Blakely's All-Star break Celtics report card
Blakely's All-Star break Celtics report card
TORONTO – We’re at the unofficial halfway point of the season although as Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens pointed out to me recently, it’s more like the two-thirds mark if you’re sticking to the actual number of games played.
Whichever description in the NBA calendar you want to give it, this still serves as a time to reflect upon what has been accomplished thus far this season.
And for the Celtics, it has been a good start – better than most would have anticipated.
Boston (32-23) hits the all-star break with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and eighth overall in the NBA.
Not surprisingly, that kind of success has brought about quite a few impressive performances this season.
Here’s a look at CSNNE.com’s report card for the Boston Celtics at the halfway – or two-thirds mark – in this season.
HIGH HONOR ROLL
Boston’s lone All-Star this season and first since 2013, Thomas has had the kind of breakout season that the Celtics absolutely had to have in order to reap the kind of success they have thus far. He hits the All-Star break coming off a 36-point effort in Boston’s 139-134 overtime win against the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the sixth time this season he scored at least 30 points, with this last effort raising his scoring average to a career-best 21.5 points per game to go with 6.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds. He has been Boston’s most dynamic player this season.
Hard work and opportunity have catapulted Crowder from a second-round pick trying to find a spot in the NBA, to being an indispensable part of one of the league’s best stories this season. And like Thomas, Crowder is also having a breakout season in what has been his first full season as a starter with more starts this season (55) than his previous three seasons combined (41). The 6-foot-6 forward is averaging 14.1 points and 5.1 rebounds along with 1.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game – all career highs for the fourth-year Crowder.
Gradual improvement has been the name of Bradley’s game for as long as he has been in the NBA. Every year he comes back with a new trick to his game while maintaining his status as one of the league’s best on-the-ball defenders. But it has been his offense that has really been a plus for Boston this season. He is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, in addition to being the team’s leader in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) which is 107.5.
He has had a few not-so-great moments recently on the defensive end of the floor (fouling Milwaukee’s Khris Middelton with 0.6 seconds to play; two early fouls in overtime on Los Angeles Clippers’ guard J.J. Redick who converted those fouls into six points), but Bradley’s body of work this season has been among the best on this roster.
If there’s one reason why Danny Ainge may hesitate to break up this roster prior to the trade deadline, Marcus Smart might be it. Since his return from missing 18 games with a left leg injury, Boston seems to be getting stronger by the day. Smart’s play has been good, but his presence for this team even better. He is a physical, feisty, gritty player who is trending towards being the kind of two-way talent Boston was hoping he would eventually become.
The only reason Turner isn’t on my honor roll is because he has been such a horrendous 3-point shooter (14.5 percent) this season. But other than that, he has been simply amazingly effective for Boston coming off the bench.
And what makes Turner such an impressive impact player is he finds different ways to do it. You hear players talk all the time about taking what the defense gives them. Well Turner does this, all the time. And it has made him arguably Brad Stevens’ most important player to have on the floor in the fourth quarter.
Consistency has been an issue at times for Sullinger who still remains a key role player for Boston. He has become better at taking advantaging of sagging centers who want no part of the perimeter, and making them pay when they overplay the jumper which allows him to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim.
He hits the All-Star break coming off his 15th double-double of the season in Boston’s win over the Clippers. It was a game in which he seemed locked in at both ends of the floor while doing little things such as boxing out DeAndre Jordan to make it as difficult as possible for him to rebound.
The last week or so has been one of those “come back to earth” moments for Olynyk. He has played some really good basketball this season particularly when it comes to shooting the 3-point shot. But lately, that shot has not been falling for him. And while his defensive rating numbers have been good all season, he has been among the Celtics big men to have had trouble at times limiting the impact of opposing bigs.
Still, he’s giving you 10.1 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 41.3 percent on 3s. All and all, Olynyk has had a solid season thus far for Boston.
Brought in to help solidify Boston’s defense as a rim-protecting big man, Johnson has for the most part been successful at doing what he was brought in here to do. But like some of his teammates, consistency more than anything else has been an issue for him. It’s not scoring or rebounding per se, but making his presence felt defensively on a night-in, night-out basis. Offensively, Johnson doesn’t score a ton of points (he’s averaging 7.5 per game), but there’s no mistaking his presence has been helpful to Boston’s impressive scoring this season. His offensive rating of 105.9 is tops among Celtics’ big men this season.
Every team has that one player whose playing time seems to be more than fans think is warranted. Jerebko is that player for Boston. But the more you watch him play and not pay so much attention to what he does scoreboard-wise, it’s clear why Brad Stevens has made keeping him in the rotation a priority. At 6-foot-10, Jerebko has the size and versatility to give Stevens more options when it looks to play with a more skilled group of players.
Jerebko is usually the fifth scoring option when he’s on the floor, but that has nothing to do with his ability to score. We talk a lot about Kelly Olynyk and his 3-point shooting this season. Well Jerebko has been even better, connecting on 42.9 percent of his 3s.
The last couple of weeks saw Zeller zoom past “passing” to where he is indeed worthy of Merit Roll status. Indeed, the 7-foot center has come full circle this season and finds himself now back on the fringe of the Celtics’ rotation. In the last 10 games, he has averaged 8.0 points, 3.7 rebounds while shooting 59.6 percent from the field – all better than his season average in those categories.
It remains to be seen how much playing time he’ll get going forward, but he has gained the utmost respect from his teammates for staying ready whenever called upon. And if his minutes dip after the break, he won’t fret or make a stink about it. Because he knows his time will come around eventually, and to his credit he will be ready.
Opportunities have been few and far between for Lee lately, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon as long as he’s still in Boston. Danny Ainge and Lee’s representatives have been looking for potential landing spots for the former two-time All-Star that would help him get back on the floor. He still has talent and can help some teams win games. But the challenge for Boston in getting a deal done, is that teams aren’t convinced the assets they’ll have to part with in order to acquire Lee and his $15.5 million expiring contract are worth it.
Everyone within the Celtics coaching staff will tell you that James Young is getting better, even if the minutes (or lack of minutes) might suggest otherwise. There is tremendous competition for minutes at the wing position which has hurt Young’s chances at playing time. He has taken a major step forward in transforming his body from a lithe teenager playing in a grown man’s league, to a thin perimeter player who is learning how to work hard in the NBA.
Danny Ainge surprised many when he drafted Rozier with the 16th overall pick in last June’s NBA draft. And while Rozier hasn’t stood out enough to earn consistent minutes, he has shown flashes of being a key contributor in the future. You can’t coach the kind of endline-to-endline speed that he possesses. But you won’t see much of that now that Boston’s more seasoned perimeter players are healthy and into a good rhythm.
Of the rookies, Hunter has been probably the biggest surprise. He saw more action early on because of Marcus Smart’s injuries. And in that time, Hunter showed a basketball savvy on the floor that the coaches acknowledged they didn’t anticipate seeing on display so soon into his pro career. Hunter is deceptively long which allowed him to be a better defender than most expected. Still, Hunter has to add strength and weight to his lean frame and become more consistent in knocking down shots when the opportunity to take them presents itself.
There may not be a player on this roster that fans are more intrigued by than Jordan Mickey. He has been a dominant Development League force this season, so much so that the idea of him not playing for the Celtics seems difficult to fathom; that is until you look at all the veterans ahead of him in the front court. Danny Ainge has said on more than one occasion that he’s in no rush to get Mickey on to the floor. But given the choice between hanging around the Celtics and not playing, versus playing in the D-League, Mickey at this point is better off continuing to play at a high level against guys who have the same dream as his – to play in the NBA for years to come.