Offseason Dreaming: Gortat In Green

Although the Celtics season of mediocrity isn’t quite over yet, the remaining 7 games can’t come quickly enough in what has been a long 82-game stand. With this in mind, it’s never too early to look towards the period in June and July this year where Danny Ainge is expected to be very active.

Polish center Marcin Gortat displayed his affections for the C’s in yesterday’s game against the Wizards in DC, which grabbed my attention as a fan excitedly looking towards the offseason.

Early in the contest, Rondo displayed his signature behind-the-back fake pass that left Gortat with his feet nailed to the floor. Down the other end, Trevor Booker attempted a pair of free throws while Rondo and Gortat shared a laugh over the previous play. This may not seem like much, but there is definitely a mutual respect between the pair, as the Polish Hammer took to Twitter after the game to illustrate this point:

As the 3rd quarter wound down with Jeff Green getting ready to sink some free throws, the Celtics players huddled round for a quick discussion, only to be joined by a certain #4 in a Wizards uniform. It was another mischievous act in yesterday’s game, which was literally embraced by Rondo by having his arm around Gortat as well.

Admittedly, these are only two small things that really don’t point to much on their own. Last year in the offseason, Brandon Bass and Gortat worked out together. The former Orlando Magic teammates clearly share a good relationship to still be catching up and playing ball together, which could work well in any recruitment pitches the Celtics may put to the center.

Becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season, Gortat is earning $7.27 million this year and could demand a similar figure on the open market. While the Wizards are obviously eager to re-sign him, with Marc Stein reporting his signature ‘as a top priority’ for Washington, he has the choice of signing with any team around the league.

The Celtics desperately need a quality center on their roster moving forward, if the Omer Asik trade rumours were anything to go by in December last year. At 30 years of age, Gortat has plenty of good years left in the NBA.

Putting together mutual respect between Gortat and the Captain of the Celtics, his relationship with former teammate Bass, his status as an unrestricted free agent and the Celtics with a plethora of picks and money to make it happen, here’s hoping that fun he had with the Celtics yesterday is the start of something much bigger.

Share your thoughts with us!

- Michael (@mickyt34)

 

Kelly’s Playing Olright

The expectations on most rookie big men must be set reasonably low as players transition from the tempo of the college game into the faster pace of the NBA. However, this isn’t always the case when those rookie bigs are drafted in the top 15 of their class.

Kelly Olynyk displayed a high basketball IQ from the word go, especially when he was named player of the tournament for the 2013 Summer League in Orlando. However, the pace of real NBA games meant Olynyk had trouble finding his feet over the first few months of the season proper.

The turnaround in Kelly’s game over the past two months or so can be put down to something rather simple: confidence. This added confidence can be attributed to several factors. A familiarity with Coach Stevens’ system and his teammates (especially Phil Pressey), an understanding of the tempo of the game and his opponents, and just being comfortable knowing his own game is good enough at this level.

Tommy Heinsohn noted that Olynyk’s selection to the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend may have helped him feel like he truly belongs at this level.

He is no longer hesitating with the ball in his hands, instead taking the shots that are available to him straightaway, demonstrating a higher arc on his jump shots too. If the shots aren’t there, he simply illustrates a very smart passing game to find an open teammate. Olynyk runs the floor very well for a big man, and his ability to finish around the rim is very impressive. In February he averaged 8.4 points per game, substantially improving on averages in December and January of 6.1 and 6.3 points per contest.

Since his return from a toe injury, Kelly has posted averages of 16 points at 53% field goal percentage, 6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 22.5 minutes of court time over those 3 games.

Not only is Olynyk putting up better numbers and looking comfortable in offensive sets, he is also playing with an added aggression which has seen a spike in his rebounding numbers. Over the months of December and January, Olynyk averaged 3.6 and 3.8 boards per contest respectively. In February, those numbers jumped to 6.5 rebounds per game. This is no coincidence, as he actively pursues rebounds and positions himself a lot better than he used to.

It also seems as though Kris Humphries’ tutelage has been working on Olynyk, as he looks to have added some size and muscle since the start of the season.

Danny Ainge has now drafted Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk over the past two offseasons, with both big men showing enormous potential to be something special for the Celtics going forward. As Kelly continues to improve, it’s exciting to think about what the future holds for this young and promising team.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Getting to the finish line.

20-41. 61 games played, 21 games to go.

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We all know it’s about the future, but knowing is different from feeling. One can only imagine the morale of the team at this point. Battered and bruised, they valiantly battle for a win every night, only to fall short at the end to better teams. We all knew this season was never going to be pretty, but reality still hits hard. The situation certainly isn’t as ugly as it was before the modern Big Three era, but it takes a lot of beer and positivity to get this season over and done with. The early season was a really fun ride, but the roster’s been thinned out some since then, which certainly didn’t help. Not forgetting the fact that you can only play so hard and win that many games with an undersized, unbalanced roster that lacks a rim protector, has not yet learnt to rotate defensively on pick and roll plays well enough (check out Kevin O’Connor’s analysis on the team), doesn’t even make a third of its three-point attempts, and sputters along on offense (26th in league) whenever our recently recovered All-Star point guard gets off the floor. None of it is really their fault, it’s just the rigours of getting through a rebuilding system with a young roster finding its ways with a new coach.

I’m really proud of the fact that there hasn’t been any intentional losing crap (read: tanking) and few games where the guys just decide to throw the towel in on defense and let the other team roll over them. A loss is a loss, but at least we’re trying. (I’m morbidly cheered up by the crazy way the Clippers absolutely mutilated the Lakers today by the way.)

On the positive side: Olynyk’s getting more confident and adjusted to the game pace, Rondo’s found a new offensive option in his long range shots, Humphries is a maniac I’d love to keep, Sully’s hustling as always, and Bass is doing the usual Bass-like things, that I like. There’s absolutely no doubt the team can and will get better, it’s just brutal to watch.

Looking at the remainder of the schedule, I can see a whole bunch of games that look like definite losses (read: Miami, Indiana, Brooklyn x2, Detroit x2, Chicago x2 and Phoenix.) Which is a good thing. Or bad, depending on which way you look at it. One thing for sure, I’m just gonna keep telling myself, “NEXT!” up till game #82 rolls around on 17 April 2014. Goodbye Wizards, goodbye season 2013/14.

Like Evans Clinchy wrote, it’s about playing for pride.

“We still have our pride,” said Green. “We don’t want to keep embarrassing ourselves. That’s the mentality we’re going to have. I don’t think this group wants to continue having games like this. We’ve just got to keep fighting and do the best we can to finish out the season strong.”

Whatever lies ahead in the off-season, I’d like to say a word of thanks to all the players for roughing it out through this season. Thanks for not giving up, and fighting on no matter what. Thanks to coach Stevens for steering the ship so well in your first season as head coach; for being calm and ever maintaining that consistent, reassuring exterior. It’s not the easiest job in the league, but I think we’ve got a better shot at getting out of this rut compared to some other teams out there – hello New York!

To the team: keep fighting, stay positive and hang on. We’re all behind you! 21 more bloody games, let’s do it. #CelticPride

Navigating The Rest Of Season 2013/14

As the February trade deadline passed and no moves were made by Danny Ainge since mid-January, the 2013/14 version of the Boston Celtics won’t be one of the most memorable teams in the franchise’s decorated history. Since the beginning of the season and the appointment of rookie Coach Brad Stevens, this season was always about development and working towards something great in the near future. With 23 games remaining and injuries mounting, surely it is time to throw caution to the wind and see what the more inexperienced players have in their arsenal.

With the news Gerald Wallace may miss the final seven weeks of the season, an opportunity for substantial playing time is now up for grabs. As Avery Bradley will return soon, most minutes will be distributed to Jerryd Bayless, Kelly Olynyk and Kris Humphries (in addition to the starting five of Rondo, Bradley, Green, Bass and Sullinger). This is assuming all players will be available to play at the same time, something that has been a rare occurrence with the amount of injuries this team has been dealt with.

This leaves a great opportunity for the likes of Chris Johnson, Phil Pressey and 10-day contract recipient Chris Babb to compete for extended minutes at the guard/forward positions.

Phil Pressey has shown flashes of the player he can become, starting in place of Rajon Rondo on second nights of back-to-backs and playing with the composure required of an NBA-calibre point guard. In January, an impressive night against Toronto in his first career start saw him dish out 10 assists with 0 turnovers, followed later in the week by a 20 point and 4 assist outing against Washington, highlights what Pressey is capable of.

His future with the Celtics appears bright after Danny Ainge traded away Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to give the 5’11” rookie some meaningful playing time. It might be time to give Pressey a more established role behind Rajon Rondo to showcase what he can do on a consistent basis, instead of barely playing to starting from one game to the next.

Chris Johnson really forced his way onto this team, and since being signed to a multi-year deal at the beginning of February, he has continued to play hard on both ends of the floor. Playing to his strengths and knowing his limitations, Johnson would seem the most likely candidate to take the majority of Gerald Wallace’s minutes. It will be interesting to see how Johnson responds to the added responsibility.

Finally, Danny Ainge signed Chris Babb to a 10-day contract to cover the plethora of injuries the Celtics roster currently holds. Babb appeared in five preseason games for the C’s, most notably a 12-point outing in only 8 minutes of action against the Knicks, knocking down 4-5 shots from 3-point land. Babb was unlucky with the amount of guards that jammed the roster at the beginning of the season, but now finds an opportunity to show what he can do at the highest level.

Coach Stevens has been thrown many curveballs in his first season in the NBA, and has been able to navigate his way through all the surprises along the ride very well to this point. Injuries, player frustration, an imbalanced roster, and many losses have all reared their ugly heads at different times. Stevens has always preached never getting too high or too low, and has always instilled confidence into his players whilst keeping a level head at all times. He has been the perfect man for the job.

With Boston headed for the lottery in this draft, now is the time to embrace the injuries the Celtics have been handed and to identify which players will stick as the team moves forward. With a decent selection in the draft, two trade exceptions, and a huge amount of picks at his disposal, Danny Ainge is looking at who will remain in green this offseason, as the Celtics look to climb back into contention at a rapid rate.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Rondo v2.0 – How good is he this season?

It might sound ridiculous to be upbeat when your team’s currently ranked 12th in the horrific East, holding a 19-39 season record, and definitely nowhere near the playoffs. Here’s a flowchart that sums up my feelings every game:

flowchart_celtics2014

Summary: Just can’t lose this season! As things stand right now, we’re looking at two first round picks this coming draft. There is another potential pick from Philadelphia which is lottery protected. Problem: they’re 15-42 right now, and they definitely did a better job on making their team worse by trading Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the deadline, so that pick is more or less out of reach.

Outside of developing young core players like Sullinger and Olynyk, hoarding picks and keeping the salaries manageable, the biggest concern on the team has to be our captain Rajon Rondo. It’s obvious the long term plan is to build around #9, which begs the question – how is his game looking like so far after his return from ACL surgery, and can we expect him to be as good (if not better) compared to earlier seasons?

Free throw shooting

Some past numbers on RR at the stripe:

  • His highest FT accuracy was 64.7% in his rookie season (2006/07) while averaging 2.4 FTs a game (184 attempts total.)
  • The next highest was 64.5% last season (2012/13) at 2.4 FTs a game (93 attempts total.)
  • The most free throw attempts ever taken in a season was in 2009/10, where he took 282 shots and made 62.1%.

This season, he’s been hitting them at 73.7%, making 14 of 19. Out of the 13 games he’s played, he’s only shot free throws in 6 of them, more notably the recent games against the Suns (4/5), Lakers (1/2) and Jazz (6/6).

This sample size is incredibly tiny, and he could very well derail the entire stat by only making half of them in the remaining 23 games. If his free throws in the recent Jazz game are any gauge though, his mechanics do seem to be improved. If you do watch the video linked above, there is a consistent form and routine being seen in the way he follows through with the shot.

Long story short: it could be luck, but I doubt it.

Shot distribution and accuracy

Rondo has always been known as a brilliant passer and finisher at the rim, and much less of a shooting threat, be they three-pointers or mid-range jumpers. Of course, he proved Miami wrong by burying mid-range jumpers when they sagged off him during the 2012 playoffs, but that’s been an anomaly from Rondo and his cheat code playoffs mode, rather than a consistent statistic.

In 2011/12, his right elbow jump shot was a reliable but seldom used option (23 /41), with the bulk of his shots being near the rim (176/340) – floaters, putbacks, twisty layups off the glass, the occasional dream shake and all that. Everything else was a quirky and unreliable go-to option.

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2011/12

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2011/12

In 2012/13, things began to change. Despite not finishing the season (38 games played compared to 53 in 2011/12), Rondo’s mid-range shots around the FT line improved in both volume and accuracy, most especially the right elbow.

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2012/13

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2012/13

This season?

  • In only 13 games, he’s already hit the same amount of three pointers straight up (the zone facing the basket), that he did in 2011/12 and 2012/13 combined. That’s a total of 91 games, mind you. Put it to a combination of three factors: team direction, Rondo’s confidence and his improved shot mechanics.
  • It’s also evident that he hasn’t quite regained his speed and mobility, which accounts for the reduced field goal percentage around the rim. Not being able to sidestep and flash by defenders at top speed would tend to make one miss more layups – just saying.
Rajon Rondo shot chart 2013/14 as at 25 Feb 2014

Rajon Rondo shot chart 2013/14 as at 25 Feb 2014

In terms of distribution: he’s taking 23.28% of his shots at the three point line this season, compared to 10.75% in 2012/13 and 7.34% in 2011/12. Clearly, Rondo’s working hard to dispel the defensive myth about “giving Rondo space to shoot because he’s a bad shooter”, and making teams rethink their Rondo-oriented defensive strategies. Rondo hasn’t regained the fluid movement he had pre-ACL tear, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much space opposing teams will give him in the months ahead.

Assists

This wouldn’t be much of a Rondo article if we ignored Rondo’s most valuable trait on the floor. Having averaged 11.7 and 11.1 assists per game in the past two seasons, he’s currently on 7.8 dimes per game, with 10+ assists coming from 6 of his 7 recent games.

Some other interesting numbers (reference):

  1. The team averaged 19.45 assists per game before Rondo’s return, and is currently dishing close to 22 assists in the past 17 games since his return.
  2. Out of the 395 assists made by the team since his return, Rondo’s made 102 – that’s more than a quarter of them.
  3. Similarly, the team’s assist % has risen from 53.52% to 60.52%, which speaks volumes about the increased number of assisted team baskets.

What the numbers don’t describe though, is the sheer joy of seeing Rondo make the right plays and find a teammate for open baskets, something that has been sorely missed when he went down last season. That “point guard by committee” thing last year? Most definitely a failed experiment.


Despite all the positive signs, it’s still too early to say for certain how well Rondo’s recovered. The true test will come soon enough once March hits, when the Celtics run the gauntlet and go through a punishing schedule with contenders (Warriors, Pacers, Suns, Heat) and tough matchups (Pistons, Nets, Bulls) throughout the month.

Be sure to refer to the flowchart and stay positive, but more importantly, keep your eyes peeled and observe how Rondo and the team fare against tough competition. This season is all about growth, and that’s all the silver lining we need right now. May the return of Mr Triple Double be swift, and certain.

What is the best path for a Celtics rebuild?

With the trade deadline approaching, we take a look at the hard decisions in the week ahead for Danny Ainge and what path he may take for a rebuilding Celtics squad.

Since the big trade in the off-season, debate swept across Celtic nation around how this great franchise can get back to where it belongs: contending, year in year out.  Some think that the best path to rebuild is to completely bottom out, some say that free agency may be the key, whilst others think that going all in by trading away all their chips is the path to glory.

Each method has their own pros and cons, read on as we look through the options in detail.

Rebuilding through the draft

This lengthy method involves trading off most, if not all veterans (Rondo, Green, Bass, etc) whilst keeping young talent.  This would let the team completely bottom out and contend for consecutive top picks.  Philadelphia have gone this exact route this season, setting the tone by trading their young All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a rookie (Nerlens Noel) who is coming off ACL surgery and has yet to play a single minute in the league.

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Pros: If the correct players are drafted, this could potentially set a franchise up for long-term success.  There have been some teams over the years that have hit home runs with their picks.  Oklahoma City, as previously discussed, is the first team to come to mind – besides the obvious choice of drafting a transcendent talent in Kevin Durant, they followed this pick up the next year by selecting both Russell Westbrook (4th pick) and Serge Ibaka (24th pick). They then lucked out again the following year by getting James Harden with the 3rd pick.  Although Harden was traded due to financial reasons, they were still able to convert him into Jeremy Lamb, who is starting to break out for them in a solid bench role, and the rights to draft Steven Adams – who looks to be the starting centre of the future once they can find someone who will take Perk’s terrible contract on.

Portland and Golden State are two other great examples of how drafting well can set a franchise up, with both teams figured to be major players in the Wild West in the foreseeable future with young cores.

Cons: For every franchise that has successfully built through the draft, there are a few others that have not fared as well.  Some teams draft for need, possibly leaving the better player on the board (Sam Bowie/Portland anyone?), sometimes players just don’t pan out as people thought they would, and sometimes teams without any veteran presence can just be too young and lose their way.  Cleveland could check all the boxes here.  The Cavs have had a staggering four top-4 picks in the past 3 years, including two number 1 picks (not to mention the 1st pick to take LeBron back in 2003).  To put that in perspective, the Celtics have had the 1st pick once (1950), and they have only selected with the 2nd pick once (’86 – but that is too sad a story to tell).

Cleveland currently find themselves stuck in no man’s land; they want to compete in order for their young superstar in Kyrie to want to stay (cough *LeBron* cough).  If they prove incapable of shaping the roster up, they could see Kyrie bolt in free agency, taking them once again back to square 1, which is exactly how/why LeBron left the Cavs.

Clear cap space, sign free agents

From the in-season trades that Danny has executed so far, this is something that could definitely be on the cards.  The goal here is to trade/position contracts so that they can all expire within the same year, opening up enough space to sign big-time free agents.  The LA Lakers are doing just that this year – with only Kobe and Nash (likely to retire) on the books for next season.

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Pros: Two words – Miami Heat.  No one was able to do what Miami has done – completely strip their roster down to nothing but their own all-star (Wade) + some minimum wage players, sign an All-Star who is also the best player in the game (I felt dirty saying that, but, fair’s fair).  Pat Riley’s master plan worked to perfection here and Miami are currently the 2-time reigning champions with a good shot at a 3-peat.

Cons: There are only a handful of teams that could get away with trying/executing this plan.  The Lakers will always attract the free agents (except Dwight – HA!) due to the celebrity lifestyle and warm climate. Miami was attractive to LeBron because he wanted to team up with Wade, and, let’s face it, Cleveland isn’t exactly a desired location.  New York was always a destination that players wanted to go to, but, this line of thinking backfired on them in the summer of ’10 as they cleared their books in anticipation of signing LeBron – how did that work out for them?  LeBron bolted for Miami, left New York scrambling to sign somebody, and made the worst contract in the league 4 years later with Amare locked up for 5 years/$100 million without insurance for his already shaky knees, whoops.  Up until this day, New York are in salary cap hell, and they are currently not even in the playoffs picture in the pathetic East.

Go all in!

This is something that us Celtics fans are quite familiar with.  Build up a boatload of assets (including expiring contracts, draft picks, and solid young players) and trade them all in for a star or two. The Celtics are once again, in prime position to do something like this in the upcoming year.

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Pros: Banner #17.  The 2006/07 season is very similar to the current season with great young players, an All-Star entering his prime, and the team armed with multiple draft picks.  The Celtics were able to flip these into two Hall of Famers (on the wrong side of 30) whilst keeping our other main pieces in tact and the results were pure bliss.  Miami’s 2006 championship team achieved the same by trading their chips for Shaq, followed by Antoine Walker.

Cons: It is up to the GM to ensure the players that they are receiving fit the personnel of the team and the coaching style.  There’s no point in getting a big name player just for the sake of it.  Both New York Teams have suffered as the Knicks traded half of their team, including multiple picks just to land Melo, leaving them with an imbalanced roster.  This unfortunately now leaves them in a terrible situation – losing record, salary cap hell, and this years’s pick is owned by Denver in the Melo deal, who incidentally is coming up to free agency after this season.

Brooklyn finds itself in a similar situation; although their team is more balanced, they are an aging, injury-prone team and much like New York, they mortgaged their future for a small window for the title.  Once a team trades away multiple future firsts, and if things don’t work out –much like Brooklyn and New York– it could set up a vicious cycle where these teams keep trying to dig themselves out of a hole by trading more of their assets (young players/draft picks) for immediate help, a dangerous game to play (reference: New York in the past 13 years).

All in all, I believe the Celtics just have too many assets to just rebuild through the draft and wait for these young players to mature.  Even the greats needed help, with Cleveland gutting their team to get LeBron, only for him to leave. Tim Duncan was drafted by a San Antonio squad that already had David Robinson, Sean Elliot and Avery Johnson on their roster.  If Ainge can trade some of the vets that don’t figure to be in the long term plan such as Bass, Green, Hump (and hopefully Wallace), the Celtics will be in great shape to land a star through the draft to put next to Rondo and our budding star Sullinger – leaving the team with enough assets to get further help down the line.

I think the only way Danny goes all in with his chips is if we land a pick outside the top 5, and are unable to get one of the coveted top players in the draft this year.  This is very dependant on who is available, and how that talent will fit in with the remaining personnel, but Danny knows talent. Back in 2006, Ainge had the chance to trade for Allen Iverson who was still in his peak, but ultimately decided against it due to the price tag, and how he would have fit with Pierce, which in hindsight, was the smart move.

I believe Danny will make some moves to clear off some future salary, namely Bass and Green as he is reportedly making a run for the 2015 free agency field.  It’s likely he makes the team worse in the short term without trading any of the future core, tries to collect a top 5 pick, and then either attempts to trade for another star, or tries to sign one with the lure of Rondo + young stars.

How do you think the trade deadline will go down?  Who do you think Ainge will trade, if anyone at all?

- Dave @big_dave31

Johnson Earns His Place

The Celtics made the right decision today by signing Chris Johnson for the rest of the season. After proving he belongs in the NBA on two 10-day contracts, financial flexibility threatened to terminate the relationship between Johnson and the Celtics.

CJ has played hard, every night. When he enters the game, his presence is felt straight away from running the floor and being the first man up the court. With respectable defence to boot, you can tell Johnson wasn’t letting go of this chance easily. Having played 8 games for Memphis last season and undertaking training camp with Brooklyn this preseason, Johnson had been waiting for his next opportunity and not let go of it.

Over 8 games in green, Johnson has posted averages of 7.6 points, 1.3 assists, and 2.8 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. In addition, he has shot a very respectable 40% from 3-point range.  While these are impressive numbers for someone just joining a team, they only tell some of the story.

Johnson has impressed his teammates with his hard work, and knack for making the right plays and keeping a level head when on the floor. His confidence to shoot the ball when open has also been a notable facet of his game. The coach is also impressed with the small forward, having this to say

I think it’s a great story, but it’s not like it’s some miracle. It’s the result of hard work, doing the right things, not being scared of the moment, taking advantage of opportunities, those type of things.

Keeping Johnson was a small financial investment, and any concerns the C’s had over money and trade flexibility by signing CJ is definitely outweighed by the play we have seen from him over the past 20 days. The Celtics still hold one open roster spot heading into the trade deadline period, and are roughly $1 million away from the dreaded luxury tax line.

With the coach and captain backing your game, it’s no surprise Johnson is already grateful to Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and his teammates for instilling him with confidence. The challenge now for Johnson is to stay hungry, and to keep producing for the first organisation to give him a real shot in this league.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Positives in the Celtics’ Rebuilding Season So far

After an abysmal first half of the season, it’s important to stay positive during the Boston Celtics’ rebuilding season. Of late, the Celtics have lost 19 of their past 22 games (Currently 15-33 overall in win-losses). Statistically, that doesn’t look very good. For the morale in the locker room and the players’ mentality it probably doesn’t sit well either. From blow out losses against title contenders to buzzer beaters against struggling teams (for example the recent loss against the 76ers), we’ve seen it all. There have been a few positives to take out of this season.

Boston Celtics v EA7 Emporio Armani Milano

  1. On the bright side, we’ve watched Jared Sullinger grow into the player Danny Ainge envisioned when he was drafted 21st overall in 2012. In a season that has had more lows than highs, Sullinger has been one of the bright spots. The Celtics are currently without a pure center on their roster after assigning Faverani to the Maine Red Claws.  This has resulted in Sullinger playing out of position for a majority of the season.  However, despite this, he is still averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in 26.6 minutes of play.  To top it all off, Sully’s efforts have been rewarded with an invitation to play in the rookie/sophomore (Rising Stars Challenge) game during the All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
  2. Another positive to take out would be Avery Bradley. Bradley has stepped up his game since the departure of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He struggled last season offensively after Rondo went down but boy has he stepped up thus far. With a career average of 8.5 points per game, he’s now currently averaging 14.5 points per game this season. He is also currently shooting 43.9% from the field this season.  The ability of Bradley defensively has never been questioned.  If he improves his offensive consistency and with a fit and healthy Rondo and other role players on the Celtics team, who knows what the future brings for the C’s.
  3. I would also give a shout out to Kris Humphries – a man many Celtics fans (myself included) did not want to see in green. When traded to the Celtics, he was viewed as nothing more than an expiring contract, waiting to be disposed when the right deal came along. Over the course of this losing streak, Hump has shown himself to be a reliable, consistent and valuable contributor to this Celtics team. Humphries gives it his all every time he’s on the court night in, night out and becoming a valuable contributor in the Celtics frontcourt. As a result of his contributions, fans that once booed him in the past, now cheer for him. His play has also made it quite likely he’ll remain in Boston beyond this season.
  4. The return of Rajon Rondo. Although the Celtics haven’t won since Rondo has returned, it is great to see him back playing. Not yet back to his explosive best, the Celtics are sure to turn things around once Rondo is 100%.  Time will tell when this will happen. For now it’s important that Celtics nation stays patient.
  5. Finally, I also want to give a shout out to rookie Kelly Olynyk who was selected to the rookie/sophomore game with Sullinger. Bright future ahead of him! Good pick in last year’s draft. I try not to look at the Celtics record too much and if I happen to become depressed at our current situation, I just think to myself “At least we don’t have the worst record in the league” or the best one: “At least we didn’t draft Anthony Bennett.”

What do you think has been the best silver lining for the C’s this season?

- May @mshirtad

Brad Stevens – Baptism by Fire

With half of the season in the history books, we look at how Brad Stevens has performed in his first NBA season so far.

Celtics Hire Brad Stevens as Head Coach – Press release from the Boston Celtics, July 3rd, 2013

Living in Australia and following the NBA almost religiously meant that the college game has never really been high on my priority list (except in a season like the current where Boston look to be a lottery player).  So when the Celtics announced that they had signed Brad Stevens, my reaction was – who?  I thought that the next Celtics coach was Brett Brown, one of Pop’s main guys in San Antonio, and an ex-Australian Boomer national coach.  It wasn’t until further information and stories regarding his decorated college career started coming out, coupled with one of the first things he did as head coach that got me giddy about the signing.  I was impressed with coach Stevens at his introductory press conference – showing maturity beyond his years, poise, and an abundance of knowledge.

How would that equate in his transition from the college game to the pros though?  This is what everyone asked, and rightfully so after the failed Rick Pitino experiment that left so many Celtics fans (including myself) extremely bitter.  After a long line of college-to-pro coaching failures, there were certainly doubts about Stevens’ ability to be able to coach at the NBA level, with major differences both in-game rules/timing and player personnel.

Like Rick Pitino, Brad Stevens was one of the best college coaches going around prior to signing with Boston. The difference between the two situations was that Pitino was given the keys to run the franchise to the ground and coach, whilst Stevens can just focus on coaching and let Danny Ainge take care of personnel.  The relationship between the GM and coach is extremely important for any basketball franchise – why get players that would not fit into the coaches style and vice versa?  Championship #17 came with Danny and Doc collaborating perfectly together through a rebuild, now Danny is hoping for the same magic with Stevens as they share the same philosophy on scouting talent: using advanced stats and analytical data to best determine a players worth and how they can be used.

Brad+Danny

Coach Stevens’ inaugural NBA season has been anything but smooth as he has had to deal with a multitude of issues, which include:

The Piling Losses
The Celtics are on track to lose more games this season than what Stevens would have lost in 6 years at Butler – ouch.  This is all part of the ‘plan’ given the way that the roster is constructed.  Still, at only the halfway point of the season, the team has already endured 3 losing streaks with 4 or more games and that has to take its toll with both the coaching panel, and the players.  Stevens however, has been extremely patient with his young ball club, and preaches growth from each player game by game rather than living and dying in the W-L column – an approach that the players have embraced.  Despite the lack of top end talent on the roster, the players have played extremely hard for him – just look at a game recap from any of their losses where the common theme is the resiliency and fight that this team has.

Imbalanced Roster
The roster that Coach Stevens inherited was quite simply put, a mess.  He had 4 power forwards that deserved minutes, with the only true centre being a rookie and an unknown import. He also had 5 shooting guards that deserved minutes, with the only one true point guard being an undrafted rookie.  The logjam at the shooting guard position caused some friction with Courtney Lee, Keith Bogans and even MarShon Brooks, who all at different times in the season, voiced their displeasure to the media regarding their lack of playing time.  On top of all this, Rondo – the best player and final link to the Celtics’ last championship – sat out the first half of the season.

By empowering his young players and showing confidence in them, we have seen some of our youngsters take a giant leap forward, showing both improved play and leadership qualities.  His calm demeanour is something that his players certainly value highly.

Stubborn Veterans
One of the main questions asked after the hiring of Stevens was announced was how would he get along with Rondo?  Known for being extremely stubborn, being linked in altercations with both coaches and even former team mates, media pundits wondered out loud whether Rondo would will be moved.  Almost immediately after Stevens joined the Celtics, he reached out to Rondo by visiting his summer camp – by Stevens’ willingness to reach out to Rondo, they have forged a great relationship with Rondo going as far as saying that they are ‘best friends’.

To date, Stevens has proven himself more than capable of the task at hand, surprising the league with a surge early in the season that saw the Celtics atop the Atlantic division.  Even after a large win or loss, the players know that they cannot get stuck on the one game for very long, which is something he has drilled in to each and every person.

“You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from both sides” – Brad Stevens, December the 9th, 2013 after beating the Knicks by 41 @ Madison Square Garden.

In a season that has seen so much change, Brad Stevens has proved to be the correct man to rebuild the Celtics – with both Stevens and Ainge at the helm, I have no doubt that the team is in great hands and will return to glory sooner rather than later.  What do you think of Brad Stevens?  Has he lived up to expectations so far, or has he been a disappointment, do you think he is the next great coach?

Here’s a bonus video on my personal favourite Brad Stevens moment of the season.  This is his reaction after Jeff Green hit a miracle 3 pointer with 0.6 of a second left against the defending champs in their own building.

- Dave

The Green breakdown – Should Jeff Green be traded?

Here’s a question many Celtics fans have had in the back of their minds for a while – is trading Jeff Green a good idea, or bad?

Jeff Green

The problem some people see with Jeff, is his lack of consistency – why the hell can’t he play like he does in his 25+ point games every night? In my opinion he does, but it is all about rhythm. In Jeff’s best games this season, it hasn’t been all aggressive plays. In most of his good/great games he shoots the ball well from the field, especially from the 3, which gives him the confidence to attack with impunity. He has had 2 great fantastic offensive games where he shot 15 & 13 free throws, with the games being a win and a loss apiece.

In the NBA 2013/14 season, Green has had:

  • Two 30+ point games (31 & 39),
  • Eight 20+ point games (29, 26, 25, 24, 24, 22, 22, 20) and
  • Sixteen 15+ point games (19×5, 18×3, 17, 16×5, 15×2)

That makes up 26 of the 44 games played that Jeff has had 15+ points, and he has only had seven games where has scored under 10 points, meaning he has scored in double digits for 37/44 games, or 84%.

Jeff is our leading scorer at 16.2 points a game, with the next closest being Avery at 14.5. Jeff leads us in free throws attempted & made, which shows he is being rather aggressive this year. Jeff is 145/188 from the line this season & the next closest is Brandon Bass at 115-136. Jeff also averages 5.1 rebounds per game and has 223 total on the season, being the 3rd most behind Bass and Sullinger.

On the court:                 Off the court:
14.4 FTA                                6.6 FTA
13.1 AST                                6.6 AST

Here’s an interesting stat I’ll toss into the equation too: Jeff really loves Wednesdays apparently! He has played ten Wednesday games (tied with most of any day with Friday), and Jeff puts up a cool 21.6 PPG while shooting .461% from the field & .451% from deep on those nights. Jeff’s next best game night is Friday, where he puts up 16.3PPG.

Jeff Green’s best games this season

Boston @ Washington Wizards
39 Points on 14/26 shooting (.538%), 8/16 from 3 (0.500%) & 3/5 from the stripe (.600%). 9 rebounds, 3 steals & a block

Boston vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
31 points on 10/19 shooting (.526%) 9/13 from the stripe (.692%) & 2/4 from 3

Boston vs. Los Angeles Clippers
29 points on 10/23 shooting (.435%) 3/7 from deep (.429%) 6/6 from the stripe & 4 rebounds

Boston @ Golden State Warriors
24 points on 11/17 shooting (.647%) 1/2 from 3 & 11 rebounds.

Green’s worst games

(No video lowlights for obvious reasons.)

Boston @ Minnesota Timberwolves
2 points on 0/6 shooting, 2/2 from the line & 7 rebounds.

Boston vs Houston Rockets
4 points on 2/10 shooting (.200%) & 6 rebounds

Boston @ Houston Rockets
4 points on 2/7 shooting (.286%) & 2 rebounds

The question now: is he worth $8.7 million this season & 9.2 million for the next two seasons?

In my opinion I’d keep him around and see how he does for the remainder of this season when Rondo gets going, as I believe his PPG will go up with the passing #9 is capable of. Personally, I don’t think a season average of 16.2 PPG in his first 44 games, in first season of his career as the go-to scorer is honestly that bad. Some nights he will go off for 25+, most nights he will be around 15+ with the occasional hiccup. In the end, it all boils down to the salary cap and how much his perceived value is to the team.

Do you think Jeff is a keeper, or does it really stink badly for you? Let me know what you think @BrandonMckay6 or @CelticAustralia on Twitter.

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