Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Booker, Jackson only reasons for optimism in Phoenix

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30 teams in 30 days: Booker, Jackson only reasons for optimism in Phoenix

First, let’s start with the good in Phoenix right now. 

Don’t worry. This won’t be very long. 

Devin Booker.

The 20-year-old scores the ball … a lot. 

OK.

That’s enough positivity for a team that’s positively awful heading into what will likely be an eighth straight season without a trip to the postseason.

Booker’s shot mechanics are textbook perfect, so it’s no surprise that he averaged 22.1 points per game last season.

But he took more than 18 shots per game while shooting less than 43 percent from the field and just 36.3 percent from 3-point range.

He embodies what makes Phoenix a fun team to watch, but one that isn’t built to be successful.

They score a ton of points (they ranked ninth in the league last season), but did so by taking a ton of shots (88.5 per game ranked 2nd in the NBA) while playing turnstile-defense which is evident by their bottom-three status in key defensive categories such as defensive rating (109.3, 28th in the NBA), opponent points off turnovers (18.1, 28th) and opponent fast break points (16.), 29th).

That’s why the Suns did all they could to ensure that Kansas’ Josh Jackson, arguably the best two-way wing player in last June’s NBA draft, was still on the board when it was their turn to pick with the fourth overall selection.

After Boston swapped out the number one pick to Philadelphia for the Sixers’ number three selection and a future first-rounder, Phoenix was concerned that the Celtics might draft the Kansas star at No. 3.

Jackson’s workout for Boston was cancelled at the last minute (the Celtics’ brass was on a plane in route to California to watch him when they got the news from his agent that his workout was being called off), which pissed off Boston’s front office and made it a lot easier for the Celtics to pass on Jackson – just the way Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough, a former assistant GM in Boston, wanted it.

“You guys know my connection to the Boston Celtics and the respect I have for Danny Ainge,” McDonough said during the introductory press conference after they selected Jackson. “But you guys also know how competitive I am, and it is a competition. The process is what it is, and we played by the rules, I guess. I’m just thrilled Josh Jackson is sitting next to me and is a member of the Phoenix Suns.”

Booker’s scoring ability and Jackson’s potential as a two-way standout give the Suns hope that their days of being among the worst teams in the NBA, won’t last much longer.

But considering the holes they have in the frontcourt and the team’s porous defense, this season is looking a lot like it’ll be another playoff-less campaign.

Key free agent/draft/trade additions:  Alan Williams (re-signed).

Key losses: None.

Rookies of note: Josh Jackson.

Expectations: 23-59 (5th in the Pacific Division, 15th in the West)

Al Horford joins Kyrie Irving at the all-star game, selected as reserve

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Al Horford joins Kyrie Irving at the all-star game, selected as reserve

LOS ANGELES – Kyrie Irving won’t be all by his lonesome during all-star weekend next month, with teammate Al Horford being selected as an all-star reserve.

For Horford, this will be his fifth all-star selection but first as a member of the Boston Celtics after joining the team in 2016.

Horford’s play, particularly on defense, has been instrumental to the Celtics (34-13) having the best record in the Eastern Conference, and third overall in the NBA.

This season, he has averaged 13.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting a career-best 43 percent from 3-point range.

Horford’s numbers don’t always speak to his impact on teams and more important, winning games.

“He’s a big part of our team in order for us to be number one in the East and hopefully sustain that spot,” Irving said earlier today. “We know how valuable he is. The Celtics organization, our team, everybody. He definitely has a case; he’s got my vote.”

Horford is grateful and appreciative of being named an all-star.

But his focus, as you might expect, is on what he views as a much more significant prize – a victory tonight which would snap Boston’s season-long losing streak which stands at three straight.

Horford is more concerned about the Celtics setting the tone defensively tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers.

“That has to be our mindset,” he said. “And sticking together. So this is a great time for us to make sure we’re together and we do it as a group.”

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Lederman: Celtics bench in need of repairs

Lederman: Celtics bench in need of repairs

The NBA trade deadline is a little more than two weeks away and despite the Celtics owning the best record in the Eastern Conference, they may need to think long and hard about making a move. 

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The Celtics bench unit is shooting 39.3 percent from the floor this season. Not only is that last in the NBA, it’s the sixth-lowest field-goal percentage for a bench unit the past 18 seasons. Their 49.1 effective-field-goal percentage is 29th in the NBA. Of the 160 teams that qualified for the playoffs the past 10 years, only two finished the regular season ranked that low in bench eFG%; and both of those teams lost in the first round.

Part of the problem for the Celtics is the inconsistent shooting of Terry Rozier. The third-year guard has shown flashes as a dependable scorer, but has been unable to avoid long shooting slumps so far in his career (he’s currently mired in a 10-for-41 slump over the past five games). Scary Terry is certainly capable of terrorizing (Terryrizing?) opponents; the Celtics are 20-4 when Rozier hits two or more three-point field goals this season. But that’s happened in just 24 of the 47 games he’s played this season.

You can argue that his defense makes up for the offensive struggles. The Celtics bench does have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA. But how much of that is due to Marcus Smart? And how valuable is a second unit that can defend but has a historically bad FG%? The Celtics are going to have to answer those questions before the Feb. 8 trade deadline. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the Celtics trade or replace Terry Rozier. They just need to improve their bench’s ability to make baskets, one way or another, if they want to be playing basketball in June. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE