Three players who will lead Celtics defensively
Three players who will lead Celtics defensively
BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics gather in a couple weeks to start training camp, the list of areas in need of improvement is lengthy.
It would be foolish to believe that the Celtics or any other team for that matter, will shore up those areas of concern on Day one or even by Day 21.
The process for progress can be a long and at times frustrating one.
And as much as they need more talent, the Celtics also need to establish an identity for who they are and how they want to play in order to be successful.
Looking at the additions they made during the offseason along with the core guys who are back, it appears this group has its mind set on being a strong defensive club.
But in doing that, someone has to emerge as the face of that defense which allowed opponents to shoot 43.9 percent from the field last season which was the second-worst mark in the league.
Boston’s defensive rating of 111.8 last season was bad as well, ranking No. 26 out of the 30 NBA teams.
So who will be the face of this team defensively?
Here we take a look at the three most likely players to assume that role this season.
He’s the only guy on this team who has been named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams and being just 25 years old without having any nagging (or lingering) injuries, he’s an obvious choice to be that guy right?
Not if you look at what has happened with his game the last couple of seasons.
Bradley has not been coy about his desire to become more of a scorer the last couple of seasons when we saw his average jump to 14.9 and back down to 13.9 points, respectively, last season. While Boston needed someone to emerge as a more reliable scorer the past couple of seasons, it seems as though it has come at the cost of his play defensively.
Even with a noticeable drop-off, Bradley still ranks among the better on-the-ball defenders out there. But as we saw the past two seasons, opponents are finding more and more success scoring against him than previously.
NBA.com/stats reveal that opponents of Bradley shot 44.3 percent from the field against him last season which was 1.2 percent higher than their usual shooting percentage. And during the 2013-2014 season, the disparity (2.9 percent) was even greater.
Bradley will have one of two choices this season: revert back to being closer to that 24/7/365 defensive pest the teams feared and not worry about scoring as much, or continue to improve as a shooter (especially in catch-and-shoot scenarios which is a strength of his) while leaving more of the heavy lifting defensively to some of the Celtics’ other defensive players who have shown signs early on in their careers of being elite defenders.
His rookie season had its share of ups and downs for sure, but the one constant with Smart was his ability to compete defensively at a high level. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Smart has the kind of size to be physical with perimeter players. But he also possesses the kind of quickness to keep guys in front of him, too. Those skills allow him to play against a multitude of players and still be effective without having to score points.
In some ways, he’s in a similar position as Bradley as far as being a really good defender who has shown flashes of being a significant contributor scoring the ball as well.
In a perfect world, Smart would be able to excel at both ends of the floor and who knows, he may very well do that in time.
But for now, the best thing for him and the Celtics would be for his game to continue to evolve defensively which would in turn provide some additional opportunities to score whether it’s off a turnover or some other kind of hustle play.
I thought Crowder was a good defender even in limited minutes with Dallas, but it wasn’t until the playoffs against Cleveland did I get a real sense of his defensive potential. Now LeBron James is going to get his points just about any way he wants to, but the best defenders in the NBA have a way of making him work harder for those points than he’s accustomed to.
Jae Crowder is that kind of defender.
He was so into James defensively, it took a blatantly hard forearm by ex-Celtic Kendrick Perkins (a cheap shot if we’re calling it what it really was) for James to have the kind of freedom he’s used to on the floor.
At that point, it didn’t matter what James did afterward.
Crowder had made his point – he wasn’t going anywhere.
And while his play in that series and a host of other games certainly passed the eye test defensively, the numbers for Crowder at that end of the floor are just as revealing.
Opponents guarded by Crowder last season shot 43.1 percent from the field according to NBA.com/stats which is a full percentage point below what they normally shot for the season. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward was even more impressive when it came to defending players shooting 3s. They shot 1.9 percentage points less than with him guarding them compared to what they shot for the season.
And unlike Bradley and Smart, Crowder won’t have the same kind of responsibilities as fa as running the team or making sure players are where they need to be on the floor.
He can play more freely at both ends of the floor, something we saw him do a lot near the end of last season.
When you look at the top defenders in the NBA who play on the perimeter like San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year) or Golden State’s Andre Iguodala (NBA Finals MVP), their responsibilities on the floor are heavily rooted in what they can accomplish defensively.
Throw in his size, versatility, the confidence he gained from this past season in Boston along with having a defensive mindset, the Celtics have a young man who has many of pieces needed in order to be an exceptional defensive player.