High hopes in Beantown as Celtics enter new season


Celtics NBA Championship banners hang in the TD Garden


The Boston Celtics kicked off their regular season on Wednesday, October 26th, after capping off an eventful and successful offseason. The Celts are primed to make noise during the regular season and to experience more success in the postseason than in years past.

Offseason Recap

The Celtics made their first move of the offseason during the draft, armed with valuable picks thanks to the Paul Pierce and KG trade during the 2013 offseason. The Cs landed the third, sixteenth, twenty-third, thirty-first, thirty-fifth, forty-fifth, fifty-first, and fifty-eighth picks.

In what was considered by many analysts to be a two-prospect race for pick number one, between Ben Simmons of LSU and Brandon Ingram of Duke, the Celtics came up just short by landing pick number three. Potential consolation prospects included Buddy Hield of Oklahoma, Kris Dunn of Providence, Dragan Bender of Europe, Jamal Murray of Kentucky, and eventual third pick Jaylen Brown of California.

Prospect Breakdown:

With both Simmons and Ingram off the board by the time Boston made their selection, they were faced with a slew of good-not-great players.

Buddy Hield came out of Oklahoma as a sharp-shooting senior with league-transferrable skills. His deadly 3-point range and rebounding ability for an off guard nabbed him the Naismith Award and the John R. Wooden Award. However, the aged shooting guard’s defense, playmaking, and size were all concerns of teams looking to draft him. His ceiling looked to be a poor man’s Stephen Curry, while his floor looked to be a poor man’s Kyle Korver.

Kris Dunn of Providence was the ying to Hield’s yang. His size, defense, athleticism, attacking ability and playmaking all made his value as a point guard skyrocket during his sophomore season. On the other hand, his high turnover rate and suspect shooting dampened his overall potential. His ceiling was a John Wall/prime Derrick Rose, while his floor comparison was an Elfrid Payton-type player.

Jamal Murray, was a combo guard with adept shooting, playmaking, and finishing skills who offered sixth-man type microwave skills to teams in need of bench scoring. His lack of perimeter defense and athleticism did turn many teams off to him, as well as concerns over how he would function as the focal point of an opposing team’s defensive schemes.

Dragan Bender was the enigma of the 2016 Draft. Playing for the Euroleague team Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv, scouts had limited exposure to his skills. Highlight clips displayed moments of insane athleticism and unprecedented range for a 7-1 prospect with a 7-2 wingspan. His ability to put the ball on the floor and create looks in transition caused many experts to deem him the prospect with the most upside. His developing post game and rebounding skills, as well as his potential to be a dynamic rim protector with the ability to step onto the perimeter and defend guards. However, even with his undeniable skill, major questions arose about his game.

How would his skills translate from the Euroleague to the NBA? Would his frame support more muscle mass? Would his raw potential ever translate to concrete production? His comparisons project anywhere from a Darko Milicic type bust to a poor man’s Dirk Nowitzki.

Celtics’ Picks:

Finally, the eventual Celtics draftee was versatile wing Jaylen Brown, a freshman from California. Brown averaged 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2 assists in college while playing 27.6 minutes over 34 games. Partnered with power forward Ivan Rabb, the Golden Bears entered the NCAA tournament with a 23-11 record, where they would eventually lose in the first round to the University of Hawaii.

The athletic slasher led California in scoring 7 times during the season, but he disappeared during the Bears’ one tournament game. In only 17 minutes of action he went 1-6 from the field and scored a meager 4 points. This horrid performance left many doubts in the minds of GM’s and coaches across the league.

Scouts were drawn to his natural athleticism and NBA-ready body. His ability to slash and attack the basket were eye popping, and his affinity to rebound and subsequently create on the break were deemed valuable by many front office officials. However, his inconsistent shot and questionable playmaking skills arguably kept him from being selected higher than number 3. His ceiling looks to be a type of Kawhi Leonard, a two way slasher who can rebound, defend, and attack the basket with a developing jumper. His floor projects as a Luc Mbah a Moute type of player, one who can play above average perimeter defense and slash on the other end, but with limited shooting and playmaking skills.

Other draft picks by the C’s included bruising, yet surprisingly agile, big man Guerschon Yabusele of France (no. 19), center Ante Zizic of Croatia (no. 23), point guard Demetrius Jackson of Notre Dame (no.45), and Abdel Nader of Iowa State (no. 58). The draft rights to the 31st and 35th pick were both traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for a 2019 draft pick.

Free Agency:

The Celtics started their offseason by resigning Tyler Zeller to a 2 year deal, with the second year being a team option. They then lost playmaking forward Evan Turner, who was a vital piece of both the bench unit and occasionally the starting lineup, to the Portland Trail Blazers, before making their biggest move of the offseason.

On July 8th, the C’s signed All-Star forward/center Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks. Horford started all 82 games of the regular season and averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.5 blocks over 32.1 minutes a game. He shot .344 percent from three, over 50% from the field, and almost 80% from the free throw line. His all around game, playmaking ability, and stretchiness on the offensive end, combined with his ability to guard smaller players in spurts granted him his fourth All Star Game appearance, and he made the All-NBA Third Team in 2011.

Less than a week later, the Celtics lost incumbent big man Jared Sullinger, a frustratingly inconsistent player on both ends of the floor, to the Toronto Raptors. Boston wrapped up their free agency on the 27th of July, when they signed journeyman Gerald Green, a microwave scorer and former winner of the Slam Dunk Contest, to bolster their second unit and add some much needed offensive firepower to a defense-oriented rotation.

Summer League Recap:

The Boston Celtics participated in the Utah and Las Vegas Summer League circuit, but declined to send a squad to Orlando.

The C’s squad, headlined by Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, James Young, Jaylen Brown, and Guerschon Yabusele, went a perfect 3-0 during the Utah Summer League, although no tournament was held. Terry Rozier led Boston with 19.0 points a game, Guerschon Yabusele came in fourth of all players with 7.0 rebounds a game (Rozier also had 6.3 rpg) and Rozier ranked third of all tourney participants in assists per game with 5.0.

During the Las Vegas Summer League, a much bigger tournament setting, the Celtics sent the same assembly of young players. The C’s went 1-2 in open play, and lost in the first round of the tournament to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jaylen Brown made second team all-tourney, but none of Boston’s players ranked in the top 5 of any major statistical category. In the Celtics’ one tournament game, Brown scored 25 points and snagged 9 rebounds. Terry Rozier scored a team high 26 points against the Dallas Mavericks, and Jaylen Brown grabbed 10 rebounds for the team’s top mark in the same game. R.J. Hunter dished out 4 dimes for the team’s high point, also against the Mavericks.

Preseason Recap

The Celtics went 5-2 over the course of their preseason. Their two losses came against the Philadelphia 76ers (89-92) and the New York Knicks (96-121). Isaiah Thomas averaged 12.4 points over 17.8 minutes a game. New addition Al Horford averaged 10.2 points and 6.0 rebounds over 16.7 minutes a game. Rookie Jaylen Brown averaged 10.7 points and 1.0 steals, while leading the team with 23.3 minutes a game. He shot a poor percentage from three and the free throw line, but played noteworthy defense against established scorers like Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks. Other notables included sophomore point guard Terry Rozier, who averaged 9.6 points on 54% shooting, over only 17.2 minutes a game.

Regular Season Preview

Here is the Celtics’ depth chart:

Point Guard Shooting Guard Small Forward Power Forward Center
Isaiah Thomas1 Avery Bradley Jae Crowder Amir Johnson Al Horford1;2
Marcus Smart Gerald Green2 Jaylen Brown2 Jonas Jerebko Kelly Olynyk
Terry Rozier James Young Jordan Mickey Tyler Zeller
Demetrius Jackson2

(1=2016 All-Star; 2=New Addition)

The Celtics last roster decision was to decide whether to keep sophomore shooting guard R.J. Hunter, who had shown flashes of both 3 point and playmaking prowess, or swingman James Young, who in 3 long seasons had not validated his position as the 17th selection of the 2014 draft. Analysts and experts favored Hunter, as he had shown more promise over his single season of play and was the cheaper option. Young was younger and was selected 11 spots ahead of Hunter, however.

The Celtics eventually decided to waive R.J. Hunter and keep James Young, shocking many.

In short, the Celtics offseason additions of Demetrius Jackson, Gerald Green, and Jaylen Brown will offset the loss of Evan Turner, and Al Horford is a major upgrade over Jared Sullinger. Couple these improvements with internal growth, and the Celtics are poised to experience monumental regular season success and to make noise during the postseason.

First Game Recap

During the first game of the season, played at home against the Brooklyn Nets, the C’s won 122 – 117. Isaiah Thomas led Boston in scoring, dropping 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. He made his way to the free throw line 9 times, converting all attempts into points. He faced a myriad of defenders, including stalwart Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Jae Crowder came in second with 21 points on 60 percent shooting. In his debut, Al Horford scored 11 points on 62.5 percent shooting from the field. He also chipped in 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Avery Bradley added 17 points, Tyler Zeller contributed 11 points off the bench, and in his NBA debut Jaylen Brown dropped 9 points in 19 minutes.

The offense flowed well, and the Celtics often found open shots along the perimeter. They shot above 50 percent from the field, but only 34 percent from 3. 36 of their 48 made field goals were assisted upon. The team also grabbed a noteworthy 47 rebounds. The team also had 13 steals and 9 blocks.

On the other hand, the Nets, who had one of the worst offenses in the league last year, managed to score 117 points against Boston. The Celtics’ pick and roll defense was inconsistent, and rim protection without Horford on the floor was questionable.

The Celtics travel to Chicago tonight to take on the Bulls, whose offseason additions of Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo make for an intriguing lineup.

Marcus Smart looks to rejoin the rotation next week, nursing a sprained ankle. Kelly Olynyk, on the other hand, is still a few weeks away while recovering from an injured shoulder.