Celtics Unstoppable Thanks to Surprise Performances
This season is going well for the Boston Celtics so far. We're about two thirds of the way through the year and following the team's resounding victory against the imploding Sacramento Kings, Boston sits at third in the Eastern Conference with a 31-22 record (as of this writing) The team has gone 4-0 this week and is not only looking like a contender, but also a sleeper team that could very well challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference dominance and irish bookmakers not on Gamstop.
Among the reasons the Celtics have been doing so well is the revelatory performance of point guard Isaiah Thomas. The 5'9" point man is having the best season of his career and was named to the All-Star game for the first time. Few could have predicted Thomas' rise to power. He was the 60th pick of the second round in the 2011 draft, which makes him the lowest draft pick to be named an All-Star since the draft was changed to two rounds in 1989. Additionally, Thomas has tied the record with Calvin Murphy for the shortest player to be selected for the big game.
Another pleasant surprise for the Celtics this year has been the performance of center Tyler Zeller. The former UNC Tar Heel has doubled his minutes played since the beginning of the new year and is averaging 13.8 PPG and 6.5 RPG in February, which is more than triple his usual numbers. Zeller has managed to accrue some seriously impressive numbers despite not playing in 18 games this season. Whenever Zeller has been on the floor, Boston has put up a 109.6 offensive rating along with a very respectable 98.2 defensive rating.
Many pundits and sites cite star power as a major factor to success, but this year's Celtics have been upending that strategy thanks to excellent play from up-and-coming young players. While Thomas has certainly made a name for himself as the team's only All-Star, the ever-improving performances of young project players such as Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger have paid off for the Celtics in spades.
In fact, the impressively strong play from Sullinger and Zeller has seriously cut into the play time of this season's $24 million signing of former Toronto Raptor Amir Johnson. This lends further credence to the idea that Johnson could become a valuable trade asset at the end of the 2016 season seeing how he's non-guaranteed for the next year.
Provided the team's young players continue to impress, the Celtics' chances for a late run in the playoffs is looking better and better. Evan Turner is even starting to turn around. With the reliable performances of David Lee and Jae Crowder, Boston looks like one of the most downright-dangerous teams in the East. The Celtics have a relatively light schedule for the next month, with only the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers offering stiff competition. If they can keep it up, they just might give the second-place Raptors a run for their money.