After finishing as the third-worst shooting team from behind the arc last season, would you believe me if I told you that the Celtics could be one of the best this year?

We all know how integral the three-ball is in today's game, just look at the Golden State Warriors. With shaky shooting all year, Boston struggled to keep up with the three-point barrage from many opponents. But, this year should bring major improvement.

Zach Harper of CBSSports.com recently noted how the Celtics, despite ranking 20th in the league in 2015-16 in uncontested three-point shooting (where the closest defender is at least six feet away), could turn into a top team from outside:

Who was the most reliable guy defenses left open? The five guys on this team with the most wide-open attempts from distance shot an absurd percentage. Kelly Olynyk (42.6 percent on 136 attempts), Avery Bradley (40.5 percent on 126 attempts), Jae Crowder (39.6 percent on 91 attempts), Isaiah Thomas (43.6 percent on 78 attempts) and Jonas Jerebko (46.8 percent on 77 attempts) annihilated wide-open 3-point shots. Rookie R.J. Hunter was also good (45.8 percent on 24 attempts) but hardly shot from deep.

Who was the least reliable guy defenses left open? Everybody else. Jared Sullinger put up 30.7 percent on 75 attempts and Marcus Smart shot a putrid 25.4 percent on 67 wide-open 3-point attempts. The Celtics should've been higher in overall wide-open 3-point percentage but everybody not in the section above combined to shoot 21.7 percent.

How's it looking for next season? You're adding Al Horford in to take a lot more wide-open 3-pointers than Sullinger took. On top of that, he's a much better shooter than Sullinger was. If the top five guys can even sniff the accuracy they had a year ago, the Celtics could be one of the best in the NBA at making you pay for poor defensive rotations.

As Harper touches on, the Celtics’ three-point shooting was greatly skewed by a handful of players who shouldn’t have been taking so many shots. Isaiah, Avery, Jae, Kelly, and Jonas were all sharp, especially when left wide open. If that group can keep it up, here is why Boston will be capable of utilizing the three-ball more effectively:

The Al Horford signing instantly bolsters Boston’s outside threat and efficiency. The new Celtic, who nailed 1.1 threes per game at a healthy 34.4% rate with Atlanta in 2015-16, would’ve been the fifth-best shooter on Brad Stevens’ roster this past season.

Horford's perimeter presence will be felt even more when considering who he will be replacing-- Jared Sullinger. Sully (27.6% career three-point shooter) fired up three after three last season, erroneously thinking he could stretch the floor as much as he could stretch the elastic of his shorts. Having Horford in his place will make a huge difference.

Another liability from deep, Evan Turner (24%), will now be a burden to the Portland Trail Blazers’ three-point shooting rather than Boston’s.

Marcus Smart weighed down the Celts' shooting the most. Smart shot historically bad (25.3% from deep) while still possessing the confidence of Kobe Bryant in a streetball game (four three-pointers attempted per game last year).

But, I don’t see how it is humanly possible for the third-year player to do worse. Plus, if the playoff series with the Hawks (where Smart shot nearly 10% better from three) is any indication, he can greatly improve his shooting. He is still only 22 and is in a much better situation to develop and excel this season.

Considering that the Celtics retained all of their top shooters, dumped some of their worst, and brought in a new one, they really could be one of the best in the league at taking advantage of defensive miscues and knocking down open threes.

Follow Erik Johnson on Twitter: @erikjohnson32

Photo of Isaiah Thomas courtesy of Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Erik Johnson 9/13/2016 09:00:00 AM Edit
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