2016-17 NBA Season Predictions for Each Boston Celtics Player
For the past two seasons, the Boston Celtics have been a feisty underdog team in the Eastern Conference. They will be expected to be much more in 2016-17.
An improved supporting cast that includes free-agent addition Al Horford now surrounds All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Those upgrades make the 5'9" point guard believe his team is capable of making some noise.
"If we can put it all together, we could be special," Thomas said. "I’m not going to say we’re going to go to the NBA Finals or do none of that, but like I said before, teams know we can be really good. We just have to put it together and find our identity, which is on the defensive end. And if we do that, everything else will take care of itself."
While the Celtics may have outgrown their underdog role, Avery Bradley believes it is essential to maintain that mentality as they strive to be considered among the East's elite.
"I feel like our mindset has to be continue to be the hunters," he explained.
"I mean, people are going to be coming after us, but we're coming after them as well. We understand that every single game is important for us, no matter who we're playing against. That's our mindset. We need to put a target on other team's backs. We understand we have one on our back, but we're doing the same."
End of Bench
15. Demetrius Jackson, PG
Barring a couple of injuries in the backcourt, Demetrius Jackson will likely see most of his action with the Maine Red Claws this season. The rookie point guard did show promise during the preseason, shooting over 52 percent from the field while exhibiting a strong command over Boston’s offense.
"Demetrius plays very old-school,” Jae Crowder explained. “We were laughing about that the other day because he doesn't hurt himself. He's not going to turn the ball over. He’s going to run the offense. He’s not going to do anything he can’t do. And I like that about him. He comes to work every day."
Predicted per-game stats: 2.4 points, 1.3 assists, 1.2 rebounds
14. Jordan Mickey, PF
With Kelly Olynyk sidelined, second-year forward Jordan Mickey had a chance to play his way into the rotation this preseason, but the 6'8" forward failed to emerge from the pack. The 22-year-old still has plenty of upside, particularly as a rim protector after blocking 4.4 shots per game during NBA D-League action last year.
That production has failed to translate to the big leagues yet, and Mickey still has to improve his rebounding and strength to show he can hold his own against NBA bigs. Until he does, he'll be little more than injury depth at the end of the bench.
Predicted per-game stats: 3.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.9 blocks
13. James Young, SG
James Young beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot, a tight competition that proved to be a wake-up call for the 21-year-old.
"I mean, I've always been better than a lot of people growing up," Young said this week. "High school, college, I was real good. I came here, and it was a big shock. I feel like this is even better than the draft, really, earning this position. Like I said, I'm really blessed to be a part of this, and not much I can do but keep getting better."
Young will begin the year a bit higher on the depth chart than Mickey and Jackson, thanks to his shooting. The 6'7" swingman shot 35.3 percent from beyond the arc in the preseason, and if he can sustain those numbers, he could earn himself some minutes with the second unit.
Predicted per-game stats: 4.5 points, 1.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds
12. Gerald Green, SG/SF
General manager Danny Ainge picked up Gerald Green for his athleticism and scoring ability this offseason, but the 30-year-old forward has failed to find a rhythm with his new team thus far and was slowed by hip issues in training camp. He shot just 36.0 percent from the field and 9.0 percent from three-point range in five preseason games.
With Marcus Smart sidelined by a sprained ankle for at least the first week of the year, the Celtics should turn to the swingman early and often for a scoring boost.
"We need Gerald for this exact reason, and this is why we brought him here," Ainge said. “We have all the confidence in the world in him."
If Green can bounce back from his down year with the Miami Heat and show the offensive explosiveness he exhibited with the Phoenix Suns a few years back, he will be a fixture in an offense that needs shot creators off the bench.
Predicted per-game stats: 6.1 points, 1.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals
11. Tyler Zeller, C
Tyler Zeller did not see consistent playing time during his second season in Boston, and look for that trend to continue in his third year. He'll provide depth behind Horford and Olynyk, but his inability to space the floor efficiently will keep him on the bench most nights.
However, the Celtics will turn to Zeller for rebounding. The departure of Jared Sullinger created a major void in that department, and the 7'0" center is one of the few above-average rebounders with size off the pine. Against bigger lineups, he could be called on to help protect the glass.
Predicted per-game stats: 5.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.8 blocks
Top of Bench
10. Jonas Jerebko, PF
Jonas Jerebko turned a lot of heads in Boston last postseason when given the opportunity to start the postseason against the Atlanta Hawks, beginning in Game 3. He responded with a pair of double-doubles, strengthening his case for regular minutes in the rotation.
The 6'10" veteran struggled with his shot (37.1 percent from the field) in the preseason, but his three-point range and defensive versatility make him a valuable weapon off the pine.
Predicted per-game stats: 5.8 points, 1.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds
9. Jaylen Brown, SF
Jaylen Brown immediately provides much-needed wing depth behind Jae Crowder. It wasn't clear whether the 20-year-old would see regular minutes on a 48-win team, but head coach Brad Stevens has seen enough promise during the preseason to think the No. 3 overall pick can help the Celtics win games right away.
Stevens has also played the 6'7" rookie at power forward in smaller lineups to give him more of a chance to see the floor.
"You want to keep things as simple as you can for the young players so they can play free and just play," Ainge said of Brown's development. "The defensive systems in the NBA are very sophisticated and different than most colleges, so that's usually the biggest transition, but Jaylen has shown he can contribute to an NBA team right now. We're going to need him, especially with Marcus [Smart] out. We'll need his strength and athleticism and to provide us with some help."
Predicted per-game stats: 6.3 points, 2.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals
8. Kelly Olynyk, C
Kelly Olynyk quietly developed into one of the most effective shooting stretch bigs in the league last year, hitting a career-high 40.5 percent of his attempts from three-point range. Boston will have to wait a few weeks to see if the 7-footer can match that kind of production, as Olynyk is still rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. Ainge told Fred Toucher and Rich Shertenlieb on 98.5 The Sports Hub that he does not expect the 25-year-old to return to the floor until mid-November.
When he does return, he'll join forces with Jerebko to provide ample spacing for the second unit alongside the team's weaker perimeter shooters (Brown, Smart).
Predicted per-game stats: 10.1 points, 3.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds
7. Terry Rozier, PG/SG
Looking for a breakout candidate in the 2016-17 season? Look no further than Terry Rozier.
The second-year guard stood out during summer league and preseason action with an improved outside shot and command of the offense, earning himself a prominent role in Stevens' rotation to start the year. He'll see additional minutes with Marcus Smart (ankle) sidelined, and teammate Isaiah Thomas believes he will shine in that enhanced role.
"When somebody’s hurt, the next guy has to step up," Thomas said. "And whoever that next guy is, he has to take advantage of his opportunity. But Terry has shown he’s ready for that opportunity. He’s worked very hard this summer, and I’m proud of him, man. Because I’ve been in that position before, and he’s been waiting for that opportunity. So I think he’ll be ready."
Predicted per-game stats: 8.6 points, 3.9 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals
6. Marcus Smart PG
Stevens called Smart his "sixth starter" during training camp, but the 6'4" guard needs to show some growth within his offensive game in order to succeed in that role. The 22-year-old shot a paltry 25.3 percent from three-point range last year, an eight-point drop-off from his rookie year.
If he can rebound in that department and continue to show improved decision-making as a ball-handler, it will be difficult for Stevens to keep him off the floor much, given his stellar defensive versatility. He will watch from the sidelines for at least the first week of the regular season while recovering from an ankle injury, according to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald.
Predicted per-game stats: 11.1 points, 3.4 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals
5. Amir Johnson (PF)
Amir Johnson was one of Boston’s most consistent bigs last year, but he will likely see a dip in playing time now that Al Horford is in the fold.
Stevens has made no secret about his desire to turn to smaller, more athletic lineups later in games—combinations likely to decrease Johnson’s current 22.8 minutes per game.
The 6'9" forward should still provide some positive production when he does see the floor, though. The 29-year-old led the Celtics roster last year in true shooting percentage (60.2 percent), and that number could increase with opposing bigs likely to focus more on Horford on the defensive end.
"For me, it makes it easier just to work around him because you know he can make the pass and make the shot," Johnson said of Horford. "You just got to get to the open spot where he can find you. The chemistry is great. It's just me working around Al and Al working around me and just putting it together."
Predicted per-game stats: 8.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
4. Avery Bradley (SG)
Avery Bradley has been a one-dimensional (shooter) offensive player for much of his six-year NBA career.
That’s a label he's trying to shed entering the 2016-17 campaign.
The 25-year-old took it upon himself this offseason to improve his handle and playmaking abilities, and the early returns are encouraging. Bradley doubled his per-game assists average through six preseason contests, adding another capable passer to what should be an unselfish offense.
"I think the key is going out and playing basketball," Bradley said of Boston’s balanced scoring potential. "Not only that, but understanding it could be anybody's night. We have a lot of people who are capable of putting up numbers or having good all-around games. If we have that mindset, I feel like anything can happen for us this year. We can't be selfish and worry about each other. We just have to accept our roles and understand that it's about the team and not about individuals."
If Bradley can combine improved offensive playmaking with his first-team All-NBA defense, he’s capable of becoming one of the East's best all-around shooting guards.
Predicted per-game stats: 16.1 points, 3.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals
3. Jae Crowder (SF)
There are few players in the Eastern Conference capable of holding their own defensively against LeBron James, but Jae Crowder is on that short list.
The 26-year-old was one vote short of earning a spot on the NBA All-Defensive Second Team last year, but the strong showing indicates he’s earning plenty of respect around the league for his tenacity and versatility on the perimeter.
Still, the swingman is not content with a breakout campaign that saw him post career highs nearly across the board in his first full year as a starter. The 6'7" forward is trying to build on that performance and earn consideration among the East’s top wings.
"He's just advanced his game," Stevens said of Crowder’s offseason improvements. "Obviously, offensively, he’s been able to do some really good things for us, whether it’s driving closeouts or making open shots or being able to expand his game in that regard.
"But I think, defensively, I just notice he’s in the right place even more, and I think that’s really important. And I think that he’s a really good defender, and he’s also a really good anticipator. For him to be in the right place gives him a great chance to make impactful plays and create turnovers and chaos."
Predicted per-game stats: 15.3 points, 3.2 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals
2. Isaiah Thomas (PG)
Outside of Isaiah Thomas, only six NBA players averaged more than 22 points and six assists per game during the 2015-16 season. The 5'9" point guard earned his first All-Star spot, thanks to that kind of impressive production, but he’s committed to proving the career year was no fluke.
But while other stars may be focused on padding their numbers, Thomas knows he is the catalyst to Boston's offense and can't put the emphasis on trying to stuff the box score in certain categories.
"I’m not worried about getting 10 assists per game," Thomas explained. "I’m not worried about getting 30 points a game. I’m the lead guard out there that’s supposed to make the right play each and every time down. So the game is going to dictate what happens.
"If it’s going to be a game where I need to score 30, I’m going to go do that. If it’s going to be a game where I need to facilitate and make the extra pass, then I have to do that. So I don’t worry about trying to get a certain amount of assists or going into games like, 'Oh, I’m going to pass more today.' Nah, that’s not me. And that will never be me. I just go out there and try to make the right play."
That attitude won't necessarily translate into another career year for the 26-year-old guard, but it should help the Celtics improve on their 48-win mark in 2016-17.
Predicted per-game stats: 21.1 points, 5.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds
1. Al Horford (C)
Al Horford was expected to provide a major boost to the starting five when he signed this offseason; it hasn't taken long for his impact to take shape.
The 6'9" center had the highest plus/minus (plus-64) on the roster during the preseason, per FoxSports.com, with Horford picking up Stevens’ system on both ends in mere weeks.
Stevens hasn’t coached a big man as talented as Horford during his brief pro career. Whether it’s spreading the floor around Isaiah Thomas or using his defensive IQ to anchor the paint, Horford’s presence should take some of the onus off Thomas, something the Washington alum already appreciates.
"He’s an All-Star, and we didn’t have that last year," Thomas explained. "He’s a guy that can make plays for others, can make plays for himself, and he’s somebody that the defense has to be aware of at all times. He’s a very talented player that causes a lot of attention. So I think he’s going to help us in a lot of ways. Not just one specific thing but a lot of things."
The area Horford could help the most? Finishing at the rim.
He shot 74.5 percent from inside two feet during 2015-16, a number that would have been No. 1 overall on the Celtics roster. With Thomas attracting attention from defenses in the pick-and-roll, Horford could be a lethal weapon at the rim.
Predicted per-game stats: 15.1 points, 4.2 assists, 9.4 rebounds
All statistical information from Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.