As we all take a breath and try to make sense of a first half of the season that saw the team trade its franchise player, multiple roster moves, a shift in philosophy from the head coach, and countless games that came down to the last minute of play, its a good time to grade the players that remain. Its impossible to tell who will be in the teams long term plans, but we must grade on what we’ve seen on the court to date. Players will not be graded on a curve, so no quarter will be given for youth, inexperience, or expectations…..what we saw is what they will be graded on.
Brad Stevens: B
Its been a wacky season for the young second year coach with no previous NBA experience. The season started with an all star point guard on the roster and a few capable vets and low expectations. For whatever reason they decided that trying to emulate the Suns from last season was a good idea, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. They blew big leads, made very few in game adjustments, and in general looked like a team without proper NBA leadership. Then they traded Rondo, Stevens declared that he “had to get better at coaching NBA basketball” and things took off from there. The subtraction of Rondo and Green turned out to be a positive for the Celtics, who carved a new identity as a hard working defensive team that grinded out wins. They began to make in game adjustments (especially at halftime) and the leadership of Brandon Bass, Teshaun Prince, and Marcus Thornton gave the team a winning west coast road trip and a signature win over the 43-11 Hawks heading into the All Star Break. Stevens was on a collision course with a failing grade and a trip to ping pongville, but he hung in there and made the team his own. The future looks bright at head coach.
Avery Bradley: B+
After a rocky start, Bradley found his stride after the Rondo trade. He was outstanding at hitting mid range jumpers, corner threes, and generally being the teams most valuable offensive player. 13/2 with 35% from 3 is getting the job done on a team projected to win 26 games WITH Rajon Rondo on the club. He’s under contract for about 8 million per for the next 3 years, so its pretty safe to say he’s part of the future, although his salary wouldn’t deter the team from trading him to upgrade the overall talent on the roster.
Jared Sullinger: C+
Like the team, its been an up and down season for Sullinger, who has added a three point shot (28%) to his game, to go along with acceptable rebounding and below average post defense. He probably is what he is at this point, and he’s going to need that three point shot to stick around in the league as a productive player in the long term. When motivated, he is a capable scorer in the paint, surprisingly so for someone as short as he is. 14/8 on 44% shooting is acceptable on a borderline playoff team, but probably a bench player for a quality NBA club. He is signed through next season at his rookie salary of 2 mil. Soon it will be decision time on Sullinger and he’s got lots of competition in house (and maybe the upcoming draft) for his roster spot.
Evan Turner: C+
Turner was arguably one of the worst rotation players in the NBA the last two seasons, which is why he ended up in Boston. Ainge took a low risk, high reward gamble on Turner and so far its paid off. He’s not a point guard, but he plays on on TV for the Celtics. This has hurt his statistics, which at 8/4/4 on 42% shooting doesn’t look all that impressive, but he has handled his duties at the point well, all things considered. The biggest consideration being they really don’t have a true point guard on the roster other than Pressey. Signed through next season at 3 mil, and its safe to say he’s not going anywhere, although I’m certain they don’t see him as a long term answer at his current position.
Kelly Olynyk: D+
Been hurt for the last month, but before that it was a hodgepodge of erratic play for the second year forward from Gonzaga. He can’t defend his position worth a lick, but he can shoot, hitting 3’s at a 35% clip, which makes him a valuable player in the right situations. He also has a nice nose for the ball and feel for the game, stuff that can’t be taught or show up in the box score, so its possible he can survive in the league without being able to guard his position. Not many cats in the NBA can accomplish this feat. Signed through next season at 2 mil, so like Sullinger it will soon be decision time on young Kelly. He could be out of the NBA in three years or a sixth man for the Spurs (doesn’t he seem like a perfect fit there?)…..his future is that unpredictable.
Marcus Smart: C+
He has struggled to find his role on the team and in the league. He really isn’t a point guard and has struggled to even initiate offense at times. He’s a streaky shooter who seems to enjoy taking and making clutch 3’s. He’s been surprisingly bad at attacking the basket, which is strange because he was a monster doing so at Oklahoma State. He’s been a capable defender at times, yet has struggled to keep quicker guards in front of him. His future in the league is probably that of a defensive specialist off the bench, and the sooner he embraces this role the better for everyone involved. He also better be able to get the ball to the tin, or he will be almost useless on the offensive end save for the occasional 3 point bomb. Signed for the next 2 years at around 3.5 mil per with team options for the next two years after that. Lots of time for the team to evaluate and for Smart to evolve. One thing is certain….he’s an NBA player and these days thats good enough when picking in the draft.
Brandon Bass: B
The consummate professional. Shows up ready to play every night, gives 100% on both ends of the floor, and shows a nice stroke from the 10-15 foot range. 9/4 on 47% from the floor is good enough, and its important to note the team really took off when he was inserted into the starting lineup. He’s the perfect role model for the many players on the roster devoid of experience, and they need all the mentorship they can get. Its players like Bass that prevent a team like the C’s from descending into the depths of NBA hell, a horrible place that can take a team years to dig out of.
Tyler Zeller: C+
Started off the season preposterously strong on the offensive end, shooting over 60% from the floor for the first 30+ games. He’s struggled without Rondo to feed him 3 or 4 easy baskets a game, and would never be considered a rim protector despite being 7 feet tall. His future in the league is a bench player who can score in the paint and play acceptable defense. What you see is what you get, now and probably in the future. They could do much worse for 2.6 million next season. Another in the long line of players who decision time is coming on like freight train.
Marcus Thornton: A-
An afterthought in the deal that brought Zeller to Boston, Thornton has been the teams version of a microwave, heating up and shooting basketballs as fast as he can catch them. Shooting an eye popping 41% from 3 and playing acceptable defense off the bench. In short he’s been the biggest reason the team has turned its season around other than Bradley. At 27 and signed through the end of the season, he’s not exactly what the team is looking for when they consider their future. But for Thornton the future is now, and he’ll be playing NBA basketball somewhere next season, it just won’t be with the Celtics. That said he’s easily the most exciting player on the roster, which is both a credit to Thornton and a knock on Ainge.
Jae Crowder: C+
As advertised. Plays hard, can hit the occasional three, deflects a ton of balls on defense, can rebound a bit, defend and generally provide hustle off the bench. 7/3 on 50% shooting is about the best you can expect from a player drafted 34th overall and making a mill per. Signed through the end of the year and I’m sure the Celtics would love to have him back at the right price.
Phil Pressey: D-
What he’s doing on this roster is anyone’s guess. You can’t swing a dead cat in this league without hitting a quality point guard, and the Celtics haven’t been able to find one of them to play backup, and now starter, for the better part of the last 6 years. 27% from 3 just ain’t gonna cut it in this league when your 5′ 8″ and turn the ball over way too much. If there is one thing Ainge should be able to do over the next offseason its find an actual NBA rotation point guard for the roster. He doesn’t have to look far, and if pressed I could probably find a few guys in the local YMCA’s that could duplicate Pressey’s contributions.
Tayshaun Prince: INC
I want to give him an A+, but he just hasn’t been here long enough and will probably be gone at the trade deadline. Its a shame because, like Bass, he has been a model NBA player and really provided a spark for the team in the short time he’s been here. If he’s auditioning for a spot on a contender’s roster, the results couldn’t be better. Has a great feel for the game, has a nice midrange shot, leads by example and shows the experience of a champion. He will be missed, and its a shame the team couldn’t get their mits on him four years ago or they might have won another NBA title.
James Young: INC
Full disclosure: I thought Young was the worst player among those likely to be drafted last season and said so on www.celticsnuts.com so I’m obviously biased. He’s spent most of the season hitting threes for the Maine Red Claws of the NBADL and actually asked to return there when he wasn’t getting time with the big club. I’m not sure thats the stuff NBA legends are made of, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, he did light it up against the horrible competition up north. His future in the league is a left handed Marcus Thornton and time will tell if he can get there. He’s young, and the team has him under control for the next 4 years at around 1.2 mil per. If I was to guess, if he makes it in the league it won’t be playing of the Celtics.
Gerald Wallace: F-
Thanks for those draft picks.
So thats where the team stands grade wise with a 20-31 record and one game back from the 8th spot in the playoffs as the second half of the season begins next week. Discuss all things Celtics at www.celticsnuts.com