Evaluating the Boston Celtics' Player Progress so Far

Grant Rindner@grantrindnerContributor IIINovember 12, 2013

Evaluating the Boston Celtics' Player Progress so Far

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    Just when Boston Celtics fans thought the season was over at 0-4 and began custom-ordering No. 22 Andrew Wiggins jerseys in green, the C's went into full "Celtic Pride" mode for Week 2 and wound up with an impressive four-game win streak.

    After struggling early on, new coach Brad Stevens finally seems confident in his rotation, and Boston is playing dominant defense. The C's are not the kind of team that can outscore their opponents regularly, but by capitalizing on turnovers, sharing the rock and attacking in transition, they were able to drop in 120 points against the Orlando Magic and 111 against the Miami Heat.

    Overall, the Celtics emerged victorious over the Utah Jazz, Magic on the road and Heat and Magic at home as they somehow thrust themselves back into the Eastern Conference's playoff picture.

    The C's currently boast the league's ninth-ranked defense, giving up just 96.4 points per game, and appear to have found a hidden gem in Jordan Crawford, who looked terrific running the point.

    While this team is likely headed for a reality check sometime in the near future, let's take a moment to bask in the aura of a 4-0 Week 2 that saw a number of Celtics contribute far beyond reasonable expectations.

10. Phil Pressey: B

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    After barely playing in Week 1, Phil Pressey managed to snag some of the backup-point guard minutes with Crawford's move to the starting lineup and played well despite some efficiency struggles.

    Pressey averaged 4.3 points and 2.5 assists over the four games and while he had difficulty with his outside shot, he proved that he is capable of playing meaningful minutes and contributing to the C's winning efforts.

    He did a terrific job pushing the ball in transition against the Heat and Magic, finding teammates in rhythm and making the proper pass. He made a few poor decisions on the fast break but has by and large shown solid court vision and an impressive handle.

    Pressey has also made heady defensive plays, using his quick hands to come up with steals and strip opposing guards driving to the basket.

    Until Rajon Rondo's return, Pressey should remain a rotation cog, and he certainly solidified his spot with a solid Week 2.

9. Courtney Lee: B+

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    Lee has not been getting heavy tread in 2013-14, but he certainly made the most of his limited minutes in Week 2.

    The much maligned 2-guard averaged nine points and two boards while shooting above 55 percent in all four contests. He took only high-percentage jumpers, was largely successful on his forays into the paint and did not hoist up contested three-pointers.

    Bradley's move primarily back to shooting guard will limit Lee's upside going forward, and he remains a major trade chip due to his age and contract, but with his ability to play gritty perimeter defense and do some spot ball-handling, Lee will continue to get some burn under Stevens.

    He was particularly locked in against his old team the Magic, scoring 25 points over both games in just 36 total minutes while shooting 10-of-17 overall.

    While he has primarily been working without the ball, Lee did not register a single turnover during the week and if he can continue making quality decisions, he will likely see more playmaking duty as the season goes on.

8. Vitor Faverani: C-

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    Demoted to a bench role after logging starter's minutes in Week 1, Vitor Faverani played decently in limited floor time but had difficulty developing any kind of rhythm after logging just 40 total minutes in Week 2.

    Faverani averaged 2.3 points, 3.3 boards and 0.8 assists while shooting just 4-of-13 overall as Olynyk stole his thunder at the center spot.

    His offense is still incredibly polished, but he struggled in the pick-and-roll game last week and with his outside shot, connecting on just 1-of-5 three-pointers.

    His defensive game remains a work in progress, as he is a step slow on defensive rotations and has trouble covering more physical players in the post without fouling. He is still a decent shot-blocker with surprising quickness given his weight and frame.

    Olynyk has played well enough that he should earn the brunt of the center minutes, but Faverani will likely rebound and emerge as a better player than he was in Week 2.

7. Jared Sullinger: B+

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    Jared Sullinger started 2013-14 slowly, coming off of back surgery and a run-in with the law, but rounded into form for Week 2 and solidified his role as the first big off the C's bench.

    Sullinger averaged 12.3 points, six boards and two assists during the week, and while he continues to jack up the occasional questionable jumper, he is still Boston's most consistent interior player.

    He is a bully on the offensive boards who can carve out great position and really pin opposing bigs under the basket, and he has great touch around the rim to boot.

    Additionally, Sully's post game continues to improve, as the Ohio State standout is now more capable of making a quick move or shooting a hook or fadeaway jumper. He's making quicker decisions on the block and has also looked better as a passer out of the post.

    His 22.64 PER for the season certainly reflects the improvements in his overall offensive game.

    For the week, he shot 20-of-37, a solid number for a young inside scorer, and that includes missing all five of his attempted three-pointers.

    He needs to do a better job as a help defender and at using his body to create contact and get to the foul line, but there is little fault that can be found with Sullinger's Week 2 performance, and he would likely be a possible starting candidate if Brandon Bass were not playing so well.

6. Kelly Olynyk: B

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    Thrust into the starting lineup in Week 2, Olynyk had some efficiency problems but ultimately looked good in his first meaningful starting experience.

    He broke out at home against Orlando, recording 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 7-of-9 shooting.

    Overall, the big man averaged 11.3 points, an impressive 7.3 boards and three dimes while finally finding his touch from three-point range.

    His foul trouble habits have been troubling for a perimeter-oriented big man, but at least he has been willing to mix it up on the interior and dole out hard fouls in the paint. He'll learn the nuances of staying out of foul trouble as the season goes along.

    The main improvement for Olynyk has been offensively, where he has found the form on his jumper and shown a nice mix of post moves and herky-jerky off the dribble action. Olynyk is deceptively quick and has shown that he is capable of taking a few dribbles and getting to the rim.

    He is still shooting just 41.9 percent overall and 21.4 percent from three-point range, but as his offensive role continues to grow, Olynyk's percentages should increase. He remains a defensive minus but is on his way to being the fulcrum of the C's post offense.

5. Jordan Crawford: A

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    Raise your hand if you thought Jordan Crawford would be far-and-away Boston's best option at point guard when the 2013-14 season began? Put your hand down, liar.

    Crawford, who was expected by many to be an afterthought in Stevens' rotation, has emerged as a reliable ball-handler and a surprisingly efficient scorer.

    He's averaging 11.3 points, 2.5 boards and 4.3 assists on 50.7 percent shooting overall and 40 percent from beyond the arc.

    Thrust into the starting lineup due to Bradley's struggles at the point, Crawford has still taken his share of horrible shots but has been knocking down more than his share of tough leaners and oddly-angled floaters.

    He is also doing a nice job running the pick-and-roll and getting into the paint to collapse the opponent's defense. He had a particularly gorgeous spin move for an easy dish to Bass against the Magic and posted a double-double in the win.

    It's unlikely he stays this hot from three-point range, and he remains too prone to gambling as a defender, but Week 2 was truly a coming-out party for Crawford, who is looking more and more like he could be a long-term piece in Boston.

    The guard scored less than 13 points just once in the four contests and averaged 5.8 assists against just 1.3 turnovers per game.

    At 25 years old, Crawford still has plenty of upside and is easily coming off of his best stretch of basketball as a Boston Celtic.

4. Gerald Wallace: B-

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    He failed to break double digits even once in Week 2, but at least Gerald Wallace is no longer completely unwilling to shoot the basketball. He averaged only 3.5 shots per game, but at least he hasn't repeated on his 28-minute, zero-attempt masterpiece against the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Where Wallace has excelled for Boston has been as a secondary ball-handler, logging more minutes in the backcourt and making plenty of heady passes. He racked up a season-high seven dimes against the Heat, including a crosscourt heave to Green that ultimately won the game, and followed that up with another five against the Magic in just 19 minutes.

    The C's could desperately use another facilitator, so even though he has barely been scoring or getting to the line, the fact that Wallace has been initiating some offense and finding open teammates has actually made him somewhat of an offensive asset.

    By actually pushing the pace in Week 2 and running the court, Boston was able to manufacture some consistent offense, and the play of "Crash" was instrumental in that.

    Though he has lost a step in terms of sheer athleticism, Wallace remains an aggressive, versatile defender who is vocal out on the court and helps to make his teammates better. He can matchup against a variety of players and is also capable of reading passing lanes and forcing turnovers.

    His best outing of the week was likely a nine-point, nine-rebound, three-assist effort against the Jazz, where he made both of his attempts from three.

    Wallace is still not living up to his stellar performance in the preseason and remains untradeable until more time runs off his deal, but the veteran swingman has managed to be a spark plug for Boston both as a starter and a reserve.

3. Brandon Bass: B-

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    Bass started Week 2 hot, scoring 20 points against Utah, but cooled off as the week went on. He remains borderline automatic from mid-range and the elbows but had difficulty finishing at the rim and getting to the foul line, failing to shoot a single free throw against Miami or Orlando at home.

    Bass battled foul trouble against the Heat, recording four in 15 minutes, and his impact on the game was largely neutralized. He scored six points on seven shots and failed to record even a single rebound.

    He finished the week averaging 13 points, 3.8 boards and 1.5 assists, but those numbers are largely reflective of the first two contests.

    Overall, this has been a strong bounce-back season for Bass, who has developed into a more complete offensive player capable of putting the ball on the deck and attacking the paint. He has worked hard to become more than just a spot-up shooting big man and is now capable of being Boston's main offensive player for some stretches against certain units.

    His defense remains underrated, as Bass is capable of blowing up pick-and-rolls and using his deceptive footwork to stay with opposing guards and quicker forwards, making him a perfect trade candidate for a team looking for a sixth man or low-end starter to put them over the hump.

2. Avery Bradley: B+

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    The Celtics finally realized that moving Bradley full-time to point guard will never work out, and by having him log more time at the 2, Bradley was able to develop confidence in his offensive game besides just launching tough mid-range jump shots off of botched screen-and-roll sets.

    Bradley had a season-high 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting at home against Orlando and looked dominant on offense, canning jumpers, attacking the basket off the dribble and cutting backdoor with abandon.

    He'll never be a consistent 20-plus scorer in this league, but Bradley has the kind of game that, with a reliable point guard, means he should be able to average somewhere in double figures regularly.

    He also shot well against the Heat, scoring 17 on 8-of-14 shooting, and the Texas product wound up averaging 15.8 points and four rebounds during the course of Week 2.

    With just three assists in 118 minutes, he has clearly been taken out of the passing game, albeit he still will run the ball up the floor in transition on occasion. Crawford has been excellent though, and it's tough to argue with Stevens' decision to use him as the primary ball-handler.

    Bradley remains a destructive force defensively, particularly when unleashed on point guards full-court, and will likely continue to guard 1s even if he lines up at the 2 to start the game.

1. Jeff Green: A-

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    Green would get a high mark purely for his fadeaway buzzer-beating corner three against Miami, but the combo forward played well enough in Week 2 that he deserves a spot among the "A" ranks.

    Green dropped in 24 against Miami and averaged a team-high 17 points last week to go along with 3.8 boards and 2.5 assists. He also connected on a blistering 9-of-17 from deep, proving himself as a valuable floor spacer.

    What has been most impressive about Green offensively has been his willingness to attack the basket. While he did not do a great job of creating contact and drawing fouls in Week 2, Green was less jumper reliant and actually used his length and quickness to exploit opponents off the dribble.

    He had some show-stopping dunks against Miami and was able to use his post game and hook shot to score with relative ease against Orlando.

    His team defense is coming along, but Green is playing hard in one-on-one matchups and using his natural athleticism and instincts to keep his man in front of him.

    Green may not be capable of averaging 20-plus per game, but if he keeps running the floor and driving to the hoop, he should eventually become one of the game's better small forwards.

    A solid Week 2 filled with good percentages, minimal turnovers and plenty of made three-pointers should certainly solidify that.

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