The Boston Celtics are an elite defensive team in the Eastern Conference, making waves last season by nabbing the fifth seed in the East. The combination of players in Brad Stevens’ lineup work like well-oiled cogs, and the bench compliments the defensive cult.
Danny Ainge, the Celtics GM, and Brad Stevens, the head coach, utilized draft picks and played smart in this year’s free agency. Although there are some pieces missing to fulfill the team’s potential, such as the absence of a top-tier rim protector, Danny Ainge and his Celtics kids are resurrecting the Celtics dynasty.
Isaiah Thomas: A-
Isaiah Thomas, the premier point guard for the Boston Celtics, is the much needed offensive spark. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley help with the offensive responsibilities, but Thomas leads as captain in that department. Thomas emerged as a top-tier, elite point guard in the Eastern Conference. He averaged 22.2 PTS and nearly 6 ASTS in the 2015-2016 season. Placing second on Hollinger’s PER rating for point guards in the East, the 5’10” guard shattered career averages, and the offensive juggernaut berated teams with his offensive efficiency. Thomas shot a remarkable 56.2 TS% last season as well. The undersized point guard inflicted a lot of damage last season, and he will continue to do so to propel the Celtics into a top seed in the East in the upcoming season.
Avery Bradley: B
After making the NBA All-Defensive team in the 2015-2016 season, the shooting guard is another two-way player who makes Brad Stevens jump for joy. Defense is the name of the game for Bradley, but his offense is not a major weakness either. The first-round draft pick averages 1.5 STLS per game, and his offensive numbers are complimentary: 15.2PTS, 52% eFG, and 78% from the charity stripe. Bradley is a well-rounded guard, a vital cog to the Celtics synergy on the court.
Jae Crowder: B+
Last year, Crowder proved to be the biggest surprise of the Celtics, gradually emerging throughout the season as a vital anchor. His presence on the floor is responsible for keeping the Celtics a top five defensive team. Crowder’s offensive game continues to steadily improve. 14.2 PTS, 1.7 STLS, 5.1 TRBS, and 82 FT% are efficient numbers, but his game speaks more than the numbers show. The small forward is often the main impetus for dangerous fast breaks and momentum changers in a tight game. Sure, his 33 FG% from the three-point arc is not his most attractive feature, but the versatile forward is non-expendable on the Celtics. Brad Stevens understands the two-way player Crowder is the connecting glue for the team.
Al Horford: A-
One of the most dominant and versatile centers in the Eastern Conference is joining a mantra based on defense. Horford is going to have a field day in the defensive cult of the Celtics. The aggressive center defends the baseline well, and Horford is capable of handling switches on screens. His offensive game is gradually improving. The Dominican born center has stretched his offense to the three-point arc. Although he shot merely 33% beyond the arc, he is still evolving in that facet. Although Horford can play the five position, the big man will most likely be playing a stretch four position in Stevens’ lineup. Amir Johnson will continue in his original spot from last year.
Amir Johnson: C+
With eleven years experience in the NBA, Amir Johnson has found a comfortable start as the Celtics center. He does not put up eye-popping box score numbers – 7.3 PTS and 6.4 TRBS – but he does the traditional job of a throw back center. He grabs rebounds, protects the rim, and helps make space for his teammates to take perimeter shots. Johnson is the least exciting player on the starting squad, but Stevens’ science experiment makes Johnson a vital part of the Celtics lineup. Just like every player in the Celtics rotation, if one person is removed, the chemistry on the floor shifts to a downward spiral.
The Bench: B
Marcus Smart is defense only. Let me repeat that one more time: Marcus Smart is defense only. The point guard shot an alarming 34.8 FG% from the floor, his three-point percentage dipping even lower to approximately 25%. It is actually surprising to see his free throw percentage to be relatively decent: 77%. But his dominating defense helps Celtics fans sweep his offensive game under the rug. Relentless, ruthless, and fearless, the Boston guard uses everything in the tank to focus on locking down perimeter shooters and physically berating his opponents and ripping off steals. Smart is the leader of the second unit, but other players have emerged into their own identity.
Kelly Olynyk averaged 10 PTS and 4.1 TRBS from the bench last season, a reliable big man in the second unit. With high basketball IQ and nagging defense, Olynyk is an important cog to Stevens’ bench. And with first round draft pick Jaylen Brown ready to make his debut for the Celtics in the 2016-2017 season, the Celtics have depth. Critics and experts find Brown to be full of potential and, perhaps, a positive change. Explosive and raw, Brown fits in with the young Celtics squad.
The Coaching Staff: A-
The young hotshot from Butler University is in charge of a rising team in the Eastern Conference, ready to revive the dynasty that once was. In the past three years, Brad Stevens has improved the Celtics win/loss ratio from a dismal 30.5% to an alarming 58.5%. There is no surprise why Danny Ainge, the Celtics GM, extended the coach’s contract halfway through Stevens’ original contract. Stevens molded and cultivated a starting lineup that thrives on defense, each player a vital cog and an indispensable element. There are no superstars on the team, with the exception of All-Star Al Horford, but the team runs smoothly on the floor. Most of Stevens’ style is predicated on defense, and the badgering lineup conforms to Stevens’ game.
With more playoff experience and offensive power, the Boston Celtics are destined to compete for Eastern Conference champions in the foreseeable future. The future remains bright.
The Celtics squad is young, the average age accumulating between 25-26, and the fountain of youth will continue in the Garden. The Celtics are guaranteed two first-round picks in the upcoming draft, with the possibility of a third first round pick, which is contingent on whether the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick is not in the top seven.
Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens are a dangerous combo in the East and are ready to instill anxiety in the Western Conference down the line.
photo via llananba