the year goes on and he adjusts to the NBA speed.
Bigs – The big men were not very good last year on offense or defense. Al Horford will provide offensive and defensive versatility to give this team an added dimension that they need very much. Horford averaged 9-10 rebounds a game until Paul Millsap went to Atlanta and will have to go back to doing that in Boston. Amir Johnson is coming off a solid year for the Celtics. He is reliable and can hold his own down low with just about anyone. You know what you’re going to get from him and that’s nice to have on a team full of young guys. Kelly Olynyk has been a frustrating player here because you see the offensive talent is there but he is just not consistent. Part of that is due to injuries but it seems like it might be mental. He is already banged up so that’s not good. He is one of the best shooting big men in the league but his below average defense and rebounding make him a liability if he’s not hitting his shot. Jonas Jerebko was great against the Hawks in the playoffs last year but he was far from great in the regular season. Like Olynyk, he is a liability when his shot isn’t falling because he’s not quick enough to guard small forwards and he’s too small to guard most bigs. He can be useful in some matchups but for the most part he should stay on the bench. When Tyler Zeller gets hot, he gets really hot. He has great hands and a nice touch around the rim to go along with a nice midrange jumper. Like the other backup bigs he is streaky and not great on defense.
Overall, this team has improved since last year. The biggest questions I have about this team are:
- Can Terry Rozier be the primary playmaker off the bench?
- Will Gerald Green be able to revitalize his career?
- How good is Jaylen Brown going to be?
- Will Marcus Smart improve on offense?
- Who is getting the last roster spot?
- Will our backup bigs get bullied by everyone?
As you can see there are a lot of questions this team has to answer but every team has questions at this point. We can feel comfortable knowing that Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are great at what they do and are constantly looking to improve this team.
Prediction: 54-28 losing to Cleveland in 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals
Not too bad for a team that is still rebuilding, huh? With the culture that has been established here and the assets this team has going forward, another Celtics dynasty may be closer than you think.
Thank you Nets 😉