Blakely: Three key factors in making the Celtics better
Three key factors in making the Celtics better
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics come into this season with something we haven’t seen around here in a while – high expectations.
Every season under Brad Stevens has brought about more victories than the year before, a trend that seems highly probable as the Celtics kick off their season with training camp beginning on Sept. 27.
And after winning 48 games last season, it’s not a stretch to think that Boston’s sights should be set on clearing the 50-win plateau for the first time since 2012.
So what’s it gonna take?
Here are three key factors that will go far in Boston continuing along its winning ways in Year Four of the Brad Stevens Era.
I.T. DEPARTMENT UP AND RUNNING
Last season was a breakout year for Isaiah Thomas, cumulating in him being named an All-Star for the first time while registering career highs in several categories. It would be great if he could replicate that success or even improve upon it, but neither will be necessary in order for Boston to be more successful.
Thomas’ availability next season may very well be his greatest ability for the Celtics. Because as long as he can suit up and play, you know he’s going to play well and give Boston a chance at success.
The 5-foot-9 guard put up some big-time numbers last season: 22.2 points. 6.2 assists. 3.0 rebounds.
But the best number of them all?
That would be zero, as in zero games missed all season.
Despite an assortment of nagging injuries, which included a sore wrist which led to him being a game-time decision in April, Thomas still managed to play in all 82 regular-season games which was a first for the five-year veteran.
And while his numbers certainly were impressive on their own, the pivotal role they played in Boston's success gave them even more credence.
Last season, Thomas had a win share of 9.7, which was the highest by a Celtic since Paul Pierce (12.2) in 2012 . . . which just so happens to be the last time Boston won 50-plus regular season games.
EVAN TURNER REPLACEMENT
Isaiah Thomas is going to play a lot of minutes, but at some point he has to head to the bench for a breather. For the past couple of years, that wasn’t an issue. Throw in Evan Turner, offense keeps rolling. But Turner signed a four-year, $70 million with Portland, which has left a significant void for the Celtics.
Marcus Smart seems the likely successor.
He's played both on and off the ball, as well as some small forward in some of Boston’s small-ball lineups.
Smart’s ability as a playmaker hasn’t been nearly as strong as what we’ve seen of him as a defender, but he has made progress since Boston drafted him three years ago. He’ll play 20-plus minutes again this season, but he will be pressed for playing time at the point by second-year guard Terry Rozier (left).
After the Celtics shocked many in drafting Rozier with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Rozier surprised just as many with a really strong showing this year while starring for Boston's Summer League teams in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. In six Summer League games he averaged 20.0 points, 3.5 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Summer League success by no means translates into getting the job done during the regular season. But it did provide a much-needed boost of confidence for Rozier whose path to getting playing time this season won’t be a smooth one.
“I know he’s going to try and take some of my minutes,” Thomas told reporters earlier this summer while visiting the Celtics’ Summer League squad in Las Vegas. “But that’s what it’s about; competing.”
Boston’s defense was a major part of the C's ascension last season. The Celtics’ defensive rating of 100.9 last season was tied for the fourth-best mark in the NBA. Boston also ranked among the NBA leaders in fewest points allowed via fast breaks (10.8 points, third in the NBA).
A big part of the Celtics' success defensively lies in the ability of their perimeter players to contest jump-shots and 3-pointers. Avery Bradley was named to the league’s All-NBA Defensive First Team this past season. Marcus Smart has established himself as an exceptional perimeter defender. Jae Crowder’s defensive versatility also plays into Boston’s success defensively, too.
According to NBA.com/stats, opponents shot just 31.8 percent from the field on shots 25-29 feet out against Boston last season. And when it comes to shot attempts 15-19 feet out, Boston held opponents to 38.8 percent, which was tied for seventh-best mark in the NBA.
And Boston should be even better defensively with the addition of Al Horford, whose presence should help strengthen Boston’s interior defense which allowed 43.0 points in the paint which ranked 14th in the NBA.
Moving into the top-10 would go far in strengthening an already strong defense that seems poised to crack the 50-regular season win plateau for the first time under Stevens.