NBA 2016-17 Team Preview – Boston Celtics: Steven’s Master Class

Oct 4, 2016; Amherst, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at William D. Mullins Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 4, 2016; Amherst, MA, USA; Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at William D. Mullins Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

NBA 2016-17 Team Preview – Boston Celtics

To prepare our readers for the regular season SCS  offers a series entitled NBA 2016-17 Team Preview for each of the Houston Rockets’ 29 opponents. Who will return to the playoffs? Which team will fall from grace and who will be the Cinderella team?

Included in each profile:

  • Where the team finished 2015-16
  • Key 2015-16 stats
  • Future draft pick status
  • Current and future salary rank
  • Off Season Moves
  • 2017 Free Agents
  • Schedule, NBA League Pass and Win Projection Ranking
  • Team Overview entering season (Starting 5, reserves and notable injuries)
  • When each team will play the Houston Rockets
  • Strengths, Weaknesses and Prediction

NBA 2016-17 Team Preview now looks at the Atlantic Division Boston Celtics. Adding Al Horford in the off season along with Jaylen Brown has Celtics fans hoping for a home court seed and deep playoff run. With that SCS breaks down the Boston Celtics in our NBA 2016-17 Team Preview:

NBA 2016-17 Team Preview: Boston Celtics

2015-16 Record: 48-34

Playoffs:

Lost NBA Eastern Conference First Round (2-4) versus Atlanta Hawks

Points Per Game: 105.7 (5th )

Opponent Points Per Game:  102.5 (13th)

Offensive Rank: 106.8 (10th)

Defensive Rank:  101.4 (2nd of 30)

Pace: 98.5 (4th)

Three Point Rank:  33.5% (28th)

Rebounds: 44.9  (6th)

Assists: 24.2 (6th)

Steals: 9.2 ( 2nd)

Blocks: 4.2 (22nd)

Turnovers: 13.7 (12th)

Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) and Houston Rockets forward Montrezl Harrell (35) reach for a loose ball in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) and Houston Rockets forward Montrezl Harrell (35) reach for a loose ball in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Free Agents

Restricted:

Unrestricted:

  • Jonas Jerebko
  • Amir Johnson
  • Gerald Green

All free agent updates confirmed via Basketball Reference and Sportrak

Future Draft Picks

See Real GM for full details:

Incoming:

  • 2017 first round draft pick from Brooklyn (swap, Boston outgoing)
    Boston has the right to swap its 2017 1st round pick for Brooklyn’s 2017 1st round pick; if Boston exercises this swap right, then Boston will convey its 2017 2nd round pick to Brooklyn protected for selections 31-45 (if this pick falls within its protected range and is therefore not conveyed, then Boston’s obligation to Brooklyn will be extinguished) [Boston-Brooklyn, 7/12/2013]; this potential pick conveyance is the same as the one described in “2017 second round draft pick from Boston” on Brooklyn Incoming
  • 2017 second round draft pick from Cleveland
    Cleveland’s 2017 2nd round pick to Boston [Boston-Cleveland, 9/25/2014]
  • 2017 second round draft pick from L.A. Clippers
    L.A. Clippers’ 2017 2nd round pick to Boston [Boston-L.A. Clippers-Phoenix, 1/15/2015]
  • 2017 second round draft pick from Minnesota
    Minnesota’s 2017 2nd round pick to Boston (via Phoenix) [Minnesota-New Orleans-Phoenix, 7/27/2012; Boston-Phoenix, 1/9/2015]
  • 2018 first round draft pick from Brooklyn
  • 2019 first round draft pick from L.A. Clippers
  • 2019 first round draft pick from Memphis
  • 2019 second round draft pick from Detroit
  • 2020 second round draft pick from Miami

Outgoing:

  • 2017 second round draft pick to Brooklyn
    If Boston exercises its right to swap its 2017 1st round pick for Brooklyn’s 2017 1st round pick, then Boston will convey its 2017 2nd round pick to Brooklyn protected for selections 31-45 (if this pick falls within its protected range and is therefore not conveyed, then Boston’s obligation to Brooklyn will be extinguished) [Boston-Brooklyn, 7/12/2013]; this potential pick conveyance is the same as the one described in “2017 first round draft pick from Brooklyn” on Boston Incoming
  • 2018 second round draft pick to Oklahoma City
  • 2019 second round draft pick to Memphis

Average Age of Team: 25.6 years (as per Real GM)

Oct 8, 2016; Uncasville, CT, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) goes up for a dunk in the 2nd quarter during a pre-season game at Mohegan Sun Arena. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Picks

Round 1: Jaylen Brown (3), Guerschon Yabusele (16), Ante Zizic (23)

Round 2: Demetrius Jackson (45), Ben Bentil (51), Abdel Nader (58)

Celts trade Deyonta Davis (31st pick),  Rade Zagorac (35th pick), to Grizzlies for a 2019 first-round draft pick.

2016 Free Agents

UnrestrictedEvan Turner,

Restricted: Tyler Zeller, Jared Sullinger

Free Agency:

Incoming:

Exiting: 

Re-upping:

Oct 29, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to pass the ball while falling to the floor during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center. The Celtics defeated the Hornets 104-98. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas over-under for wins: 51.5

Schedule strength:

As ranked by ESPN: 30th with 3.34 extra wins

The Celtics get plenty of the Knicks, Nets and Sixers. Seven of their 17 back-to-backs finish in Boston. They have 17 long-rest games and their 25 games with a rest advantage ranks third. It all adds up.

Games versus Rockets:

  • Monday December 05 at Toyota Center, in Houston, TX at 7PM CT/8PM ET
  • Wednesday January 25 at TD Garden, in Boston, MA at 6:30 PM CT/7:30 PM ET

Zach Lowe NBA League Pass Rank: 7th

I can hear the eyes rolling: more hype for a team that has won zero playoff series since busting up its championship nucleus. (Hey, did you know Boston never lost a series when Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins were all healthy? Have you heard that before from anyone? It’s true!) Oh, sure, Horford dribble hand-offs and tenacious team defense are going to have people leaping from their couches.

Well, sorry. Brad Stevens’ motion-heavy offense is fun to watch, and Horford’s jack-of-all-trades game is going to make it sing. Isaiah Thomas brings the “holy crap, rewind that!” highlights — the meanest hesitation dribble on Earth, circus floaters, unconscious off-the-bounce 3s, and insane passes he has to thread over and around much larger humans. Short guys are fun to watch because of all the contortions required for them to do stuff 6-7 wings pull off standing still. Remember this pass from last season?

Sep 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) during media day at the Boston Celtic Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Committed Salary

2016: $93,465,326 – 28th ranked

2017: $70,468,674 – 24th ranked

Team Salary Ranking as per Hoops Hype, and team salary overview also via Hoops Hype

Starting 5:

Point Guard:  Isaiah Thomas – 22.2 points,  6.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds

Shooting Guard:   Avery Bradley – 15.2 points,  2.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds

Small Forward:   Jae Crowder – 14.2 points,  1.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds

Power Forward:   Al Horford – 15.2 points,  3.2 assists, 7.3 rebounds

Center:  Amir Johnson  – 7.3 points, 1.7 assists, 6.4 rebounds

Reserves:

Guards:  Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson

Wings: Gerald Green, Jaylen Brown, James Young

Bigs: Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey

Injury News:

  • Kelly Olynyk – shoulder, targeting mid November
  • Jae Crowder – ankle, expected to miss next 2 weeks (Nov. 2)
  • Al Horford – concussion, kept him out of 3 games as he remains day to day

All injury news as per rotoworld

Sep 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during media day at the Boston Celtic Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths:

Brad Stevens: Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Tom Thibadeau, Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra may hold the current mantle for best coaches in the NBA statistically. But, ask any of them and they’ll tell you Brad Stevens is the next great one. Stevens has even been referenced as a genius by some in the sport. What he’s accomplished in Boston is remarkable considering the talent.  Imagine what he could do with a few super stars. He’ll get a chance this season to showcase even more with the addition of Al Horford who is expected to open the floor with his offensive versatility and help improve the  Celtics ability to defend mobile bigs.

Offensive Strategy: As per John Schuhmann of NBA TV the Celtics took 9.3% of their shots in the last 6 seconds of the shot clock. That mark was the lowest rate of all teams in the NBA. Further the Celtics boast a gaudy 59% field goal percent accuracy in the first 6 seconds of the shot clock.

What that translates to is the offensive scheme Brad Stevens implemented to push pace and move the ball for quick open shots. While the Celtics may not feature a true super star on their squad in this instance it plays to the Celtics strengths.  By having copious serviceable  players on the court opposing defenses may lock in on Isaiah Thomas, but that leaves 4 other players who are all adept at scoring the bucket.

Opposing teams who defend well through the initial 18 seconds of the shot clock find their efforts are rewarded because the Celtics shoot 19% worse (40%) when forced into that pivotal last 6 seconds of the shot clock.  Given Boston are a bottom 10 shooting squad this factor is key to defending them.

Stock Pile of Picks: Regardless of Ainge’s seemingly waning ability to get teams to work with him, he still has a glut of picks in the coffers. Remember, it only takes one team to decide to work with him. Watch as the season progresses and a team who knows they won’t be playoff bound starts thinking I’d like to get one of those top picks in the coming 2017  deep draft.

For example a team like Sacramento may finally decide it’s time to move on from the DeMarcus Cousins era and rebuild with a bunch of draft picks.  Depending on what the Nets and Suns do this season will also become a factor as Boston holds the Nets first pick and the Suns second pick. The worse those 2 teams perform the more Ainge’s phone is bound to ring.

Weaknesses:

Rebounding: Al Horford is a definite upgrade over Jared Sullinger especially in terms of his one on one defense and ability to guard agile bigs. That said his presence won’t necessarily address other Celtic’s issues. Horford grabbed 7.3 rebounds per game (1.8 offensive boards) playing alongside Paul Millsap last season who had 9.0 rebounds of his own. Conversely the Celtics lose 8.3 boards (2.4 offensive) from Sullinger. Horford’s starting teammates also feature lower rebounding such as Amir Johnson (who for the record remains one of my all time favorite Raptors) with 6.4 rpg and Jae Crowder with 5.1 rpg. Whether the Celtics want to admit it the loss of Evan Turner also hurts as he takes his 4.9 rpg with him  (.2 less than Crowder).

Last season Boston ranked 26th in opponent rebounding allowing them to grab an average of 46.0 per game. Overall they ranked 6th grabbing 44.9 rpg.  Assuming Crowder, Horford and Johnson replicate their rebounding efforts this season that’s 18.8 rpg. The loss of Evans and Sullinger translates into 13.2 rpg needing to be replaced.

To wit, though Horford and Crowder have missed games due to injury the early sample size is showing a regression in rebounding. Both Horford and Johnson’s numbers are below last season. As a team the Celtics rank 28th and their opponents are grabbing 48.3 rpg. Again, it’s a small sample size, but it speaks to an issue Boston will have to address all season.

The team Boston is looking to surpass in the East is the Toronto Raptors. Consequently, they  added Sullinger (though out injured to start the season) along with 2 rookies who bring strong rebounding with them to Toronto. In the early stages of the season Toronto is besting Boston specifically in keeping their opponents off the glass where they rank 8th in the NBA.

That’s not to say the Celtics can’t or won’t improve on the glass, but they’ll definitely need to make this a point of emphasis.

Defense: The biggest question facing the Celtics is whether they can improve defensively with teams looking to slow them offensively and force them into last 6 second shot clock attempts.  This act will affect them defensively as the squad won’t be able to run back to prepare defensively and will need to exert more energy on the offensive end.

From my perspective we’ll find out how much of a factor the under rated Paul Millsap is. Although Horford will undoubtedly improve Boston, I have a suspicion not playing beside Millsap will showcase just how much that duo excelled playing with each other. If Kelly Olynyk or Jae Crowder show marked growth perhaps they  can become his new frontcourt buddy. Regardless, expect there to be growing pains this season early as Horford adjusts to his new squad.

Meeting Expectations: Preseason most pundits have the Celtics selected to finish second in the Eastern Conference.  In essence Brad Steven’s squad won’t be able to catch teams sleeping on them. In fact, expect 29 teams to play the Celtics tougher in the first 18 seconds of the shot clock knowing their shooting is sub par in the final 6 seconds.

Furthermore, much of why the Celtics excelled defensively was getting off those quick shots because it allowed them to get back on defense quickly. With teams now employing a new strategy it could translate into losses on both ends of the court. The only question is how long it will take Stevens to adapt and find another way to beat his opponents.

Prediction:

Best Case: Avery Bradley stays healthy and along with Crowder, Olynyk and Smart all showcase growth. Ainge makes a trade prior to the deadline bringing a star to Boston who automatically gels with the team. Boston finish with a home court seed and have a deep play off run.

Worst Case: Better prepared opponents take away the Celtics early shot clock system. Health becomes an on-going issue and the team buckles under the pressure of top seed expectations. They still make the post season, but get bounced in the first round. Brooklyn over performs and the Celtics miss out on a top 3 draft pick.

The likelihood is Boston will take a while to gel and will indeed be among the East’s best. I think it’s asking a lot for them to usurp the Raptors who have an extremely strong core and cemented identity. Watch for a team like the Hornets or Pistons to surprise (or possibly both) to move ahead of Boston in the pecking order. Regardless, the Celtics success won’t be measured by them getting to the Eastern Conference finals this season. Rather, continued growth of the core and a strong draft (or trade to acquire a star) to improve them moving forward will ultimately be their priority.

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