Boston Celtics Add Courtney Lee, Breathe Life Back into Offense
The Boston Celtics have overcome the logistically impossible.
After using their midlevel exception on Jason Terry, overcommitting to free agent Jeff Green, and severely handicapping themselves in the running for free-agent guard Courtney Lee, Boston has nevertheless managed to obtain Lee—in principle—by way of a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets.
According to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Celtics will send JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, Sean Williams, and a second-round pick to Houston in exchange for Lee, whom the Rockets let enter the market as an unrestricted free agent earlier this month after rescinding their qualifying offer. Thus began the flirtations between Lee and the Celtics. Even though Boston seemed to lack the space and assets to acquire a player of Lee's caliber, talks continued, and Danny Ainge eventually found the creative means to get a deal done.
Lee is an incredible get for the Celtics considering their turnover on the wing. Ray Allen's departure and Avery Bradley's injury have opened up all sorts of playing time in Boston, and though Terry and a post-rehab Bradley will eventually be vying for some of the same minutes that Lee surely hopes to lock up, the former Rocket has the inside track by boasting the best complementary skill set of any single Celtic.
Lee's work off the ball isn't merely textbook—it's consummate. It's rare to see a player so relentlessly dedicated to the entirety of team offense, and yet Lee willingly submits himself to the thankless tasks of off-ball cutting and spot-up shooting without much need for control of a given possession. In some cases that can make Lee appear to be less useful than he actually is (such as the 2009-2010 he spent toiling away in New Jersey), but his relative disinterest in shot creation only accentuates his utility in a context like this one.
Boston runs its offense almost exclusively through Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, although Terry—who's sure to function as a nominal point guard at times for the C's—will likely help out in that regard this season. That effectively leaves Lee to do what he does best, and in the process prevents Doc Rivers from having to make on-court concessions. Now Rivers can have his defender, shooter and slasher on the floor at the same time, giving a flexibility to the offense that has been lacking since Allen's earliest days in Boston.
That starts with the ability to spread the floor—an obvious staple of Allen's game that otherwise eluded the Celtics' role players last season. Lee's no specialist, but his spot-up perimeter shooting is certainly on-point:
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Lee converted 42.9 percent of his spot-up three-point attempts last season, despite the fact that the Rockets offense was periodically in disarray. The Celtics' work on that end may not be entirely dependable either, but if nothing else Boston has enough skilled passers and draws enough on-ball pressure that Lee should be able to find some open space on the perimeter.
It's worth noting that Lee's spot-up game isn't entirely analogous to Allen's; though Lee is indeed a skilled outside shooter, he doesn't conventionally run the kinds of curls and flares that Allen does. Most of Lee's spot-up work has come through waiting in the corner or making a short arc around the three-point line, and thus Boston's offense could require some adjustment for a player who has conventionally made catches standing still.
That said, Lee does have the ability to put the ball on the floor if chased off the line—a skill of Allen's that has waned in the last several seasons.
Boston's offense is far from perfect, but it's certainly good for active cutters. Avery Bradley was able to carve out his own offensive role last season after initially being pigeon-holed as a point guard, simply because cutting baseline from the weak side has tremendous value for a team that so often struggles to score inside. Here's a look at the kinds of plays that Bradley was able to score on last season:
Given those looks, don't you think that Lee—an expert cutter in his own right—might be able to do much of the same, though without allowing defenses to cheat off of him from the corner?
Even with the addition of Lee, Boston's offense won't be a point of strength this year; a complementary piece can't magically fix all of the problems that ailed the fourth-worst offense in the NBA last season, no matter how brilliant of a complementary piece he might be. But Lee makes the work of all of the other Celtics' profoundly easier, and gives Rivers a truly dynamic asset to incorporate into his rotation. Even if Boston hasn't worked their way back into championship contention, this renovation process has broadened their potential and introduced new and exciting possibilities.
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