Preparing for the Worst: Why The Celtics Will Be Terrible This Season
As a Basketball writer, there's one cardinal sin to avoid in October and that's to overreact to pre-season basketball. It's what gets us to question veterans like the Spurs early, and make us wonder why the Orien Green's of the world aren't securing 35 minutes a night. It's that knowledge that makes me so hesitant to write an article I've been thinking about writing for quite some time. But, with the stunning amount of people who think this Boston Celtics team could sneak into the playoffs, I feel obligated to present what this pre-season has only reinforced:
The Boston Celtics are going to be bad this season. Like, really bad. Awful, if you will.
I, like I'm guessing many have, spent the summer talking myself into the prospects of this season: Brad Stevens appears to be a brilliant head coach, and his ability to analyze and think out of the box would absolutely get the best out of this team. Kelly Olynyk seemed like the can't miss talent that gets every GM who passed on him fired, displaying an incredible amount of finesse for a bigman throughout the summer. It was enough to at least lighten the dark clouds of Pierce and Garnett's departure.
That last part is really the key to my point: After Garnett and Pierce left I think Celtics Nation, a fan base that is usually optimistic prepared for at least a full season without any kind of hope. We were going to be bad, and there really wasn't any reason to think anything but. That is until a young head coach no one thought was available became available, and a mid first round pick started to show a lot of promise.
Unexpected sunshine got us wondering what else was behind those dark clouds. Suddenly, we've gone the other way: We talk ourselves not only into Stevens and Olynyk but also into Jeff Green taking a step forward, Kris Humphries coming in and being a 15 and 10 guy, Rondo coming back and putting up an MVP performance. When you aren't expecting anything, something can prove to be a lot.
What I'm essentially saying is - I don't think I'm guilty of overreacting to the preseason, I think the preseason is forcing me to realize I overreacted to the offseason and started to ignore some pretty huge problems: This team can't score. It's interior defense is terrible, and our rebounding is questionable at best. Those are generally issues you don't want your team to have, ya know?
As Zach Lowe pointed out in his 'Ranking the NBA's tiers' column, what can't be ignored is that even with Garnett and Pierce (whose poor playoff performance often hides the fact that he was absolutely brilliant last season) the Boston Celtics have been a very poor offensive team, ranking in the bottom 10 in scoring the past two seasons. This is worth repeating: With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo (who will miss at least 1/3rd of the games this season) the Boston Celtics were in the bottom 10 in scoring. They replace that talent with... a very intelligent Head Coach who unfortunately is neither a miracle worker, nor the current owner of the basketball from 'Space Jam' that hosted it all the talent.
Unfortunately, the Celtics defense doesn't figure to be much better. While the Celtics certainly host a plethora of excellent perimeter talent, they're interior - where defenses are made - figure to be abysmal. Kris Humprhies and Kelly Olynyk aren't going to replace what Kevin Garnett brought to this team. That serves as both an obvious statement, and as a reminder: Because when Kevin Garnett wasn't on the floor over the past couple years, this team was abysmal defensively. We're just a season removed from his awesome, 2012 campaign where the Celtics were an astounding +138 with the Big Ticket on the floor, and a horrific -77 without him. Without a player above the height of 6'9 in their starting lineup, it's hard to see this team deterring teams from pounding the paint, or altering the course of a perimeter player whose gotten past their opponent.
While Garnett wasn't a great rebounder, this team could see it's issues securing misses when they do happen: Although Kris Humprhies and Jared Sullinger are terrific rebounders, one has to wonder how their numbers will suffer next to below average rebounders like Bass and Olynyk. And that's without mentioning how unlikely it is for Jeff Green to match Paul Pierce's rebounding efforts.
"People bend over backwards to figure out what Jeff Green is when it's staring them right in the face. He's a decent player."
For six years, we've been trying to figure out what Jeff Green is. But after five complete seasons, isn't the answer what he's shown us all along; That he's a tremendously talented player who struggles to put it all together on a nightly basis. It's not like that there isn't a precedent for that kind of play in this league. Every year he's been in the league, people who follow his game question at the beginning of the season if Jeff Green could 'emerge' as a star, and every season he's produced a mix bag. At what point do we accept that's just who he is?
I'll be the first to argue that some of these issues can be improved by scheming. Changing the pace. Putting players in the right place to perform. Looking for small advantages to hide another.
But you're putting makeup on a zit: A blemish is a blemish, and you can only hide it for so long. And this Celtics team has gotten plenty.