Diagnosing Boston Celtics' Remaining Roster Flaws
General manager Danny Ainge has spent much of this summer doctoring the Boston Celtics roster. While some moves he had hoped to make fell through, there have been some changes.
Unfortunately, the depth chart has a few flaws that must be diagnosed and addressed before Boston can return to playing competitive basketball on a nightly basis.
The Celtics still have general overcrowding on a roster that is jam-packed with average role players. The issue here is that many of these players are young and need space and minutes to grow. With too many similar types, those minutes get shrunk.
There are also the more glaring holes that had hoped to be filled by signing a second star to align with Rajon Rondo. That, however, never came to fruition, and now Ainge must try to stay afloat while seeking out his Plan B.
Overcrowding in the Frontcourt
A major issue from last year's Boston Celtics team that hasn't really been addressed is the logjam of similar players in the frontcourt.
Even with Kris Humphries walking in free agency this summer, the Celtics still hold Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, Joel Anthony and Vitor Faverani in their frontcourt. Ideally, Boston may like to find minutes for all six of those guys, but realistically that isn't feasible.
Olynyk and Sullinger are first-round draft picks, so the Celtics would definitely like to see what they can blossom into. However, with a reliable role player like Bass on the team, playing time can become scarce. Olynyk doesn't quite have the skill set to play center for a lot of minutes, which leaves all three of these guys battling over time at the power forward spot.
Ainge acquired Zeller this summer in a move that added two players while giving up none. That certainly isn't the type of move that helps overcrowding. Zeller helps the spacing slightly by being more of a typical center but adds another young first-round pick in need of minutes to the situation.
Faverani had a dynamite start to last season but fell off quickly and eventually found himself riding the bench. Anthony was a midseason addition who never found a regular role but will make a healthy $3.2 million this season.
It will take time for Brad Stevens to hammer out some sort of frontcourt rotation for the Celtics. Not everyone will be happy with his minutes, and that isn't a good start for a young team that is trying to gain footing in the league.
Overcrowding in the Backcourt
The general roster overflow continues in the Boston backcourt.
Things started earlier this summer when general manager Danny Ainge and his staff chose to draft Marcus Smart, a point guard for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. As you probably knew, the Celtics already had a point guard on their roster by the name of Rajon Rondo.
A short time later, they re-signed shooting guard Avery Bradley to a four-year deal worth $32 million. Not long after that, they guaranteed the minuscule contract of Phil Pressey, a backup point guard who played in 75 games for Boston last season.
Next came a trade that brought in young center Tyler Zeller and shooting guard Marcus Thornton, who is another capable backcourt player in need of minutes and set to make $8.575 million this coming season.
Adding to the clutter of guards and wings, Boston acquired free agent Evan Turner, who will play small forward, fighting for playing time with Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace. There is also 2014 first-round pick James Young, a shooting guard/small forward, to consider.
With all these players in need of minutes, Ainge isn't making Brad Stevens' job easy in his second season as head coach. There is a lot to consider when trying to play a backcourt that is this packed with middling talent. Egos are sure to be bruised when Stevens sets his regular rotation, and there will be a lot of room for second-guessing if Ainge doesn't clear a few things up.
Lack of Perimeter Shooting
The Boston Celtics' decision to draft Marcus Smart and then re-sign Avery Bradley hindered them in an important aspect of modern professional basketball.
Boston's outside shooting is almost non-existent in the backcourt. Heading into this season, the predicted main minute-getters shoot some ghastly outside percentages.
Bradley bucked the trend a bit last year, hitting on 39.5 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game and finding some solace in the corner, per NBA.com. However, if teams start realizing that, it is a shot they can take away. Rajon Rondo put up a career-high 90 threes in just 30 games last season, hitting only 26 of them, and he is a career 25.2 percent shooter from that range.
Smart, Boston's No. 7 overall pick, shot just 29.5 percent over two seasons from the collegiate three-point line.
Phil Pressey's rookie season saw him hit just 26.4 percent of 106 long-range attempts.
New addition Evan Turner isn't really big on even attempting the shot, mostly because it isn't in his repertoire. Turner is a career 32.6 percent three-point shooter, averaging 1.3 attempts per game.
Marcus Thornton (36.1 percent on 4.6 attempts) has actually been a decent threat over the course of his career, along with Jeff Green, who hit on 34.1 percent of his 4.8 attempts per game last season. This isn't nearly enough, though.
Without the threat of outside shooting from the majority of Boston's backcourt, the bigs won't stand much of a chance inside. The Celtics have a slew of young and inexperienced interior players who need space to operate efficiently. With little-to-no perimeter shooting, defenses will collapse before Boston's frontcourt has a chance to set up in the paint.
Lack of Defensive Presence in the Frontcourt
The Celtics have tried on multiple occasions to secure a legitimate starting center with a defensive reputation but have been unsuccessful each time. The days of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins patrolling the paint and setting a tone for Boston's defense from the inside-out may not have actually been that long ago, but it feels like eons at this point.
The trade for Tyler Zeller this summer gives Boston a legitimate center but not really a defensive one. The 24-year-old 7-footer is more of an offensive transition specialist who doesn't necessarily have the timing or physicality of an elite defender. He does have the body and base that are required to play the position, but beyond that there isn't much to instill confidence at that end.
Boston's other 7-footer, Kelly Olynyk, is more of a finesse perimeter-oriented big who grew up playing the guard positions. This will also be just his second NBA season, and he doesn't have the timing or physicality to spend a ton of minutes guarding centers.
Beyond those two, Boston is simply small. Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger are undersized and a bit slow to guard the paint at an elite level. The same goes for Joel Anthony. Vitor Faverani hasn't proved capable enough to stay on the court at either end.
Boston has an elite defensive backcourt and one that just added a high-level defensive prospect in Marcus Smart. However, defenses often have to build from the inside out to be successful. Right now, the Celtics don't have that base to rely on in the paint.
Lack of a Go-to Scorer in Closing Minutes
Not many NBA teams have the benefit of their best player being mainly a distributor. However, that benefit quickly turns into a detriment when said team needs to get buckets toward the end of tight games.
Rajon Rondo is a fantastic NBA player, but due to some shooting inefficiencies on the perimeter (career 25.2 three-point shooter) and at the free-throw line (career 62.1 percent), he can't be counted on as a go-to scorer with the game on the line.
He can still have the ball in his hands, if enough time remains, and find the best option for Boston to get the basket, but he runs the risk of running out of time or getting fouled.
With their best player occasionally rendered ineffective in those situations, the Celtics don't have a go-to scoring option. Last year's hope was that Jeff Green would step into the role. However, a player who mixes scoring outbursts in the 30-point range with single-digit efforts (14 last season) can't always be relied upon in the clutch.
Green floats in and out of too many games for Brad Stevens to be consistently comfortable with giving him the ball in key situations. In this facet, he is far different from Boston's previous go-to guy, Paul Pierce. Still, Green has had some very big moments in an NBA uniform but doesn't fully instill confidence.
Evan Turner has been a decently prolific scorer but doesn't have an outside shot and will have to work to earn minutes before trying to get a hand in those situations.
For now, this spot remains vacant, unless Rondo proves himself willing to keep the ball and go to the line, or Green develops some consistency at age 28.