Guarded future: Pros and cons of Celtics' backcourt
BOSTON – If you’re a Boston Celtics fan, you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the franchise’s future.
They had the best record in the Eastern Conference this season, advanced to the Conference finals for the first time since 2012 and they have the top overall pick in the June 22 NBA draft.
But amid all the optimism lies the reality that because of the team’s depth and the likelihood of adding Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick, this group could look dramatically different next season.
Here’s a look at the pros and cons of Boston’s backcourt heading into this offseason with what’s shaping up to be a very guarded future.
Boston has a clear and well-defined pecking order in the backcourt, with two-time all-star Isaiah Thomas leading the way. He gained lots of positive treatment for his 28.9 points per game last season which led everyone in the Eastern Conference. But the leadership he showed in still delivering just hours after the death of his younger sister, was exceptional. And then you have Avery Bradley who continues to be that steady force that has helped guide this team through some rough patches each of the last couple of seasons. He doesn’t say much but his leadership on this team is undeniable.
PRO: VARIED SKILLSETS
Thomas brings high scoring ability to the roster, something the Celtics desperately needed this season. Bradley showed that he too can get buckets, but his calling card remains on the defensive end of the floor. Marcus Smart’s shot-making remains up and down, but defensively he continues to be a major contributor. Digging a little deeper into the Celtics backcourt, Terry Rozier has game-changing talents both as a defender and shot-maker. And while Demetrius Jackson saw limited time with the Celtics this year, his shot-making skills were clearly on display.
PRO: BIG-GAME EXPERIENCE
The Celtics’ run towards the Eastern Conference finals was important not only in the steady growth of this franchise, but also for the team’s core group in the backcourt. Isaiah Thomas. Avery Bradley. Marcus Smart. They each had moments in which their play was the difference in winning or losing in the playoffs. Having gone through something like that, knowing they can do more than just compete but succeed in such trying circumstances, provides the kind of confidence boost they will need going forward as they continue to push towards the team’s ultimate goal which is to compete and ultimately win, an NBA title.
CON: NOT ENOUGH SHOT-MAKERS
Boston’s guards had a decent season shooting the ball this past season, but the team still lacks a knock-down shooter whose greatest strength on the floor is making jumpers. The Celtics ranked 14th in the NBA last season in 3-point shooting (35.9 percent), but were top-3 in 3-point attempts (33.4) and 3-point makes (12.0) per game. Boston isn’t likely to address this through the draft with the top overall pick, but could find a player via free agency or potentially in the second round.
CON: SHOT CREATORS IN SHORT SUPPLY
When Isaiah Thomas was out with a right hip injury, the Celtics lost more than just their best scorer. They lost their best scorer in isolation situations, something they will need to address in the near future. Last season, the Celtics scored a total of 423 points in isolation plays which ranked 27th in the NBA. This is one of the many reasons why the Celtics are expected to draft Markelle Fultz with the top overall pick in the June 22 NBA draft. His size (6-foot-4, 195) and ability to create his own offense, makes him a player that Boston could use to better diversify their offense.
CON: TOO MANY CHEFS IN THE KITCHEN
Brad Stevens has done a masterful job of finding playing time for his guards, a group that includes Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. But with the expected arrival of Markelle Fultz via the number one overall pick, the challenge becomes even greater to get them all quality minutes without it becoming a major issue. That’s why it’s likely that at least one of Boston’s guards will be playing somewhere else next season. It’s not because of a lack of production, or them not being a good fit. The issue is simple. The Celtics have too many players who need to play, which as we all know is the best way to improve as a player.