C’s Question of the Day: Who will be Celtics’ most improved player?
Who will be the Celtics' most improved player?
From now until the start of Celtics camp, we’ll be asking a Question of the Day about the upcoming season. Today: Who will be the Celtics' Most Improved Player.
BOSTON – Optimism among NBA ballers doesn’t get much higher than it is on the eve of training camp.
Players have a popping-the-collar swagger right now, feeling confident that their time this summer was well spent on improving most if not all facets of their game.
But truth be told, only a few improved their game in a tangible manner that will play itself out quickly upon their return to the floor.
Not surprisingly, the Celtics have a roster full of players that are confident their individual efforts towards improvement will result in more team success as well.
Only time will tell how either will play out this season, but here are three players whose offseason work will likely result in noticeable progress from where they were playing-wise, a year ago.
After undergoing right shoulder surgery in May, Olynyk’s return to the floor isn’t expected to come about until sometime next month. And when he does return, you can count on him being a bit rusty.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the surgery should stabilize the shoulder to where it’s no longer an issue going forward, which bodes well for a player who has one of the most diverse skillsets of any player on the roster.
Olynyk already ranks among the NBA’s all-time leaders in 3-pointers made by a 7-footer. But unlike a lot of stretch bigs, Olynyk shoots a really high percentage.
Last season, he connected on 40.5 percent of his 3s, tops among all NBA centers and 13th overall. But Olynyk, a former point guard in high school, also showed an ability to get to the rim off the dribble, too.
Kelly Olynyk also averaged 2.2 drives per game last season which trailed only Sacramento All-Star DeMarcus Cousins (8.0) and Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor (2.7).
Boston would love for Olynyk to continue displaying those two facets of his game. But for him to truly show the kind of growth he and the Celtics are seeking, his rebounding and/or passing numbers have to improve.
He is a stretch big and because of that, his rebounding numbers in all likelihood are not going to be great.
But last season’s 4.1 rebounds per game isn’t going to cut it.
And while Olynyk had an impressive 97.2 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions when he was on the floor), improving as a defensive rebounder will make the decision to play him more an easy one.
He does a lot of things right on offense, although his teammates have had to encourage him to shoot the damn ball!
If he can find that balance between being a more aggressive scorer while improving his work on the boards, Olynyk could easily find himself playing a prominent role this season which could be a good thing considering he will be a restricted free agent next summer unless he and the Celtics work out a contract extension, which is not expected to happen prior to the season starting.
Celtics Nation began to warm up to Rozier in the playoffs last season. After a strong summer league, the 21-year-old has built up a nice little fan base who, like Rozier, are eager to see what lies ahead for him this season.
He showed the ability to score in a multitude of ways in leading the Celtics’ summer league entries in Salt Lake City as well as Las Vegas.
But more than the scoring, Rozier played with poise and confidence – two keys to whatever success he has this season.
Although point guard Isaiah Thomas has talked about Rozier probably getting some of his minutes this season, Rozier has a number of other battles to win in order to get minutes that in the grand scheme of things prove to be meaningful.
As was the case last season, the Celtics have a crowded backcourt that begins with the Tacoma, Wash. Tandem of Thomas and Avery Bradley. You know 6-4 Marcus Smart will play some at the point as well, although how much will depend on what Rozier does in training camp.
And while he doesn’t expect to figure prominently in the point guard discussion this season, rookie point guard Demetrius Jackson should not be overlooked.
Drafted by Boston in the second round with the 45th overall selection, there’s a reason why they signed him to a multi-year deal that included his rookie season being fully guaranteed. He’s not expected to contend for minutes in his first year.
For Rozier, he has to show that the skills and qualities on display this summer were just the beginning of his improvement into a player that could contribute sooner rather than later for the Celtics.
Of the players returning to the roster this season, Smart appears to be the smart choice – pun totally intended, folks – to make the most noticeable strides since last season.
In addition to the usual offseason workouts and conditioning drills that players put themselves through, Smart also spent time competing against Team USA as a member of the Team USA’s select team, which included young NBA players, such as himself.
The experience gave Smart a much-needed sense of where he was as a player, and what he needed to do in order to achieve his goal which he has said is to someday play for the Team USA in the Olympics.
Smart has already shown himself to be an elite defender, so that in itself will keep him as a mainstay in the Celtics rotation.
And we have seen him show the ability to not only shoot the ball well, but deliver in the clutch with big shots.
Then there’s the gaping hole in the lineup now that Evan Turner is off to Portland.
Smart has averaged 27.1 minutes per game throughout his first two NBA seasons, and there’s a good chance that his playing time will increase with Turner gone.
But like a number of his teammates, Smart has to become a more consistent scorer. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well in either of his first two seasons from the field or 3-point range where he has connected on 35.7 and 29.6 percent of his shots, respectively.
With his size and strength, Smart should average more than 3.2 drives per game.
In his defense, injuries at various points in each of his first two seasons limited him to some degree when it came to attacking the rim.
But that should not be an issue this season, now that he has a relatively clean bill of health along with the experience and knowledge gained after being in the league for two seasons.
It’ll take the efforts of many for Boston to continue closing the gap between itself and the game’s elite teams.
There are plenty of candidates who have the potential to do just that, but few have both the talent and intangibles that Smart brings to the game, all of which should be on display this season even more so than we’ve seen previously.