Who Will Be Boston Celtics' X-Factor This Season?
While the aftermath of the trade is not as pretty as a Pierce-Garnett pick-and-roll or a Rajon Rondo-to-KG alley-oop, the Celtics do have some intriguing pieces on their roster, many of whom have the potential to seriously sway Boston’s season based on their performance.
These players are all potential “X-factors” for the rebuilding Celts.
The X-factor for an NBA team can come from anywhere. It can be a starter who has a breakout campaign, a surprisingly effective role player or even someone signed as an afterthought who manages to crack the rotation.
It is obviously hard to pin down exactly who will swing the C’s season given that these players are still learning to play together and under Brad Stevens, but let’s take a moment to look at the five most likely candidates to be the C’s X-factor, as well as an early prediction for who will earn the title.
The odds of Phil Pressey emerging as Boston’s X-factor are slim, but given the team’s lack of proven playmakers besides Rondo there is a legitimate chance that Pressey could make an impact.
Pressey rebounded from a turbulent junior season at Missouri with solid Orlando Summer League averages of 9.4 points, 2.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists on 45.9 percent shooting from the floor.
He had some problems with turnovers, but did a good job running the Celtics’ offense, finding open shooters and playing tight defense on the ball.
The fact that Pressey failed to crack the rotation against the Toronto Raptors in Boston’s preseason opener is troubling, but his assent from a non-guaranteed contract to a legitimate NBA player was always going to take more than just one offseason.
Boston has a few players they can use as backup ball-handlers in a pinch, but neither Avery Bradley nor Courtney Lee are pure passers like Pressey, who averaged 7.1 dimes in his final season as a Tiger.
If Rondo misses more time than expected Stevens could give Pressey a look, as he has shown flashes of being a crafty pick-and-roll guard who uses his quickness well.
He’ll need to prove he can consistently knock down outside shots and stay with the league’s bigger point guards, but if he can impress in practice, the diminutive Pressey could be a dark horse contender as the C’s X-factor.
Gerald Wallace is only in Boston because his gargantuan deal made the Pierce-Garnett trade possible, but he can still be an important piece for the 2013-14 Celtics.
Wallace will likely come off the bench behind Jeff Green at the 3, but he’ll have the opportunity to prove his dismal year in Brooklyn was an aberration, not the new norm.
He averaged just 7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists while connecting on a mere 39.7 percent of his overall shots and 28.2 percent of his threes.
With his athleticism waning, Crash struggled to attack the basket like he used to and could not find a rhythm with his perimeter jumpers.
He looked much stronger in Boston’s first preseason game though, notching a team-high 16 points along with four assists in 26 minutes of work.
Since Green is prone to inconsistency, Boston is going to rely on Wallace to score at times, and he looked more confident in his stroke than last season. He was also everywhere defensively and really made his impact felt on that end of the court.
These Celtics should be going small often and trying to exploit their quickness, meaning Wallace could also log a lot of minutes as a small-ball 4 in addition to a traditional 3.
If he can stay healthy and play at a high level on both ends of the court Wallace should work extremely well as a change-of-pace sub for the C’s and eventually earn himself sixth man status.
Jared Sullinger was not expected to play much against the Raptors, but the second-year big man made his presence felt with 14 points, six boards and four assists in just 20 minutes.
While he clanged a pair of questionable three-pointers, Sully also did the things Boston fans came to love from him during his rookie campaign. He attacked the offensive glass, finished in the paint and provided the C’s with a much need interior banger.
After averaging six points and 5.9 rebounds on 49.3 percent shooting as a rookie, expectations are high that Sully can return from back surgery and become a true pillar in the middle for the rebuilding Celtics. He certainly looked up to the task against Toronto.
Boston has approximately 1,498 players who can log time at the 4, but even Kelly Olynyk does not possess the same upside as the 21-year-old Sullinger.
If he can stay healthy and continue to improve as an overall defender then he could cement himself as a long-term starter for Boston.
Olynyk will have some up-and-down moments as he adjusts to life in the league, and it is very possible either Kris Humphries or Brandon Bass are dealt, meaning that Sully will be counted on far more than he was when playing behind KG.
The C’s don’t need him to dazzle with his post scoring or suddenly become a defensive anchor, but if Sullinger can give them a consistent 26-30 minutes of rebounding, finishing around the rim and drawing fouls then the 2013-14 season might not be as bleak as expected.
Green is an obvious choice here, and in all likelihood Boston’s entire season will mirror his own campaign.
If he can adjust to being the go-to scorer after spending his career primarily as a third option and thrive with the ball in his hands the Celtics should be able to stay moderately competitive in the Eastern Conference. However, if he struggles with the increased attention then the C’s will have an extremely hard time scoring more than 90 points each night.
|9.3 PPG||3.2 RPG||0.8 APG||48.5 FG%||34.5 3P%|
His 2012-13 campaign started slowly, but Green excelled after the All-Star break, averaging 17.3 points, five rebounds and 2.7 assists on 49.3 percent shooting overall and 43.9 percent from deep.
Green’s three-point shooting should regress to a number closer to his career percentage of 34.5, but if he can continue to be aggressive and use his athleticism to attack the basket then he should make the transition to primary scorer relatively easily.
The major hurdle Green has to overcome is whether or not he can become a dependable night-in, night-out player. He often goes into seemingly irreversible funks when he misses a few shots early, and that is a habit he will need to break.
By now every Celtics fan is entirely too familiar with the dejected expression Green gets when he commits a dumb foul or misses an open shot early in a game.
Additionally, while Green is a quality one-on-one defender he needs to improve his overall team defense and ability to provide help. He has no problem staying in front of Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James for a few dribbles, but to take that next leap requires him to become more of a defensive leader.
The talent is clearly there, and the 27-year-old wing has shown he can string together solid games in the past, but 2013-14 is going to be a make-or-break season as far as Green proving he can be a franchise cornerstone.
Even with Wallace’s solid Boston debut, MarShon Brooks figures to be the only player acquired from Brooklyn who may have a future in green beyond the next season or two.
Brooks struggled to see the court as a backup to Joe Johnson, but he still boasts respectable two-year averages of 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 44 percent shooting.
The C’s have more than enough shooting guards to go around though, and because they need to decide on Bradley’s long-term future and whether they should trade Lee, those two may get the brunt of the minutes early on.
However, Boston’s lack of scorers will make it difficult to sit Brooks for long, since if there is one thing the Providence product can do it’s score.
He is not a great three-point shooter—just 30.2 percent for his career—but Brooks has the ability to attack the basket, create his own shot off the dribble and even set up his teammates at times.
With the C’s facilitating situation looking shaky, Brooks could actually see some extended run at point guard where he could exploit his lanky 6’5” frame.
He’ll need to improve defensively, as he is prone to ball watching and at times struggles to stay in front of his man, but Brooks is a better and more reliable all-around player than Jordan Crawford at this point.
He logged a mere two minutes against Toronto, but Stevens is still a long way from figuring out a set rotation, and Brooks could make a dynamite third guard off the bench if he improves as a shooter and screen-and-roll handler.
While there is a chance Brooks is again buried on the depth chart, look for his minutes to steadily increase and his scoring to potentially swing a few games for the C’s.
Kris Humphries (Honorable Mention)
With consistent, heavy minutes Humphries should return to his usual double-double self. At the very least he figures to be the best rebounder on a team that desperately needs him to control the glass.
Humphries will not be looked at to score much, but he should get his points off of offensive rebounds and transition finishes at the rim.
However, the reason Humphries is not one of the five contenders is because it is too difficult to predict his minutes and whether or not he’ll finish the season in green.
His $12 million expiring contract is extremely valuable as a trade asset and Boston has more to gain by playing Olynyk and Sullinger than Humphries.
He could very well end up being a game-changer for the C’s, but it is still too early to tell.
All of these players have a legitimate case for being Boston's X-factor, but expect Sullinger to break through and claim the title. He has the most potential to improve and with enough minutes could be a nightly double-double guy.
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