This season will be fun, and Brad Stevens will be leading the charge
While the Celtics didn’t land any stars through the draft or free agency, there is plenty to like about this upcoming season. The roster has been upgraded from last season, future flexibility has not been sacrificed, and we have a chance to find out a lot about some of the players currently on this team. Lets take a look.
At first glance, Amir’s numbers look very similar to those of Brandon Bass. He’s only an inch taller, but plays more of a traditional big man style. Amir averaged 9 points, 6 boards, and 1 block per game last season, while Bass averaged 10 and 5, plus half a block. For this Celtics team that is sorely lacking a paint presence, Amir will provide much more than what those numbers suggest. While not close to an elite rim protector he is much better at defending bigs than Bass or anyone else on the Celtics roster, and I think his rebound numbers will be even higher as well. Also in place of the feet located at the end of Bass's arms, Amir has hands.
He can either coexist with Tyler Zeller or be our lone big man in a small ball lineup. His signing seems to be keeping with the theme of cultivating a more defensive approach, with players who can guard multiple positions. Fans are going to appreciate what he does for us in the paint. On the other end he shot 57% mostly on shots in the paint, and only takes a three once every other game. He will have a few slams throughout the year off of pick and rolls that bring the Garden to its feet.
Feed me.....the rock. Yup, just the rock
A lot of fans seem to be down on Jared Sullinger as he is coming off his most disappointing season of his young career. So far he is at least saying all the right things, acknowledging his conditioning is a problem, and seeming to be intent on correcting it and re-establishing himself, and his reputation. The real reason to believe all of that? Sully is in a contract year, and with the entire league having cap space and incentive to spend next offseason, it would certainly behoove him to have a good showing this year.
He has spent a lot of his time on the court being overmatched against larger opponents, and being overly relied on to grab rebounds. Amir Johnson, while most likely eating into his playing time somewhat, will relieve him of some of that responsibility, and perhaps allow Sully to shine a little bit.
Marcus Smart is healthy Smart was more affected by his ankle injury throughout the year than he let on. He has said it never got the proper rest and time to heal, yet he still played pretty damn good. He seemed to be settling for a lot of threes, and that may have been directly linked to being hampered by it, but towards the end of the season and in the playoffs he showed flashes of the explosiveness that those who saw him in college were hoping for a little bit more of.
With him coming into camp healthy, along with backcourt mate Avery Bradley, we could see an even better and more active defensive duo than last season. Sprinkle in Amir behind them roaming the lane, better help than they had last year, and right there we have reason to smile.
Young got off to a rough start last season, but I am very excited to see what he has in store for us this year. Whiplash resulting from a car accident caused him to miss all of summer league, a pulled hamstring cost him part of training camp, and a separated shoulder forced him to miss part of the regular season. Those setbacks caused him to be sent to and from the D-League 11 times.
In a lot of ways this feels like Young’s true rookie season, and in a lot of ways I’m pretending he is our lottery pick that we didn’t get to trade up for. Reports are that he has added muscle because he didn’t like getting pushed around, and he has been one of the Celtics main gym rats in Waltham. He’ll have a full camp with the team, is coming in healthy, and in better shape. I’m very excited to see what he has in store for us this year. I consider his potential fist pump worthy.
The Rookies - Young/Rozier/Hunter/Mickey
If we can get contributions from a couple of these guys, our season will look a lot better. I’m including Young here because we truly don’t know what to expect from him, but I do have higher expectations for him than the true rookies. The shooting that he could potentially add from the wing is something that was sorely lacking in last year’s team, and if the Celts can create shots for the wings and the corners it could benefit him, and also RJ Hunter.
I was ECSTATIC when Hunter fell to us at the 28th pick, and think he could play really well in short minutes for us. In his last year in college he was asked to do way more than he will here, and his shooting suffered slightly. For us, as his usage goes down his effectiveness will go up. As he has said, it’s a shooters league. He seems motivated, has an NBA level skill, and is already loved by Stevens. Plus, he's already kissing Scal's ass, so he knows where his bread is buttered. Hopefully he can show us something this year.
Terry Rozier is someone that Ainge and the C’s had ranked very high on their list of desirables in this years draft. He reminds me a lot of Smart in that he isn’t a great shooter and plays his butt off on the defensive end. He will attack the basket in a way most of our guards, besides Isaiah Thomas, really don’t have a history of doing. I don’t expect a lot from him in his rookie year, especially with the current logjam we have at guard, but I’m excited to see what he can do for sure.
Jordan Mickey fits right in with Amir Johnson in terms of athletic, defensive versatility. The ability to guard 3’s and 4’s will be an asset, and he will most likely get some opportunities to prove it, as Stevens has never been afraid to play deep into his bench. He won’t be penciled in for huge minutes, and we do have a good amount of bigs ahead of him, if defense and versatility are becoming as big a focus to this team as it seems, he will certainly see some time.
Having Amir around could be great for his development in that he can learn from watching him, and progress at the pace he needs.
Full Camp for Midseason pickups
Two of our brightest spots of all last season were Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, whom were picked up midseason. While Jerebko didn’t quite have their level of success, he definitely impressed in his role, and I’m happy to have him back as well. Having the three of them getting a full camp with Stevens and his system should make them all look even better than they did dropping onto our team in midseason last year.
What are the Celtics capable of?
This team will at MINIMUM be fun to watch, especially if you enjoy actual basketball more than the draft and free agency. They went 20-11 after the all star break and have improved that roster since. A number of the returning players like Smart, Young, and Sully, are expected to have better years than last. Stevens style of basketball was fun last year, even when we didn’t quite have the tools to do everything he wanted. While we still don’t have the top tier talent, it is better than last year, and should be even more fun and effective.
I think the 40-42 of last year will be bested without a doubt, and they’ll be up and over the .500 mark. Winning 50 games would be a complete shock, but 45 doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. Winning 45 games would have put them 1 game out of the 5 seed in last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs. That begs the question, can they win a playoff series this year?
If they get the 5 or 6 seed they’ll be steering clear of the juggernauts, but who knows who they’d be matched up against. It definitely wouldn’t surprise me, and I think it’s in the cards.
A team with no stars, winning a playoff series (potentially), plenty of cap space, financial and roster flexibility (Johnson and Jerebko deals both nonguaranteed in 2nd year), and one of the most respected and best coaches in the league. That sounds like a fun place to be right? Let’s hope some free agents or disgruntled stars see it the same way.
First Photo Credit: A/P Photo/Matt Slocum
Second Photo Credit: Garrett Elwood/NBAE/Getty Images