We’re once again participating in CelticsBlog’s annual tradition of team previews. Here’s a quick look at some of the things we’re looking for this upcoming season. Stay tuned for a full season preview here on Red’s Army in the coming weeks.
Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year’s Record: 25-57
Key Losses: Keith Bogans (ha ha ha)
Key Additions: Marcus Smart, James Young, Evan Turner
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The real significant move was signing Avery Bradley to a 4-year, $32 million contract extension. The move set up an interesting choice for the Celtics after drafting Marcus Smart… will they bring Rondo back, or not? Of course, there’s no rule against having more than two good guards on your team, but when one of those good guards is a rookie and the other is trying to become a max-contract guy, it sets up a decision based as much on economics as it is in ability. The economics changed a little with Bradley’s contract, so it makes for a very interesting 2015.
The acquisitions of Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and Evan Turner are also significant in that they could help the Celtics rise above people’s expectations. A competent Zeller would allow the Celtics to be more creative in how they use Kelly Olynyk. Thornton and Turner could provide a scoring punch the bench sorely needs. And, of course, any consistent production out of these guys makes them potentially tradeable, which is probably what Danny Ainge is really hoping for here. Yes, it will be nice to see all these guys play extremely well and spend all season here surprising everyone, but it would be even better if these guys play above their heads and make themselves attractive to other teams.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? Backcourt defense, coaching
Bradley and Smart are defensive menaces. If Rajon Rondo can get back to playing some better defense, then opposing backcourts are in for a world of hurt. As it is, the Rondo/Bradley backcourt allows Rondo to read the offense like a free safety and make plays. Now, the Celtics can pull Bradley and insert Smart and not suffer any significant drop-off in defensive ability. If you put them in together, they can hound guys the length of the court and force teams to start their offenses with half the shot clock gone.
Meanwhile, Brad Stevens has shown that the Doc Rivers debacle was worth it. He’s the better coach for this situation, and I have complete faith in his ability to maximize a player’s and team’s potential. Even though some in the media don’t care to believe it, I think he and Rondo are cut from the same cloth, and they are able to connect on an intellectual level. If Stevens can work together with Rondo and help him become the leader we want him to be, then the question of his max contract will be easier to answer.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? Scoring (I think), size, depth
The Celtics lack that person that you can count on for 2o-plus points every night. The team doesn’t really have the go-to guy who can create his own shot when the shit hits the fan and take over games for long stretches. Rondo has shown he can do it from time to time, but that’s not his game.
Stevens has the team trying to push the tempo, and if they can do that, they have enough guys who CAN score that the team might be able to put up some big points. It’s not as easy as just putting up some extra shots. The team averaged 84 shots per game last season, which was near the top of the league. So let’s look at if they could manage to push it to 87.5 (last year’s league leader, and 3.5 more shots than the C’s put up last year) and 22 3’s per game (just one more than last year).
67.5 2-point shots + Celtics shot about 44% last year =59.136 points.
22 3-point shots + Celtics shot 33.3% last year = 21.978 points.
Add the free throw numbers from last year (16.2 per game), and we’re looking at just over 97 points per game.
If the Celtics are going to be a “volume-shooting” team, they’re going to have to get up to 90 shots get close to averaging 100 points per game. That’s just not going to happen. If the Celtics can manage 45% from 2 and 35% from 3… both pretty average numbers… then the team can move into the middle of the scoring pack with just over 100 points per game.
So, basically, we need this team to execute better, push the tempo, and bump up its shooting percentages from last year with largely the same personnel… just to become an average scoring team. It’s not impossible, but it does temper any expectations of a run-and-gun, “put up a ton of shots and score a lot of points”, type of team. Even if guys like Olynyk and Sullinger improve, we’re still looking at about an average offense.
Size has been an issue for the Celtics for a while now. As I said at the top of the piece, the team needs Zeller to be competent at his position to get the most of the frontcourt. If he’s not, and if Vitor Faverani can’t get his knee right, then the Celtics will be forced to go with Olynyk exclusively at the 5. That would force the team to also use Sullinger at the 5 for stretches again, which is not ideal.
4. What are the goals for this team?
There’s one, simple goal: Improve. That goes for everyone, at every position. From Rondo to Phil Pressey to James Young to Brad Stevens. Everyone on this team. Everyone in the front office. Everyone has to improve something this year.
The Celtics have to take a step forward. The 25 win season is over. The tanking is done with. These guys need to improve the deficiencies in their games, and improve their late-game execution and win more than they did last year. Rondo needs to improve his game, become more of a scorer than he’s been, and more of the face of this franchise. Jeff Green needs to improve his game and make it more consistent. Sullinger needs to improve his 3-point shooting (which he has this preseason) or scrap it. Marcus Smart has to improve every month of the season.
Everyone has something to improve. They need to do it. If they can, then trades can be made, contracts can be signed, and the progress can continue into next year. If they take steps backwards, then the rebuild gets delayed another year, and the team suffers through a mentally defeating morass of a season.
5. What do you mean by Rondo needs to be “more of the face of this franchise”… and why does that matter?
It’s no secret that I like Rondo’s game. I think he’s an amazing, unique player who can be a building block for a championship franchise. That doesn’t mean I think he’s perfect. He’s flawed like most of us, and he’s got holes in his game like every NBA player but one or two.
What Rondo needs to be is more of what Paul Pierce used to be off the court… and it took Pierce a long time to really learn how to do it. It’s time for Rondo to be the guy who handles the media without shutting down. It’s time for Rondo to put his frustration with the process and, frankly, the mindless questions aside and simply answer for as long as it takes to deflect the media masses from the rest of the guys.
This is a team full of young kids and a couple of maybe overly sensitive guys. This is a team that’s going to go through some rough stretches and frustrating games. A lot of things have to happen for this team to reach its full potential, and one of those things is for Rondo to be a deflector shield of sorts for the guys.
Hey, if he wants the big money and the “leader” status, he’s got to accept everything that comes along with it. To me, that’s the next step in his progression.
Again, Paul Pierce wasn’t always like that. He grew into it. I’m sure Rondo wants to rise to Pierce’s status in the Celtics organization some day, and this is part of that. We all know what he needs to do on the court. He’s also done some really great things off the court with his charity work. But the one thing that’s left is for him to play the big brother in the locker room and protect the younger kids whenever he can… even if it means he has to put up with extra annoyances. Rondo’s a tough kid. He can handle the lunacy. And sometimes standing there and taking the media hit while other guys slip out the back door can do as much for team chemistry as taking guys out and buying the rookies suits. Rondo can do it… and the team needs him to.
Here’s a look at all the team previews in this series. Thanks as always to Jeff Clark for coordinating this fun collaboration.
Index of all SBNation Previews
Additional Preview Features from Sonics Rising