What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Thursday, February 12, 2015

SDH's 2014/2015 Worst to First Countdown for the First "Slap-mester" (Oct/Nov/Dec): 22. Boston Celtics

Win/Loss Record as of December 31st, 2014:  10-18, third place Atlantic Division, 10th Place Eastern Conference

Projected 2014/2015 Finish
Current Rank as of December 31st

Team Statistics and League Rank as of December 31st,  2014: 

  • Points Scored: 103.3 (7th)
  • Points Allowed: 104.4 (28th)
  • Team FG%: .460 (13th)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .459 (20th)
  • Team FT%: .756 (15th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .324 (26th)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.5 (11th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (17th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.8 (25th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.2 (13th)

Individual Statistical Leaders as of December 31st, 2014:

Worst of the Class: Brandon Bass
It has become painfully aware to everyone how badly Brandon Bass has stuck out like a sore thumb over the past couple of years in the Celtics.  He was originally signed as a complementary role player to +Paul Pierce+Kevin Garnett+Ray Allen and +Rajon Rondo during the Celtics' last golden age; however, now with that era over, he seems out of place on a team that is looking to forge a new identity.  Instead of playing a vital role on his team, he now acts as an impediment to his teammates development taking away minutes that would otherwise go to a younger player.  With his experience, knowing what he brings to an NBA team, and his expiring contract, it is surprising that Boston has not been able to unload him or found a viable trade partner.  Perhaps the Celtics should do the right thing, waive him, and allow him a chance to play with a winning team while he still has some value left; otherwise it does not do neither himself or the Celtics any good to remain together.

First of the Class: Brad Stevens
For a guy who was supposed to just oversee the collapse, demise and eventual rebuilding of this team, Brad Steven's has done an excellent job despite him coming into the league with literally no experience or credentials to be an NBA head coach.  So far Stevens has had his team surpass their rather meager expectations put upon them as the Celtics currently sit at third place in the Atlantic Division.  Not only that, but instead of wallowing at the bottom of the barrel as everyone expected, the Celtics actually have an outside chance of actually making the playoffs just being a couple of games away from the final spot in the East. Add the fact that the team consists of a hodgepodge of rejects, journeymen, and primarily discarded pieces and it makes Stevens' job as coach even more impressive considering that this may be not only the first, but maybe also last time that his players will ever play together.  He may not deserve the Coach of the Year Award, but Steven certainly deserve recognition and credit for taking a team that no one expected anything from and turning it into a respectable competitor.        

It has been one of the biggest shocks of the 2014/2015 +NBA Season and no one has even taken time to take notice primarily because the entire league has experienced a monumental shift in the balance of power with the emergence of two unlikely heroes--the +Atlanta Hawks and +Golden State Warriors--to the top of their respective conferences.  Nonetheless, although they have been completely ignored by the mainstream sports media, the Boston Celtics have certainly surpassed the meager expectation of both the media and its fan base with its current third place standing in the Atlantic Division as well as being just two or three games from the eighth and final playoff spot.  The Celtics certainly have not been playing like a team that many expected to be the perennial whipping boy of the league just falling short of the +Philadelphia 76ers for the title of "worst team in basketball."  Instead the team has been rather competitive in spite of its record as it ranks among the top teams in the league in scoring, rebounds and field goal percentage as well as keeping pace with their opponents almost matching their output.  By the end of 2014, the Celtics had finished the year losing by an average margin of 1.1 points per game, while at the same time almost matching their opponents shot for shot by a slim margin of -.001, rebound for rebound by a margin of +0.07 per game, and turnover for turnover by a margin of -0.6.

Those numbers are even more impressive considering the numerous disadvantages that Celtics possess in terms of the strength, quality and overall experience of its roster as the team primarily consists of castaways, rejects, untested rookies and players on expiring contracts.  All of these players were essentially thrown together in a messy hodgepodge of odd, out of place and disjointed pieces which other teams neither wanted or needed; yet, this band of vagabonds have managed to play not only cohesively, but also rather disciplined considering their circumstances.  In the ten games that they have won, they beat such heavy hitters as the Central Division's first place +Chicago Bulls (11/8/2014), and the Eastern Conference's third place +Washington Wizards (12/7/2014) while at the same time giving some of the top teams in the league a run for their money.  Some of the league's best including perennial playoff contending +Dallas Mavericks (11/3/2014), the Eastern Conference leading +Toronto Raptors (11/5/2014), the +LeBron James led +Cleveland Cavaliers (11/14/2014), and Northwest Division leading +Portland Trail Blazers (11/23/2014)  barely managed to best the Celtics winning by a slim margin of less than four points.   The Bulls, Hawks, and Wizards also had very close scrapes against Boston with Chicago winning by just seven points (11/28/2014), the Hawks by just four (12/2/2014) and Washington not only needed overtime  to beat the Celtics, but also had to score a whopping 133 points just to best them by one point (12/8/2014).

No one would have even contemplated seeing the Celtics win ten games let alone put forth such a strong and consistent effort which they fans have to be quite proud, especially since neither they or the rest to the basketball viewing world expected much from them in the first place.  Although their defense can be rated as dirt poor to say the least, the Celtics have still managed to keep up with opposing teams on both ends of the floor putting up as many shots, forcing as many turnovers, and grabbing as many boards as they do.  Eleven of the team's 18 losses were in the single digits with eight of being under five points; however, upon looking at their progress over the the first two months of the season, playing catch up with their opponents has certainly taken its toll on them.  In the 28 games that they have played, the Celtics have only held the opponents from scoring 100 points just ten times--nine of which they won; on the other hand, Boston has allowed opponents to score 100 or more points in which they had managed to win only one of them.  Nonetheless, at least Celtics fans can hold their heads high knowing that at least in their 18 losses, despite their team's horrid defense, Boston still managed to be blown out, that is lose by 15 or more points, only twice--against the +Memphis Grizzlies and +Miami HEAT.

 Much of the team's excellent offensive execution probably had much to due with the past rather than the future as it was run by +Rajon Rondo, the last remnant of the Celtics past glory years; however, by the end of December, the Celtics finally cut their final ties with the past and parted ways with their long time veteran sending him to the +Dallas Mavericks. In return, the Celtics received a bunch of discarded spare parts in +Brandan Wright+Jae Crowder, and +Jameer Nelson--players who would more than likely be waived as neither one of them fit in Boston's long term plan--along with draft picks and a huge trade exemption.   Upon the start of 2015, the Celtics continued its march toward the future as they parted ways with another player who was not essentially a link to the past, but more of a bridge between the past, present and future in Jeff Green, sending him to Memphis for +Tayshaun Prince, another first round pick, and ironically the son of former Celtics Coach +Doc Rivers, Austin. In another ironic twist, almost immediately after acquiring him the Celtics would later send +Austin Rivers to play for his father in Los Angeles in another trade with both the +Phoenix Suns and +Los Angeles Clippers where Boston would receive yet another draft pick, as well as an additional trade exemption plus another little used leftover in +Shavlik Randolph--a player who will most likely be let go at the end of the season.

So as they march into 2015 to finish the regular season, the Celtics now have a completely different team than which they started with as they bid farewell to the two key players who kept them in respectability in Rondo and Green, leaving the team to be led by guys who no one would recognize on the street let alone anywhere else.  Save for +Marcus Smart, who was selected 6th overall by the Celtics in last years NBA Draft, and Evan Turner, who was selected second overall in the draft five years ago but failed to live up to expectation, there are no other Celtics player that had been drafted in the top ten.    Most of the roster currently consists of either of players who were picked very low in the first round, fell to the second, or were not even drafted to begin with thus giving the Celtics a team with a team filled with a glorious list of the "who's who of who cares;" however, in spite of their less than stellar roster, there have been some hidden gems who have used their anonymity as an advantage to surprise not only their opponents, but also step out in the spotlight.  One of these players is Tyler Zeller, a player who was essentially given up on by his former team, the Cavs, while at the same had failed to live up to the promise that he had shown while playing for the +North Carolina Tar Heels in the +NCAA.  Since arriving at Boston, Zeller has made an immediate impact for Team Green as he not only leads the Celtics in field goal percentage, but also posts per 40 minutes numbers of 19.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game; however, he is not the only player that has risen from obscurity.

Along with Zeller, there have been other players who have had an immediate jump start on their career after falling short of expectations in their previous locales and used their opportunities to not only reignite their career, but have also brought up their team along with them.  One of them is Marcus Thornton, whom after posting a career high 19 points per game and was considered an up an coming young star dropped off the radar the next few years afterwards thus resulting him being sent off to Boston to let his rather lucrative contract run its course; however, instead of just remaining a stain waiting to be rubbed out, Thornton used his time in Boston to reinvent himself and become a key contributor in the Celtics' unexpectedly impressive season.  Coming off the bench, Thornton has been quite the vital contributor to this team as he averaged nine points per game in just fifteen minutes of playing time, while at the same time has been leading the team in three point field goal percentage as well.  Evan Turner was also at one time considered as an outcast having not only failed to live up to the high expectations of being the second  overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, but was essentially ignored in free agency after posting a career season the previous year.  Nonetheless, despite being snubbed by every NBA team and having to settle with a low-ball offer from Boston, he has still made his presence felt on the court coming off the bench to average eight points, five rebounds and five assists per game in under 30 minutes of playing time.

Both Thornton and Turner have made themselves integral to fortunes of this rebuilding Boston franchise this season--so much so that the team's front office were willing to part ways with Jeff Green who had led the team in scoring before being shipped off to the Grizzlies.  Although he may not be considered as part of the Celtics future plans, Thornton has certainly shown that he is still capable of bringing a positive impact on a prospective NBA team while Turner, despite his spotty shooting, has a well developed all around game with his passing and rebounding to compensate for his offensive shortcomings.  In fact, given the minutes and shot attempts, Turner might just possibly prove far more valuable that the piddling two year seven million contract that he was forced to accept and may just find himself in Celtics green for years to come because he offers so many intangibles that make his teammates better.   Combine him with two up and coming big men in Zeller, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, along with a talented backcourt that consists of rookie point guard  Smart and Avery Bradley who had signed a four year 32$ million deal in the off season, the Celtics have a rather promising core of young players to develop for years to come.  They may not sound like much, but considering the the Atlanta Hawks have virtually no one to really speak yet stand on top of the Eastern Conference is evidence enough that an NBA team does not need a marquee name to set itself apart from its opponents.

Perhaps Boston might just be the next Atlanta Hawks within the next couple of years; however, right now the Celtics' prospects of that happening range from slim to none.  Nonetheless, despite their rather makeshift roster, Boston still has an outside chance to make the post season, but with the recent trades of Green and Rondo, it looks as if the Celtics are looking to intentionally heading to the other direction, which is quite a pity.  Boston has the potential to be one of the surprise teams in the league as the Eastern Conference remaining rather wide open with virtually three playoff spots and fifty games left in the season, but it looks as if the Celtics plan to sit this dance out as they look to use this season to free up cap space as well as gather picks for the next one.  Regardless, with the way that the Celtics have been playing matching their opponents point for point while showing the offensive execution of a seasoned veteran team is welcomed enough by their fans.  It may not look it, but the future is bright in Bean Town and the question will be not a matter of "if," but "when" for the Boston Celtics to return to respectability.