2015/16 player previews: Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk had an impressive off-season with the Canadian national team and looks ready to be a large part of the Celtics rotation this season.

Although Olynyk hurt his knee in late August playing for his country, he bounced back and played some huge games as they attempted, but ultimately failed, to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Olynyk had the best game of his career against Venezuela, as he dominated and finished with 34 points (11/13 from the field) and 13 rebounds. Olynyk’s efficiency had all Celtics fans excited for what may be in store for the upcoming season.

Obviously Olynyk isn’t going to make 11/13 shots every night, but his improved offensive game gives the Celtics another option and keeps the opposition guessing.

A huge part of his role this season will be to space the floor for his scoring guards. Olynyk will need to create open spaces for Isaiah Thomas to operate in, and this will be made easier if Olynyk can prove to be a consistent threat that needs to be treated with respect on the offensive end.

Being able to give Thomas, Avery Bradley and Evan Turner room to create their own shots and also being ready to shoot when open is huge for the Celtics moving forward. After his summer experiences, Olynyk looks ready to perform for the Boston Celtics in his third season.

You won’t be seeing Olynyk on opening night against the Sixers though, as he is serving a one-game suspension after that incident with Kevin Love.

2015/16 player previews: Evan Turner

Evan Turner had a really good season for the Celtics in 2014/15. He was a playmaker, scorer and played every game.

Even after a consistent season, many Celtics fans don’t really see a future for Turner in Boston. They believe he is just taking minutes away from the younger players who need to get court time, but to that I say he has earned his minutes just as much as the next guy.

Turner produced multiple game-winners last season with clutch buckets against the Hawks and Trailblazers.

Turner is the most versatile player on the team, and because of that he will get minutes this season. He may not see as much court time as last season (almost 28 minutes per game) because of the loaded backcourt and the fact that Jae Crowder will be getting plenty at small forward.

Last season Turner played some quality minutes at the point and impressed; his height (6’7″) worried his smaller opponents. This season there is added competition with the addition of Terry Rozier, along with Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas returning.

This doesn’t mean that Turner won’t be an important player for the Celtics though, as he is such a creative playmaker and can create his own shot better than most on the Celtics roster.

2015/16 player previews: James Young

It is often forgotten just how young James Young really is. Entering his second season in the NBA he has only just turned 20 years old.

His athleticism is scary good, and although he struggled with his shot in his rookie season, as many shooters do in the league, he shone when assigned to the D-League.

Obviously the jump from the D-League to the NBA is huge, but it was important for Young to get some court time and confidence last season instead of being stuck deep on the bench with Boston.

Young played in 31 NBA games last season and shot only 35.3% from the field and 25.8% from beyond the arc.

Over the course of the preseason it appears that rookie R.J. Huner has overtaken Young in the battle for minutes at the two-guard spot. For Young to take steps forward this season and force Stevens to give him minutes he will need to improve his defence and be ready to knock down shots when called upon. Staying ready is extremely important for Young.

Even if Young struggles again this season I won’t be calling for the Celtics to give up on him. He has too much talent and in reality would only be in third season at college level if he had stayed at Kentucky.

2015/16 player previews: Jared Sullinger

The weighting game. What was a bit of light entertainment during Jared Sullinger’s rookie season has now been going on too long. Everyone had similar thoughts; he’d drop the weight as he matures into his body and works hard. This still hasn’t eventuated and it is now threatening his place within the organisation.

Sullinger just can’t seem to shed the pounds that would turn him into a much more agile and dangerous player.

Sullinger can be an absolute monster on the boards, and when healthy he is near unstoppable. But that has been the issue; he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If Sullinger can finally get through a season without a serious injury that forces him to miss time, he will be an important part of the Celtics puzzle.

In the Celtics final game of the 2015 season, game four in the first round of the playoffs, Sullinger dominated and poured in 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. More of that in the upcoming season would be more than acceptable!

Sullinger had two very encouraging games to round out the preseason against the Knicks and Sixers. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists(!) and 3 blocks against the Knicks. The next night he followed that game up with a solid 6 points and 14 rebounds against the Sixers.

Brad Stevens has said that he would like to play four big men a night, which you would think leaves Sullinger on the outer with the likes of David Lee, Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk in front of Sullinger.

But if Sully can take that late preseason form over to the regular season, he will force Stevens to give him minutes.

2015/16 player preivews: R.J. Hunter

The Boston Celtics selected R.J. Hunter with pick 28 in this years NBA Draft. In each of his three seasons with Georgia State he was able to increase his production on the offensive end, and averaged 19.5 points per game last season.

Hunter is known for that famous game-winner in the 2015 NCAA March Madness against Baylor, in which Baylor were the heavy favourites to advance.

Hunter was seen by many as the best pure shooter in this year’s draft and after what he displayed in the Summer League’s and preseason that looks like a pretty safe bet.

Hunter’s form through the preseason has he seen him force his way into the rotation and we should see him getting plenty of minutes early in this season.

Hunter isn’t going to kill defenders with explosiveness, but his unlimited range forces defenders to be right on him on the offensive end.

Hunter’s frame is far too small to be a good defender in the league, and defence is a concern for him entering his rookie season. Having said that, he showed he can be a decent defender in the preseason, and this will need to be even better come the regular season.

Hunter looks like he will be the backup shooting guard to Avery Bradley, with Evan Turner also able to play the two-guard position, as well as the point. The competition for guard minutes will be strong, so Hunter will may see some time on the bench if he struggles to find his shot.

2015/16 player previews: Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller was acquired prior to last season in a deal that helped LeBron get back to Cleveland. The Celtics gave up literally nothing to get Zeller and he has proven that given playing time he can produce.

In 82 games last season, Zeller produced solid numbers with 10 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1 block per game. He is an efficient offensive player, who knows his game and works with his strengths. He knows to play within himself, as shown by the fact that he didn’t shoot a single three last season.

Zeller was a workhorse last season and did what was asked him night in, night out whether that was fighting for rebounds or draining buzzer beating, game-winners. Case in point:

Entering this season it looks like Zeller will be the starting centre with Kelly Olynyk as his backup after a strong preseason.

Zeller shot 54.9% from the field last season, and I would expect similar numbers in that area again this season. He isn’t going to score 20 points a night, but what he can do is be efficient when called upon. There’s no doubt that Zeller made the team better last season, and now it’s time for him to take his game to a new level and make the team even better this season.

With a contract-extension looking unlikely for Zeller, he will have even more incentive to play his heart out every night as he looks for a new contract for years to come.

2015/16 player previews: Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart is a fierce competitor. If that wasn’t a takeaway for you after last season, you clearly weren’t watching the Celtics enough.

With his relentless defence Smart solidified himself as the Celtics point guard of the future and started 41 games in his rookie campaign. Smart demonstrated that he can do much more than just play tough defence as he proved to be able to make clutch shots when the Celtics desperately needed him to.

I’m sure you all remember the amazing buzzer beating, game-winner against the Raptors in Toronto that silenced the crowd.

Smart, as with any rookie, struggled with consistency for parts of the season. His three-point shot, whilst dangerous, was overused at times.

The competition between Smart and Isaiah Thomas for the starting point guard role will drive both of them to be better and compete every single night. That is what depth does, it creates competition for spots which is healthy for a team.

Smart averaged just over 3 assists per game last season, this will need to improve if he wants to keep his starting position. From what we’ve seen in the preseason, in particular against the Knicks when he dropped 9 dimes, this improvement will come. He is not where he needs to be yet, but time is most certainly on his side as he enters his second season.

Another season alongside Bradley will only improve Smart’s defence as he can learn in every practice and every game. Playing under Brad Stevens is another key in unlocking Smart’s potential, as we all know Stevens is the master in bringing out the best in his players.