When heading into the NBA draft as a lottery team, it definitely helps to have some sort of attainable goal or blueprint. There is a path for the Boston Celtics to take back to NBA glory, they just may not realize it yet.
There are eight teams still playing basketball right now that the Celtics would obviously love to be. Therein lies the goal Boston can strive towards. The path there is less clear, however. The odds are stacked fairly high against them drafting a LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Tim Duncan.
With only an 8.8 percent chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick, that stack is even more imposing. The chances are very good that the player Boston drafts on June 26 will be at least partially decided by whom a few other teams choose to take first.
While that may affect the results, it shouldn't affect the blueprint or path. Boston's needs can't bend to the will of what other teams do. It would be naive to think that won't affect the result, but by analyzing needs early, the Celtics can minimize the negative effect.
The Celtics have given us no reason to assume they won't be trying to build around Rajon Rondo as a centerpiece. The possibility that he gets dealt or leaves as a free agent next summer is still there. However, by naming him captain and allowing him to slowly work his way back into game shape this past season, there is no reason to actively think otherwise.
Since he is the guy with the ball in his hands to start a high percentage of Boston's offensive possessions, that is a good place to start in analyzing what the Celtics have to put around him.
Adding to the blueprint what worked in the past is an interesting wrinkle. Obviously the chances of Boston immediately drafting a Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen-caliber player as a rookie are slim. But the general idea of those three guys' styles may give the Celtics a sort of key when deciphering where to go from here.
Given how uniquely talented Rondo is, there may be no better way to look for what could work than by reading the recipe that existed with him as a key ingredient however many years ago.
What is Boston's biggest draft need?
If we boil down Garnett, Pierce and Allen, at least offensively, we are left with three silhouettes of different games.
There is the athletic big man who can set picks on the perimeter and hit 15-18-foot jumpers with regularity. There is the end-of-game, go-to scorer on the wing, who can create for himself off the dribble, get to the free-throw line and hit trailer threes in transition. There is also the dead-eye outside shooter, who excels at coming off screens or hitting on drive-and-kick threes.
Those are three basketball personalities that have worked with Rondo in the past and that could be attainable if we take away their faces and just look for the underlying traits.
They are also games that the Celtics don't currently have. Jeff Green has tried, but failed to step into the Pierce shoes since arriving in Boston. While he may be a great guy and quality basketball player, that is something the Celtics to have to address, regardless of their feelings on his personality.
The big-man situation is a bit of a mess, with no true center and a host of smaller power forwards.
Whether it was the franchise as a whole, or just then-head coach Doc Rivers, the Celtics made a conscious move to favor Avery Bradley over Allen a few years ago. The fallout from that was undeniable, and while Ray got himself another ring in Miami, Bradley has struggled to stay on the court.
Avery Bradley was putting in a lot of time on that corner three in warmups. Didn't miss many, either.— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) December 12, 2013
Even when 100 percent healthy, Bradley's game doesn't shadow Allen's. While that may be no big deal, it is also largely unproven alongside Rondo. Bradley worked to developed the corner-three part of Allen's game fairly well, shooting 36.8 percent on 125 of them this year, per NBA.com.
As a quick comparison, during the 2007-08 championship season for Boston, Allen hit on 41.1 percent of 124 corner-three attempts. Given Bradley played 13 less games this year than Allen then, those aren't bad numbers.
"That’s something Danny (Ainge) and (coach) Brad (Stevens) have told me to work on," Bradley told the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy of his three-point shooting. "Throughout the year I wasn’t confident shooting the 3-ball, but as the year went on I became more confident thanks to my teammates and putting in the work."
Still, the sheer mass of Allen's outside-shooting threat is missing. Bradley shot just 200 overall threes last year, while Allen chucked up more than 400 each of his first two years in Boston and 399 in the third.
There are some very good outside shooters available in this upcoming draft class. Especially given Bradley's status as an unrestricted free agent, the Celtics have a need for a perimeter-based shooter.
Pierce's qualities are somewhat harder to quantify in terms of finding a path to take to replace what he brought to the table. Obviously the mental capacity can't be found given the years of experience and veteran savvy he carried. It is also unlikely that Boston will find a go-to scoring option right out of the gate.
Jeff Green went 13-15 from the line today. Celtics games of 15+ FTA since 2000.. Paul Pierce 65 Jeff Green 1 That is all.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) January 20, 2014
What they do need to look for is someone with an above-average handle, capable of creating looks for himself and getting to the rim through traffic on occasion. If the offense is revolving around Rondo, they still need a secondary playmaker to alleviate some pressure. Even without Rondo for much of last year, Green didn't average two assists per game, and he has yet to go above two throughout his career.
This skill set may take some time to develop, but a major need is someone who can create without Rondo force-feeding him assists. If that is an available skill in June, even if it will take some fine-tuning, Boston shouldn't hesitate.
Rondo's pick-and-roll game works best when his partner is a scoring threat from the mid-range and out. That is the specific skill to focus on when analyzing what Garnett gave the Celtics offense. When players have to respect that pick-and-pop shot, it opens a variety of creative doors for Rondo.
Boston may be on to a bit of this with their current stable of bigs. Obviously, Brandon Bass is a capable mid-range shooter. Jared Sullinger was pushed to work on his face-to-the-basket game this past year, and Kelly Olynyk came in advertised as a scoring big.
All three would need to make significant improvements in their screening ability, though. Rondo will miss that brick-wall pick on the perimeter next year if Boston can't find a replacement.
Of course, what Garnett really brought to Boston was typically quantified in the amount of points he took away from opposing teams.
In 2013-14, the Celtics allowed opponents to shoot 46.5 percent overall. Even with Garnett on his last legs and playing in just 68 games, Boston held opponents to 44.1 percent shooting in 2012-13. Inside five feet, Boston allowed opponents to shoot 59.8 percent this year, per NBA.com. That number was 57.5 percent during their title-winning season. Teams also took 527 more attempts from that range against this year's squad.
Simply put, that means opponents weren't afraid to attack the rim against the 2013-14 Celtics. With a healthy Garnett there, they thought twice about it and were a bit less successful when they did try it.
While Boston's numbers inside the restricted area—and paint in general—weren't abysmal, (Minnesota Timberwolves allowed 63.1 percent) this is something in need of addressing. Boston had a decent defensive system, and their bigs seemed to work well with each other in bringing help. That kept things reasonable, but Boston can be better.
It may be the hardest thing to find in this draft class, but if one is available, the Celtics need a rim protector badly.
With the trades of last summer, the Celtics made a declaration to bring about a new beginning. However, that doesn't mean they can't learn from what worked in the past. If history was good, there is little reason to not try to repeat it.