If you’re going to make it through a 2014-15 Boston Celtics game in its entirety, you’ll have to appreciate the little things.
Boston, still in the midst of a rebuild, will struggle this season, but that doesn’t mean there will be nothing for fans to cheer.
The C’s now have a decent amount of young assets that could grow with increased roles, and it will be fascinating to see whether players like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk can become quality starters in the league.
A playoff spot seems far-fetched for Boston, but big development from a few key pieces is certainly a possibility.
Here are a few young Celtics who could make serious leaps this season that you should be watching closely.
At the very least, it’ll be better than watching Jeff Green jack up 20-footers and Gerald Wallace sulk on the bench while collecting his eight-figure salary.
Of all the players listed here, Sullinger might have the most pure talent.
He was a dominant college player and has shown serious flashes in his two NBA seasons.
In 2013-14, Sully averaged a solid 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 74 games.
He proved he was healthy but unfortunately shot just 42.7 percent from the floor and 26.9 percent from three.
The shooting percentage dip was expected, given that he took his game beyond the arc, but a starting big man should shoot 46 percent at least.
Sully’s average field-goal distance also jumped from 7.7 feet as a rookie to 11.4 feet, per Basketball-Reference.
If he’s going to be a full-time stretch 4, he needs to flirt with at least league average shooting from three-point range.
Still, Sullinger posted a terrific 24.3 PER at the 4, according to 82games, albeit in a small sample size.
He’s never going to be a first option offensively, but he’ll be a tough cover if he keeps improving his jump shot.
He has the size to play on the block and a great touch around the hoop.
A look at Sullinger’s shot chart makes it worth wondering if he has been a little too reliant on his perimeter game given his physical gifts.
Obviously, adjusting to a new role and a starting job takes time, and Sullinger was also coming off of back surgery heading into 2013-14.
If Boston ends up dealing Brandon Bass, there will easily be 30-plus minutes available for Sullinger.
That could take a toll on Sullinger, though, who has never been a particularly chiseled athlete.
To his credit, Sully has been working on his conditioning this offseason.
He told CSNNE.com’s A. Sherrod Blakely, “[I’m] not really focusing on weight. It's more shape, how long can I run, how fast can I run. Pretty much how long I can stay on the court without passing out. I'm working on that every day.”
Now that he knows what is expected of him and has had a healthy offseason to train, Sullinger is poised for a solid year.
Don’t be shocked if he averages a double-double and shoots closer to 50 percent from the floor.
Tyler Zeller will get big minutes simply by being a true center.
The Celtics have plenty of hybrid big men, but Zeller is the only one who can play consistently, as Vitor Faverani struggles with defense and shot selection.
Boston acquired Zeller basically for nothing from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he should be a key cog in the rotation immediately.
In his two-year career, Zeller has averaged 6.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.7 blocks on 47.2 percent shooting, and he should put up even better numbers in green.
He doesn’t have All-Star upside, but Zeller posted a 16.2 PER at center in 2013-14, per 82games.
Zeller is a decently polished offensive player who can rotate well and provide help on the defensive end.
Danny Ainge raved about Zeller after acquiring him, telling ESPNBoston’s Chris Forsberg:
He can rebound, he can shoot, he can run. He's 7 feet tall, and I think he fits into how we want to play and how Brad wants to have that center position be a runner. You know, get up the court and run to the front of the rim. He fits all that criteria. He is a good young talent. We're excited to have him.
Zeller should start the year coming off the bench, but don’t be surprised if he moves into the starting lineup should Olynyk or Sullinger struggle.
Boston desperately needs some rim protection, and while Zeller doesn’t reject many shots, Forsberg notes that “opponents shot just 47.3 percent near the rim against him this past season, according to the league's player tracking data.”
Zeller’s numbers might not blow you away—though he could certainly average a double-double—but he’ll thrive with increased responsibility.
In the final five games of 2013-14, he averaged 13.6 points and 7.6 boards on 65.9 percent shooting in 22.4 minutes per game.
He won’t put up quite those numbers, but as the Celtics' only true 5, he’s going to be critical on both ends of the court.
This is a bit of wishful thinking since Bradley just signed a four-year, $32 million deal, but it is possible the fifth-year guard makes another leap.
He averaged 14.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists last season while shooting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The key caveats to discuss with Bradley are whether or not he will continue shooting at such a high clip and if he can stay healthy.
Bradley hit 40.7 percent of his threes in his second season, but just 31.7 percent in 2012-13, making it tough to tell if he has truly figured something out or just had a hot year.
He has also only played remotely close to a full season once, when he appeared in 64 of Boston’s 66 games in 2011-12.
Even then he ended up being shut down in the playoffs due to shoulder troubles, which potentially cost the Celts a spot in the NBA Finals.
If he can stay healthy and accurate from the perimeter, though, Bradley could reach another level in 2014-15.
He came into his own as an offensive player once Stevens moved him off the ball. His PER was better at 2-guard (13.4), than at the point (12.6), per 82games.
Neither number is particularly impressive, but he did far more damage cutting without the ball and spotting up than attempting to break down defenses off the dribble.
The C’s have Marcus Thornton, James Young, Marcus Smart and Phil Pressey who will all compete for minutes, but Bradley is virtually guaranteed 30-plus minutes and the starting spot.
Boston needs his stingy perimeter defense, and he thrived pressuring opposing guards in Stevens’ system.
Bradley’s not going to emerge into a 20-point scorer this year, but he could have a breakout akin to Arron Afflalo in 2013-14, who thrived offensively on a rebuilding Orlando Magic squad.
An Olynyk breakout is not impossible, but it seems more likely to come in a few years, not next season.
Olynyk found his footing as 2013-14 went on and wound up with decent averages of 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 dimes while shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from deep.
He was particularly hot to end the year, tallying 16.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 54.7 percent shooting in April.
However, he also struggled for much of the year with his defense.
Olynyk allowed a 17.9 PER to power forwards and a staggering 24.6 PER to centers, according to 82games.
If those numbers stay that high, it will be tough for Stevens to give him 30-plus minutes per night at the 5, limiting his upside.
Olynyk needs to bulk up and work on his fouling issues (5.8 per 36 minutes).
He also must continue to hone his three-point shot. As you can see from his shot chart, he was more effective around the rim than beyond the arc.
A huge part of his game is his jump shooting, and it needs to be much better for him to make a major leap.
Make no mistake, Olynyk will be better in 2014-15, but this likely will not be his big break.
This would only happen if the Celts traded Rondo and did not get a point guard back in return, which is unlikely but not impossible.
Pressey averaged just 2.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 2013-14 but had some nice moments as a starter, averaging 8.2 points, 3.4 boards and 7.2 assists in 31 minutes.
He also had a solid showing in the Orlando Summer League, averaging 10.6 points and 3.6 assists while providing a more veteran presence alongside the rookie Smart.
Pressey is never going to be a starting guard due to his size limitations, but he could be a dynamic backup if he keeps working.
He’ll need to shoot better than 30.8 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from three, though.
It is unlikely Pressey would start over Smart, but he could see 18-22 minutes per game if Rondo is dealt and potentially carve out a niche as a smart pass-first backup guard, which would be a major win for him.
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