Return of the Boston Celtics
Following a couple of miserable seasons, starting with the loss of the Big Three, the Boston Celtics appear to be the biggest question mark in the Eastern Conference. Given their dynamic coach, all-star point guard, veteran big man, and potential Rookie of the Year candidate, the Celtics are young, hungry and highly motivated. However, their youth and limited playoff experience have many analysts questioning their championship prospects.
Brad Stevens went the distance at Butler University. After back to back NCAA championship game appearances, Stevens took over the helm in Boston in 2014. Following three years of improvement, Stevens has made a strong case for his place amongst the NBA’s coaching elite This did not come without skepticism or a lack of adversity. After the departure of the Big Three, and a messy breakup with Rajon Rondo, the Celtics entered their rebuilding stage. Three short seasons later, Coach Stevens is on the verge of restoring one of the most storied franchises in all of sports.
The Celtics’ greatest asset is their youth. Average age on the team is 24.9 years old. 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas returns after one of the best seasons of his career. 22 points a game along with 6.2 assists bring his career averages to 17.1 and 5.0, respectively. Thomas was a well-deserved member of the 2016 All-Star Game in Toronto. Now, he looks to continue his quest to superstardom. Joining Thomas in the backcourt is the former top prospect in the ESPNU 100 list in 2009, Avery Bradley. Rounding off the rotation is Marcus Smart, the Celtics’ top draft pick in 2014. Smart will spend the majority of his time at the off-guard position. Both Smart and Bradley have the potential to garner attention for Defensive Player of the Year given their tenacity and lock-down on-ball defense.
Additionally, Smart brings an unmatched intensity that will be crucial to Boston’s defense. Every great team can
point to the fuel of their fire; Smart is that guy. Although youth can take a team a long way, veteran leadership can take one even further. One thing the Celtics didn’t have in their quest for the title last year was a premiere big man along with a leader who has been through the ropes for many years. Al Horford is the answer to both problems. Last season, Horford’s ninth year in the league, he averaged 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, along with 1.5 blocks. This will be a drastic upgrade for the Celtics as they were in the bottom half of the league in rebounds per game.
In the much-anticipated 2016 draft, the Celtics had options. They could give it their best to trade their 3rd pick (acquired by the trade that will ruin the Nets for years) or they could gamble on a young player with upside. As you may have seen, they took the latter. Jaylen Brown was a dominant high school player before spending his lone year at Cal. A mediocre season capped off by a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament, lead Brown to forfeit his remaining eligibility and declare for the draft. Many saw him as a second tier lottery pick because of his struggles with a subpar field goal and three point percentage. Nowadays, the NBA is evolving and many people attribute this to the three-point shot. More teams are attempting threes than ever before and even shaping their rosters to accommodate this growing phenomenon. Although Jaylen Brown must continue improving offensively, he is a superb defender and could be a great role player or even a potential starter. As it stands now, he will backup defensive specialist Jae Crowder. Like Smart, Crowder brings high energy, intensity and leadership to a team still searching for its identity.
At Center is the trio of Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller. These three will look to fill the void of Toronto-bound Jared Sullinger. Sullinger spent most of his time as a power forward, but when Boston chose to go small, served as the team’s anchor. Johnson is the likely starter and will look to increase his individual output as he only averaged a mere 7 points and 6 rebounds per game last season.
Journeyman Gerald Green, who has spent time with the Nets, Pacers, Suns and Heat since 2012, is expected to contribute offensively while also demonstrating his playmaking ability above the rim. There is also RJ Hunter, Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Terry Rozier and Demetrius Jackson (2nd round pick in 2016). Each player has the ability to work themselves into a more involved role.
My prediction is that the Celtics, driven by a young backcourt, will use their quickness and explosiveness to exploit opponent weaknesses. Along with the veteran leadership of Al Horford, the Celtics are well positioned to capture the 2nd seed in a vastly improved Eastern Conference. I expect Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas to represent the Celtics during All-Star weekend and Coach Brad Stevens to be a top candidate for Coach of the Year. Right now, Boston has assembled the proper pieces to be a playoff contender. It’s only a matter of time before they take the next step. Hope you’re ready Boston, the future is bright.
All stats were obtained by ESPN stats and RealGM.com
Written by: Christian Paneral (@ChristianPanera)