Top 5 strengths of the 2016-17 Celtics
Top 5 strengths of the 2016-17 Celtics
BOSTON – The summer shopping season for the Celtics is all but complete now with the soon-to-be-official additions led by a couple of blasts from the distant (Gerald Green) and not-so-distant past (Tyler Zeller).
Adding them to the mix will only make a franchise on the rise, even more poised for what should be Brad Stevens’ first 50-plus win season and a trip to the postseason that goes beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Still, the challenges awaiting Stevens are no different now than previous years; specifically, how to mold a roster full of talent into a cohesive unit that can build off the success of the past two seasons.
There will be some players whose roles will be enhanced which will come at the expense of some teammates.
Meanwhile, others will sit and wait for their opportunity to play, knowing it’ll come at some point. Staying ready for a chance to get on the floor has been a hallmark among the teams Stevens has coached in Boston, a credit to him as well as the players for buying into his teachings and more often than not executing the game plan when it includes them.
Here’s a look at some other strengths of the 2016-2017 Celtics team, which isn’t expected to look all that different between now and the start of training camp:
Getting worked over on the boards happened far too often to Boston last season as they finished 19th in the NBA in rebounding percentage (.494). But when you look at how this roster is constructed now, those days should be a thing of the past. In Al Horford, Boston has a career 8.9 rebounds per game big man who should help solidify Boston’s interior board work now that Jared Sullinger (Toronto Raptors) is no longer on the roster. Amir Johnson averaged 6.4 rebounds last season but did so in just 22.8 minutes per game. Boston should benefit from good rebounding from its guards too; especially Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier who have both shown the ability to rebound well in traffic or snatch long boards, too.
There’s always a player or two that has the potential to surprise and seemingly come out of nowhere and develop into a consistent, reliable contribute but not necessarily ever reach go-to guy status. That was a role that Evan Turner fell into last season, and he parlayed that success into a four-year, $70 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s gone, but there are several players on this roster who seem well suited to fill that void. We start with Terry Rozier who was easily the most impressive player on the Celtics summer league team. Regular season play is an entirely different animal; I get that. Still, that doesn’t diminish the job Rozier did this summer, and how he is most poised among the returners to have a breakout system. Boston also added former Celtic Gerald Green, a player on a veteran’s minimum contract ($1.4 million) who can get you 30 points on any given night. Jaylen Brown showed glimpses of being capable of making a healthy living at the free throw line this summer, which bodes well for his chances of making an early impact.
3. Rim Protection
When it came to the Celtics’ last line of defense, often it was Amir Johnson and … Amir Johnson. But the addition of Al Horford will make it even tougher for teams to score on the Celtics. And remember, Boston limited opponents to 44.1 percent shooting which was tied for seventh-best in the league last season. Now that Johnson will have one of the league’s better defensive big men beside him along with what should once again be a strong group of perimeter defenders led by all-NBA First team defender Avery Bradley, scoring around the rim against Boston – and that’s assuming you get deep enough to even get an attempt off – will be no small feat.
In talking with scouts who watch the Celtics all season, many come away impressed with the skill level on display by most of their players. However, Boston hasn’t exactly been known in recent years as the most athletic bunch in the world. Well, it’s clear the C's are looking to change that in a hurry. Drafting Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s draft provides Boston with one of the best athletes in the entire draft class. We’ve all seen what a physical freak Gerald Green can be. And while he’s 30 years old now, Green still can play above the rim with the best of them. Terry Rozier got a chance to showcase his elite athleticism this summer, which should be on display more this year now that Evan Turner has moved on to the Portland Trail Blazers.
When last season began, Boston ranked among the youngest teams in the NBA. And with minimal change throughout the season, the baby-faced Celtics kept their youthful glow. But as those players grow in their knowledge and understanding of the game, Boston has done its part to increase their veteran presence beyond the usual on-the-job experience. Adding 30-year-old Al Horford was a major step forward in Boston’s quest to get past the first round of the playoffs. Not only does he represent the first significant free agent signing by Boston of a player who is still in his prime, but it also provides them with a battle-tested player who understands all too well how tough it is to win in the playoffs. Having experienced a slew of highs and lows in his nine NBA seasons as well as those years he played overseas, Gerald Green’s value may extend beyond his highlight reel skills. Green is an example of what could happen in the NBA if you get too caught up in the hype early on in your career. The 6-foot-8 Green has talent that’s worth far more than a veteran’s minimum contract. But having not put in the work at an earlier age to become an all-around talented player – something he has made tremendous strides in doing so the last few years – left him little choice this offseason. That experience can only help keep a talented team on the rise like the Celtics, grounded in what should be their focus which is continued improvement in all phases of the game.