Is there a hero among us? Ranking each Celtic's star potential

Bill Simmons is headed to HBO, and it’s unclear if the network has plans for him to publish his brand of fifteen thousand word three part columns subjectively ranking NBA players value. One of the biggest name free agents in the basketball world this summer, Simmons moving away from his roots as an Internet columnist leaves an opening on the Net for long posts on NBA player value. I think. Maybe the whole reason he’s moving away from his column is that no one wants to read those opuses anymore. More likely piles of HBO cash, boatloads of creative freedom, and the ability to drop f bombs at will were too much to pass up. Anyway, in the vein of a Simmons Trade Value column, here’s the first annual CelticsLife “Is there a hero among us?” piece, where I take a look at all players the Green have under contract and try to gauge whether or not there’s a potential star on the Celtics roster.

Here are the ground rules. Last year there wasn’t a star on the Celtics roster. That’s a fact. No one on the Celtics was in the All-Star game or even got a single vote for an All-NBA Team. So we’re looking at the potential for all players this season and beyond. With that in mind:

1. Age matters. Younger players have a better chance of becoming better at basketball than older ones because of the science.
2. Length of contract matters. Players under contract with the Celtics for longer have a better chance of developing into a star with the team because of the math.
3. All about potential. We’re not looking for rotation players or fifth starters or quality pro, guys who fit a system or fill a need. We’re looking for a player that could develop into a franchise cornerstone or land on an All-NBA team.

OK, here we go.

16. Zoran Dragic. Sadly, the best name on the Celtics is not going to make the roster.

15. Evan Turner. I think Evan Turner has played his last game as a Celtic. Arguably the most valuable player on last year’s band of overachievers, Turner just doesn’t fit the model of where this team or the NBA in general is heading. He’s a ball dominant mid-range player that shot 27% from three last year. And he’s on an expiring deal. He’s not our star.

See! Turner's gone. Book it.

14. Tyler Zeller. There’s a significantly higher floor here than a lot of players on the Celts roster, but a way lower ceiling. Despite being 25 and only 3 years into his NBA career, it seems pretty clear what you’re getting with TZ. Last year’s 10 points, 5 rebounds over 20 minutes a game seems about right. Using Nyloncalculus’ highly addictive player comparison tool - Zeller’s 2014-2015 campaign brings up 1987 Joe Kleine, 1998 Cherokee Parks, and 1999 Othello Harrington. I say no more.

13. Jonas Jerebko. The much loved Swedish Larry Bird could very well anchor the second unit next year as a stretch four. He’s 28 years old and in his physical prime. It seems unlikely that someone that in five seasons has never averaged 10 points a game is going to morph into the hub of the wheel that rolls us toward Banner 18, but he could very well be a spoke.

12. Amir Johnson. Great signing, filled a void on the roster, and somehow agreed to a contract that’s non-guaranteed for 2016-2017. But ten years into his NBA career, Amir Johnson is not going to be an All-NBA type player. He’s going to bring his hard hat into the front court and make a positive impact in all facets of the game. Love that. But it doesn’t get you to the top of this list.

11. Kelly Olynyk. Tall men who can shoot the three have a place on any roster. But that doesn’t mean you can build around them. After two seasons, it seems like Kelly’s T-Rex arms and general lack of athleticism won’t let him play 40 mins a game even if his offensive game continues to blossom. His offensive tools and youth give him the nod over Johnson.

10. Jordan Mickey. The young rim protecting big shined in Vegas Summer League with 13.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. He signed the most lucrative contract in the history of the second round, and I fully support that. But it doesn’t seem like Mickey’s the type of player who’s going to create his own shot. And that’s important here even though I think he has a better chance of effecting the game on both ends and being an NBA starter than Olynyk.

9. Perry Jones. Yes, there’s a decent chance Perry Jones doesn’t even make the Celtics. But, I mean, one more time:

And he’s got a smooth stroke. And he dropped 30, 20, and 16 points in three consecutive games at the beginning of last year before getting sidelined with a knee injury. And he’s never played for Brad Stevens before. Should he be even higher on this list? Should I stop drinking during the day? Was this whole piece a bad idea?

8. David Lee. Why is a 32 year old on an expiring deal smack dab in the middle of this list? Because over a 5 year stretch from 2009-2010 to 2013-2014, Lee put up 18.7 points and 10.3 boards a game. As a focal point of Brad Stevens’ offense, could Lee get all juiced up and represent the C’s at the All-Star game? And if this born again David Lee puts up 20/10 this season, doesn’t he want to re-sign with Boston? And could he enjoy a nice Paul Pierce-esque run through his mid-thirties? It’s possible.

7. Avery Bradley. The longest tenured Celtic won’t turn 25 until almost Thanksgiving. He’s signed for three more years. He can hit the corner three. He loves a good backdoor cut. He’s one of the best on ball defenders in the league. But can he evolve as a scorer? Can he become a playmaker who tallies more than the 1.6 assists/game he’s notched over the last two seasons? Can he post even a league average PER (he’s never hit league average 15 PER, last year was at 11.52). If Bradley is going to emerge as a star, he’s going to have to make the proverbial Bill Simmons leap this year. His suddenly below market value deal might be on the move if he doesn’t.

6. Terry Rozier. The Celtics brass adores him. Pitino adores him. He hit this shot. He ate this spaghetti. I think Rozier gets quality minutes this year, I think he’s a good pro, I’m not sure he’s going to be getting crunch time reps on a playoff bound team. Or is he Kyle Lowry Jr? This is getting harder.

5B. RJ Hunter
5A. James Young.
And here we have two young, unproven wings that have serious offensive potential. Will one of them hit? Hunter is supposed to be super effective. Young put on muscle and got invited to work out with Kevin Durant. One of these two is destined to emerge as a fan favorite that comes in, goes bananas from deep and takes over games. Could one of them be the 20ppg scorer on the wing this team so desperately needs? It could happen. Young gets the upper hand here because at 19 he’s actually two years younger than Hunter. But that could change by the All-Star break if Young can’t get minutes/lays bricks when he does.

4. Jae Crowder. Danny Ainge signed the 25 year-old Crowder for five years at 7m per. It makes Crowder the only Celtic with a guaranteed deal for through the Spring of 2020. Yes, the contract is highly tradable and he might not finish the deal wearing shamrocks, but the C’s have made a longer commitment to Crowder than any other player in their rebuild. Likely, they signed a defensive minded forward who earns minutes with his toughness and grit. But possibly, they signed a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard after he masters his three and refines his reckless slashes to the hoop. It might be a remote possibility, but it’s a possibility nonetheless. And in this exercise, that gets you just shy of the medal stand.

3. Jared Sullinger. This is not the time to linger on the great will he or won’t he get physically fit debate. This is a time to say if Sullinger trades Whoppers for kale and commits to being a full-on gym rat, he could be special. A time to say that he could do everything Kevin Love can do, including a spread in the ESPN body issue. Anything is possible. A fully dedicated, in-shape Sully with a reliable three-pointer might be a unicorn, but it’s a unicorn that you could build around.

2. Isaiah Thomas. Here’s why Thomas is so high on this list. Twice last season, Thomas earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Only Lebron James won it three times. Here’s are the players who received the honor twice:
  • Al Horford
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Brook Lopez
Not bad company. And Thomas turned the trick playing only 21 games with the Celtics. That means that for 33% of the games Thomas played with the Celtics he was considered the best player in the Eastern Conference. That’s kind of mostly insane and unsustainable. But the fact is that Thomas on the Celtics last year was an elite player in a small sample size. Let’s see what he can do with a full season in green.

1. Marcus Smart. Last year’s sixth pick in the draft had a solid, if unspectacular rookie campaign. His defense is already well above league average, he ranked 6th among point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus Minus stat and was third in the league with 52 offensive fouls drawn. But despite hitting some big shots and improving his three as the year went on, Smart shot a horrid 36% FG last year. What is it going to take for Smart to get to the next level?

It’s pretty simple. Can he get into the paint and make plays? Can he get to the line with regularity? Can he stick to open looks from long range and improve his shot selection? Smart showed us something last year. The leadership and swagger was there in Summer League, as were the free throw attempts. Let’s see if he can start to get work done in the lane this year. Smart may have his warts, but he’s the best shot the Celtics have in developing a cornerstone star from their current roster and he may just have the drive to make it happen.

Photo Credit AP/Winslow Townson

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