Predicting Boston Celtics' Biggest Surprises and Breakout Players in 2014-15
However, with such a young squad, there is a lot of opportunity for players to get enough minutes for a breakout season. Boston has a host of promising recent draft picks. If head coach Brad Stevens can manage their minutes properly, one or two could really develop into something special.
Likewise, there are a few players on the roster who desperately needed a change of scenery and got one when they were signed by or traded to the Celtics. These players were buried on their former teams or used improperly by coaches. With a wide-open depth chart and promising second-year head coach, Boston is a perfect place for them to earn their way back into NBA relevancy.
While their final record may come as no surprise to many, there is plenty of Celtics intrigue to go around.
Evan Turner Is Top 2 on Celtics in Scoring
Maybe this will come as a surprise to some and no surprise to others, but Evan Turner can still play basketball at a fairly high level.
The talent and promise he had doesn't just disappear at age 25. This is what should be the prime of his career. Unfortunately, due to team change and exterior forces on the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers, he hasn't reached it.
For a while, Turner was stuck on a 76ers team that simply wasn't built to win. Their front office appeared to be actively looking to lose games. When he was dealt to Indiana, the Pacers lost one of their leaders and locker room glue guys in Danny Granger. Whether some players resented Turner for the trade or not, we'll never know. However, Turner wasn't given much of a fair shake with the Pacers, especially in the postseason, where he saw just 12.4 minutes per game.
Prior to leaving Philadelphia, he was averaging 17.4 points per game, on slightly below-average 42.8 percent shooting. That would have led the Celtics last season, with a half-point edge over Jeff Green's 16.9 scoring average.
Turner isn't much of a shooter, which gives Green an early advantage, but he is equally, if not more, aggressive with the ball. Brad Stevens is going to try all options and won't be playing favorites in his second season as head coach. That should give Turner the opportunity he needs to prove himself worthy of regular minutes.
With that playing time, and no definitive go-to scorer on the roster, Turner could potentially lead Boston in scoring.
Kelly Olynyk Leaps Up the Depth Chart
As the All-Rookie team voting tells us, many thought Kelly Olynyk was the NBA's sixth-best rookie last season. Maybe even higher, depending on positional alignment of the teams.
Olynyk was the top vote-getter on the second team, probably aided by his late-season push that saw him average 16.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in April. He topped 24 points in each of Boston's last three games.
With another strong summer league performance under his belt, Olynyk is looking primed for a possible breakout sophomore season. Now 23 years old, Olynyk has slowly adapted and proved himself against NBA competition, which was a question mark coming out of Gonzaga.
His biggest issue last year, discounting a relatively weak defensive game, was confidence. He was thrown right into the fire at the season's outset, deservedly so after a solid camp and summer league, averaging 23.1 minutes per game in November. Then he got dinged up a bit and saw his playing time shrink before working his way back into a bigger role by year's end.
Now he's going to be in the conversation to be a regular starter at either the power forward or center position. There is still work to do defensively, but if he can get off to a hot start as a unique scoring weapon, the Celtics will need his points and be forced to keep him on the floor.
Rajon Rondo Finishes the Seasons in a Celtics Jersey
With all the rumors swirling now about Rajon Rondo possibly wanting the Boston Celtics to move him, and them drafting a possible replacement in Marcus Smart, it would seem to be a surprise that the All-Star point guard will finish the 2014-15 season in Boston.
Last week, after a report surfaced that Rondo was asking out of Boston, his camp quickly denied the claim, according Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald. The original claim was made by Jackie MacMullan while she thought she was off-air during the filming of an episode of ESPN's Around the Horn. The video, which has since been deleted, was found by MassLive.com's Jay King.
A lot of signs point to the player being on the trading block, but that is no different than just about every offseason and regular season of Rondo's career. Yet, through all that he has remained playing his home games at TD Garden.
One reason for that, and why he will finish the year in Boston, is that Danny Ainge is just about as stubborn as they come. That is a good trait for a general manager, except when one gets locked in on the wrong guys. Whether Rondo is one of those guys is a different argument.
The point here is that Ainge enjoys Rondo and won't be dealing him for anything less than equal value. Unfortunately, there are little to no teams in the league capable of offering that who also have a desire to acquire a point guard. Other teams look at the possibility of losing him in free agency next summer and see that as an extra deterrent.
Just because he finishes the year in Boston doesn't mean the Celtics will 100 percent lose him for nothing in the summer. Rondo wants a lengthy courtship in free agency, which could give Boston time to build up their roster around him before making their pitch for him to stay.
Marcus Smart Will Start More Games Than Avery Bradley
With a freshly signed four-year, $32 million contract, Avery Bradley is the obvious favorite to start the season as the Boston Celtics' shooting guard alongside Rajon Rondo.
However, the Celtics also very recently used their No. 6 overall pick in the draft on Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart. This could create some interesting storylines come the regular season.
Smart was one of the most NBA-ready prospects coming out of college this summer, and he has the body to match. He is bigger and stronger than Bradley, and should bring just as much defensive intensity and skill, the former's biggest asset.
If Bradley starts the year in a shooting slump, there will be a large push from the outside to let Smart start. Fans and management will want to see what the rookie can do in a definitive rebuilding year. Likewise, if Bradley goes down with an injury, as he seems to do every year, missing 54 games the last two seasons, Smart is in line to get starts in his absence. Should that change coincide with some wins and confident, capable play by the rookie, Brad Stevens will have a bit of a controversy on his hands.
Not long ago, Boston fans saw Ray Allen get hurt and miss time. When he came back healthy, Bradley had supplanted him as the regular starter.
Should Bradley have a breakout season and stay healthy, there is still opportunity for Smart. The previous slide may be voided completely if Danny Ainge receives the offer he wants for Rondo. Since Smart is capable of playing both guard positions, he would possibly be in line to get starts at point guard, keeping him right up there with Bradley
Brad Stevens Improves Dramatically in Year 2
With a bunch of exciting new faces on the Boston Celtics roster, it is easy to forget that the asset with the best chance at a breakout year is head coach Brad Stevens.
Like Kelly Olynyk, Stevens is entering his second season in the NBA after leaving much weaker competition at Butler University. He had an assortment of growing pains as a rookie head coach, and wasn't helped much by the tanking talk and poorly-assembled roster he was given to work with.
With a year of experience, he should have gained an incredible amount of knowledge coaching 82 NBA games and meeting the other 29 head coaches in the league.
The roster he will be given to start 2014-15 may not appear a ton better overall, but there are more clearly defined pieces and he'll seemingly have everyone healthy and hopefully in good shape. Last year he had to work with the Rondo return date looming over everything, and still did a solid job of trying to keep Boston competitive in his absence.
If Rondo isn't traded over the next two months, he should serve as a massive help for Stevens in his second season. Rondo is a coach on the floor, and if he is on the same page with his head coach, things should run more smoothly than they did last season with him in and out of the lineup.
There are still some holes to fill, and we'll see if he is more confident drawing up end-of-game plays and the like, but Stevens has a roster mostly made up of younger guys now. Those are the types of players he was accustomed to coaching in college, and even more so the castoffs that big programs didn't recruit. Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller were afterthoughts on their most recent teams. Even Jared Sullinger, who fell far in the draft, fits that bill.
It won't be easily noticed in glances at games and reading the standings in the paper every morning, but Stevens is a true breakout candidate for 2014-15.