Boston Celtics Making the Strongest Case for More Minutes

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Boston Celtics Making the Strongest Case for More Minutes
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Nearly a quarter of the way through the NBA season, the Boston Celtics remain one of the toughest teams to figure out in the league through their 7-12 start.

The team has rattled off some nice victories and looked great during a four-game winning streak, but it has also had plenty of struggles scoring the ball and simply been blown out several times. 

Boston was always going to be somewhat of a patchwork team in the first post-Big Three season, particularly with Rajon Rondo still out, and that has forced them to regularly go 10 or 11 players deep. 

Given that the Celts have used five different starting lineups through 19 games, it’s safe to say that Brad Stevens has yet to completely figure this team out either.

The team has battled some injuries and underwhelming early play from both veterans and rookies, leaving Stevens in difficult situations with rotation management. 

Still, there have been some bright spots in an otherwise bleak year, as several Celtics who began the year not playing or in a limited role have exceeded expectations and are making a strong push for more minutes going forwards.

Not all of them are going to be vying for starting jobs, but players like Phil Pressey and Kris Humphries look like they should be taking over full-time reserve roles instead of playing inconsistent minutes and experiencing dreaded occasions where they just did not play at all.

Boston hasn’t exactly turned heads in 2013-14, but let’s take a moment to look at a handful of Celtics who are making strong cases for more time on the floor going forward.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger has averaged 30.8 minutes over his last five games, and while the increased role began as a result of Kelly Olynyk’s ankle sprain, the second-year big man has proved himself more than worthy of a featured role.

In seven games as a starter, Sully is averaging 15.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from three-point range.

Courtesy of NBA.com/stats
Sullinger's 2013-14 shot chart.

He’s popping outside the arc a little too often despite his decent percentage, and he’s averaging just 1.7 free-throw attempts in 31 minutes per game, an unreasonably low amount for a post player. But it’s hard to find much fault with the way Sullinger has been playing.

His post game has improved dramatically, and he’s now shooting 53.7 percent on post-ups, per Synergy Sports.

Now more adept with both hands and with his fadeaway jumper, Sully is capable of operating not only on the low block but also the mid-post area as well.

He’s still not a great pick-and-roll option, converting on 38.2 percent of his shots as the roll man per Synergy, but he has done a better job of running to the rim for open looks than he did as a rookie.

Sully is also one of the few Celtics capable of making an impact on the offensive glass. He’s averaging 2.1 offensive boards per game, and he does a great job of using his body to shield off defenders and lay the ball in.

Boston has been going smaller with Sullinger at the 5, and while he has looked overmatched defensively at times given his 6’9” stature, the Celtics have been a more effective offensive team with Sully manning the pivot spot.

Before Olynyk’s injury it seemed Stevens was favoring the Olynyk-Sullinger frontcourt tandem, and with the Ohio State standout playing so well it will be hard to justify cutting his minutes much.

Sullinger is averaging 13.3 points, 7.4 boards and 1.4 assists on the season overall, and considering his stellar recent play, expect those numbers to increase.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Pressey 

The major knock on Pressey coming out of Missouri was that the diminutive point guard was too turnover prone to succeed in the NBA, as he averaged 3.5 giveaways per game as a junior.

He had some turnover issues in Orlando Summer League, averaging four a game, but he has registered just four turnovers in his last 10 NBA games.

Granted he played less than nine minutes in four of those games, but the guard has still been remarkably poised for an undrafted rookie.

Courtesy of NBA.com/stats
Pressey's 2013-14 shot chart.

Pressey’s numbers are far from astounding. He’s averaging just 2.2 points, 1.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 12.3 minutes per game and shooting just 26.1 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent from three, but it’s not as if the Celtics have a significantly better option behind Jordan Crawford at the point.

Avery Bradley has floundered handling the ball and Stevens has primarily moved him to the 2 as a result, while Courtney Lee has been used almost exclusively as an off-guard when he enters the game.

Despite his shooting woes, Pressey has proven himself a capable contributor when given the opportunity. He dished out eight dimes and came up with three steals in 20 minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats and had seven points, three boards and five assists in 21 minutes against the Miami Heat.

His jumper needs significant work, as Pressey’s shooting just 16.7 percent on spot-ups and 25 percent as the pick-and-roll ball handler, per Synergy, but he’s not in the game to score.

He’s in the game to make his teammates better, and Pressey’s assist percentage of 24.2 ranks second on the team only to Crawford, according to Basketball-Reference.

Despite his size, Pressey has been an active and scrappy defender as well. He does a nice job reading passing lanes and coming up with loose balls to ignite the fast break. 

Pressey likey will never be an NBA starter, but the Celtics lack another consistent distributor off the bench, and he deserves a consistent 10-14 minutes in that role while Crawford sits.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Humphries

Humphries has not looked like his double-double self in Boston, but he has made the most of his fairly meager playing time off the bench in 2013-14.

On the season he’s averaging just 4.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game in 13 minutes per night while shooting a solid 49 percent from the floor. 

Humphries began the season barely playing, but he has quietly worked his way into the rotation, receiving 16 minutes per game over his last five contests and averaging a decent five points and 5.4 rebounds.

The C’s are committed to developing their youth, so Humphries will not see much playing time over Olynyk and Sullinger. But with Vitor Faverani moving in and out of the rotation often, Humphries should be in line for more minutes at both power forward and center.

He’s only 6’9” and has trouble guarding 7-footers in the post, but Humphries is a very strong, physical player who has done a nice job this season containing the pick-and-roll.

It’s a very small sample, but Humphries has allowed opposing bigs to connect on just 33.3 percent of their pick-and-roll attempts, according to Synergy. 

He also boasts the highest defensive rebounding rate on the team at 24.7, per Basketball-Reference, and is always active on the glass and around the basket.

Courtesy of NBA.com/stats
Humphries' 2013-14 shot chart.

His offensive repertoire primarily consists of layups and putbacks, but with Sully, Olynyk and Faverani all popping out for jumpers too often, having a throwback big man on the floor is important. And Humphries has shown he can at least knock down the foul-line jumper with some regularity.

Olynyk’s return will likely take some minutes away from Humphries and the team may altogether bench him if they don’t find a trade suitor, but based on his performance in limited minutes, Humphries deserves to consistently be Boston’s first big off the bench.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Vitor Faverani 

Most rookies are hesitant to shoot, but not the never-bashful Faverani, who managed to jack up 6.4 shots in 15.4 minutes over his last five games.

In those five games, Faverani is averaging a solid 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 0.6 blocks while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range. 

Faverani can be a little trigger-happy from deep, but he makes enough of them to provide some valuable floor spacing for a Boston team whose guards are best slashing without the basketball. 

He’s not just your stereotypical soft, pick-and-pop foreign big man though, as Faverani is also capable of backing his man down and unleashing a hook shot from the post or a nice face-up jumper.

He’s a strong 6’11” and uses his size well to carve out position down low.

His total rebounding rate of 16.8 is first on the team, per Basketball-Reference, and he is also tied with Humphries for the lead in block percentage at 4.9.

Courtesy of NBA.com/stats

He’s still learning the nuances of NBA defense and has problems staying out of foul trouble, averaging 5.4 per 36 minutes, but Faverani gives Boston the shot-blocking presence they desperately need down low. 

Faverani has, however, taken to the pick-and-roll nicely, as he’s shooting 46.4 percent per Synergy, an impressive number given that he often steps beyond the three-point line or to the elbow for jumpers.

In an early game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Faverani posted 12 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks in 37 minutes, proving that he is capable of producing when he gets the opportunity. 

Obviously Faverani and Humphries cannot both get increased minutes with the team committed to Olynyk and Sullinger long-term, but the two big men have both made strong cases for bigger roles, and Faverani in particular has been surprisingly polished on the offensive end.

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