That the Boston Celtics are 4-7 to start the 2013-14 seasons shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Though, how certain individuals have played to make this team competitive has caught many off-guard.
Boston has been a below-average offensive team thus far. This isn't that surprising considering the roster and management moves made in the offseason, coupled with their best player being out injured. The Celtics are scoring just 100 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference, which is a good four points below league average.
On the flip side, their defense has been surprisingly efficient. On that end, Boston is allowing just 103.7 points per 100 possessions. The league average sits again at 104, but the Celtics rank No. 11 in the NBA, per Basketball Reference.
Perhaps the most surprising overall part of Boston's early season is where they stand in the Eastern Conference. Thanks to half of the league's failings, in particular a putrid Atlantic Division, the Celtics are a half-game out of the No. 4 seed. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets haven't found their way just yet, and Boston trails only the Philadelphia 76ers in-division, even after three straight losses.
Who is to thank for that surprising revelation this early in the season?
“I haven’t changed my game, really. I just have an opportunity. We’re winning some games, so people look at it differently.” - @jcraw55.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 12, 2013
Jordan Crawford's Rajon Rondo impression has been the most surprising aspect of this season for Boston.
Right down to Rondo's minuscule nuances on the floor, Crawford has been doing his best to mimic the Celtics' injured star. Prior to this season, expecting anything but a reserve gunner out of Crawford was a dense prediction. His NBA career was falling off a cliff before it ever really got going.
Somehow, Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo have helped him turn it around. Barely being able to break Doc Rivers' rotation a year ago should have only added a nail to Crawford's NBA coffin, but Stevens has pried it back open with playing-time opportunities.
Crawford's consistency has been the most surprising part of this whole ordeal. He hasn't doled out fewer than four assists over the last eight games, averaging 4.5 on the season. He has also scored in double figures during eight of 11 games while shooting at some very solid clips.
A career 40.4 percent shooter, Crawford is at 44.4 percent now. His 40 percent mark from the three-point area is far better than his career 30.5 number. He has even been lights out from the free-throw line with 91.3 percent
Crawford has also kept his mouth closed for the most part, which is something that got him into Rivers' dog house last season and has plagued him throughout his early career. The turnaround may be solely a result of being happy with playing time, but Crawford is clearly embracing this situation.
We have seen Crawford adapt to this new role with massive encouragement from teammates. His abilities as a ball-handler are being utilized by Stevens in a way that his previous coaches simply haven't been willing to experiment with. Having Rondo as a backup teacher on the sidelines has also helped, which can be picked up in the way Crawford approaches different scenarios.
Where he picks up the outlet pass for a fast break, and how he skips in transition to put the defender on his heels, are both Rondo signatures. His gambling defense (nine steals in last five games) is another Rondo attribute.
Part of his success as a distributor goes to those teammates who can also make Rondo look good. Avery Bradley as an off-ball cutter is a revelation that we have seen previously with No. 9. Another whopping aid to Crawford's assist totals has been a certain sophomore power forward.
Jared Sullinger leads the Celtics in PER at 21.24, 33rd in the league. Courtney Lee is next at 18.89.— Gary Dzen (@GaryDzen) November 18, 2013
Boston's second-year big is making some statements early in the 2013-14 season. He is going to have the ability to beat up on weak defensive interiors around the NBA.
There have been duds, and two missed games, but largely, Sullinger is showing the improvements everyone wanted to see in year two. Unfortunately, he is still being limited by conditioning issues that will take another week or two to work out. Sullinger has to shed a few more pounds of that weight gained during back surgery recovery.
The Portland Trail Blazers game gave us a glimpse of what a full Sullinger game could mean against a shaky defensive frontcourt. He put up 26 points and eight rebounds in 36 minutes, the first time he has seen more than 25 minutes in a game this year.
Overall, Sullinger is averaging 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game with 50 percent shooting. When he has had tough games, he has proven an ability to get to the line, where he is a quality free-throw shooter. He is producing 111 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball Reference, the best real mark on the Celtics outside Kris Humphries and Courtney Lee.
Sullinger had a solid rookie season, and obviously, it was hoped that he would make a leap this year. However, the extent of that leap may turn out to be surprising, especially given the back surgery.
I can't root for Wiggins or Randle anymore. Brad Stevens is amazing. We've been in every game. Winning in Miami? BRING BACK RONDO!!!!— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 10, 2013
Stevens has had the Celtics competitive in just about every quarter of basketball he has coached. Obviously, the last two losses could be considered blowouts, but the Celtics were in each game until late in the third quarter. They trailed Minnesota by five at the half and Portland by six.
His 4-7 record is roughly in line with the rest of the league's 13 new head coaches. Behind the scenes, things have made him look even better in his debut season. He squashed the Gerald Wallace insubordination, and the player hasn't been quite as vocal lately about his complaints. He has sent messages to Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger that things won't be gifted to them, despite being the incumbent starters.
He benched Green for a fourth quarter after a lackluster performance. Bradley had the ball taken out of his hands on offense after a rough start to the year at point guard. Sullinger has still yet to start, despite winning the job last season. Stevens is forcing him to work his way back into full-game shape.
He showed poise after the thrilling Heat win and also with the recent bad losses. Stevens looks every bit the part of a future successful NBA coach. He just needs more time to settle on a rotation and trim the fat from his lineups.
Vitor Faverani had more points, rebounds, and blocks tonight than Fab Melo has in his career.— Rich Keefe (@Keefe21) November 2, 2013
Though this hasn't been at the level of other Celtics players, Vitor Faverani deserves some mention in terms of surprising fans.
The rookie center was an afterthought signing during the offseason to fill out Boston's roster. However, he has proven to be one of the league's top first-year players, courtesy of a weak draft class and his own production.
Faverani's minutes have been shaky, but when he is on the floor, he is producing. He has one double-double and another nine-point, 14-rebound game. Overall, he is averaging 6.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 19.4 minutes per game. That is roughly what Kendrick Perkins gave the Celtics during their best stretches.
With Sullinger occasionally limited or sitting out, Faverani has been a very solid stopgap for the Celtics, providing size and toughness in the paint that they don't have elsewhere.
For $2 million, the Celtics have really made a solid investment in Faverani.