Saturday, October 10, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Boston Celtics

BOSTON CELTICS
[] 40-42 
[] Offensive Rating: 105.3 (18th)
[] Defensive Rating: 105.2 (12th)
[] Net Rating: +0.1 (13th)
[] Eliminated in 1st round of NBA Playoffs
[] Coach: Brad Stevens

The Celtics were one of the league's bigger surprises in Brad Stevens' second season as head coach.  Still not even 40 years old, Stevens appears to be one of the game's better X's and O's coaches in the game, as he carried a roster filled with young guys and role players to the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.  Boston brings back the majority of its core, having only lost one player (Brandon Bass) who played more than 1,000 minutes last season.  Along with that, they added two first round picks, Amir Johnson and David Lee to the mix, creating one of the deepest rosters in the East.  While the depth is high quality, the downfall of the roster is that there isn't a go-to option outside of 5'9 Isaiah Thomas.  They pride their offense on cuts and ball movement, but the shooters aren't really there to make that flourish like it could.  Among players who saw at least 40 games in Boston last season, Avery Bradley was the only player to shoot over 35% from three, and he topped out at 35.2%.  Finding steady shooting will be the key to moving the offense from also-ran status to the point where it's good enough to make one of the league's better defenses even more valuable.  Regardless, it's a good enough roster to repeat a playoff bid, and they should be in the running for the 7th and 8th seeds in the Eastern Conference with Indiana, Miami, Detroit, Brooklyn and Charlotte.
Projected Starting Five

PG: Marcus Smart - 6'4, 220 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
67
7.8
11.0
15.1%
49.1%
33.5%
.570
64.6%
.266
16.3%
14.4%

Smart's defensive exploits earned him a spot on the All-Rookie squad second team.  He shot the ball better from outside than I thought he would in year one, but I'm not sure why he took as many threes as he did.  He should improve inside the arc this year (41.0 2P%), and keep getting to the FT line frequently, which will lead to better efficiency measures.  Boston spreads its playmaking responsibilities around, but Smart's 16.3 AST% needs to come up in his sophomore season.

SG: Avery Bradley - 6'2, 180 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
77
13.9
11.5
21.0%
50.7%
35.2%
.348
79.0%
.099
8.9%
9.4%

Bradley is never going to post good efficiency numbers if he doesn't get to the FT line more often, but he's a decent two-way player for the Celtics.  The four year, $32M deal he signed last summer still feels a bit hefty, but it gets more tolerable as the cap rises.

SF: Jae Crowder - 6'7, 240 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
82
7.7
13.9
17.5%
51.7%
29.3%
.382
77.3%
.259
8.6%
7.5%

Perhaps the best piece the Celtics got when they sent Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks last winter, Crowder signed a five year, $35M deal this summer in restricted free agency.  He's an important piece of the Boston defense, and if he can get his 3P% up by a few points, he'll be more passable on offense.

PF: Jared Sullinger - 6'9, 270 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
58
13.3
17.9
23.6%
50.3%
28.3%
.260
74.4%
.182
15.4%
14.2%

Sullinger was Boston's second-most used player on offense last season, to mixed results.  The experiment to add a three point shot to his game hasn't panned out just yet.  He's now a career 27.5% three point shooter on 397 career attempts.  We're approaching Josh Smith territory here with Sullinger's jumper, although Smith's career percentage is a full point higher.  His passing from the PF position is nice, but he needs to give them more effective scoring.

C: Tyler Zeller - 7'0, 250 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
82
10.2
18.9
19.6%
59.4%
82.3%
.300
14.7%
9.1%
20.5%
1.1

Zeller takes most of his FG attempts near the basket, but his range out to 20 feet makes him a great fit in the Celtics' offense.  He's not a great rebounder, but he does just about everything else well.  He's a capable passer, good finisher and gets to the FT line on the regular.

Bench

PG: Isaiah Thomas - 5'9, 180 - 5th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
67
16.4
20.6
27.8%
57.9%
37.3%
.434
86.8%
.437
27.2%
13.1%

Thomas is a firecracker off the bench, giving the Celtics offense the kind of creator they otherwise lack.  Despite his high usage, he's been an efficient scorer in each of his four NBA seasons.  Thomas averaged 26.4 PTS/36 in his 21 games with Boston last season.  On top of his offensive efficiency, he's an absolute steal for the next three years at just over $6M per season.  Thomas finished second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last year, and should be right in the thick of that race again this year.  There's not a bench guard in the league I would want on my team more than IT.

G: Terry Rozier - 6'2, 180 - Rookie
GP
PPG
APG
SPG
FG%
3P%
FT%
36
17.1
3.0
2.0
41.1%
30.6%
79.0%

Rozier, a defense-first guard who didn't seem to understand his offensive limitations at times last year with Louisville, should have a low pressure role in his rookie season.  He needs to be smarter with the ball than he was in college, but his athletic abilities are unquestionable.  I had Rozier 46th on my 2015 Big Board, a full 30 spots lower than where he was picked, for whatever little that's worth.

SG: RJ Hunter - 6'6, 185 - Rookie
GP
PPG
APG
SPG
FG%
3P%
FT%
35
19.7
3.6
2.1
39.5%
30.5%
87.8%

Hunter, the 28th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, will also have the luxury of learning out of the fire thanks to Boston's deep backcourt.  He's a pure scorer who struggled with efficiency in an extremely high usage role at Georgia State last year.  He's not much of a defender or passer, but if he pans out, his ability to put the ball in the basket will make that irrelevant.  For Hunter's upside, think Kevin Martin.

G/F: James Young - 6'6, 215 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
31
3.4
8.5
15.8%
45.7%
25.8%
.647
55.2%
.284
5.6%
4.2%

Young's rookie season at the NBA level was pretty rough, but he did have some good games with Boston's D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.  He's only 20 years old, so there's nowhere to go but up for Young.  I think he'll make more of an impact with the big league club this season.

G/F: Evan Turner - 6'7, 205 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
82
9.5
12.8
19.5%
48.2%
27.7%
.160
75.2%
.189
10.1%
30.0%

The 2010 draft's silver medalist had the best season of his career last year, built upon an Assist Rate that crushed his previous career high.  He's still not an efficient scorer, and that doesn't figure to change until he stops shooting so many mid-range jumpers.  Nearly 47% of his attempts last year came from between 10 feet and the three point line.

F: Perry Jones III - 6'11, 235 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
43
4.3
6.9
15.3%
45.9%
23.3%
.326
64.9%
.201
4.2%
10.7%

The Celtics took a chance on PJ3, acquiring him and a 2019 2nd round pick in exchange for a protected 2018 2nd round pick.  Jones showed signs of life in 2013-14 and then looked rough again last year.  The clock is starting to tick on his NBA career.

PF: Jonas Jerebko - 6'10, 230 - 6th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
75
6.0
15.0
16.2%
54.9%
38.6%
.369
84.8%
.174
12.5%
9.0%

Jerebko made the most of his larger role with the Celtics after being acquired in the deal that sent Tayshaun Prince to the Pistons.  Boston rewarded him with a fresh contract this summer.  His minutes may be a bit tighter with Amir Johnson in town, but Jerebko is a useful bench piece as long as he's shooting the ball well and making energy plays.

PF: Amir Johnson - 6'9, 235 - 11th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
75
9.3
15.4
15.7%
60.3%
61.2%
.249
13.3%
9.3%
17.3%
1.1

Johnson was the modest cornerstone of the Celtics' offseason, and could challenge Jared Sullinger for the starting PF spot if Sullinger's offense doesn't improve.  Johnson's been slowly adding a three point shot to his game and I would expect that to accelerate as he joins the Brad Stevens offense.  Johnson's a solid player who will be with the Celtics for the entirety of his prime.

F/C: Jordan Mickey - 6'9, 235 - Rookie
GP
PPG
RPG
BPG
FG%
FT%
31
15.4
9.9
3.6
50.4%
64.6%

Mickey is an outstanding shot blocker and that should translate to the NBA level.  What isn't certain, is if he'll bring enough of his offensive game to make it worth having his rim protection on the floor.

F/C: David Lee - 6'10, 240 - 11th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
49
7.9
17.8
19.6%
54.1%
65.4%
.332
15.3%
10.0%
20.3%
1.0

Lee's fall from grace with the Warriors came to a head this summer when Golden State shipped him to the Celtics for Chris Babb and Gerald Wallace.  The offensive-oriented forward won't be reaching All-Star status again anytime soon, but he can provide great depth for the Celtics' frontcourt this season if he stays healthy.

C: Kelly Olynyk - 7'0, 240 - 3rd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
64
10.3
15.9
21.1%
55.8%
34.9%
.331
68.4%
.258
11.7%
12.2%

Olynyk's 2014-15 campaign is more likely to be remembered for causing the injury to Kevin Love in the playoffs than what he did on the floor, and that's unfortunate.  Olynyk had a solid offensive season, boosted by increased efficiency inside the arc and a better Free Throw Rate.

Outlook

The Celtics depth is unquestionable, and I liked the moves that brought David Lee and Amir Johnson to the frontcourt in the offseason.  They have enough young players that it's reasonable to project an increase in wins from last year, just based on the individual growth from guys like Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, James Young and Jared Sullinger.  Still, it feels like the Celtcis overachieved last season and didn't really do enough in the offseason to outpace their competition for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.  The Heat got healthy and added depth and the Pacers get Paul George back.  I see the Celtics on the outside looking in, and finishing at 38 wins.

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