Final Regular-Season Grades for Boston Celtics Players
With a constantly revolving door of players and a roster that lacked top-shelf talent, the Boston Celtics’ surprising charge into the playoffs is a testament both to their chemistry and Brad Stevens’ system as well as the weakness of the Eastern Conference.
Many expected the C’s to tank as they had in 2013-14, but their mix of veterans and unheralded young players jelled better than anyone anticipated.
Midseason deals that shipped out Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green only strengthened the team, and the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas was instrumental in their postseason push.
With the 2015-16 campaign virtually over and the No. 7 or 8 seed locked up, it’s time to reflect on the Boston roster as a whole.
While it’s tough to compare pieces such as Evan Turner and Brandon Bass, who were rotation mainstays, to players such as Kelly Olynyk, who missed time, or Thomas, who was acquired at the trade deadline, they all brought something to the Celts in their unexpected return to the playoffs.
Now that Boston fans can rejoice about the end of the playoff drought, let’s attempt to slap a grade on the performance of each Celtic and not get too caught up in the impending trip to Cleveland.
No. 15: Chris Babb, Incomplete
The 25-year-old Chris Babb recently signed a contract with the C’s but has yet to see the court for Boston.
He might catch on in the league as a three-and-D player thanks to his ability to guard the perimeter, but it is impossible to give him a grade since he has not been on an NBA court in 2014-15.
No. 14: James Young, Incomplete
There is plenty of untapped potential in James Young, which is why he ultimately also cannot be graded.
He appeared in just 30 games as a rookie, notching 3.2 points per game in 10.3 minutes and hitting just 26.2 percent of his three-pointers.
However, he absolutely dominated the NBA D-League. Averaging 21.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and two assists while hitting 46.3 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from three with the Maine Red Claws.
Young has the tools to be a good shooter and is very athletic, but he won’t make an impact in the league until he bulks up. Right now, he would be eviscerated by bigger wings whom he could not body up.
Hopefully, Young can have a more meaningful role in his sophomore campaign.
No. 13: Gerald Wallace, D
The descent of Gerald Wallace hit rock bottom this season, where he averaged 1.1 points and 1.8 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game.
Wallace, once an elite rebounder and interior scorer, has seen his athleticism wane and lost his ability to consistently impact games.
He still has some useful skills as a passer and defender, but his inability to shoot the ball clearly hurts him now that he cannot get to the rim consistently.
Look for Boston to try (and fail) to unload Wallace’s contract in the offseason.
No. 12: Phil Pressey, C-
Phil Pressey is a legitimately good facilitator; it’s just that no other aspect of his game is NBA-level.
He averaged 3.5 points, 1.6 boards and 2.3 assists in 11.9 minutes this season, while hitting 37.2 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from three-point range.
Even for a third point guard, those numbers are pretty weak, and he won’t have much future in the league if he can’t hone his outside shot.
Pressey is also a defensive liability given his 5’11” stature, making him impossible to play against bigger backcourts.
No. 11: Luigi Datome, C+
Celtics fans love Luigi Datome—and with good reason.
The Italian sharpshooter came to Boston from the Detroit Pistons and has found a role as a floor-spacer in an offense that sorely needs one.
He’s averaging 4.5 points and 1.4 rebounds on 48.3 percent shooting from both the field and deep in 16 games as a Celtic.
The knock on Datome is that he cannot do much besides shoot, but he does a decent job reacting to closeouts and putting the ball on the floor.
Ideally, the Celts could find a shooter with a more complete game than Datome's for 2015-16, but he has proved to be a suitable, if limited, rotation player.
No. 10: Jonas Jerebko, C+
Jonas Jerebko cooled off after a blistering start, but he has still made an impact since joining Boston.
With the C’s, he is averaging 6.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.9 assists while hitting 42.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep.
He’s still somewhat limited athletically after tearing his Achilles, but Jerebko plays extremely hard and provides Boston with some grit off the bench.
He has proved to be a decent rebounder in limited minutes and has a particular penchant for the offensive glass. He also has decent hands around the hoop and can finish in the paint.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Jerebko’s outside shooting ability makes him a true stretch 4 who can lure opposing big men to the perimeter.
He has good chemistry with Isaiah Thomas and is a reliable option jacking shots off the catch.
Though not a great defender, Jerebko tries hard, knows where to be and has the size at 6’10” to hold his own against most backup 4s.
Jerebko is a free agent this offseason. After quickly finding a role with Boston, expect the team to prioritize bringing him back on a reasonable deal.
No. 9: Kelly Olynyk, C+
A slew of injuries hampered Kelly Olynyk’s second season, and the emergence of Tyler Zeller meant he had to spend much of 2015-16 in a reserve role.
He is averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three, but he has not emerged as a consistent all-around offensive weapon.
Olynyk is a highly skilled big. He shoots the ball pretty well and has the kind of handle and passing instincts usually attributed to wing players, but his impact is inconsistent.
His three-point shot is still shaky, and while sometimes his post game looks refined, he struggles to create quality looks.
He also struggles defensively against other centers, allowing a 17.9 player efficiency rating, per 82games.
Part of what hurts Olynyk’s case is that he trailed off as the year went on.
He averaged 11.1 points before the All-Star break and shot 50.6 percent overall and 35.3 percent from three, compared to posting 8.8 points on 41.3 percent from the floor and 30.3 percent thereafter.
Olynyk made some strides, and it’s tough to look at his sophomore campaign without taking into account the 18 games he missed, but there’s no denying that he did not improve as significantly as some expected.
No. 8: Jared Sullinger, B-
Jared Sullinger gets points for returning earlier than expected from a supposedly season-ending foot injury to help Boston’s postseason push, but he still had an up-and-down third year in the league.
Sully’s numbers plateaued, and he didn’t make the improvements as a shooter that many hoped.
Not that 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists are anything to scoff at, but if he’s going to be a true stretch 4, he needs to connect on better than 44.2 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from three-point range.
The threat of Sullinger’s jumper is important, and he’s turned into an elite mid-range shooter, drilling 48.4 percent of his shots between 16 feet and the arc, per Basketball-Reference, but the three-pointer really is key.
As a pick-and-pop big man, Sullinger wasn’t dependable enough from beyond the arc for Stevens’ offense to flow as smoothly as it could.
His overall offensive game is improving, though, as Sully has some decent post moves and a great touch around the hoop when he gets the ball down low.
He’s the team’s best rebounder and does a great job using his strength and size to offset his lack of length and leaping ability.
Sullinger has also made strides as a passer, doing a better job of making smart reads on the move, passing off the block and generally keeping the ball movement going on whenever possible.
Defensively, Sullinger tries hard but is somewhat limited athletically. He allows a 16.2 PER to opposing 4s and a 19.9 PER to 5s, per 82games.
He still probably has the highest ceiling of any Celtic besides Marcus Smart, and health provided, he has the talent to be a fringe All-Star player. But he’ll have to prove that 2015-16 was an outlier in his progression, not a sign of the general trend.
No. 7: Jae Crowder, B
A little-used rotation wing with the Dallas Mavericks, Jae Crowder took off once playing heavy minutes with Boston.
He averaged 9.5 points, 4.6 boards and 1.5 assists, albeit on 41.7 percent overall and 28.9 percent from three-point range.
His shooting could sorely use work, but he’s also experimenting with different looks from what he did as a Mav, launching contested threes and taking more mid-range jumpers off the dribble than he has at any other point in his career.
With an offseason to hone his shot, he should come back better at those types of shots and potentially be a real asset as a floor-spacer.
Crowder does a decent job attacking the basket and is a capable passer who keeps Boston’s offense in rhythm and is particularly good at spreading the ball around the perimeter.
The defensive end is truly where Crowder makes his bones, though. He holds opposing small forwards to a 13.0 PER and power forwards to just a 9.3 PER, according to 82games.
In Stevens’ system, he has played a good deal of minutes at the 4, which gives Boston more flexibility on both ends.
Though just 6’6”, Crowder is incredibly strong and capable of guarding the post and the perimeter as well.
Ultimately, the Celtics will need an upgrade at the 3 before they return to title contention, but Crowder is a valuable rotation piece and one the team should look to retain.
He is still just 24 years old and is an ideal fit for Boston as long as he can improve his outside shot.
No. 6: Evan Turner, B
With 80 games played, it’s safe to call the Evan Turner reclamation project a success.
Though Turner didn’t score much, he proved himself as a legitimate point forward, averaging 9.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 42.6 percent from the floor and 28 percent from three in 2015-16.
He spent a significant amount of time as the Celts’ primary facilitator and excelled overall as a passer and penetrator.
He doesn’t have much of a three-pointer, but Turner can create good mid-range looks for himself and uses his fancy dribble game to get into the paint and collapse the defense.
With Marcus Smart still learning how to play the point and Thomas playing the role of scorer off the bench, having Turner as a pure facilitator was crucial for the Celtics.
He had nine games this season with 10 or more assists and even posted three triple-doubles.
Defensively, Turner held his own. He held opposing 2s to a 12.8 PER and 3s to an 11.3 PER, per 82games.
Granted, some of that came against bench players, but Turner managed to use his athleticism and size on the wing to bother opponents and keep his man in front of him.
Luckily, Boston has him locked up for the 2016-17 season as well, because Turner surely raised his profile with a strong first campaign in green.
No. 5: Avery Bradley, B
After catching some flack for signing Avery Bradley to a four-year, $32 million contract, Boston’s front office was somewhat vindicated by a respectable campaign from the 24-year-old guard.
Bradley has matured as a defender, no longer gambling constantly or pressuring point guards 90 feet from the basket. And with that, he has become more effective.
He still has the ability to get his hands on loose balls and create turnovers, but he does a nice job staying in front of his man, forcing him into uncomfortable shots and not fouling.
He’s holding opposing point guards to a 14.3 PER and off-guards to a 13.8 PER, according to 82games.
Along with Smart, Bradley has helped give the Celtics one of the game’s best defensive backcourts, and the two should form a successful pair for years to come.
The area in which Bradley could improve, like many Boston players, is as a shooter.
He averaged 13.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists this season, but he hit just 42.9 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Bradley is adjusting to being more of a volume three-point shooter and scorer overall, but he still takes too many questionable mid-range jumpers off the pick-and-roll.
He also barely gets to the rim, taking just 17 percent of his shots within three feet of the hoop, per Basketball-Reference.
Bradley is never going to be an elite scorer, but he must become a more efficient offensive player while Smart is still learning the ropes.
No. 4: Brandon Bass, B+
Brandon Bass, whom many expected to be dealt to a contender, remained with the Celtics and put forth yet another quality campaign in his 10th NBA season.
The veteran power forward averaged 10.6 points, 4.8 boards and 1.3 assists while hitting 50.6 percent from the floor.
He particularly took off down the stretch, averaging 12.5 points, six rebounds and 1.6 assists on 55.8 percent from the floor while helping the team survive Sullinger’s absence.
Bass’ mid-range jumper (45.9 percent from 16 feet out, per Basketball-Reference) is one of the game’s most dependable shots, and he has improved off the dribble as well.
He is now more capable of reacting to a closeout and putting the ball on the floor, and he has even made improvements as a passer.
Bass will never be a main option offensively, but he’s a nice safety valve for the Celtics’ young players and has carved out a consistent role.
Defensively, he doesn’t offer much in terms of rim protection, but he’s a solid position defender who holds opposing 4s to a respectable 14.9 PER, according to 82games.
His rebounding will always be questionable, in part because he drifts away from the rim offensively, but Bass has provided the Boston frontcourt with some much-needed grit to counteract the finesse of Sullinger and Olynyk.
The 29-year-old is a free agent this summer, and the team will have a difficult decision to make as to whether or not it will bring him back. He is still playing quality basketball and has become a surprisingly crucial part of the Celtics’ identity.
No. 3: Marcus Smart, B+
This may be a little controversial, but Smart has had some truly fantastic moments as a rookie.
His numbers—7.8 points, 3.3 boards and 3.1 assists on 36.7 percent from the field and 33.5 percent from beyond the arc—don’t stick out, but he has been excellent defensively and grown significantly as the season progressed.
Smart has looked more comfortable as a starting guard, and while his jumper comes and goes, he is capable of scoring at a high level and hitting difficult outside shots.
His offensive game is a work in progress, but Smart has shown the ability to penetrate off the dribble and get into the lane, albeit inconsistently.
Smart has jacked up a ton of threes but shot them decently enough that there is hope for him to become a legitimate outside shooter. He’s also unafraid to take big shots when needed.
His biggest impact, though, comes primarily off the box score.
He plays full throttle at all times, crashing in from the wing for rebounds, picking up opponents full court and pressuring them, and moving well without the basketball in his hands to create backdoor looks.
With Thomas on the roster, Smart has had to handle the ball less since the All-Star break, but it has freed him up to be more of a scorer.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists after the All-Star break, compared to 6.8 points, 2.9 boards and 3.5 assists prior, per NBA.com.
Smart still has to learn how to run an NBA offense, but he generally does a good job of taking care of the ball and keeping it moving around the perimeter.
At just 21 years old, Smart still has incredible potential he has yet to tap into, but he has already emerged as a useful piece on both ends. How he performs in the playoffs is likely going to be the most interesting storyline in Boston’s postseason appearance.
No. 2: Tyler Zeller, B+
Acquired for basically nothing from the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, Tyler Zeller surprised fans by continuing to excel even when the C’s dealt Rajon Rondo.
He has posted 10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 dimes while shooting 55.1 percent from the field.
Zeller doesn’t have the highest ceiling, but he’s a terrific role player who thrives diving to the rim off the pick-and-roll, and he has quietly established a solid post game and mid-range jumper.
Running the floor is another area of the game Zeller does well, and he has gotten plenty of easy looks in transition this season.
Since entering the starting lineup for Olynyk, Zeller has been particularly good, posting 11.1 points, 6.1 boards and 1.5 assists while shooting 54.1 percent.
He has good hands around the hoop and a decent hook shot that he can use when he catches the ball on the block.
He isn’t the elite defensive center Boston needs to take the next step, but the true 7-footer has performed better than anyone could have possibly expected when he joined the club.
Unfortunately, Zeller has pretty much been a defensive liability. He offers no shot blocking, and centers are posting an absurd 22.0 PER against him on average, per 82games.
The Celtics' rim-protection problem is a major reason they aren’t a serious threat in the playoffs, and while Zeller tries hard, he just doesn’t have the skill set for that role.
Still, he has done everything asked of him and more, and Zeller deserves praise as a result.
No. 1: Isaiah Thomas, A
Thomas has only played 20 games as a Boston Celtic, but he has been the team’s best player in that timespan and is a huge reason the franchise secured a playoff berth.
Since coming over from the Phoenix Suns, he is averaging 19.5 points, 2.2 boards and 5.4 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range.
His shooting splits are not stellar, but Thomas has been taking plenty of difficult shots, especially in the clutch.
Once a team that struggled to finish games, Thomas has become Boston’s de facto closer and won it several contests in the fourth quarter.
He uses his quickness and sneaky handle to get into the paint and has a bevy of finishing moves to compensate for his 5’9” stature.
Thomas has only heated up as the season winds down, posting 20.7 points per game on 47.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from deep in April, per NBA.com.
He takes a few questionable shots per game but also hits a ton of difficult off-the-dribble threes and tough floaters that no one else on the roster could make.
Thomas is also shooting 48 percent from 16 feet to the three-point arc, per Basketball-Reference, primarily on pull-ups off screens that are especially hard to make.
His size limits his defensive potential, but Thomas tries hard and does his best within Stevens’ system. Having Bradley and Smart to cover perimeter scorers also allows Boston to hide him on the least threatening player whenever possible.
If the C’s are able to do any damage in the postseason, it will likely be because of Thomas’ play as a super-sub, and Boston fans shouldn’t be surprised if he is the league’s Sixth Man of the Year when all is said and done.
Statistics accurate as of April 13, 2015.