Celtics

Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

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Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

WALTHAM -- The NBA has tweaked the rules a bit this year for All-Star voting, including a component in which a select number of media members are included in the voting process.

I am fortunate to be among the voting media members this year. 

And while the league won’t reveal exactly who each media member voted for, I have no problem publicly announcing who my starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, would be this season. 

But before I do that, I need to explain my criteria for picking the starters. 

First and foremost, they have to be players who clearly impact winning and their team’s success. 

Most of the time, this is pretty apparent when you look at the numbers they post on a night-in, night-out basis. 

But every now and then, there’s a player whose numbers don’t speak to their impact on the court (yes, I have one guy in my starting five who falls under that category).

While most of the selections were relatively easy picks, the Western Conference was tricky because of the insanely elite depth in the backcourt.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook are all worthy of having all-star starter status. 

But because only two guards can be picked, one of them will continue to be left off until All-Star selections become position-less picks akin to the way the game is being played these days. 

 In addition, you have players like Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, who would have been a starter on my ballot if it wasn’t for the fact that the 6-foot-8 Butler is listed as a guard and not in the frontcourt.

And with that, here are my All-Star selections for the Eastern and Western Conferences which includes my honorable mentions (aka likely all-star reserves).

EASTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

Kyrie Irving, Boston: A four-time All-Star, Irving has been the ultimate difference-maker for a Celtics team that has been among the NBA’s top teams most of this season. 

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: One of the best scorers in the NBA, DeRozan’s play has elevated him to being in the league MVP conversation this season.

Honorable mentions: Victor Oladipo, Indiana. Bradley Beal, Washington. Kemba Walker, Charlotte. John Wall, Washington.

FRONTCOURT

LeBron James, Cleveland: At 34 years young, James seems to be getting better with time. Now the rest of the Cavs … that’s an entirely different story.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The Greek Freak train has slowed down some, but he’s still one of the best stat-stuffers in the NBA.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: There are a handful of players on the cusp of being named to their first All-Star team. You would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving than Embiid this year.

Honorable mentions: Al Horford, Boston. Kevin Love, Cleveland. Kristaps Porzingis, New York.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

James Harden, Houston: A hamstring injury has him currently sidelined, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he ranks among the league’s top 10 in scoring (32.3), assists (9.1) and steals (1.8) per game.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: Tough call between Westbrook and Curry. But ultimately, it was Westbrook tallying 13 (and counting) double-doubles to include at least 20 points scored, and Curry missing 14 games this season that ultimately tipped – just barely – Westbrook ahead of Curry. 

Honorable mentions: Stephen Curry, Golden State. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota. Klay Thompson, Golden State. 

FRONTCOURT

Kevin Durant, Golden State: In what will be a ninth straight All-Star selection, Durant is having a pretty standard season of elite play, averaging 26.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists along with a career-high 2.1 blocked shots per game. 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans are winning and definitely on the rise, and part of that certainly has to do with Davis being a more efficient scorer. He averages 26.7 points per game while shooting career highs from the field (56.6 percent) and 3-point range (36.1 percent).

Draymond Green, Golden State: Easily the toughest call of all my selections, my preference was to have 6-8 Jimmy Butler of Minnesota here. His leadership, versatility and presence have been at the heart of Minnesota’s resurgence into a legitimate playoff contender this season. But Butler is listed as a guard and there’s no way I could have him start and have Westbrook or Harden come off the bench. Butler’s teammate Karl-Anthony Towns is a logical option to be the fifth starter, and I went back and forth between him and Green. There’s no question that Towns has the better statistics. And if it were only about stats, then you would have to throw New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins into the mix as well. I’m a big believer that every All-Star game should have at least one guy in it who is being rewarded for being an ultimate glue-guy, a player whose statistics consistently come up short when compared to his impact on winning. You can find better players talent-wise than Green, but those who impact winning? Not so much. And as much as the All-Star game is a celebration of the NBA’s most talented players, there should always be room for at least one player who significantly impacts winning. And as you look around the NBA, that talent sets Green apart from most. 

Honorable mentions: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio. Nikola Jokic, Denver. Paul George, Oklahoma City.

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ESPN player poll: Celtics give best free agency pitch

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ESPN player poll: Celtics give best free agency pitch

The Boston Celtics have massively changed their reputation around the NBA.

Once known as a team which can't land marquee free agents, the Celtics have landed Al Horford and Gordon Hayward in consecutive seasons. That seems to support an ESPN poll, which ranks the Celtics as the top recruiting team in the NBA.

Here's what ESPN.com wrote on the poll where they quizzed 48 anonymous players.

Which team have you heard makes the best free-agent pitches?

Celtics: 27 percent
Heat: 15 percent
Lakers: 12 percent
Warriors: 9 percent
Other: 37 percent
Others gaining votes: Clippers, Grizzlies, Hornets, Knicks, Mavericks, Pacers, Rockets, Spurs, Wizards

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The Celtics prepared a thorough pitch for Kevin Duran before he joined the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 offseason. The pitch included an appearance from Tom Brady. While Durant didn't pick Boston, he praised the team.

"I met with them and they were really good, and I was really impressed by it," Durant said in Nov. 2016, via ESPN.

He wasn't the only one who appreciated the Celtics' pitches.

"Boston [has the best]. If you bring Tom Brady? That's pretty damn cool," an Eastern Conference guard told ESPN.

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What C's need to do heading down the stretch

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What C's need to do heading down the stretch

LOS ANGELES -- This season has been like one of those choose-your-adventure books for the Celtics, with seemingly no idea of what’s coming next other than to know every change is somehow connected with one another.

And as the Celtics gear up for the final 23 games of the season, there will be developments in the coming months that will go far in determining this team’s fate.
 
Here are five storylines to keep tabs on as the Boston Celtics begin their post All-Star break schedule.

JAYSON TATUM

One of the early leaders for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, Jayson Tatum now finds himself a distant third at best, behind Donovan Mitchell of Utah and Ben Simmons of Philadelphia. It’s not so much that he’s now all of a sudden started playing poorly. But there's no mistaking Tatum’s impact on winning games now isn’t what it was earlier this season. He’s averaging 13.5 points, which is sixth among rookies, and is shooting 42.7 percent, which is tops among all first-year players. Since Jan. 1, Tatum has averaged 12.3 points while shooting 33.3 percent on 3s. Those are decent numbers, but Tatum has shown he has more to offer. The All-Star break should benefit him not only in terms of providing some mental relief, but also allow that his dislocated pinkie injury added time to heal. He says it hasn’t affected his shooting, but the numbers suggest otherwise. Prior to the Dec. 21 injury, Tatum shot better than 50 percent from the field and from 3-point range, while averaging 13.8 points per game. Since then, his scoring average took a slight dip to 13.2, but his field-goal percentage (44.0 percent) and 3-point shooting (32.5 percent) each dropped off noticeably. We’ll see just how a little in-season rest will be enough for Tatum.

MARCUS SMART

When it comes to Marcus Smart, there’s two very distinct opinions. You either love him despite his obvious basketball flaws (shooting), or you can’t stand him and pray that the Celtics find a player who helps them more. I hate to break it to Smart’s naysayers, but his value to the C's may not be any higher than it is right now. They've lost four of their last five games, and the defense has been the main culprit. Boston had problems defensively even when Smart was healthy, so why does his return matter so much? Because we’ve seen the next-man-up mantra play out and more often than not, it works. But there comes a point in time when the players being thrust into more prominent roles remind us that consistently, more than anything, is the difference between them and the players whose absence they're trying to fill. Smart has a defensive rating of 98.9 this season, tops among all players in the NBA averaging 30 or more minutes played. That kind of elite defense for such an extended period of time is among the many reasons why his return after the All-Star break will be worth keeping an eye on. 

MARCUS MORRIS

After a slow start because of a sore left knee that kept him in and out of the Celtics lineup, Morris seemed to finally be healthy enough beginning with Boston’s Jan. 11 matchup in London against Philadelphia, in which he scored a then-season high of 19 points.
 
That would be the first of 11 straight double-digit scoring games for Morris, which was a first for him. More than the points, Morris’ availability has been huge. Including the Jan. 11 game against the Sixers, Morris has played in all but two games since then.

Boston will need Morris to continue along those lines, with the only question lingering around him is a pretty simple one: Will he continue to be healthy enough to contribute?

GREG MONROE

No one expected Greg Monroe to hit the ground running, with 20 points and 20 rebounds a game. But after four games, the early returns aren’t exactly overwhelming. Monroe has scored a total of 20 points and grabbed -- you got it -- a total of 20 rebounds.    
 
At the same time, it’s still too soon to know what he’s going to bring to this team. A low-post scoring threat for sure, Monroe has also shown himself to be a decent defender. However, Boston will need Monroe to put his imprint on games in a more significant fashion going forward.

That doesn’t mean he has to score a ton of points or grab a huge haul on the glass. But he has to make his presence felt,. Otherwise his signing will have done little to move Boston towards best positioning itself for all possible scenarios that may come its way in these final regular season games as well as the playoffs.

REBOUNDING

Most of us approached this season anticipating the worst when it comes to the Boston Celtics and rebounding. The Celts havs been a bad rebounding team for years and the moves they made in the offseason didn’t spark any hints things would get better. But they did . . . a lot better. And as the wins piled up, so did the rebounds which had the Celtics regarded as one of the league’s better rebounding teams.

And then they hit a swoon and have since been trying to get back to being a good rebounding team. The results of late, have been mixed. Lots of variables go into winning; rebounding for the Celtics is one of the bigger ones. In victories this season, they averafe 4.6 more rebounds per game than they do in losses. Improving their lot in this area not only provides a chance to improve their win total, but also allows their defense to be better, play at a tempo more to their liking and just overall, be a better team.

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