Celtics New Faces: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum (R), Marcus Morris, Shane Larkin, Aron Baynes, Abdel Nader
2016-17 Regular Season Record: 53-29
2016-17 Celtics Weaknesses: 28th: Two Point Attempts. 27th: Total Rebounding. 23rd: Blocks. 22nd: Offensive Rebounding, Defensive Rebouding.
2016-17 Celtics Strengths: 2nd: 3-Point Percentage (Defense). 3rd: 3-Pointers Made, 3-Pointers Attempted, Free Throw Percentage. 4th: Assists. 7th: Points. 8th: Two-Point Percentage, Offensive Rating. 9th: Field Goal Percentage (Defense). 10th: Free Throws Made.
Leading Scorer: Isaiah Thomas, 28.9
Best Defensive Rating: Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, 107.
The Celtics have done the rebuilding thing as perfectly as you can do it. They started with defense. They developed young talent. They won 50 games and proved they can win in the playoffs. With the addition of Kyrie Irving, they added a spectacular star who is magnificent with the ball, albeit not a player who makes others better. With Gordon Hayward they have a wing that can space the floor, make shots and every now and then get to the rim. The Celtics still are fragile though without true athletic explosion at the power forward or center position. They are small and are not good rebounders. They are better. But is their better good enough?
First on the docket is to integrate Kyrie Irving into the offense. The Celtics already have a fast pace, which Irving is used to, and a diet of three point shot making. What Irving isn’t used to but what Brad Stevens demands is defense. How Irving fits in with his nonchalance on the defensive end will be an interesting storyline.
The Celtics ball movement offense, which Gordon Hayward is familiar with, and the Celtics improved three point shot making, should incentivize Hayward and make him feel comfortable. But Hayward is used to a point guard that is not a scorer and that is not the Kyrie game.
The loss of Isaiah Thomas is huge, He was a burst of offensive energy even as he was a liability on defense, same as Irving. But Irving is a pure scorer, talented and skilled off the dribble. He more than fits in the Isaiah hole.
Gordon Hayward will stretch the floor and he is as unselfish as they come plus he is an excellent ball mover. He fits. But Hayward has never been the kind of player you ride the last two minutes of a game. You get the best out of him when he is part of a team system; he isn’t a very efficient iso player who can carry a team night in and night out. That’s where Kyrie comes in. He can dominate, he has the flair for the dramatic and loves pressure.
Pressure he has. Celtics fans adored Isaiah. He has shoes to fill but the Kyrie game is strong. He has the killer instinct coupled with an assassin’s narcissism and the skill to finish. He is a fearless scorer and a superstar at the rim. The challenge for Brad Stevens is to design an offense to take advantage of Kyrie’s iso game strengths so he is not out there on an island making his game count at the expense of everyone else.
As the point guard for the Cavs last year, Irving averaged 5.8 assists while making 9.3 shots. (He took almost 20). He is a scorer and the Celtics will have an adjustment. Avery Bradley is in Detroit and it makes sense for Marcus Smart to get a lot of playing time with Irving. Smart can’t shoot worth a lick but he plays hard and with passion and his defense is exhausting. He’s a tough effort player. You can throw him and his body onto a guard to try to disrupt their rhythm.
The Celtics lost Kelly Olynyk but have Marcus Morris, a chip on his shoulder grudge player but not particularly explosive as a rebounder. Morris last year stats were 14.0 points and 4.6 rebounds. The Celtics will miss the grit and blue collar ethic of Jae Crowder but with Hayward on board it was a simple calculation: defense for offense.
Right away we see who the Celtics are. They open up against the Cavs in Cleveland. The first month they play the Spurs (home), the Thunder (home), the Raptors (home), the Warriors (home). So they will get a lot of time to adjust to the new look. But it is not November that matters in Boston. But June. Is Kyrie enough to get the Celtics into the NBA Finals?
The Cavaliers strengths are the Celtics weaknesses. The Celtics have to prove they can slay and gut LeBron James. Nevertheless, Kyrie is the star that stirs the Celtics drink. They will win or lose with Irving running the show. His career has gotten an East Coast breath of fresh air and he has escaped the LeBron James fugue. So it’s all good for Kyrie and his new team. The city of Boston is behind him. It’s go time.
photo via llananba