Predicting the Roles and Impact of Each Boston Celtics Newcomer This Summer
The Boston Celtics are rebuilding, which means plenty of new faces will arrive until they return to respectability.
Whether they're rookies, guys who've been left out to dry on an expiring contract, players still on their first deal or low-cost-high-upside veterans who can hopefully become useful trade assets, right now the Celtics are in the market for all of the above.
Here are the new players Boston plans to bring into the fold for the 2014-15 season. Each can help in his own way, but expectations must be tempered. They're ranked in no particular order.
Boston’s highest lottery pick in quite some time, Marcus Smart will contribute immediately at both backcourt positions. He’ll back up Rajon Rondo, back up Avery Bradley and play beside them both.
Smart will defend the opposing team’s lead ball-handler when Bradley’s on the bench, run Boston’s offense with the second unit at his natural position (point guard) and look to score whenever he can.
Growing pains will be rough since he’s only 20 years old, but Smart plays like a bull and has one of the league’s best point guards ready to answer any questions that arise. He’ll have the opportunity to put up Rookie of the Year numbers, and the Celtics should expect him to contend for the award.
Once projected as an off-the-bench gunner in the mold of Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford, Marcus Thornton is now a 27-year-old journeyman who was peddled to the Celtics by Brooklyn in a cap-clearing three-way trade.
Despite posting quality numbers in 26 games with the Nets, Thornton’s main value comes in the form of his expiring contract. It’s unlikely he sees much playing time this season (even though Boston could use his shooting ability) and less likely he stays with the team beyond this year.
If he does play, it'll be because someone—Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey, James Young or (maybe) Evan Turner—gets injured or Brad Stevens becomes real desperate for players who can score off the dribble.
If Thornton finds playing time and performs above his head early in the season, Boston will immediately try to move him at the trade deadline.
Despite being unfit for playing time in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Evan Turner still has NBA skills that can help a team win.
The former No. 2 overall pick averaged 17.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in 54 games with the Philadelphia 76ers before he was traded to the Indiana Pacers. The Sixers were one of the league’s fastest teams, skewing those numbers a bit, but Turner still shot a respectable 41.6 percent from 16-23 feet and was the team’s lead ball-handler.
Here's David Falk, Turner's agent, speaking to The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:
If you would have told me you could sign a free agent that could average 17, 6, and 5 who was a wing player, I’d probably tell you you’re talking about a max player. I’m not giving you my opinion because I’m a little bit biased because of how I feel about Evan but Larry Bird is a pretty astute observer of NBA basketball, pretty tough critic, and he has said publicly that’s who he thinks Evan Turner is. He’s always been a big Evan Turner fan and it’s unfortunate the situation didn’t work out in Indiana.
In Boston, he’ll most likely back up Jeff Green at small forward but also play a little shooting guard against opposing teams that have an exceptionally large backcourt.
Turner can handle the ball, run a pick-and-roll and get to the rim. He has value. His ceiling with the Celtics is as a serious scoring threat off the bench, which is exactly what they could use.
James Young will be one of the youngest players in the NBA next season. At 19 years old, and without even a minute of summer league under his belt thanks to a predraft car accident, Young could spend a good chunk of his rookie season in the D-League.
If not, and Boston needs his outside shot, the former Kentucky Wildcat could find himself in the deep small forward mix alongside Jeff Green, Evan Turner and Gerald Wallace. It's in Boston's best interest to develop Young as quickly as possible.
If he's playing well as a rookie, his trade value rises. That's good, not that the Celtics should immediately look to move their youngest player. But having him contribute on the big stage is better than toiling away in the D-League.
Acquired in a three-team deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets, Tyler Zeller is 24 years old, 7 feet tall and has two more seasons left on a rookie-scale contract. This makes him a perfect fit for the Boston Celtics.
Zeller started 55 games two years ago (as a rookie) but only nine last season, when his minutes dropped but his advanced numbers (including player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage and free-throw rate) spiked, per Basketball Reference.
With the Celtics, Zeller will have the opportunity to start at center. They don’t really have anyone his height who has natural experience at the 5, and it makes little sense to give those minutes to an offensively inept player like Joel Anthony or an out-of-shape sloth like Vitor Faverani.
If he doesn’t start at center, Zeller will still spend plenty of time in the frontcourt beside either Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk.
Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, FOX Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.