2015-2016 NBA Atlantic Division Preview: Boston Celtics (A little late)

Of the six divisions that make up the NBA, the 2014-15 Atlantic Division was by far the worst of them all. With every team failing to reach 50 wins and with two teams finishing in the bottom three of the whole NBA, it is safe to say that the Atlantic Division was horrendous. Here’s a look at how the division ranks ended up last season:

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Moving into the 2015-16 season, the outlook seems to be very similar to how it did last year. But don’t be surprised if there is a three way race for the division between Boston, Toronto and maybe even New York.

I am going to release a preview for one team in the division. I am a little behind because of the fact that I had to worry about midterms, because of course, school comes first. The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers previews have already been posted, so if you missed that, click on the team’s name.

Now it’s time for our next preview: Boston Celtics. Let’s look at the teams starting lineup and bench as the season is underway!

Boston Celtics

2014-15: 49-33, 4th in Eastern Conference

Coach: Brad Stevens

Major Losses: Rajon Rondo (Mid-season Trade), Jeff Green (Mid-season Trade), Gerald Wallace (Off-season Trade), Brandon Bass (Free Agency, signed with LAL)

Key Additions: Amir Johnson (FA Signing), David Lee (Off-season Trade), Terry Rozier (1st Round Draft Pick), R.J. Hunter (1st Round Draft Pick), Jordan Mickey (2nd Round Draft Pick)

We are now entering the third year of the Brad Stevens Era and for the first time since his hiring, the Celtics have legitimate playoff expectations. After backing their way into the playoffs last season, the Celtics are in the realm of the “good, not great” teams in the NBA. With a mix of some veterans finding their place and young studs waiting for their chance, the Celtics are slotted to be a playoff team for the future.brad stevens

The major problem with the current roster? There are no superstars!

The Celtics traded away their top two players, Rondo and Green, in mid-season deals last season. This had now allowed Brad Stevens to run his system the way he wants, without long term Celtics players getting in his way. The Boston Celtics team and fans are in good hands with one of the best young coaches in the game, as well as with the team’s General Manager Danny Ainge, who is not afraid to make moves to do what it takes to win.

The Starting Five

With Rondo out of town, the starting point guard job has been handed to the teams 2014 1st round draft pick Marcus Smart. Last season, the 21-year-old Smart was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie second team. This honor was received no thanks to his mediocre offensive skill though, Smart only tallied 7.8 points per game with a 37.6 Field Goal percentage. However, it was Smart’s defensive skill that made him stand out in the NBA last season. As a rookie, Smart led the team with 1.5 steals per game, which ranked 26th overall in the NBA last season. If Smart can improve on his offensive skills, he can become one of the top point guards in the NBA in a few years.

bradley-smartAlongside Smart in the backcourt, entering his sixth year in Boston is Avery Bradley. It is safe to say that the Smart/Bradley duo is one of, if not the best defensive backcourt’s in the NBA. Bradley, who finished right behind Smart last season with 1.1 steals per game, is alone one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. The 24-year-old out of the University of Texas is also still improving on the offensive side, shooting a poor 42.8% from the floor and 35.2% from behind the arc. While Bradley is quite efficient with his mid-range shot, Coach Stevens is will most likely have to look elsewhere when it comes to offensive production. Bradley makes it a goal to make the NBA All-Defensive team every year. Some of his teammates last season felt as though Bradley deserved the nomination and took to Twitter to express their anger when he was left off both the first and second all-defensive teams. No matter what, Bradley hopes he can play well enough this season to finally receive recognition for his incredible defense.

At small forward, Jae Crowder is yet another name to add to the list of defensive minded players on the Celtics. Crowder, who was acquired in the Rondo deal in the mid-season, is quite versatile and has a motor that won’t stop running. This motor and intensity has turned this 25-year-old with dreadlocks into a fan favorite. Realizing his worth to the team, the Boston front office re-signed Crowder over the off-season to a 5-year, $35 million deal to keep him in a Celtics jersey for many years to come.

At least to start the season, Celtics fans will most likely see off-season acquisition David Lee at the starting power forward spot. Yet another underestimated acquisition that “Trader Dan” has made, Lee brings some flexibility and scoring to this defensive minded starting five. An overlooked player while with the Golden State Warriors, fans should remember that just two years ago, Lee was a double-double machine with the New York Knicks just a few years ago. In a system where Stevens loves to space the floor, Lee could excel in Boston with his abilities to hit the outside shot as well as do some big-boy work down low on the block.

Similar to Lee on the lower on the other block, Tyler Zeller is an offensive minded center. Zeller finished last season scoring 10.2 points per game even when coming off the bench. He is also not afraid to get to the offensive boards, as he finished second on the team last season with 1.8 offensive rebounds per game last season. The 25-year-old out of UNC is not often relied on to play big minutes, especially this season with four other big-men who are coming off the bench. Zeller is a very consistent center and will give the quality minutes, whether  he is in the starting role or off the bench.

Off The Bench

Easily the most important piece to Boston’s offensively challenged roster is Isaiah Thomas. Acquired at the trade deadline last season, Thomas showed why he is a sixth-man of the year award candidate. In his preferred role of the bench, Thomas tallied 19.0 points-per-game on 41.2% shooting in his 21 games as a Celtics last season. Thomas, standing at only 5-foot-9 is a jack of all trades. He can shoot from behind the arc, drive the lane and hit the mid-range. Thomas thrives in the pick-and-roll plays that Coach Stevens likes to run, especially because it gives him the choice to take the shot, drive or dish it off to his teammates. How far Boston goes this year will fall greatly on the scoring output and consistency that Thomas can provide,

Another offensive option off the bench is Evan Turner. Turner, who can play anywhere from point guard to power forward, thrives in the pick and roll system, just like Thomas. He has incredible court vision, leading the team last season with 5.5 assists per game. Turner is going to be depended upon to use his versatility to help the team spread the floor and provide big scoring outputs when necessary.

rookiesRounding out the backcourt depth are first round draft picks Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter, as well as second year player James Young. Young, who spent his rookie season last year with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, is looking to finally crack a Celtics roster spot. The 20-year-old out of Kentucky has incredible offensive talent but still lacks the strength and well-rounded skills to play in the NBA.

Rozier was a very surprising first round pick to me. On a team looking to add offensive depth, Boston decided to take the defensive minded guard out of the University of Louisville with the 16th overall pick in the first round. However, he could learn from Smart and Bradley and become another top perimeter defender in the NBA.

Hunter, on the other hand, is exactly the type of player that the Celtics needed. Hunter is a very athletic guard out of Georgia State University, whose draft stock rose astronomically when he showed off his range throughout the 2015 NCAA Tournament. In one of the most memorable images of the tournament, Hunter made his Head Coach/Dad Ron Hunter fall out of his chair when he hit this incredible shot:

As for the front court, there is a log jam. Bostons top free agent signing, Amir Johnson joins the Celtics after winning back-to-back division titles with the Toronto Raptors. With a 2 year, $24 million deal, Johnson is going to be a major defensive piece for the Boston backcourt. The veteran big man has averaged over 6 rebounds per game for the past five seasons, he is a defensive minded big man who could come up big for Boston this year.

Another big man coming off the bench is Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk is coming off a fantastic summer playing for Team Canada in the FIBA Americas Olympic Qualifier games. The 24-year-old averaged 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. All the while, Olynyk shot a scorching 60 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three-point range.

Over the summer, the Celtics also re-signed the 6-foot-10 Jonas Jerebko from Sweden. With a 2 year, $10 million deal, Jerebko is going to be expected to space the floor for the Boston offense and provide offensive numbers when called upon. Along with Jerebko coming off the bench is another draft pick from the 2015 NBA Draft that could see some minutes is Jordan Mickey. The 6-foot-8 power forward out of LSU will give the Celtics some depth if necessary.

The last piece to the Boston frontcourt is Jared Sullinger. A very talented, Sullinger looks to make his way out of Coach Stevens’ rotation with his constant laziness and questionable conditioning. If Sullinger can get back into shape and earn the trust back from Coach Stevens, he could be a huge piece to this team both offensively and defensively. But if he can’t, the Celtics first round pick from 2012 might just be on the trade block in the middle of the year.

Expectations

With Boston’s current roster, the team has division title hopes in their mind. If the team can’t take home the division title, a 7 or 8 seed is very much in play. Coach Stevens has done a great job managing the rotation and plays that his team runs out on the court. It is going to be very important for Stevens to be able distribute minutes fairly while still making sure his players produce on the court.

With the lack of offensively skilled players outside of Thomas and Turner, I would not be surprised if “Trader Dan” pulls some strings and brings in a big-time scorer. With the abundance of future draft picks, an overloaded front court and easily movable contracts, Ainge is in a good situation to make some trades.

If Ainge and the rest of the Boston management can make these trades happen, the Celtics are in great shape to make a deep run this season and in the future.