With all of the radical changes and headline-grabbing stories that have engulfed the Boston Celtics’ offseason, fans could be forgiven for forgetting that there are still 82 games to be played and a full training camp to go through.
The C’s 2013 training camp will be a time for the franchise to take stock, as most of the names who defined the last era of Celtic pride have either been shipped out or left of their own accord.
Replacing Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers are Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kelly Olynyk, Brad Stevens and a slew of questions about this franchise’s identity going forward and long-term outlook.
Boston has some intriguing pieces and a bright, young coach in Stevens, but it is also facing its most unpredictable season since posting a 24-58 record in 2006-07, the year before Garnett and Ray Allen suited up in green.
With so much uncertainty in the New England air, let’s take a moment to break down the most intriguing storylines to watch from the Celtics’ training camp.
Will MarShon Brooks or Courtney Lee Emerge at the 2?
Boston currently has more talent than minutes available at shooting guard, and with Avery Bradley likely guaranteed the starting spot it will probably come down to Courtney Lee and newcomer MarShon Brooks for the rest of the minutes at the 2.
Lee had a disappointing inaugural campaign in green, averaging 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 46.6 percent shooting and failing to fully grasp Rivers’ system on either end of the court.
He played better as a starter but was a complete non-entity in the playoffs as the Celtics were forced to shorten their rotation even further.
Lee logged just 39 minutes in Boston’s six-game series with the New York Knicks and did not leave the pine for Games 4 and 5, the two Celtic victories.
There is hope that, under Stevens, Lee can thrive as a three-and-D wing like he did with the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic, but he could also be an attractive trade chip to a team that needs some help on the perimeter.
While Brooks is not nearly as good of a shooter as Lee, he is more creative off the dribble and is one year removed from an impressive rookie season in which he averaged 12.6 points, 3.6 boards and 2.3 assists, albeit on 42.8 percent shooting.
Brooks is not a particularly disciplined perimeter defender, gambling too often and not staying in front of his man, but he is one of the few players on the C’s roster capable of consistently creating his own shot.
Without Pierce’s shot creating and mid-range prowess, this team could seriously struggle to score, making Brooks an attractive play.
He is also just 24 years old and likely has more overall upside than the 27-year-old Lee, who has more value as a complementary piece on a playoff team, not a potential building block.
Both players present different enough skill sets that they should see regular rotation minutes, but one is certainly going to be a bigger part of the team than the other.
Expect the battle between Lee and Brooks to be one of the more heated between two guys with guaranteed deals.
Who Will Start at Center?
The closest thing the Celtics have to a pure center on their roster is Vitor Faverani, and it is pretty safe to assume that the 25-year-old Brazilian big man is not starting material, meaning that Boston’s center will likely be more of a 4 than a 5.
Brandon Bass is strong enough, but at 6’8” is at a disadvantage trying to guard the post against 7-footers and is best suited at power forward. That leaves Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Humphries to slug it out for the starting job.
Rotoworld currently has Humphries listed as the starter, and he is likely the best rebounder on the roster. Humphries’ rebounding rate of 18.1 in 2012-13 was good enough for 19th in the league, ahead of DeAndre Jordan, David Lee and Anthony Davis.
He has also proven that with enough minutes he is a consistent double-double threat. Logging 34.9 minutes per night in 2011-12 for the New Jersey Nets, Humphries averaged 13.8 points, 11 boards and 1.5 assists on 48.1 percent shooting.
However, he is a shaky defender who allowed opposing centers to post a PER of 16.8 last season, per 82Games, while posting a 15.1 PER himself.
He has trouble guarding down low and is not much of a shot-blocking threat, while being pretty ineffective in help defense situations as well.
Sullinger had a solid rookie year before going down with a back injury, averaging six points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.8 dimes on 49.3 percent shooting, and he figures to be one of the team’s most improved players if he can stay healthy.
Sully lacks athleticism, but he makes up for it with his high skill level and ability to score inside. He has good hands around the rim and can get after it on the offensive glass, posting a 12.6 offensive rebounding rate that had him tied for 23rd in the NBA with JaVale McGee.
Still, Sullinger is incredibly young and coming off of a serious surgery, so having him bang down low against players much taller and stronger may not make much sense long term.
At the very least it could create some serious foul issues for Sully, who had some trouble defending and contesting last season without committing a foul.
He also did not exactly do a great job against opposing 5s in limited work as a rookie, allowing them to notch a PER of 17.6, but posting a 15.8 himself, according to 82Games.
Olynyk seems the most likely choice; the rookie had a transcendent run in Orlando Summer League, averaging 18 points, 7.4 boards and 2.4 assists on 57.8 percent shooting overall.
He is not a great rebounder by any means, and will need to tack on significant bulk, but he is a true 7-footer whose outside shooting ability could create some real mismatch problems.
Olynyk is also one of Boston’s few true post scoring threats, someone the team can throw the ball to and allow to work one-on-one against his man. There are fewer and fewer quality post-up scorers in the NBA, increasing Olynyk’s value.
Expect Olynyk to have a slight edge, but the battle at center should ultimately be a pretty tough one.
Will One of the Invitees Make the Roster?
The Celtics have a single open roster spot, and invited four—Chris Babb, Damen Bell-Holter, DeShawn Sims and Kammron Taylor—to compete for it at camp.
Boston is a team with plenty of flaws, and each of those four could potentially provide a different, valuable skill off the bench.
Babb is a savvy, versatile defender, Bell-Holter can rebound and score in the paint, Sims is a gifted athlete and shooter and Taylor can handle the ball and knock down his share of treys.
None of them are particularly intriguing from an untapped potential standpoint, but the 29-year-old Taylor and 23-year-old Bell-Holter fill the clearest needs since the Celts are lacking in facilitators and rugged interior players.
Babb could be a nice addition on the wing, but the Celts have plenty of 2-guards on the roster already, and he is not good enough with the ball in his hands to make it as a combo guard in the league.
Sims is facing a similar problem as Babb. Though the Celtics could use another scorer and an athlete to run the floor, there will not be much need at the 3 with Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace and even Keith Bogans handling the position.
It is highly possible that the Celtics, who have just a sliver of room under the luxury tax line, simply decide to keep their roster at 14 and sign a veteran free agent during the year if need be.
But this is also a team that could use some cheap depth, and with Rondo’s return date still up in the air, per the Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes, it is likely that any last-minute addition to the roster involves a guard who has at least some experience handling the ball and initiating offense.
Who Will Step Up as a Ball-Handler?
Since Rondo will not be participating in training camp, there are going to be significant opportunities for Boston’s other guards to work with the ball in their hands.
Bradley was dreadful at the point in the playoffs, but Stevens is reportedly a supporter of him manning the point.
He told the Boston Herald’s Tom Layman that Bradley may see the bulk of work at the 1 until Rondo returns and that the fourth-year guard is “a guy that’s gotten better.”
Playing point almost exclusively in the postseason, Bradley averaged just 6.7 points, 2.2 boards and 1.3 assists while shooting just 40.5 percent overall and 25 percent from three-point range.
He came alive in Game 6 defensively but spent most of the series struggling to contain Raymond Felton’s penetration and had his share of problems finishing at the rim, even when he had open looks.
During the regular season, Bradley posted a PER of just 8.5 as a point guard, per 82Games, and allowed a PER of 12.8.
The Celtics could use Lee as a ball-handler; in limited minutes he posted a respectable PER of 14.7 despite giving up one of 16.7, according to 82Games, but his best offense generally comes when he can shoot spot-up jumpers from the corners.
That leaves Phil Pressey, an undrafted rookie out of Missouri who received a one-year guaranteed deal after averaging 9.4 points and 6.6 assists with Boston during the Orlando Summer League.
Pressey has great court vision and passing instincts but needs to develop a better sense of when to force the issue and can be turnover prone at times.
The diminutive guard can knife his way into the lane well and find open teammates, but he’ll need to develop a more consistent outside shot in order to make it in the league.
Though Rondo will be the unquestioned main playmaker once he is healthy, expect some serious push from Pressey to carve himself out a meaningful rotation role while the C’s All-Star guard continues to recover.
How Will Avery Bradley Perform?
We’ve spent plenty of time discussing Bradley already, but with the guard seeking a lucrative contract extension from Boston, his storyline is clearly among the most compelling on the team.
Ben Watanabe of NESN reported that the C’s and Bradley are far apart on a deal, and with an October 31 deadline before talks can resume in the offseason, it is imperative Bradley has a strong showing in camp.
Bradley reportedly tacked on significant muscle this summer, per MassLive’s Jay King, which should make him more equipped to handle the league’s more physical, bigger 2-guards.
At 6’2” Bradley is best suited to cover point guards, but his quickness and ability to force turnovers allows him to guard 2s as well.
Offensively, Bradley will need to not only show that he is more comfortable handling the ball but also improve his perimeter shooting.
Bradley connected on just 31.7 percent of his threes in 2012-13, a major step back from his 40.7 percent in 2011-12. He’s better from mid-range, but still nowhere near automatic, and shot a dreadful 51.5 percent at the rim last year, per HoopData.
If he and Rondo are indeed Boston’s backcourt of the future, one of them needs to at least be able to drill three-pointers often enough to keep an opposing defense honest and provide better floor spacing.
Bradley has proven that he is a quality player in this league, but 2013-14 is going to be the year people learn exactly what he is worth, and his quest to make that number as high as possible begins in training camp.
How Will Players Respond to Brad Stevens?
For all of his success at Butler, there are plenty of unknowns about Boston’s 36-year-old wunderkind coach entering his first year with the Celts.
Stevens’ success has long been reliant on getting players to embrace very specific roles, compartmentalizing their egos and offsetting a lack of superstar talent with unselfish, fundamental basketball.
Those tenets are far easier to preach to college kids at a mid-major program than to millionaire athletes used to being among the best players in the world, but Boston’s season hinges on whether or not Stevens can get his team to buy in.
The tactical shift from Rivers’ system to Stevens’ should not be too difficult for the team from an X’s and O’s standpoint, but it is going to take a lot of effort for Stevens to get the notoriously mercurial Rondo to fully buy into his ideology.
The Celtics’ roster is clearly in flux, boasting a strange mix of veterans who are not going to be around for long, unproven young guys and players in their prime whose futures are totally unclear, and it is up to Stevens to create some cohesive culture from all of that chaos.
Training camp will be the first prolonged taste many of these players get of Stevens, and if he fails to get them to jell Boston fans could be in for a disastrous year.
Advanced statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise noted.
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