Celtics

Turning down the heat on your Al Horford takes

cp-spark-al-horford-1-030818x.jpg
AP Photo

Turning down the heat on your Al Horford takes

Let’s start with a few disclaimers:

1.    I will not be naming the people whose takes I will be addressing. It’s not because I care about their feelings, it’s mostly because I’m not in that poor of a mood right now.

2.    I think it’s completely fair to criticize the performance of professional athletes, but I also think it’s completely fair for me to criticize your criticism. And you can criticize my criticism of the criticism if you feel like it in the comments below. Got it?

Let’s start with this tweet from earlier this week:

“When you're paying someone almost 30 million a year and he absolutely sucks against the teams you have to eventually beat to get out of your conference or even win a championship you have real problem!!!! i wish KG could turn back time and come back.”

Aside from the obvious -- KG’s not walking through that door -- this take got me thinking. Does Al Horford suck against the teams the Celtics will eventually need to beat to get out of the East? So I looked it up. 

Here are Al’s numbers vs the teams currently in playoff position in the Eastern conference compared to his overall regular-season averages.

As you can see his numbers are pretty close, and in most cases better,  against the East playoff teams, although averaging 0.2 rebounds fewer vs those teams probably means he’s mentally weak.

In the spirit of fairness, Al has only averaged 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 5 meetings vs Toronto and Cleveland combined this season. Those are lower than his season averages; however, saying he sucks vs them is a bit of a stretch when you consider only 12 players in the NBA are averaging 10-plus points, 6-plus rebounds and 4-plus assists this season.

The part about his salary is comical because that’s what the cost of signing a max free agent was in the summer of 2016. You don’t get Horford if you don’t pay him. Max contracts are based on percentage of the salary cap, so as the cap goes up (like it did that summer) the salaries do as well. Max deals signed the summer before Horford’s will be less because the cap spike from $70 million in 2015 to $94 million in 2017. Context matters folks.
Moving on, this was in an article that was published by the Big Lead on Wednesday: 

"He’s the 11th-highest paid player in the NBA, but is the 105th in points per game (12.8), 36th in rebounds (7.5), 36th in assists (4.9)"

What my friend fails to mention is that, while those statements are true about his per-game averages, Horford is one of just nine players in the NBA to average 12-plus points, 7-plus rebounds and 4-plus assists this season. He’s also fifth in 3-point field goal percentage, third among centers in assists per game, fifth in Defensive Win shares and seventh in Defensive Box Plus/Minus. In basketball there really isn’t one stat to rule them all, so when making statements about a player’s worth it’s best to look at a broad swath of relevant categories.

My argument is the same about the money. Context matters, and that was the cost of signing the biggest free agent in franchise history (at the time).

And finally, my favorite take of all from a tweet I received on Wednesday:

“…the truth is he can't guard any good centers, being abused by elite centers, can't protect the paint, soft as [inappropriate non expletive]. He's trash if we talk about highest paid player.”

This one blew me away. Say what you want about Horford’s lack of aggression on the offensive end, or even his rebounding, but saying he can’t guard any good centers or that he gets abused by elite centers is just factually inaccurate. Take this for data:

Of the eight other bigs named to the All-Star team this year, Karl-Anthony Towns (62.5%) and Andre Drummond (69.2%. . .  nice) are the only two to shoot better than their season FG% when defended by Al Horford this season.

I understand that trolls are gonna troll, but it’s this type of lazy trolling that led to the sinking of the Titanic (google it). 

It’s fair to criticize players for poor performances, and Horford himself admitted he hasn’t been playing up to his own standards lately, but can we please keep the hot takes reality based? 

If you stumble upon any outrageous takes that seem a little too hot please drop me a line on Twitter @max_lederman.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Jaylen Brown plays 1-on-1 with Tracy McGrady

Jaylen Brown plays 1-on-1 with Tracy McGrady

As the Celtics continue their offseason and Summer League playoff run, Jaylen Brown has been working out with a newly inducted member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Tracy McGrady. 

The young star is coming off a sophomore campaign where he was second on the team in scoring in both the regular season (14.5) and playoffs (18.0). On Sunday, a video sufaced of Brown and McGrady playing a game of 1-on-1 with no dribbling. 

McGrady averaged over 20 points per game from 2000-2008, and seems to still have an innate ability to score. 

Brown was a key factor in the injury-riddled Celtics coming within one win of an NBA Finals appearance. The main storyline heading into the 2018-19 season for the Celtics will be the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but let's not forget about the growth of Brown and Jayson Tatum.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

boston-celtics-jabari-bird-70618.jpg
File photo

Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

During Las Vegas Summer League play, the Celtics' Jabari Bird has been a human highlight reel-in-waiting every time he's stepped on the floor.

But while people may see Bird's breakout performances, they haven't seen what led to them: The 6 a.m. workouts near San Francisco that he would drive an hour to attend earlier this summer, and the film sessions breaking down the 400 or so shots he would take -- and make -- per workout.

There is an under-the-radar, stealth-like grind about Bird that has helped him stand out as one of the top players for Boston’s Summer League team . . . and, just as important, better secure a place for himself in the NBA next season.

MORE JABARI BIRD

“Everybody here at Summer League has to be impressed by the way he’s playing,” Celtics assistant and Summer League coach Jay Larranaga told reporters recently.

Bird will look to continue his strong play tonight in the Celtics' Summer League playoff matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers at 8 p.m. He was given a rest and didn't play in yesterday's 74-72 win over Miami, so will take team-high averages of 16.8 point and 6.0 rebounds into tonight's game. He's also shooting 57.1 percent from the field and is second on the C's in steals (1.8 per game).

The numbers are strong, clearly. But Bird’s work ethic, more than the eye-popping moves on the floor, is what has allowed him to stand out in Las Vegas.

Player development trainer Packie Turner of Unlimited Potential Basketball has worked with Bird dating back to his junior season at Cal and has been pleased with how the 24-year-old has made the most of his opportunity this summer.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Turner who has worked with two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, his brother Seth Curry, and Sacramento’s Skal Labissiere, among others. “[Bird] can defend, he can shoot,  he can score. Three-and-D (defense) guys are everywhere now.”

And it is that versatility that promtped Boston to take Bird with the 56th overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, and later sign him to a two-way contract.

Bird had an injury-riddled first season shuffling back and forth between the Celtics and their Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. But after the C' shad secured the second-best record in the East, with no shot at moving up to the top spot, Bird was among the players to see extensive playing time late in the season.

And to his credit, he didn’t disappoint.

He played so well that there was a swelling level of interest among Celtics fans who wanted to see Boston carve out a spot on the playoff roster for Bird. (However, players signed to two-way contracts are ineligible to be on their respective team’s playoff roster.)

Bird had a taste of being active on an NBA roster, and he clearly wanted more.

Turner could sense something was different with Bird shortly after his rookie season had ended and he returned to the Bay Area, setting up workouts with an earlier-than-usual start time of 6 a.m.

“He has always wanted to be in the gym,” Turner told NBC Sports Boston. “But you could tell, he could see how close he was and came in committed to doing everything he could to make it happen, now.”

Bird, a prep All-American before choosing the Cal Bears over a bevy of college suitors, was a high-flyer from the jump. But Turner wanted to see him expand that athleticism beyond playing above the rim.

MORE CELTICS

“I thought back then he used [his athleticism] vertically, but didn’t use it laterally,” Turner said. “He’s gotten a lot better laterally using his athleticism. That’s an area we can get better with as far as how he attacks side-to-side . . . just big explosive movements and not getting upright in those moments. He knows how to do it around the rim, a lot of put-backs; he’s active around the glass. I want him to use that same athleticism on a step-back, or a move to clear space.”

We have seen more of that in Summer League, which has made Bird a more versatile, more attractive target for teams. The Celtics made him a qualifying offer earlier this summer, making him a restricted free agent.
 
Bird has shrugged off talk surrounding his basketball fate beyond this summer, aware that thinking too much about it can do no good.
 
“I’m not too concerned with what’s going on as far as my future and things like that,” Bird told NBC Sports Boston near the end of the regular season when he got his first opportunity to play decent minutes. “I’m trying to control what I can control, and that’s going out and play hard every game."

Bird added: “I’m just trying to show everyone in this organization that I’m a good ballplayer.”

Jaylen Brown, a teammate of Bird’s at Cal, was among the first to put folks on alert that Bird had NBA-caliber talent.

“I’m telling you, he’s a really, really good player,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “When he gets his chance, and he’ll get it, he’ll show everyone. You’ll see.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE