What We've Learned About 2014-15 Boston Celtics So Far
We've seen 96 minutes of the 2014-15 Boston Celtics, and if there's one thing we have learned it's that we can't be sure which C's team we're getting each night.
Rajon Rondo has looked like his old self, but unfortunately so has Jeff Green, in many ways.
Rookie Marcus Smart is defending like a madman, while fellow rookie James Young has barely seen the floor.
The revamped frontcourt of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller off the bench has looked pretty good, just not defensively.
While we obviously shouldn't put too much stock in two games, let's reflect on the first week of regular-season basketball for the Celts and some trends we've noticed thus far.
Rondo Is Back to His Old Ways
Rondo has easily been the most impressive Celtic in the early going. He’s averaging just 8.5 points but is dishing out 10 assists and grabbing 8.5 rebounds through the first two contests.
After absolutely decimating Jarrett Jack and the Nets in the season opener, he came down to earth against Isaiah Canaan but still showcased his quickness and creativity.
Against Brooklyn, Rondo was nailing mid-range jumpers, getting to the rim at will and creating high-percentage looks for his teammates all over the floor. He showed particular chemistry with Zeller in the pick-and-roll and with Olynyk on the fast break.
Boston’s lack of shooting is an issue for him, but Rondo has been making creative plays and using the stretch big men to help offset the lack of perimeter firepower.
His three-pointer still isn’t there—minus one banked-in make against Brooklyn—but he looks comfortable with his knee and is being aggressive.
There’s still some rust, as evidenced by missed free throws and a few careless turnovers, but Rondo looks to be back to his old ways as a top-flight point guard.
Whether he spends the rest of the season in Boston or gets shipped out midyear, that’s something for which every Celtic fan who saw Rondo dominate in the playoffs a few years ago should be thankful.
He won’t get this team to 121 points every night but still deserves to have the keys to an NBA offense in his hands.
This Team Will Be Erratic
In two contests, we’ve seen Boston drop 121 points on what should be an Eastern Conference playoff team and flounder against a talented but far-from-perfect Rockets squad.
Given the amount of young players and new pieces in Boston, this is surely going to be one of the league’s more highly variable units.
Brad Stevens always has his team well-prepared and ready to play, and Rondo is going to give every game his all in a contract year. Factor in Green’s occasional scoring outburst as well as the offensive potential of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, and the makings of a decent offense are here.
But there will also be nights where Rondo cannot ignite the offense and the team’s lack of outside shooting becomes a serious problem, as it did against Houston.
The final score made the contest seem a little closer than it was, as Boston dug itself a massive first-half hole by notching 38 only points. The Celtics shot an abhorrent 1-of-25 from beyond the arc against the Rockets and had to rely on mid-range jumpers and wild drives for their points.
Inconsistency is a hallmark of young rebuilding teams, and even though Boston has a few proven veterans, this is still a team of mostly unproven talent.
The Celtics will have nights where they come together and look like a playoff team, creating smart shots and playing stingy on-ball defense. But there will also be games where their lack of three-point shooting, rim protection and facilitation leads to some ugly losses.
Let’s just hope this team doesn’t go into tanking mode right away, because the uncertainty is half the fun.
Jeff Green Will Never Be a Leading Scorer
Through two games, Green has shown us exactly the same performance as in 2013-14. He’s averaging 17 points and five rebounds but has hit just 11 of 29 shots and only three of 10 from beyond the arc.
This included a particularly brutal showing against Houston, where he went 7-of-19 and missed six threes.
Green is a talented player, but he just clearly lacks the killer mindset and would serve best as a complementary piece.
Steven has been using him more at power forward, which is a position that he has the potential to thrive in, but the early returns haven’t been super encouraging. His passing instincts aren’t particularly sharp, and while he’s making more of an effort on the glass, he just isn’t ever going to be an elite rebounding forward.
He made decent work of James Harden in the post, but at the same time it says something that Houston felt comfortable letting Harden, a notoriously lazy defender, check Green.
The issue isn’t that he forces up shots; most of Green’s attempts this season have been good looks. The problem is that he could probably create better shots for himself with a little more effort.
Still, there is reason to feel optimistic about Green this season, even if the early returns have been less than stellar.
As Bleacher Report’s Mike Walsh noted, “Green is a supremely athletic talent who should be able to take advantage of [power forward] matchups. The added responsibility would also hopefully keep him invested in games.”
Marcus Smart Is an Elite Defender
Smart clearly has work to do on the offensive end, but he already looks like a pro when it comes to defense.
The 6’4” Smart has the body, athleticism and mentality to be a rabid defender and has shown solid aptitude so far. He managed four steals against the Nets’ sloppy ball-handling, and while he didn’t force as many turnovers against the Rockets he showed grit and a keen understanding of where he needs to be.
Smart keeps his head on a swivel, throwing well-timed double-teams and making sure his man doesn’t beat him with backdoor cuts.
His play on the ball has been solid, and while it doesn’t mean much yet, he currently tied for the team lead in defensive win shares according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Smart does gamble a bit, which he’ll learn to check, but otherwise his play on the defensive end has been extremely solid. His defense is extremely important, because it makes nights like his 0-for-7 performance against the Rockets much more bearable.
Offense is something that can be learned in the league, but Smart’s innate defensive tenacity certainly bodes well for his future as a Boston cornerstone.
The Olynyk-Sullinger Frontcourt Works…Sort of
No one expected the Sullinger-Olynyk frontcourt pairing to mesh perfectly from Game 1, and so far we’ve seen a mix of dazzling offense and rough play defensively.
When the pair are both on, their mix of outside shooting and inside play is a tough one to match. Olynyk has the guard-like skills to drive to the hole and can hit tough shots, while Sully mixes up his three-point game with a healthy amount of play on the block.
Both are plus passers, and Olynyk in particular has shown an ability to run the floor on the fast break.
Thus far, Sullinger is averaging 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two assists per game on 45.8 percent shooting, while Olynyk has poured in 13.5 points and 5.5 boards on 55 percent shooting overall.
The problem so far has been, predictably, on the defensive end of the court.
Against a patchwork Brooklyn front line they held their own (although Mirza Teletovic torched them for 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting), but that was not the case against Houston.
Though the Rockets lack depth, the tandem of Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones proved too much for them, combining for 39 points and 18 rebounds.
Both were hampered by foul trouble but still managed to get quality looks offensively and impact the game. Jones was particularly hot, knocking down 10 of 16 attempts and scoring in a variety of ways.
Sully and Olynyk racked up five and four fouls respectively, and Olynyk was limited to just 16 minutes of playing time as a result.
Neither are elite athletes, so lateral movement in the paint is not exactly a strong suit. While Sullinger is averaging 2.5 block so far this season and has shown decent defensive timing, he is not exactly a shot-blocking threat. Olynyk has the size as a true 7-footer, but he’s not a leaper and does his best defensive work on the ground.
Because Boston’s backcourt lacks shooters, they need Sully and Olynyk out on the court, so the two have to figure out how to defend without fouling so often.
Fans should be encouraged by what they’ve seen so far, particularly with Zeller coming off the bench, but there are still plenty of kinks for Stevens to work out as 2014-15 goes on.