During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we break down the Boston Celtics, who are looking to contend in the Eastern Conference.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Boston Celtics Season
First Key: Playmaking Off the Bench
However, Evan Turner’s off-season departure for the Portland Trail Blazers created a void in Boston’s bench. Turner averaged 28 minutes per game as a jack-of-all-trades; he handled the ball, defended positions one through three, and played off-ball as a scorer. He finished fifth in the 2015-16 Sixth Man of the Year voting.
The Ohio State alumnus was the sole playmaker — other than Thomas — on the Celtics last season. He was the only bench player who effectively created shots for himself and for teammates. Each of the Celtics’ top 20 five-man lineups in terms of minutes played and net rating featured at least one of Thomas or Turner.
The Celtics must find a player who can replace Turner’s production.
Terry Rozier’s Readiness
Terry Rozier is a candidate to fill Evan Turner’s role.
Rozier played limited minutes during his rookie season; he averaged just eight minutes per game in 30 games. In the playoffs, due to injuries, he saw the court more; he appeared in five of the six games and averaged 19.8 minutes per game.
Rozier used his playoff experience as a building block. He played well in the summer league. In three Utah summer league games, he averaged 19 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in 29 minutes per game. In three Las Vegas summer league games, he averaged 21 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 29 minutes per game.
The Louisville alumnus continued his strong play in training camp and, thus far, in the preseason. Celtics coach Brad Stevens praised the second-year point guard for his hard work: “Terry’s a different guy in year two than he was in the first couple of days in year one,” Stevens said. “It just stands out right now.” [MassLive]
Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations, believes that Rozier is ready to contribute:
.@celtics Danny Ainge says Terry Rozier looks as though he will get a lot of the minutes vacated by Evan Turner's departure.
— A. Sherrod Blakely (@ASherrodblakely) September 30, 2016
If the Ohio native continues his strong play into the preseason, replacing Turner’s playmaking will be a seamless transition.
Second Key: Shooting
The Celtics lacked shooting last season. The starting lineup had it; Thomas and Avery Bradley shot 36 percent from deep, and Jae Crowder shot a career-high 34 percent from three-point range. However, the Celtics lacked a sniper off the bench.
Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko were the only shooters in the second unit, converting 41 and 40 percent from deep, respectively. However, Boston’s reserve back-court didn’t shoot well, which limited spacing. If the Celtics reserves cannot hit jumpers consistently this season, defenses will clamp down on Horford and Amir Johnson in the paint.
Last season, Boston finished just 28th in the NBA in three-point percentage. They need better shooting from their bench to take the next step toward contending.
Marcus Smart’s Improvements
Marcus Smart shot just 25 percent from deep last season. He has to get better, or else he’ll be in danger of losing minutes. The third-year guard was aware of his struggles, so he improved his jumper. He started by fixing his shooting form.
“I tried to take as much of the hitch out of my shot as possible,” Smart said. “I tried to get a quicker release and just work on repetition.” [ESPN]
If Smart shoots at around 32 percent from long-range this season, it will be huge for his team. He will be enough of a threat for his defender to at least respect his shot. As a result, his defenders will guard him more closely. Then, Smart can blow by with a quick first step, which will open up the entire offense.
The Addition of Gerald Green
The Celtics signed Gerald Green for his shooting. Unlike his younger teammates, Green is a proven player; he is a career 36 percent three-point shooter.
Stevens will likely use Green as a spark plug off the bench when the offense is cold. Boston didn’t have anyone like him last season.
Coach Stevens has a plan for utilizing the 30-year-old swingman: “[Green] can change the course of a game,” Stevens said. “I think he brings a spurt ability to us that we clearly needed from a scoring standpoint.” [ESPN]
The Celtics are still behind the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. If Boston can fill the void that Evan Turner left, as well as get some more shooting from its back-court, there’s no limit to how far the Celtics can go.