Three potential impact players off Celtics bench
Three potential impact players off Celtics bench
BOSTON – Players are conditioned from an early age to start. After all, how the heck will you get noticed if you're not running with the first team?
Well we have seen plenty of examples of players who weren't starters, but stars nonetheless.
Kevin McHale spent the majority of his career in Boston jogging to the scorer's table in the first quarter as the first sub in.
Well, 17,000-plus points and three NBA titles (1981, 1984 and 1986) later, I think most would agree that McHale ... he did OK for himself.
Fast forward to this upcoming season for the Celtics.
With so much depth and parity across the board, there’s a good chance that one of Boston’s top two or three players for this upcoming season might be a reserve.
There are an ample number of players who may fall under this category, but here are three that make the most sense in terms of likely coming off the bench as well as their potential impact this season.
Some things never seem to change.
Zeller comes into training camp with expectations once again lower than they probably should be considering what he was able to accomplish last season. The 7-foot center was not expected to play much, but wound up being one of the team’s biggest surprises while averaging career highs in just about every significant statistical category.
Although he was a starter for 59 games last season, he will likely begin this season coming off the bench as was the case to start last season.
And while he certainly had some impressive moments with the first unit, Zeller’s play was better as a reserve than it was with the starters.
As a starter, Zeller had a plus/minus of negative-3.7 last season. Coming off the bench, that number improved to plus-0.4.
He shot 54 percent from the field as a starter, and 58.8 percent as a reserve.
There’s additional data such as his offensive rating (116 as a starter, 125 as a reserve) that only helps to strengthen the premise that Zeller’s best role for this team is coming off the bench.
With so many new bodies added to the roster, there’s no telling if Zeller will have an opportunity to play as much as he did last season. But the 7-foot big man has shown that when called upon he’s ready to contribute. And for a team with so many evenly-matched players such as the Celtics, that could be the intangible that gives him a shot at playing time this season.
A 7-footer with perimeter shooting skills, can put the ball on the floor and every now and then he can grab a rebound. What’s not to like about a player like that? Well, it all depends on where he’s at on your roster.
Talent is not an issue or concern with Olynyk.
He has plenty.
But how he uses his talent - or rather how often he uses it – has Celtics Nation torn over how they feel about him.
Although he’s 24 years old, Olynyk still has a lot of upside and potential to grow as a player. When the Celtics moved up in the 2013 NBA draft to select him, part of the thinking was that he could come in and make an immediate impact. He still can, but it’s not nearly as much as some would want.
That’s why coming off the bench makes a lot of sense for both Olynyk and the Celtics this season. He was a reserve in 51 games last season, nearly four times the number of games he started (13) for Boston.
While just about every offensive statistic for Olynyk was better when he was with the first unit, there was clear and undeniable evidence that Boston was a better team – noticeably better – when he was a backup.
With Olynyk in the starting lineup, his plus/minus ratio was minus-4.1 last season.
As a reserve, there was a double-digit increase to plus-8.0.
If he can stay relatively healthy and pick up where he left off in contributing off the bench, he could emerge as one of the key performers in Boston’s efforts to improve upon last season’s 40-42 record and seventh-place finish in the East.
He was the Celtics’ leading scorer a year ago and there’s a good chance he’ll repeat even with the additions made in the offseason.
There’s no mistaking the 5-foot-9 guard’s dynamic scoring ability which was something the Boston Celtics needed last season when they got him via trade from Phoenix. In 21 games with the Celtics, he averaged a team-best 19.0 points per game.
But the Celtics want to be billed as a team whose identity is rooted in strong play defensively. And by starting Thomas, you take one of your best perimeter defenders and arguably one of the better ones in the NBA (Avery Bradley or Marcus Smart), out of the starting lineup which more often than not has a negative impact on the team’s play defensively to start games and thus not allow them to set the kind of tone they want to.
The issue with Thomas defensively, at least since he has been in Boston, isn’t as much about effort as it is simply the guys around him – Bradley and Smart – are significantly better at that end of the floor.
And Thomas is the better scorer, obviously.
Having Thomas come off the bench also helps to simplify his role.
As a reserve, Thomas is the undisputed first scoring option and that leads to those on the floor with him doing what they can to best free him up to score.
Thomas was especially effective last season when it came to catch-and-shoot situations. According to NBA.com/stats, Thomas’ effective field goal percentage (eFG%) when he catches the ball and immediately shoots, is 61.3 percent. That number is even better at 62.5 when he takes a shot without a single dribble.
He is a player with a very specific strength - scoring the ball - which the Celtics have to figure out how best to utilize. Even though Thomas wants to be a starter, Boston’s strong finish last season and his role in that success coming off the bench should be enough to keep him content with staying in a role that he’s ideally suited for.