1/18/2016 12:21:00 PM
With 41 games played and 41 games remaining on the schedule, we are officially at the midway point of the Boston Celtics 2015-2016 season. How has everyone on the roster been doing? Who deserves the midseason hardware? Let's find out.
1. Jae Crowder
For a second, let us rewind back a year. Can anyone say they predicted the best player to be traded in the Mavericks-Celtics trade would be Crowder, who also happens to be making less money than Rondo this season? Oh, and Boston also owns Dallas' 2016 first-round pick, but I digress.
When the Celtics signed Crowder in the offseason to a five-year, $35 million dollar contract, they were likely hoping he would merely replicate the numbers he put up with them in his 57 games with Boston last season: 9.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.4 APG and 1.0 SPG. Overall, Jae played in 82 games last year and finished with 628 points, 293 rebounds, 94 assists, 72 steals, and 25 blocks. Staying healthy for the entire season and producing slightly better numbers, while also playing his typical above-average defense, is likely all that was expected. Hence, the $7 million annual average of the contract.
However, Crowder has given the Celtics much more than that. As he has done his entire career, Jae has stayed healthy, appearing and starting in all 41 games. His per game averages are of 14.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.8 SPG, are all career highs. More impressive than that though is how close he is to surpassing his totals from last season despite playing in only 40 games so far: 599 points; 215 rebounds; 78 assists; 75 steals; and 22 blocks.
Crowder's shooting has also exceeded expectations this season. He is shooting 46% from the field, 36% from three and 82% from the free throw line, all of which are career highs. As for how the advanced metrics view his shooting this year, his true shooting percentage, which calculates every type of shot into one stat, is currently at a career-best of 58%. On the defensive end of the floor, he is playing at the highest level of his career, as evidenced by his 100 defensive rating, which represents a six-point improvement over 2014-2015.
Aside from the personal successes for Crowder so far this season, he has also exceeded expectations with regard to his value to the team. According to the advanced metrics, he has contributed a career-high 4.54 wins, exceeding his previous high of 3.9 wins As for his box plus-minus, which accounts for the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, he is plus-3.6 points, which is a full three points over his previous high. Lastly, and most importantly, his value over a replacement player is 1.9 this season, which is much better than his previous high of 1.1.
As you can see, he has far exceeded everyone's expectations, including the analytical projections of CARMELO, which predicted Crowder would be a "rotation player" this season. Any logical assessment of where Crowder was last year, and what the expectations were of him in the preseason, would conclude he has been near perfect through the first half, which is why he received the highest mark of anyone on the roster.
2. Isaiah Thomas
Heading into this season, it was expected Thomas would fill the same role he did after arriving in Boston from Phoenix at last year’s trade deadline: be the team’s sixth man and best offensive player, who they can go to when they needed a bucket most in close games. Almost all of that has gone as expected, as he was made a starter just a few games into the season. He has appeared in all 41 games and been the starter in 38 of them. In fact, in games started by Thomas, the Celtics have a slightly better winning percentage than they do overall: 21-17.
As for his offensive performance, it depends what metric you look at. He has struggled with his shot so far this season, as evidenced by his 42% shooting from the field and 34% from three, which is a career low for him. However, his shooting has been improving as the season wears on. In December, he shot 38% from three, and in January, he shot 43% from the field and 36% from three.
Furthermore, he is averaging career highs in points (21.8), assists (6.6) and rebounds (3.0). His player efficiency rating of 22.10 is also the best of his career. Most impressive though, his offense is there when the Celtics need it most: the second game of a back-to-back, which they have had 10 of this year. In those 10 games, Thomas is averaging 23.7 PPG, 6.0 APG and 3.7 RPG, while shooting 45% from the field and 45% from three.
As for his defense, it has been stellar. In fact, one can argue Thomas is playing the best defense of his career. His defensive rating of 105 is a career-best and by nine points, and he has contributed 1.42 wins with his defensive play, which is also a career-best.
There is no doubt that Thomas is the heartbeat of this team right now. When he is on, the Celtics tend to win. In their 22 wins, Thomas is shooting 40% from three with a true shooting percentage of 58%. The team is plus-16 with him on the floor in their wins and is offensive rating is 117 while his defensive rating is 99. However, in their 19 losses, he has shot 28% from three with a true shooting percentage of 55%. The team is minus-7.2 with him on the floor in their losses, and his offensive rating is 109 while his defensive rating is 112.
Overall though, Thomas is the reason the Celtics have won 22 of their first 41 games. Like Saturday against Washington, his offense has kept them in many games in order to give them a chance to win and also won them games. His current win share is 5.4, which means without him, Boston would have 16 or 17 wins.
CARMELO projected Thomas as a “good starter” and compared his 2016 perfornace to Nate Robinson. Therefore, to say CARMELO got it wrong would be quite the understatement, as Isaiah has been a great starter and has a real chance of making the all-star game this year.
3. Amir Johnson
Amir Johnson has exceeded most expectations the Celtics had for him coming into the season. They viewed his as a big part of their second unit, but he has turned out to be a quality starter and most consistent member of their frontcourt this season.
Johnson has not deviated from his reputation as reliable, having appeared in 39 of the first 41 games. He has started in 36. His per game averages are far from his best, but his 59% shooting percentage is his highest since the 2009-2010 season. Also, his 116 offensive rating is an improvement over last year and his best mark since 2012-2013.
The great thing about Amir has been his willingness to do whatever Brad Stevens asks him to do. A big reason for his drop in offense has been the role he is being asked to fill. It includes less minutes on the floor and more of a focus on defense. While his numbers are down, so is his usage rate.
As a result of his reduced role on offense though, Johnson has been able to focus more on his defense and it has showed. His defensive rating of 100 is seven points better than last season, and his defensive plus-minus of 3.2 is something he has not done in nearly nine years.
The first half of Johnson’s first season in Boston has been a success. He was asked to contribute more when the team was struggling and he responded. He has been one of the roster’s most efficient players, as evidenced by his 16.6 PER, and has contributed 3.3 wins through the team’s first 41 games.
CARMELO projected Johnson as a “key role player” while comparing his 2016 season to that of Andersen Varejao. Amir has been much more to the Celtics than a key role player. Rather, he has been one of their most important starters.
4. Kelly Olynyk
Although Olynyk’s overall offensive numbers have dropped from last year, much of that is due to his limited playing time at the beginning of the season. It was not until December that Kelly became a more important part of Brad Stevens’ rotation. Since then, Olynyk has flourished.
Olynyk is shooting 41% from three, which is a career high for him and best on the team this year. In December, he averaged 12.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG and 1.9 APG, while shooting 52% from the field and 46% from three, which are incredible numbers for the seven-footer. In January, he has averaged 10.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.4 APG, while shooting 45% from the field and 44% from three. The two months represent some of the best basketball Olynyk has played his entire career. As for his defense, his 99 defensive rating this season is three points better than it was last year and an eight-point improvement over where it was his rookie season.
The best thing that has happened to Olynyk has been his recent move to the starting lineup. He has relished the increase in his role and time on the floor, averaging 12.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG and 2.1 APG. Olynyk is on pace for a high in minutes and games played and that is a good thing for his development. It means the Celtics are more trusting of him and his ability to contribute.
CARMELO projected Olynyk to have a season similar to last year and predicted he would have an “up and comer” performance. While he has recently demonstrated that potential, the first quarter of the season was a struggle for him and a lot of that had to do with his lack of minutes, but it was the case nonetheless.
5. Jared Sullinger
Jared Sullinger has played well this year. His conditioning has clearly improved and he is on pace to set a career high in games played. However, his performance has ebbed and flowed the entire season. His main struggles this year have revolved around his offense. He is shooting at some of the lowest levels of his career and his 9.8 PPG is his lowest since his rookie campaign. Interestingly enough, his best month was November, which is also the only month he shot well from three (36%).
Since Sullinger refuses to develop any offense in the paint, he relies on his jump shot. And in years like this one, when he is not shooting well, his contributions to the team are limited.
However, while his offense has been a struggle this season, his defense and rebounding have been great. His defensive rating of 97 is the best of his career, as is the fact he is grabbing 19.1% of the total rebounds available to him.
One stat that stood out to me is the fact the Celtics are 19-13 with Sullinger in the starting lineup, which tells me he has contributed more to the team than he has subtracted from it with his offensive struggles.
CARMELO projected Sullinger to improve upon last season with regard to his overall win contribution. So far, that has not been the case. His 2.6 win share contribution is below the 4.0 he produced last season, and his 0.8 value above replacement player stat is half of what it was in 2014-2015. Therefore, he is so far underperforming. CARMELO also projected his season to compare to Nikola Vucevic’s 2015, which is far from the case.
6. Avery Bradley
Bradley was inconsistent during the first half of the season. Overall, his numbers have shown very little improvement and in some cases have worsened. His averages of 14.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.6 SPG are about where he ended last year, so he has not shown any improvement.
With an offensive rating of 101 and defensive rating of 104, he is the only starter with a negative rating-differential. In the month of January, he is shooting under 10% from three and his true shooting percentage is 37%, very poor numbers for a shooting guard.
The key to a successful second half for Bradley may be bringing him off the bench. As a starter, he is averaging 13.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 1.9 APG, with an overall plus-minus of 3.5. However, in four games off the bench, he is averaging 18.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG and 2.3 APG, with an overall plus-minus of 29.3. Furthermore, he is shooting 41% from the field as a starter and 55% off the bench.
CARMELO projected Bradley as an "average starter", which seems spot-on so far this season.
7. Evan Turner
Turner is shooting 41% from the field and 16% from three, which represents career lows for the small forward. However, he still takes close to nine shots per game and that has hurt the Celtics offense given the fact he does not make very many of them. This cause-and-effect is further demonstrated by his 95 offensive rating.
His value above replacement player is 0, which means he has offered Boston very little contribution so far this season. Furthermore, the advanced stats very much dislike Turner and his performance so far this year.
As for Turner's projections, CARMELO predicted he would have a "scrub player" season. Given the fact he has stepped in admirably at times for Smart and Bradley, who have both been injured this season, as well as the fact expectations were so low for him to begin with, his grade gets a slight boost from where it may have been otherwise.
8. Jonas Jerebko
I personally expected a big season from Jonas. He seems like the perfect fit for Brad Stevens' pace-and-space style of play. He is capable of guarding multiple positions on the floor, which is something Stevens loves, and he can shoot well from the outside for a big man. He is the quintessential stretch-four.
However, for whatever reason, after being a big part of the rotation last season, Jerebko has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff this year. While many expected an uptick in his minutes usage and performance, the opposite has happened as he is playing five minutes less per game and all of his per game averages have fallen, in some cases dramatically.
Making matters more confusing is the fact he is shooting 41% from three, which is better than every Celtic regular but Olynyk. Considering Boston lives on the three-point line and is struggling so much with the same, it is surprising Jonas has not been given more of a chance to crack the rotation. When he does, it seems like he is always having a positive impact.
Reduced role or not, much more was expected from Jerebko this season. Even CARMELO projected a "role player" type season, which has yet to materialize.
9. Marcus Smart
CARMELO projected Marcus Smart as a "future all-star", with comparisons to James Harden, Paul George and Jason Richardson. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, he has been nothing of the sort. As a result of injuries, he has only appeared in 20 games and started eight. The fact Boston's future all-star point guard has only started eight games at the midpoint of the season is simply a bad thing.
Making matters worse, over those 20 games, Smart's performance has been average at best. He is shooting 32% from the field and 20% from three. While his shooting his taken a step back in his second-year, his per game averages have remained the same. His win share contribution projection has decreased by two full wins and his value above replacement is 0.3 after finishing last season at 1.4.
10/11. Tyler Zeller and David Lee
Zeller and Lee both started the first game of the season. The two were supposed to be big parts of the Celtics rotation and a lot was expected from them on the offensive side of the floor.
However, they have both fallen completely out of the rotation. CARMELO projected Lee as a David West-type rotation player, worth almost two wins. As for Zeller, CARMELO predicted he too would be a rotation player, worth nearly three wins.
Neither player has contributed this season and that has to be a major disappointment for the entire organization.
12. James Young
He has been with Boston on few occasions this season and has failed to contribute when he has. Considering he was a first-round pick just two years ago and has all the potential in the world, his inability to win himself playing time has to be an automatic failure for not only him, but also the organization.
13/14/15. RJ Hunter, Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey are all rookies, who the Celtics had little expectations for given their roster, and they have not been given enough playing time to make an impression and receive a grade.
Team Grade - Boston Celtics
They are 22-19 despite playing the 76ers, Lakers and Nets seven times. Their three-point shooting has been one of the worst in the NBA and their rotations have been painfully inconsistent. They are lucky to be where they are right now, and must find a way to continue the consistency they began to show towards the end of the first half if they are going to make a playoff run in the second half.
MVP: Isaiah Thomas
Most Improved Player: Jae Crowder
LVP: Tyler Zeller
Least Improved Player: Marcus Smart
Question for the Readers: What are your grades? Who receives your midseason awards?
Follow Max Sandgrund on Twitter @SotoSpeakz
1/18/2016 12:21:00 PM