Celtics Preview: A Return to Greatness?

Joe Clark, Sports Reporter

Last season, despite numerous trades that sent away fan favorites Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, the Boston Celtics managed to sneak into the playoffs as the #7 seed thanks to a 24-12 finish to the season. After failing to land a star this offseason, the Celtics look largely the same heading into this season, with a few new additions.


This season’s backcourt is headlined by Isaiah Thomas, a deadline addition from Phoenix last season. The main reason for the Celtics 24-12 finish last season, Thomas put up 19.0 PPG and 5.4 APG off the bench. He was the scoring threat the team needed, and his ability to set up open teammates spread the defense out and let him shoot or drive the lane and score. Thomas will be the 6th man this season and will exploit opposing team’s backup guards. Starting over Thomas this season is Marcus Smart. Last season’s 6th overall pick played pretty well as rookie despite missing 15 games due to injury. He was solid all around, bring good defense to go along with 7.8 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 3.3 RPG. At 6’4, 220, he has a size advantage over most PG’s that he uses to get to the rim and finish over them or through them. Joining those two in the backcourt is Avery Bradley. Bradley, drafted as a point guard, has blossomed into a good “3 and D” shooting guard. One of the league’s premier perimeter defenders, Bradley need to develop into more of a consistent scorer to really blossom, as he only put up 13.9 PPG last season in 31.5 minutes. His PER (Player efficiency rating, a stat developed by ESPN’s John Hollinger which can be explained here) was also low at 11.5, 3.5 points below league average. Other veterans in the backcourt include the promising James Young, who should get some more time on the NBA roster this season after spending most of the last few seasons in the D-League, and Evan Turner. Turner enjoyed a very solid season for the Celtics last season, playing point guard, shooting guard, and small forward, and put up 9.5 PPG to go along with 5.5 APG and 5.1 RPG in 28 minutes a game, good enough for a line of 12.4 PPG, 7.2 APG, and 6.6 RPG per 36 minutes. After a disastrous second half of the 2013-14 season following a trade to Indiana, Turner signed a cheap two year deal with Boston that is already looking like a steal. New additions to the guard group this season include 1st round picks Terry Rozier and RJ Hunter. Both guys aren’t expected to see many minutes this year, and both will likely see time in the D-League, but in Rozier, a lightning quick guard out of Louisville, the Celtics have a potential difference maker in the future. In Hunter, the C’s have a deadeye shooter from deep, who has the potential to develop into a Kyle Korver-esque weapon for the team. The only other guards currently on the roster are training camp invitees Levi Randolph from Alabama and Corey Walden from Eastern Kentucky. Both guys don’t stand much of a chance of making the final 15 man roster, and will likely see most of their time overseas or in the D-League.


This is a make or break year for power forward Jared Sullinger. A free agent after this season, the 4th year big man needs to prove to the Celtics that he can stay healthy and in shape. He was in the midst of a solid year last year that saw him put up 13.3 PPG and 7.6 RPG until a broken foot sidelined him for 24 games. Sullinger’s weight has always been an issue, but he has reportedly improved his fitness for the upcoming season. Despite his solid numbers last year, The Celtics played really well without Sullinger last season, which leads some to believe that he is expendable and could be a solid trade chip in a move for a desperately needed star. If he has a good year this year though, the Celtics will be more reluctant to move him. One of the more intriguing forwards on the Celtics roster is small forward James Young. Young played 31 games last season for the Celtics, spending most of his time in the D-League after being taken 17th overall out of Kentucky. Young will likely spend the bulk of his time on the NBA roster this season, and the athletic wing should be able to make an impact. Expect him to develop and be a good player on Celtics teams in the near future. The newest Celtic this season is David Lee. Acquired from Golden State this offseason for Gerald Wallace (who was later sent to the 76ers) and Chris Babb, Lee, at 32 is the oldest player on the Celtics young roster. Playing 18.4 minutes on an immensely talented and deep Warriors team last season, Lee scored 7.9 PPG,, 5.2 RPG, and 1.7 APG. Those numbers lead to impressive 36 minute totals, with 15.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per 36 minutes. Obviously, Lee won’t be asked to play 36 minutes this season, but he will be a valuable bench piece for a Celtics team looking to make some noise in the East. Fan favorite Jae Crowder returns this offseason after being one of the main pieces acquired from Dallas in the Rajon Rondo trade last season (which is looking more and more to be an absolute steal for the Celtics). Crowder signed a 5 year, $35 million dollar extension which could end up being a huge bargain when the salary cap expands in the next two offseasons. While Crowder didn’t get a ton of playing time in Dallas, he averaged 24.2 minutes per game, 14 minutes higher than the 10 he was getting with the Mavs. He played well in Brad Stevens’ system, putting up  9.5 PPG to go along with 4.6 RPG and 1.4 APG, good for 14 points, 7 boards, and and 2 assists per 36 minutes. Crowder became a key role player for the Celtics, and along with Isaiah Thomas was one of the main reasons for the Celtics 24-12 finish to the season. Other notable forwards include pick and pop specialist Jonas Jerebko, who came over from Detroit in a deadline deal for Tayshaun Prince last season. Amir Johnson was lured away from Toronto  this offseason, with the Celtics giving him 2 years and $24 million, with the second year non-guaranteed. He is expected to put up a good number of rebounds and chip in a few points as well. Perry Jones was acquired in a trade with the Thunder this offseason, and the rather disappointing big man is looking to turn his career around with the Celtics. Jordan Mickey was drafted in the second round this year, and after a very impressive Summer League performance, he signed a 4 year, $5 million dollar contract with $2.4 million guaranteed, the largest contract ever for a second round pick. The only other forwards on the roster are training camp invitees Coty Clarke from Arkansas and Malcolm Miller from Holy Cross. Both should see time in the D-League or overseas.


The main man in the middle for the Celtics this season will be Tyler Zeller. Acquired from the Cavs last offseason, Zeller had a very productive 2014-15 campaign, averaging 10.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 0.6 BPG in 21.1 MPG. Zeller is in a contract year, and bringing him back should be one the Celtics’ main priorities. Joining Zeller this season at the center position is Kelly Olynyk. While Zeller is more of your prototypical center, playing inside and getting rebounds, Olynyk is a “new” center, who can shoot or score inside. The ex-Gonzaga star, while a good shooter, is pretty soft, and doesn’t really fight for rebounds inside. He averaged 10.3 PPG and 4.7 RPG last season in 22.3 minutes. Olynyk played a minute more than Zeller and averaged a full rebound less. Toughness is a trait that can be developed, and the “soft” label has been used on great NBA big men such as Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, and Lamarcus Aldridge. If Olynyk develops toughness, he could be a prolific big man one day. Don’t count on him being Dirk, but he could be an above average starter if he starts to toughen up.


This a team built for .500. As easy as it would be for me to say that they’ll go 41-41, under the tutelage of Brad Stevens I have higher hopes for this team. I’m thinking a 45-37 finish and a 5 seed in the East is possible for the Celtics this season. With such a young team, a deep playoff run isn’t likely possible, but this a good young team, and they will shock more than a few NBA fans.