What We Learned About Boston Celtics During Their First Half of the Season
There is still much to learn about this new iteration of the Boston Celtics. However, we can certainly take away some valuable information from the 2013-14 season's opening half.
Boston hasn't won a ton of games, but there has been all sorts of exterior performances, moves and decisions to keep things interesting.
What is taken away from these experiences is what will define Boston for not only the second half of this season, but years to follow.
Avery Bradley's NBA Success Is Hardly Contingent on Rajon Rondo
Going into the season without Rajon Rondo was going to make it once again difficult to evaluate an out-of-position Avery Bradley.
Luckily, Jordan Crawford was able to assume the point guard role, allowing Bradley to play off the ball and really perform well through the season's first half. He is averaging 14.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, to go along with a shooting clip of 45.3/38.3/71.8 percent.
Those per-game numbers are career highs, as Bradley has adjusted nicely into an increased workload on the offensive end. The big question mark of his career was if he would be able to shoot and score enough to play starting shooting guard opposite Rondo.
Well, Bradley is shooting 44.2 percent on 351 field-goal attempts between 15-24 feet, per NBA.com. At the rim, he is 58.6 percent on 128 attempts. In an offense where attention is pretty well spread in terms of opposing defense, Bradley's numbers appear sustainable.
Bradley has really upped his output of late, averaging 18 points per game in January. He's topped 20 points in each of Boston's last three games and in five of their nine 2014 games. That play has really impressed the newest Boston Celtic, Jerryd Bayless.
Boston's recently acquired reserve told The Boston Globe's Tim Healey, "I didn’t know he was that good. And he is very good."
If he keeps this up, there is little question as to whether the restricted free agent will earn his desired contract from the Celtics this summer.
Upon Rondo's return, if Bradley can continue this season, it appears the Celtics may have their backcourt set.
Jared Sullinger Has Star Potential
Inconsistencies and foul trouble make it difficult to call Jared Sullinger a star just yet, but what the Boston Celtics have learned about him this season is that the potential is there.
The Celtics' plus/minus on the year as a whole stands at minus-145. Sullinger's individual mark is a plus-27, per NBA.com. That illustrates the level at which Boston is better off with Sullinger on the floor.
He is obviously coming off a huge 25-point, 20-rebound effort against the Toronto Raptors, so it is tough not to be high on him. These performances are becoming a semi-regular thing. Through nine January games, he is averaging a double-double, and that is with his minutes being jerked around by an unsure Brad Stevens and foul trouble.
“When you lose so much and you’re not used to losing, competitive nature takes over and that’s what happened to me,” Sullinger told Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald. It is great to know that Sullinger's attitude has remained positive through the difficult season, or at least angry to the point of dominating on the floor.
Overall, this is definitely the season we needed to see from the sophomore. After his average rookie year was cut short by injury, just as he was hitting his stride, a series of big games in year two illustrate a solid development curve.
Jeff Green Is Who He Is
With one-half of the NBA season under our belt, we can safely say that Jeff Green isn't blowing up to become a 20-point-per-game All-Star small forward.
More or less, Jeff Green is who we thought he was. He can start on the wing for a decent team, but isn't going to headline an organization to a winning record or any playoff success. His best-case scenario may be the third-best player on a contender.
In that type of situation, his sporadic big games would be filled in between by better teammates. However, on the Celtics, Green's occasional 2-of-10, four-point duds are automatic losses. Those were Green's numbers in Boston's recent 12-point loss to the Houston Rockets.
"I don’t want to assume anything, but he just didn’t have it and that’s OK. That’s why other guys are on the team to step up and fill the void when that happens," said Stevens to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe after the Rockets loss.
The point Washburn makes in his piece is that an open battle for playing time, especially on the wing, shouldn't apply to Green. That it does is a testament to how much Green hasn't stood out amidst his average teammates.
Green has made it both difficult and easy for Danny Ainge to trade him. His play makes him wildly expendable, as there are numerous guys who can do what he does, but it also makes him less desirable to the league's other franchises.
The prospect of paying Green what's left of his $9 million deal this year and two more after it isn't all that appealing. For now, Boston will hold out hope that Rondo's return will spark Green to a great month or so until the trade deadline hits. Then Ainge will have a big decision to make.
Brad Stevens Is Going to Be Just Fine as an NBA Head Coach
We've perhaps learned more about Brad Stevens in this half of a season than any individual player on the Boston Celtics.
The first-year head coach hasn't had a ton of major success, with just 14 wins through the year's first 40 games, but he has shown that he'll be just fine transitioning to the NBA game.
For the most part, the Celtics haven't been the dysfunctional mess teams like the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks or Cleveland Cavaliers have been. That is at least in part a testament to their head coach, who keeps everyone on his same even keel.
Even when speaking about Rajon Rondo's return on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Gresh & Zolak program, he made sure to calm expectations:
The community will be excited about [Rondo's return], I think our team is excited about that. Everybody in this building is excited about that. But at the same time I think it’s appropriate to temper our expectations of him.Part of his rehab now is to play a restricted number of minutes each game, so he won’t be back to full form. But it’ll be exciting to have him out there.
Stevens appears respectful but stern with his decision-making. Players have been benched for subpar effort and play, while minute distribution has been almost entirely based on who is earning it at the time.
Outside of that, it is pretty clear that Stevens is getting the most out of a relatively weak crop of players and strange roster makeup. He was given too many power forwards and shooting guards to start the season.
As a quick fix, he made Jordan Crawford into a point guard and he thrived in that role. Despite all being relatively similar players, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries are all having one of the best years of their careers under Stevens.
He has gotten the most out of his players so far. When those players become more talented, it is reasonable to think that Stevens will remain a positive influence.
Danny Ainge Has a Directive
The lesson plan for this season of the Boston Celtics has been as much about off-the-court items as on the court. What we've learned from Danny Ainge is near the top of that ledger.
Through the season's opening half, Ainge has pulled the trigger on two trades and come dangerously close to making a third. Unfortunately, the one he didn't make is the one that got the most headlines, with teams pulling out at the last minute of a potential deal for Omer Asik with the Houston Rockets.
"We’re just opportunistic,” Ainge told 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher and Rich back in December. “When you read our name out there sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not. I think the reports are embellished, but we are having discussions and seeing what opportunities are out there.”
The other two deals have been used by Boston to shed salary and acquire draft picks. Ainge was able to turn whatever remained of Courtney Lee's contract this season, plus the additional two years and $11.1 million owed, into just one year and whatever is left to pay of Jerryd Bayless' $3.1 million in a swap with the Memphis Grizzlies.
In an effort to clear space for Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley to thrive as the main backcourt duo in the second half, Ainge sent away Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks, both unrestricted free agents this summer. Though the return may not wind up looking like much, there is a method to Ainge's work we have to accept at this point.
He took on a bit of additional salary next year with Joel Anthony's $3.8 million player option, not nearly what he shed in the earlier deal. What he also got in return is a potential first-rounder, should the Philadelphia 76ers make the postseason this year or next. Otherwise the pick turns into two second-rounders in 2015 and 2016.
Ainge is making moves and willing to trade to better his prospects of a brighter future. That is his directive right now.
Kelly Olynyk Is Likely Not a Bust
Kelly Olynyk likely isn't a budding superstar in the NBA. However, it is just as likely that the Boston Celtics' 2013 lottery pick isn't a bust either.
Through half the season, Olynyk has shown spurts of real potential and spurts of uninspiring play. Overall, it hasn't been a great year, but he is producing for Boston.
Over 18.3 minutes per game, he is averaging 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds. While not earth-shattering numbers, especially after weighing in his 40.2/30.8/81.4 percent shooting clip, they are close to what Jared Sullinger gave Boston during his rookie season (six points, 5.9 rebounds per 19.8 minutes in 45 games).
Sullinger has since become a steadier player in year two. If we expect the same type of inflation for Olynyk, he is certainly looking like a solid pickup at No. 13 this past summer.
Those shooting numbers are disappointing for a player like Olynyk, who seemed to make it look easy in college. However, the 22-year-old appears to be an intelligent kid and understands the trials he is going through right now. In a recent story for ESPN Boston, Olynyk talked with Chris Forsberg:
Obviously, it's tough. [Offense] used to come easy all the time, but once you get to this level you almost have to relearn where your shots are going to come from, what they are going to be like, when to take them, when not to take them, that kind of stuff.
We'll ultimately have to wait another year before passing real judgement, but for now, Olynyk is just fine.
Interest Isn't Waning Too Much
There had to be legitimate concern this season that interest in the Boston Celtics would experience a significant drop-off among sports fans in New England.
The team had dealt away the two most popular players and a wildly popular head coach. With Rajon Rondo out for the foreseeable future, there were no big-name stars to come watch. The other shows in town were also putting much better products on the playing surface.
The New England Patriots were in the midst of another successful season, the Boston Red Sox were celebrating a World Series win and the Boston Bruins were the defending Eastern Conference champions.
A drop-off was expected, and one came. The Celtics are averaging less than 100 percent capacity for the first time since 2010, per ESPN.com. However, through 20 home games, TD Garden is averaging 95.6 percent capacity, despite a weak on-court product.
The best comparison is what the Celtics went through the year before Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett came to town. In 2007, attendance numbers were down at 90.4 percent. That is a deal worse than this current season, and with Rondo's return upcoming, numbers will likely increase.
These numbers can always be inflated and should be taken with a grain of salt, but when added to the eye test, they can help gauge interest. The Garden can still get loud, and online interest hasn't wavered too much.