2016-17 Boston Celtics Season Preview: Giving Thanks to Mikhail

Despite their lack of a superstar, The Dunkyard likes what lies in store for the Boston Celtics this season… and beyond.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 48-34 (5th East)
  • Offensive rating: 103.9 (13th)
  • Defensive rating: 100.9 (4th)
  • Pace: 101.1 (3rd)
  • True shooting: 53.1% (21st)
  • Turnover rate: 12.1 (3rd)
  • Offensive rebounding: 25.1% (9th)
  • Defensive rebounding: 74.6% (25th)
  • Giveashitameter: 13th
  • Highest PER*: 21.5 (Thomas)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

bos

Recap

Just imagine what these guys could have done if they could put the ball in the hole and rebound.

On shooting, the Celtics’ main Achilles heel was three point shooting, which ranked 28th overall (33.5%). While Thomas (167 makes @ 35.9%) and Bradley (147 makes @ 36.1%) were decent enough, the likes of Crowder (122/363 @ 33.6%), Sullinger (29/103 @ 28.2%), Smart (61/241 @ 25.3%) and Turner (20/83 @ 24.1%) were collectively awful and dragged things down.

Things didn’t fare much better on the inside where the Celtics ranked 19th overall on two point accuracy as Sullinger, Johnson and Zeller struggled to offer a reliable inside presence.

That said, despite ranking a lowly 21st on overall shooting, the Celtics’ offense was still slightly above average overall thanks to their ability to take care of the ball (3rd). Only Johnson (66th among 76 power forwards) and Turner (63rd among 77 shooting guards) were considerably below average in this respect.

On the defensive end, the Celtics were elite, ranking 4th overall. While Johnson, Crowder and Smart were predictably effective here, Sullinger was the surprise packet – leading the team in defensive win shares. Even Turner also managed to outperform his reputation and expectations, ranking third in defensive win shares while also posting a positive defensive box plus/minus rating.

The amazing statistic is that the Celtics managed to rank so highly on defense despite posting the league’s 25th ranked defensive rebound rate and being vulnerable inside (28th in free throw attempts allowed, 22nd in blocked shots).

With the exception of Sullinger (27.0%, 13th among 58 centers), the rest of the Celtics were well below par on the defensive boards. Suffice to say, when Amir Johnson is your second best defensive rebounder (20.4%, ranked 37th among 76 power forwards) – AND you’re carrying Isiah Thomas – then you’re gonna have a bad time on the boards. Interestingly, the Celtics were more than able to apply themselves at the other end of the court, ranking 9th on offensive rebounding.

Despite the rebounding and interior defensive issues, the Celtics more than made up for it with their ability to:

  • force turnovers, ranking 4th on TO%; and
  • hawk opponents into bad shots, ranking 4th on three point accuracy allowed (33.6%), 11th on two point accuracy allowed (48.1%).

Reasons to be optimistic

The Celtics are already competitive and have an absolute war chest of assets and roster flexibility. It really is a GM’s paradise.

If all else fails, the Celtics get to swap picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft and take their 2018 pick outright. How many highly competitive teams get to say they’re likely to get a top-5 pick in the next two drafts?

Al Horford will provide a solid addition to the offense and could help bump the overall product into the top-10. If the Celtics can maintain the defense in or about the top-5, then they could take another step this season.

Reasons not to be

While he was a bit of turnover magnet and can’t shoot to save his life, the Celtics will miss Turner’s playmaking and general effectiveness (13.6 PER last season) off the bench. Those responsibilities will now fall to the likes of Smart, Rozier and Brown who aren’t proven commodities yet.

The Celtics still lack the necessary star power to carry the franchise. While Thomas is entertaining and effective on offense, the fact remains that he’s 5’8” and the Celtics aren’t going to win anything serious with him as their best or second-best player.

Many people appear to have overlooked the fact that Al Horford doesn’t seem to be able to rebound anymore as he ranked 44th among 58 centers on defensive rebounding and 50th on overall rebounding. One of the Celtics’ major weaknesses last season was their defensive rebounding and this looks set to continue this season.

Major Ins 

Al Horford.

Major Outs

Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Thomas
  • Bradley
  • Crowder
  • Johnson
  • Horford

Dave’s lowdown

The Celtics have rarely put a foot wrong over the last three years as they’ve provided the blueprint for going from mediocre to contenders. The appointment of Brad Stevens was a masterstroke who I predict will take home Coach Of The Year honours this season by leading the team to 55+ wins. Combined with Danny Ainge’s systematic fleecing of rivals during trade negotiations, savvy draft night selections and the free agency prize of Al Horford, everything is coming up Millhouse.

After last season’s career year, Isaiah Thomas is well on his way to becoming the 3rd best sub-6-foot player in NBA history behind the Hall of Fame careers of Calvin Murphy and Allen Iverson (who despite being listed at 6-0 was well known to be closer to between 5-10 and 5-11).

Forecast record: 52-30

One can’t help but feel that the Celtics overachieved a little on the defensive end last year. While Stevens will continue to plot and scheme with the best of them this season, the fact remains that this team cannot rebound and Horford arguably makes things worse. While this is not necessarily fatal to a defense, all those second and third chances will add up and some regression on the defensive is very possible.

That said, Horford will be a major upgrade on the offensive end and should add a couple of wins to the overall tally. While it won’t be enough to dethrone LeBron, it firmly puts the Celtics in contention for the East’s annual bridesmaid award.

Going forward, the future couldn’t possibly be brighter for the Celtics: they’re competitive again and have three bites at the cherry in Brown and the Nets’ next two draft picks (or a mega trade using their stockpile of attractive assets) to land the next star that could carry the franchise to the next level.

It sure beats being the Lakers right now.

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