Boston Celtics: 2014-15 schedule and story lines

Last week, we did a preliminary run through the first half of the Boston Celtics’ schedule for the 2014-2015 season. This is a completely unscientific guess about how the season will turn out, including some hyperbole about certain games and storylines. So without further ado, here is the second half of the schedule, including some highlights of noteworthy games. February 20 @ Sacramento – L. The Celtics’ start the second half of the season with a loss to the what has become the most dominant duo in the NBA, Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins. 22 @ Los Angeles Lakers – L 23 @ Phoenix – L 25 vs New York – W. With the Knicks’ season on the verge of collapse, Derek Fisher inserts himself into the starting line up and becomes the first player-coach in the NBA since Dave Cowans during the 1978-1979 season. Not uncoincidentally, the Celtics win. 27 vs Charlotte – L March 1 vs Golden State – L 3 @ Cleveland – L 4 vs Utah – W. The Celtics get revenge for losing out on the coin flip that gave the J

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Breaking Down Boston Celtics’ Center Position for 2014-15 Season

There aren’t a lot of positions the Boston Celtics are shored up at; they need more shooting, a long-term option at small forward and a featured scorer.

More than anything, they need to figure out the center spot.

The Celtics are clearly going into the 2014-15 season with a center-by-committee approach, since they lack a starting-caliber option.

That would be more of a concern if the team wasn’t blatantly rebuilding and the options weren’t young players with upside.

Say what you will about Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk, but we can at least assume they have more to show in the NBA than they have thus far.

Still, figuring out a solution to the center conundrum is neither going to be an easy nor quick process. This evaluating will take time.

With that in mind, let’s go player by player and break down how they could impact the Celtics at the center spot this season.

 

Tyler Zeller

Acquired for basically nothing from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Zeller is the closet thing to a pure center Boston has on its roster.

He has averaged 6.9 points, 4.9 boards and 0.9 assists per contest for his career and proven game when called upon to start.

In 55 starts in 2012-13, he notched 8.3 points, six rebounds and 1.4 assists per night on 43.4 percent shooting. His numbers dipped in 2013-14 with a healthier Anderson Varejao, but he proved a more efficient and judicious player.

As you can see by his shot chart heat map, Zeller does most of his work around the rim, as a 7-footer should.

He’s not much of a post scorer, but Zeller knows where to be and has great touch around the hoop.

Defensively, he struggles with quicker big men but is at least serviceable in most matchups thanks to his height.

According to 82games, he allowed a player efficiency rating of 16.2 to opposing 5s, which was slightly above the league average.

He doesn’t offer much in the way of rim protection, but he is at least a body who can clog up the lane.

Unfortunately, Zeller is already 24 years old and likely has the least upside of any of the options at center. His ceiling in the league seems to be that of a high-end backup rather than a quality starter.

With that said, he could be the safest option as well. He knows his role, doesn’t ask for too many touches and runs the floor extremely hard.

Expect Zeller to play 24-plus minutes per game and potentially emerge as Boston’s starter by the end of the year.

 

Vitor Faverani

The 26-year-old Faverani had a trying rookie year in the league, but the Brazilian big man should be more consistent as a sophomore.

He averaged just 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 37 appearances before undergoing knee surgery. 

Unfortunately, he has had a pretty turbulent offseason.

There’s a lot to like about Faverani’s game. He can shoot threes, play in the post and even block a few shots. However he’s also a low-efficiency player (43.5 percent from the field) and not reliable enough from the perimeter to function as a stretch-5.

Still, there’s hope for Faverani.

ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg noted an interesting point:

Boston clearly needed size this season and Faverani’s early season glimpses suggest he can help from the center spot. What was most surprising this season was that his defensive numbers were far better than his offense, which was the opposite of how he was advertised when the Celtics signed him last summer.

Faverani certainly did show flashes. He had a 12-point, 18-board, six-block performance against the Milwaukee Bucks.

If he continues to hone his jumper and adjust to the overall NBA game, he has a shot at being a regular rotation player. Nevertheless, he may still end up as a clear third option on the depth chart.

Ultimately, expect Faverani to play pretty sparingly. He isn’t as polished as Olynyk offensively or as dependable in an all-around capacity as Zeller.

He may receive 10 or 12 minutes per night at center, or Brad Stevens might give him a spin at power forward, but—barring injurydon’t expect to see a whole lot of Faverani.

 

Kelly Olynyk

The likeliest player to start the season opener, Olynyk struggled for much of his rookie year but came on strong in April.

He wound up averaging 8.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 dimes per game on 46.6 percent shooting overall, but notched 18.8 points, 7.8 boards and 2.4 assists per contest in his final five outings. 

His growth over the year was clear, as he became more confident with his outside shot and putting the ball on the deck.

Boston GM Danny Ainge expressed confidence in Olynyk when speaking with reporters, saying, “I think I’ve been really happy with how he’s improved. I think the coaches have done a good job of getting him stronger, a good job of teaching him the game and I think he’s a great player.” 

Olynyk thrived offensively at the 5, posting a PER of 17.3, according to 82games.

His heat map shot chart indicates he was a threat both above the break on threes and around the rim.

Unfortunately, he also gave up a staggering 24.6 PER against centers.

He’ll need to improve defensively if he wants to lock down the starting position. Given that Jared Sullinger is limited defensively, the C’s need Olynyk to reliably guard the post and protect the paint.

He’s not much of a shot-blocker but has the potential to at least be an effective defender in Stevens’ system.

Olynyk averaged just 20 minutes per game in 2013-14, but that should jump to around 28 in 2014-15, largely at center.

It won’t always be smooth, but Olynyk has the best shot of anyone to become Boston’s center of the future.

 

Other Options 

Since none of the other options are exactly thrilling, the C’s could opt to use Brandon Bass or Sullinger for spot minutes at the 5.

Both are undersized, but they’re gritty players who can give Boston some interior muscle.

Sully is far and away the Celts’ best rebounder, and Bass is a capable frontcourt defender and jump-shooter.

With that said, Sullinger’s future is likelier at power forward. Bass, on an expiring deal, probably won’t last in green past 2015.

There is also the option of trotting out the decrepit Joel Anthony, although let’s all hope Boston opts against that.

 

Final Verdict

This is going to be ugly.

Expect Olynyk to begin the season as the starter and Zeller to receive the brunt of the backup minutes.

If Olynyk underperforms or the C’s struggle too much on the defensive end with the Sullinger-Olynyk pairing, they may sub him for Zeller.

Faverani won’t be receiving minutes unless there is an injury to one of the players in front of him on the depth chart.

Boston will likely try to run some smaller lineups with Bass or Sullinger in certain matchups, but both will spend most of their time at the 4.

The Celts have lots of holes on their roster, but the center position might be the most glaring one. The solution isn’t on the current roster and will likely come through the draft or free agency.

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How Long Before Brad Stevens Turns the Boston Celtics Around?

When you’ve won a championship for every four years of the NBA’s existence, as the Boston Celtics have, “rebuilding” probably isn’t too high up on the franchise lexicon.

So when the team decided last summer to hand the reins to a baby-faced 36-year-old from a mid-major college conference, the writing was on the wall for Celtics fans: After years of nearly constant contention, it was going to be a long road back for Boston.

Judging by his six-year, $22 million deal, Brad Stevens—the coaching wunderkind who’d made his name as the brains behind Butler University’s steady ascendanceisn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So how long until he truly turns the Celtics around?

The short answer: Not this season, or the next one. And probably not the one after that, either.

Cold reality aside, you can’t accuse Boston of not having a plan in place. Like many teams, the Celtics stand to have boatloads of cash to spend in 2015 and 2016—the latter of which could find them with the full complement of cap space, depending on how the various options shake out.

Still, with a bevy of big names slated to become available, Boston isn’t the only team with eyes for the next two summers. To have any chance of reeling in a Marc Gasol, Goran Dragic or—taking it another notch up—Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, the Celtics’ youth-laden core must be rounded out to something resembling rotational coherence.

For Boston, the biggest X-factor lies in who will be the team’s point guard of the future, a question cast into towering relief following their recent selection of Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick in June’s draft.

On the one hand, picking the 20-year-old Smart to serve a season or two as a backup to four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo seems like a pretty sound strategy.

On the other, there are stone statues easier to read than the Celtics’ mercurial floor general. Indeed, it seems not a week has gone by in the past year when Rondo has’t been mentioned either as trade fodder or—at the other extreme—as being open to serving as Boston’s new cornerstone.

Now, with the team still looking at two or three more years of doldrums-dwelling and Smart the clear heir apparent, it seems Rondo’s days in Beantown are ticking ever downward.

From Stevens’ perspective, it’s not hard to see how Smart provides the more compelling long-term play. In both frame and drive, the rookie point guard can’t help but conjure memories of Stevens’ longtime Butler floor general, Shelvin Mack—albeit with a bigger build, better penetrating prowess and oodles more upside.

It’s the rest of the roster that could stand a smidge more certainty.

Of Boston’s many young talents, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk—with their double-double potential and cheap price tags—stand the best chance of seeing Boston’s rebuild through. Not surprising, given the two’s efficient production and ability to stretch the floor.

And while Jeff Green’s $9.2 million player option for the 2015-16 season looms large indeed, Boston can use a stopgap 3 to hold the fort until James Young, the versatile forward out of Kentucky, learns the ropes of Stevens’ system.

One look at the Celtics’ depth chart makes it crystal clear that, much like last season, 2014-15 is sure to be a wash. But with three more first-round picks on the way in 2015, Boston has achieved a level of financial flexibility paramount in today’s NBA, beholden as it is to a parity-driven collective bargaining agreement.

However, those fans looking to next summer for the team’s next big coup would be wise to heed the analysis of Bleacher Report’s D.J. Foster, who back in March explained why next year could be even more painful for Boston fans:

Point being, Boston is in the position to use its cap space next year not to sign its own free agents, but rather to be a salary-dump destination and get rewarded with picks. It’s like what the Utah Jazz did for the Golden State Warriors this offseason in the three-team deal with the Denver Nuggets that landed the Warriors Andre Iguodala (and the Jazz two unprotected future first-round picks).

Rather than go all-in on what will most likely be a second-tier free-agent class, the Celtics would instead be wise to absorb other team’s financial flotsam—expiring contracts, in a pair of words—in exchange for even more draft-day bullion.

Not only does that kind of war chest allow a franchise to better hedge on its youth, but it gives them myriad more options once the trade deadline rolls around.

Indeed, Ainge stated as much during a press conference conducted back in March.

“We will [have cap space], not just by signing free agents into cap space this summer, but through sign-and-trades,” Ainge said. “We have a lot of flexibility for sign-and-trade potential. Next summer we will have cap space, unless we use it on a bigger deal this summer.”

Whatever the Celtics’ long-term approach—and given the built-in dynamism, it could be one of a hundred—it’s clear they’ve staked their future squarely on the clipboard of their soft-spoken coach.

For a first-time NBA coach with a scant six seasons of Division I experience to his credit, committing $22 million over a half-dozen years is virtually unprecedented.

Then again, so too was Stevens’ reputation.

“Coach Stevens is a Hall of Fame coach,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams told Fox Sports’ Andrew Gruman in a 2013 interview. “He’s just not old enough for you to call him that yet.”

And therein lies the rub: In hiring Stevens, Boston sought a coach who, like the players he’d be charged with marshaling, still has plenty of room to grow. And while the near-future picture might not look all that pristine, the Celtics’ front office—led by Ainge and assistant general manager Mike Zarren—have given their pedagogical prodigy as diverse a palate as possible to paint the team’s next great masterpiece.

In short, Boston’s strategy is to imbue itself with so much flexibility that at any given point the team is in a position to either allow Stevens and his charges to grow organically or reload at a moment’s notice.

Exactly when or how the Celtics’ next banner will be raised remains, at this point, a question without a definitive answer. Whatever Boston’s ultimate endgame, though, it’s clear Stevens—a coaching cornerstone if ever there was one—will be there to see it through.

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Boston Celtics: What is the Celtics’ Biggest Weakness?

Boston Celtics: What is the Celtics’ Biggest Weakness?
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
The Boston Celtics have an odd mix of veteran and young talent, hence this is their biggest weakness. The Celtics lack direction and well, they have to find it.
They have 2 very different sets of players. Their 2 best players (in my opinion) are their 2 point guards, All Star Rajon Rondo who is 28 and the 6th pick in the draft Marcus Smart who is 20 and can too be a franchise player for the Celtics. Besides Rondo, their most established player is Jeff Green who is 27, however they have multiple young and talented perimeter players in Avery Bradley who is 23, James Young who is 18 and Evan Turner who is 25. This isn’t a problem with their big men, as their 3 best are Kelly Olynyk who is 23, Jared Sullinger who is 22 and Tyler Zeller who is 24.
This mix of veterans and young players wouldn’t be a problem if this team was able to make the playoffs, but their young players aren’t ready…

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Steve Kyler: Boston Celtics Could Package Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green In Possible Trade Sooner Rather Than Later

Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green on the move?

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Boston Celtics 2014-15 Franchise Outlook

With Brad Stevens at the coaching helm, Boston has bright days ahead of them.

Despite the likelihood that another losing season is on the horizon, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Celtics’ future.
Coaching—25/25
The soon to be 38-year old Brad Stevens helped the Celtics get out to a 12-14 start in 2013-14, which was probably more than management wanted from him in his first year coaching the team. Stevens groomed Jordan Crawford into a somewhat capable point guard, and had they not traded him right before Rondo returned it’s possible they would’ve won enough games to make the playoffs in the East.
Expect Stevens to have his work cut out for him again in 2014-15, as the Celtics are a young team in rebuilding mode, but if Rondo is healthy for the entire season (and isn’t traded) it’s not insane to think the Celtics could win 30-35 games. Regardless of how they fare in terms of their record, all signs point to Steven being the Celtics’ coach for the foreseeable future, and d

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Which Impact Players Can Boston Celtics Pursue Now That Kevin Love Is Out?

The Boston Celtics entered July with a ton of trade assets and a superstar target: Kevin Love. That option is off the table now that Love is headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

The Celtics still have a burlap sack filled with draft picks at the ready, though, and it leaves them with two primary options: (1) Wait, be patient and keep them for actual use in the draft, or (2) trade all/some for immediate help.

Boston has as many as nine first-round picks through the 2018 draft, plus attractive youngsters like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, James Young and Marcus Smart (though it’s unlikely the latter two are involved in any deal that doesn’t bring back a top-10 player), which gives the Celtics the option of trading a few picks while keeping others. 

By unloading a few assets for established, productive weapons who can contribute right away, Boston isn’t sliding off track so much as it’s accelerating the train. Here are three players who can help make it happen.

 

Roy Hibbert

The polarizing big man had a mostly terrible end to last season, but he is still only 27 years old and as intimidating a rim protector as currently exists in the NBA.

He’d be a perfect fit in Boston, where the center position cratered after Kendrick Perkins was dealt at the trade deadline back in 2011. The Celtics need an anchor back there. They have no true center on the roster, forcing the likes of Sullinger and Olynyk to develop out of their natural position.

Hibbert is also on this list because he’s available. Paul George’s gruesome leg injury knocked the Indiana Pacers out of title contention this season, forcing Larry Bird to either bottom out or play the year out as a lame duck, then go after the crown again in 2015-16. Here’s what ESPN.com’s Marc Stein wrote about the possibility of Indiana looking to trade Hibbert way back in May:

There is said to be some thought on both sides—management and Hibbert‘s—that a fresh start would be beneficial for everyone after the big man’s second-half decline. 

Hibbert‘s camp hasn’t outright asked for a trade, sources say, but word is that it wouldn’t exactly oppose one if the Pacers decide to actively shop their center. 

If the Celtics offer a pair of first-round picks for Hibbert (who has a $15.5 million player option next season), along with Jeff Green (a temporary “replacement” for George?) and Keith Bogans’ completely non-guaranteed contract, the Pacers just may bite.

All of a sudden, the Celtics put themselves in position to become one of the Eastern Conference’s most formidable defensive teams and push themselves one player closer to actual title contention.

The worst-case scenario in a deal like this is if both Hibbert and Rondo leave after the 2014-15 season, but the Celtics will have plenty of cap space to afford them both, and there’s always the possibility Hibbert opts into his player option.

 

Paul Millsap

The Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers aren’t in identical situations. The Hawks have no incentive to throw in the towel on the 2014-15 season before it begins. They’re a very good team, and trading Paul Millsap—their second-best player—knocks them down a peg in a wide-open Eastern Conference they could legitimately make some noise in come playoff time.

But Millsap’s contract situation makes things dicey. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer who will be looking to make up lost money from his last deal (the two-year, $19 million contract Millsap signed in 2013 was one of the most team-friendly bindings in recent memory).

Under Danny Ferry, the Hawks are defined by their flexibility, and locking Millsap up on a four-year deal hinders that quite a bit. It’s likely the two part ways.

But the Celtics shouldn’t mind having a player like Millsap around—a 29-year-old bruiser who made 35.8 percent of his three-pointers last season. In a vacuum, giving up future assets for a solid, but unspectacular, one-time All-Star who’s about to enter unrestricted free agency doesn’t make much sense, and another issue is the positional overlap Millsap brings to an already loaded frontcourt.

Boston could use the upgrade, though. It could stand to pair Millsap’s intangible value with Rondo and make the team a more attractive place for the following summer’s loaded free-agency class to look at.

 

Nikola Pekovic

Despite being listed at 6’11” and 285 pounds, Nikola Pekovic isn’t a traditional rim protector, but he pounds the glass, has touch and will add variety to Boston’s stale offense. Love’s former frontcourt partner is also humongous, which means Boston could use him.

He’s about the same age as Millsap and Hibbert, too, but has a safer contract to trade for. Pekovic is locked up for the next four seasons at $47.9 million, with the final season of his deal coming in $500,000 less than the previous three. It’s tradable, should things go wrong, but also stable and fair.

The Celtics would control the boards with Pekovic down low, and having him free up all their speedy guards on the perimeter with bone-crunching screens is fun to think about.

The Minnesota Timberwolves should be looking to move Pekovic, too. They should be trying to rebuild with cap space and draft picks around Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio. The Celtics can help out.

With Pekovic at center and Rondo at point guard, it isn’t difficult to picture this team battling for a No. 8 seed and still having plenty of draft picks to either trade or use down the line. Pekovic is a nice player and would be a symbol to Rondo that the Celtics are serious about adding talent in the short term without sacrificing long-term prosperity. He isn‘t Love, but he also isn‘t Evan Turner.

Boston doesn’t need to trade for another high-profile player between now and next summer. The Celtics can be really bad for a second straight season, head into next offseason with two first-round picks (not including a useful second-rounder from Philadelphia if the Sixers don’t make the playoffs), a bunch of cap space and go from there.

But this route is just as attractive. It allows the team to be competitive today without losing hope for tomorrow. Pairing another All-Star-caliber player with Rondo doesn’t make the Celtics title contenders, but it does increase their visibility and make them relevant once again. It makes them a decent team that still has assets to get even better.

They can have their cake and eat it too.

 

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted. 

Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Fox Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina. 

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Why aren’t Celtics on TV more often?

The NBA’s scheduling statement is a reminder that this is a star’s league.

      
 

 

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Boston Celtics: The scoring of the starting five

Last week while talking about Jeff Green, I brought up how many games he scored between 0-9 points, 10-19 points, 20-29 points, and 30-39 points. I found it very interesting to see how often he scored a certain amount of points. With it being the middle of summer, and without much NBA news concerning the Boston Celtics, I decided to make a chart looking at last year’s starting five, and how often they scored within those ranges.
Scoring Distribution
Looking at the chart, I think I might have been a little hard on Green. One perk of looking at a chart like this is that it’s easy to see how many games a given player played. While Green may have a frustrating amount of variance in his scoring, he played in every game. You have to give him that. You also have to appreciate the fact that of the starting five, no player scored as much as him in the 30-39 range. Jared Sullinger was the only other player to even reach that range.
If anything, this gives more reason to be frustrated with Brandon Bass. In almost ha

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Boston Celtics: Trading Rajon Rondo For Greg Monroe

Boston Celtics: Trading Rajon Rondo For Greg Monroe
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
Celtics Get: Greg Monroe, Will Bynum and Spencer Dinwiddie
Pistons Get: Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass
I have written this 100 times this offseason, but the Boston Celtics have to trade Rajon Rondo now that they have his replacement in Marcus Smart who will be an All Star and franchise player and that Rondo isn’t a fit in their young core. That core is incredibly young and talented, featuring Jared Sullinger (22), James Young (18), Avery Bradley (23), Evan Turner (25) and Kelly Olynyk (23). Rondo is 28 and they need to develop their young team, which has the makings of a very talented playoff roster, instead of fighting for the 8th seed in the East. Next season should be about development, but still this offseason they have to find the one thing they lack, a young franchise big man. This is where Greg Monroe comes into play.
Monroe is an All Star caliber power forward who is just 23, fits …

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