Happy summertime, readers!
It it with great excitement that we kickoff our annual “Assessing the Enemy” coverage, where the 3 Shades of Blue team will break down the NBA offseason from the perspectives of all 29 of the Grizzlies’ foes. For those of you who have been with us the past few years, you may be familiar with the steps to this dance number, and if you’re joining us for the first time, we hope you enjoy the ride!
Throughout the series we will take a look at the narratives taking place within each NBA city, the outlooks for their respective 2014 roster constructions, and most importantly, measuring up how the Grizzlies will fare against each of their worthy adversaries. Last, but certainly not least we will be enlisting the help of some of the best opposing voices in the NBA blogosphere — the contributions for which we are eternally grateful, and could not carry through this series without.
So pack your bags, saddle up, and without further ado, let’s post up at the first stop in our journey to study the likes of the “little band out of Boston,” the Boston Celtics.
Enemy: Boston Celtics
3SOB Prediction: 25-57
What’s the Story in Beantown?
After an emphatic reign sporting the first collection of “super friends” since the early-millennium Lakers, the Celtics sent off franchise mainstay Paul Pierce and Kevin “bringer of glory days” Garnett as they delved into the liminal space that was last season. I say liminal, because while the winds of rebuild were certain, they never fully immersed themselves in the shark tank with the likes of Philadelphia. The early absence of Rajon Rondo and the ensuing lack of motivation to fill his void in the rotation laid the foundation for a lottery push all on their own, but even upon his return, the C’s were able to maintain pace with their best interests of keeping just enough lottery ping pong balls by their side.
I find myself compelled to paint the Celtics as a shining example of a large market franchise that actually “gets it,” whatever “getting it” actually means. They wield the mighty sword of their big-city economic advantage when the timing is right, but unlike some others navigating the NBA waters in the same type of boat, they possess a seemingly vital awareness of their own mortality. Teams like the Lakers clung to Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, only to watch them walk for naught in consecutive summers, but the Celtics were able to cash out the rapidly depreciating Pierce and Garnett for the type of “wild card” assets that really move the needle in the NBA’s trade market.
Now the Celtics are equipped with all the makings of a time-efficient turnaround in whichever rebuild route they commit to, with a stockpile of options planted firmly at their feet. While the clock is ticking like the crocodile on Captain Hook’s boat, given Rondo’s impending free agency, the ball is in their court. If the right situation presents itself, they have more than enough assets at their disposal to yield a major running mate – maybe even two – to set in tandem with Rondo, similar to the way they stacked the deck alongside Pierce in the summer of ’07. The intriguing re-signing of backcourt defensive ace Avery Bradley for 4 years and $32 million only stands to further the notion that they’re at least entertaining the thought of keeping this option open. Add in the return of Brian Scalabrine to the city of Boston, as he looks to transition his legacy from that of one of the more celebrated end-of-bench players of our generation, to that of legendary Celtics broadcaster, and you’re halfway there towards becoming a contender again — at least in spirit, that is.
To the contrary, the Celtics possess an extensive arsenal to build around going forward if the likely scenario of sending Rondo packing for upside pieces proves to be the most opportune option. They’ve got a smart, young coach, in Brad Stevens, who will be joined this season by Smart (see Smart, Marcus) and Young (see Young, James) rookie additions joining the fold via this year’s promising draft class. The rookies round out an impressive pool of talented youth already in tow for a team only one year into a full-blown rebuild movement, with pieces like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Vitor Faverani, and have done a great job of acquiring an ample stash of draft picks to look forward to (see the reward for their generous involvement in the Marcus Thornton trade for their latest heist) in future years.
They may be just a little band out of Boston right now, but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and company have put the organization in position to bring this team back to relevance in no time at all.
What are they cooking with?
Marcus Smart, Marcus Smart, Marcus Smart. I’m doing this correctly, right?
Earlier in the summer I went on record stating that I’d take Smart over anybody not named Jabari Parker in the 2014 draft, and while his slow start in acclimating to NBA summer ball (29.4% shooting in 5 Orlando games) was not exactly a ringing endorsement for what’s in store, it has not nearly dissuaded my enthusiasm for his pro potential. He’s a 6’3 analytics darling with a 6’9 wingspan, a linebacker’s build, legitimate point guard skills, the requisite athleticism for the position, and a ball-hawking reputation on the defensive end. Moreover, he’s not one to shy away from assuming the alpha, and displayed an ability to acclimate to a novel competitive environment as Summer League wore on. This guy is going to be big time.
If I have to be fair though, which I probably should in my first submission of the series, there’s far more to the Celtics roster than my favorite draft pick. Namely, I believe the best place to continue would be with Rondo, their four-time all-star point guard and undeniable face of the franchise. Rondo’s return to action after tearing his ACL in January of 2013 was a rocky one, but not devoid of glimmers of the awesomeness we have come to expect out of him. Once he hit regular playing time, his assist numbers fell almost immediately in line with what they were prior to the injury, but a surprising development was the drastic alteration his shot selection. Typically a shaky shooter from beyond the arc, Rondo was rarely known to take too much in excess of one shot from downtown per contest, but last season that number migrated up to 3.0 attempts per game — more than double his single-season career high. The increased familiarity with the long-ball has resulted in a modest increase in his proficiency, but it still holds that 3 attempts per game from deep at a 28.9% clip isn’t exactly ideal.
With Zach Lowe of Grantland noting in a recent article that the Celtics have been “trying like hell” to offload Brandon Bass, it appears that much of their success in the post will hinge on the ability of Jared Sullinger to continue his growth in year three. Once a heralded prospect in contention for lottery consideration, Sullinger fell off the map entirely due to being injury-flagged with a bad back and dropped to the Celtics at the 21st pick in the 2012 draft. In year two, Sully made great strides in his overall impact, boosting his PER from 13.5 to 16.4, while reinventing himself as a floor spacer. Much like Rondo, he’s had little luck with his shooting percentage from downtown (26.9%), but unlike Rondo, it’s his first time trying to expand his range out there, and he’s only 22 years old. If he can stay healthy again like he did last season, it is entirely within bounds to picture him taking the next step.
I’m singling out Rondo and Sullinger for their change in shot selection to an extent, but really there was a roster-wide philosophy in favor of ramping up the three point attempts, as Bradley, Olynyk, Jeff Green, and others saw a significant uptick in their long range shooting tendencies, as well. What will be interesting to see is if this philosophy trickles into the newly signed Evan Turner, who has also been known as a bit of a sieve from the perimeter to this point in his career. It’s a bit surprising to see the traditionally analytics-friendly Celtics take a flier on the much-maligned Turner, but without much of a hope of a competitive season in Boston at the present, the risk level appears low enough to see if they can straighten out his trajectory.
How do the good guys stack up?
The Vibe Behind Enemy Lines
To gauge how they feel about the matchup on the Celtics’ side of the basketball blogosphere, we linked up with Ryan DeGama who covers the C’s for Celtics Hub.
Ryan DeGama: Rational fear and irrational hope [will be going through the minds of the Celtics when the Grizzlies are up next on the calendar]. Fear because the Celtics spent the offseason doubling down on guards and wings, and as excited as they are to see what havoc PG Marcus Smart can wreak on defense, neither he nor any Celtic big can guard Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. Two games against Memphis means two losses in waiting. But there’s irrational hope because just maybe the Celtics can steal a game if the Grizzlies roll out an inexplicable 5-guard small ball lineup for one game as part of a bizarre Hollinger-driven Moneyball-style experiment. Any chance that’s in the works?
The Celtics enter 2014-15 in the second year of a rebuild that offers more long term promise than did the mismatched parts of last year’s team. But in terms of practical win-generation, they’ll probably still lose 50 games because they lack any kind of rim protection and don’t have a guy who can consistently get and finish his own shot. Expect the C’s to deprioritize lame duck veterans in favor of developing Smart, rookie wing James Young and improving young bigs Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.
Rondo should resemble something close to his former all-star self and with Avery Bradley and Smart, the Celtics have a backcourt trio that can cause real problems for teams trying to handle the ball and attack from the perimeter. But ultimately the games against Memphis will come down to Boston’s inability to handle skilled power players. If the Grizz work the inside game, Boston’s resistance will eventually wear down over the full 48. And the C’s look prone to offensive droughts, especially against veteran teams that can wear them down with physical defense and that whole grit and grind business Memphis does so well.
The Vibe at 3 Shades of Blue
Josh Coleman: The Celtics are continuing their slow rebuild despite their attempts to set off some big fireworks this off-season by getting involved in the Kevin Love trade sweepstakes and courting free agents. While they could improve upon last season’s disappointing results, no one should expect them to win either of their games against the Grizzlies.
The return of Rajon Rondo means that they should match up well at the PG position, and Jeff Green has proven that he can put up points against the normally stingy Memphis defense. However, both of the meetings between these two teams came early last season when the Grizzlies were still struggling to adapt to Dave Joerger’s style of play and then without Marc Gasol for the second game. Despite that, the Grizzlies won both games in fairly comfortable fashion.
Their bigs are solid, if unspectacular, but cannot match up with the All-Star frontcourt of Memphis. However, it is Boston’s lack of play-making swingmen that will continue to cause problems for them, an issue that Grizzlies’ fans are intimately familiar with. Rondo no longer has Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett on the receiving end of his passes, which means he’ll have to look to score more often — no easy task against the Grizzlies’ backcourt defenders. Expect a competitive game for 3 quarters before the Celtics ultimately fall short due to a lack of overall talent and skill.
When Do They Square Off?
11/21/14 — FedEx Forum, Memphis TN — 7:00 PM CST
3/11/15 — TD Garden, Boston, MA — 6:30 PM CST
What Do Y’all Think?
Cast your vote below and reach out on Twitter @StevieDanziger to discuss more on the matchup!