5 Reasons Boston Celtics Will Be Better Than Expected During 2014-15 Season

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent INovember 4, 2014

5 Reasons Boston Celtics Will Be Better Than Expected During 2014-15 Season

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    With Rajon Rondo at 100 percent, the Celtics could be better than expected.
    With Rajon Rondo at 100 percent, the Celtics could be better than expected.USA TODAY Sports

    A few games into the 2014-15 NBA season, and the Boston Celtics don't look all that terrible.

    A big win over the Brooklyn Nets, shooting slump against the Houston Rockets and near comeback versus the Dallas Mavericks has Boston at 1-2 against three playoff teams from a year ago. They have a point differential of just minus-1.

    While they haven't come out of the gate totally on fire, the Celtics are showing reasons as to why this year won't be as bad as some are thinking. A few young guys have shown signs of breaking out, and returning veterans like Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green have looked as good as ever.

    Having a decent season would go a long way toward gaining confidence in this rebuild for the young players on the roster.

    Boston won't be ascending much further in the standings than where they are now, at No. 10, but signs point to many more exciting days to come.

Rajon Rondo Didn't Miss Any Time

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    USA TODAY Sports

    After news broke of starting point guard Rajon Rondo's broken hand on Sept. 27, it was generally assumed he would miss the start of the season.

    A brief 32 days later, he posted 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in a 121-105 regular-season opening win against the Brooklyn Nets.

    What was scheduled to take 6-8 weeks to heal, plus however long Boston wanted to subtly tank, took only a little over four weeks.

    Rondo appeared to not be hampered by the injury at all, showing athleticism we hadn't seen since before the ACL injury that stole nearly two full seasons from him. He also took some hits on the injured hand and seemed unfazed.

    Barring any sort of big injury, the Celtics could potentially get 75-82 games of Rondo, instead of him sitting out until sometime in December.

    While this does mean less playing time for a guy like Marcus Smart, it provides the rest of the team with a reliable distributor. It also means they know whose hands the ball will be in during key situations. There is trust there, and that cannot be understated.

    Having their All-Star point guard back running the show should lead to more wins than expected and better overall play from the team.

High-Level Rookie

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    When the Celtics selected Marcus Smart with the No. 6 pick in June's NBA draft, it marked the first time since 2007 that they were able to take a top-10 player (Jeff Green at No. 5).

    Actually, 2001 was the last time Boston grabbed a top-10 player that wasn't immediately traded. Green was sent on draft night to the Seattle Supersonics as part of the package that brought back Ray Allen.

    Joe Johnson was taken No. 10 overall in 2001, but was dealt after just 48 games in green.

    So, in reality, the last time this franchise had a high-lottery talent of their own to develop was 1998's No. 10 overall pick, Paul Pierce. Pierce just began his 17th NBA season, so that is quite a gap between such highly touted rookies.

    While we've already seen some of the growing pains that may characterize his rookie season, we've also been privileged to witness some of what makes him such a promising prospect.

    Against the Houston Rockets, Smart was 0-of-7 in 11 minutes and didn't have an impact on the game at all. However, in his other two NBA games, he has been utilized fantastically during stretches of pressure defense and confident shot-taking.

    Barring a couple seconds of rest and the final eight seconds of the fourth quarter, Smart played the final nine minutes of Boston's game against the Dallas Mavericks, a 118-113 loss. During that stretch, he had five points, four rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

    Boston hasn't had a Rookie of the Year since Larry Bird in 1980. While Smart certainly isn't the favorite to win it, his presence in the conversation is illustrative of the Celtics having a stronger year than expected.

Trade Flexibility

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    There will always be a decent amount of speculation about the possibility of a Rondo trade. Joining him in those rumors will likely be Jeff Green and a host of other Celtics.

    Most of those talks have to do with Boston tanking the season, though. If they were able to deal Rondo or Green for draft picks or expiring contracts, the Celtics would get worse this season and hopefully add to their rebuild over the summer.

    However, those talks don't have to all lean in that direction. What general manager Danny Ainge has done is create a situation with maximum flexibility.

    Beyond Rondo and Green, the franchise owns more than $15 million in expiring contracts, mostly in Brandon Bass and Marcus Thornton. They also hold as many as six first-round picks the next two years, though the 2015 lottery-protected Philadelphia 76ers pick will likely be levied as second-rounders the following two years.

    That is a lot of assets that can be used to improve this team instead of decimate it in hopes of winning the lottery. For all the talk about how Boston can make a trade to get worse in the short-term, perhaps there will be a player out there that Ainge could trade for to make this team better in the short-term, and possibly long-term as well.

    As currently constituted, the Celtics will still struggle to surprise anyone. However, if Ainge makes a move to better the team, it could make them better than expected.

Suffocating the Perimeter

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    USA TODAY Sports

    While trying to complete a comeback against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 3, Brad Stevens went to his three-guard lineup in the fourth quarter.

    Boston trailed by as many as 31 points during the game, but things changed in the second half when the Celtics found their defensive footing. That change in momentum came with Rondo, Avery Bradley and Smart spanning the perimeter and wreaking havoc on Dallas' ability to get into any sort of offensive rhythm.

    After the game, multiple players were mentioning words like aggressive and effort. Those traits stemmed from what that three-guard lineup was able to do.

    "We’re a team, when we get stops, we’re very aggressive," Rondo told The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn after the game. "We can learn from this. It was a tough loss for us but we didn’t give up. We were down 30-plus points and dug deep."

    Green added in the same piece, "The last two games, Houston and Dallas punched us in the mouth and we came back in the second half. We have to be the aggressor."

    With the trio of Smart, Rondo and Bradley on the floor at the same time, you have three above-average defenders swarming the ball and causing problems at the ignition point of an opponent's offense. It is a great way to pick up quick stops and get into transition while throwing off the timing of a game entirely.

    Prior to the season, this wrinkle was certainly not a definite option, but Stevens has been experimenting with a few different things and appears to have found one that can work. 

The Possibility That This Is the Year for Green

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    Predicting a breakout season for Jeff Green has become some sort of sick exercise in personal torture and agony. However, it does seem to be tradition.

    So, let's go over some of the reasons that Green might finally pop in 2014-15.

    First should be the shape he entered training camp in. By all accounts, he was in peak physical condition after adding some muscle in the offseason. He is also fully healthy, being two full years removed from heart surgery. He has missed just one game since taking the 2011-12 season off to recover.

    Last season was his first experience being the regular starter and focal point for Boston. Even while starting most of his games with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was a third or fourth option offensively. Suddenly last season, after playing behind Paul Pierce for so long, he was thrust into the spotlight and expected to produce like the man he replaced.

    Unfortunately, surrounding Green was an assembly neither built to win, nor help make him look good. He had a rather inefficient season shooting, but there wasn't much else on the floor for defenses to concern themselves with. Arguably his best teammate from last season, Jordan Crawford, is now playing basketball in China.

    In 2014-15, he will get a full season of playing with a healthy Rondo, perhaps the best player in the game at making other guys look good. He is now also playing for the second year under Stevens, who does appear to be a solid head coach. That continuity should help Green with his spot in the offense.

    Stevens has also been willing to experiment with Green at power forward a lot more than his previous coaches had. This opens the door for a different avenue down which Green could be successful.

    Playing him at the 4 gives him more minutes and responsibilities with which he can stay involved in the game. It also potentially matches him up with slower-footed bigs, giving him an offensive advantage with his speed and athleticism.

    Lastly, this could wind up being a contract year for Green. He has a player option for 2015-16, worth $9.2 million. However, if he feels he is worth more than that on the open market, he can decline it and seek a longer extension either with Boston or elsewhere. This may add another level of effort for the 28-year-old.

    If this is the year for Green, it will help it be the year for the team in green as well.