Given that the Boston Celtics have effectively packed it in for 2013-14, it may seem that there is not much for fans to get excited about as the team careens toward the lottery.
For the first time in six seasons, the team will miss the playoffs, and there doesn't appear to be much for the Celts faithful to cheer for besides losing streaks.
However, there are several players who have made significant leaps this season, showing major growth and helping to make the future look much brighter once the team has a few lottery picks at its disposal.
Some of these players weren't Celtics in 2012-13, and some of them weren't even in the league last season, but they have all made major improvements since the season tipped off in October.
Without further ado, let's take a look at the four most improved Celtics this season and remember that things might not be quite as bleak in 2014-15 as they are now.
It’s easy to forget about Avery Bradley, who hasn't played since early February due to an ankle injury, but before going down, the fourth-year guard had put together a very solid season.
Brad Stevens shifted him almost exclusively over to the shooting guard spot, and he responded by averaging a career-best 14.3 points and 3.9 rebounds to go with 1.4 assists per game.
His shooting percentages aren't stellar—43.4 percent overall and 35.6 percent from deep—but Bradley emerged as a dependable third option while Rajon Rondo was sidelined.
Never a consistent range shooter, Bradley has made real strides from outside in 2013-14. He is lethal pulling up for long twos off of screens and has become a dependable shooter from the corners.
Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), Bradley is connecting on a solid 41.7 percent of his spot-up threes.
Working more off the ball allows Bradley to exploit his quickness cutting to the paint while not forcing him to do too much playmaking.
He also remains an elite on-ball defender, pressuring guards all the way up the court and forcing turnovers at will.
Bradley forces turnovers on 20.5 percent of isolation plays, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), and allows opponents to shoot just 38.1 percent on all plays.
Bradley has not had much of an opportunity to play with Rondo this year, but given the pair's chemistry, it's safe to say that they will thrive in the backcourt together once he returns.
The Rondo-Jerryd Bayless backcourt has been decent offensively, but it lacks the defensive punch that Bradley provides when healthy.
With the way his offense has been improving this year, along with his usual tenacious defense, Bradley could be in line for a serious pay raise once he hits restricted free agency in the summer.
In a season full of dark times, the improvement of Jared Sullinger has been one of the few major bright spots.
Sully is averaging 13 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists despite struggling somewhat recently.
Over his last five games, Sullinger is scoring just 11.4 points and grabbing 7.8 boards, while shooting only 37 percent from the floor and 14.3 percent from distance.
His offensive game has expanded considerably, and despite disappointing shooting percentages, he has shown plenty of upside as an interior scorer.
His three-point shooting needs work, as he's connecting on just 20.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Still, the threat of Sully's threes creates space on the perimeter and allows for additional driving lanes for Rondo, Bradley and Jeff Green.
His post game is improving, too. He's shooting a respectable 43.5 percent on the block, according to Synergy, and is comfortable turning over both shoulders.
He needs to keep working on his jumper, as you can see by his shot chart, but Sully remains one of the game's premier young offensive big men.
Defensively, Sullinger's upside is limited due to his lack of height, athleticism and shot-blocking prowess.
He's strong enough to hold down the block but has trouble against the league's longer big men.
Opposing power forwards average a 16.8 PER against Sully, while centers post an even better 17.6, according to 82games.
With Boston unlikely to retain both Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries, expect Sullinger to really break out in 2014-15 when he’s playing 34-plus minutes per game.
After struggling to adjust to the league for much of the 2013-14 season, Kelly Olynyk has finally found his groove and is looking more like a late lottery pick than a draft flop.
His season averages of 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists might not seem stellar, but he's upped them to 10.3 points, 6.2 boards and 1.9 assists since the All-Star Game.
Olynyk is also shooting a blazing 42.1 percent from three since the season's unofficial halfway point.
Now that he has found his jumper range, Olynyk is becoming more of the matchup problem fans expected him to be.
He can pull opposing centers away from the basket but also has the handle to drive past them and get to the rim.
He is also a far better passer than most centers and is capable of making reads that few big men can make.
Unsurprisingly, Olynyk's defense has left something to be desired.
Opponents are shooting an absurd 54.3 percent on post-ups against him, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), a clear indicator of his lack of strength.
Additionally, opposing centers are averaging a Lebron-ian PER of 24.6 when matched up with Olynyk, per 82games.
Still, if Olynyk can become even an average defender, then he could easily become a quality starter thanks to his unique blend of offensive skills.
From D-League call-up to rotation staple, it has been a whirlwind year for Celtics swingman Chris Johnson.
Johnson played eight games with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012-13 but spent most of his time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before being called up and playing major minutes for Boston.
He's averaging 6.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists while shooting a strong 40.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Johnson, as you can see by his shot chart, is a corner specialist. He's shooting 54.8 percent on corner threes, an elite mark that few players reach.
However, he's more than just a shooter. He can attack the paint, work without the ball and is a threat in transition, too.
Johnson is shooting 68 percent in transition overall and 61.5 percent from beyond the arc, per Synergy Sports (subscription required).
He works hard defensively but does have some glaring holes in his game.
He cannot cover point guards to save his life, allowing them a 28.1 PER, according to 82games, but he's better using his length and size to cover opposing 2s and 3s.
Johnson also allows opponents to shoot 45.2 percent on spot-up jumpers and a horrific 58.3 percent as pick-and-roll handlers, per Synergy Sports.
Still, for an undrafted player who couldn't hold his own in the league last season, he has come an incredibly long way, and at just 23 years old, he has room to get even better.
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