Grading Every Position Heading into Boston Celtics Training Camp
After allowing Doc Rivers to ship off to Los Angeles and trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn, the team is now under new leadership, with Brad Stevens holding the clipboard and Rajon Rondo keeping the team in order.
While the Celtics would love to stay competitive, their need to cut costs and get under the luxury tax weighed heavily on their offseason plans, forcing them to cut ties with some younger developmental talent while keeping their eyes firmly focused on the future. Thanks to those cost-cutting techniques, Boston has holes to fill on its roster, causing an unbalanced team and uneven grades at each position.
Ahead is a grade for each position.
Position Grade: C+
Depth Chart: Rajon Rondo, Phil Pressey, Jordan Crawford
Boston returns its All-Star point guard but fails to fill the obvious gap behind Rondo in its floor general rotation.
After Rondo suffered an ACL tear midway through last season, the Celtics offense sputtered behind fill-in starters at the guard position. They lacked ball control and weren't able to run a feasible offensive attack. According to NBA.com/stats (login required), with Rondo on the floor, the Celtics offense had a 102.2 net rating. With him off the court, Boston's scoring dropped a full three points.
According to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge would be "shocked" if Rondo were to return by opening night, which leaves a handful of unproven players holding arguably the most important position in basketball.
Pressey was an undrafted rookie who impressed enough during a summer league stint to garner a guaranteed contract. Crawford was a deadline acquisition last season and played sparingly. Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee shared ball-handling duties with Jason Terry, who has since departed to Brooklyn.
After Bradley's struggles, it's doubtful Boston would want to handicap its budding shooting guard with primary ball-handling duties again this season, but it's feasible to think Lee could step in a bit thanks to the logjam at shooting guard.
Rondo's presence brings Boston's grade up, but point guard currently stands as the second-worst position on the team.
Position Grade: B
Depth Chart: Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans
One of their more stacked positions stands as shooting guard, where Bradley and Lee will look to bounce back from down seasons.
After taking a huge step forward in his sophomore campaign, Bradley took a step back in 2012-13, spending much of the year without Rondo. It was supposed to be his first full season back from injury, and he was expected to grow into the shooting guard position, one that he took from basketball legend Ray Allen.
Bradley returned from shoulder surgery on both arms and was thrust into handling the ball once Rondo went down. Boston's need for Bradley to become a more prominent piece of the offense forced his numbers to drop. According to NBA.com/stats, Bradley's shooting percentage (49 percent to 40 percent) and three-point percentage (40 percent to 31 percent) both plummeted, while his personal fouls climbed from 1.7 per game to 2.6 per contest.
The young shooting guard's offense mostly relies on off-ball screens, backdoor cuts and occasional spot-up threes. He doesn't thrive as a ball-handler and completed just 5.15 percent of his attempts at the rim last season, per Hoopdata.com.
Lee was in an equally tough situation last season. While he wasn't returning from serious offseason surgeries, it was his first year in Boston, and he wasn't met with consistent playing time. From NBA.com/stats, Lee shot the highest percentage of his career from the field last season (46 percent) but scored the fewest points per game (7.8). There were simply not enough shots to go around, but Lee should have his looks this year.
Brooks is also coming off a down campaign in which he was relegated to the bench in Brooklyn. He saw his minutes drop to just over 12 per game, according to Basketball-Reference, after averaging over 29 a night his rookie year.
Bogans should be a fill-in rotational player and a veteran voice in the locker room.
Position Grade: B
Depth Chart: Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace
When Rondo went down with the knee injury, Green was one of the most important members of the Celtics as the team moved toward the postseason. He became a go-to contributor who could knock down the trey but also drive and finish at the hoop. His ability to fight through contact at the rim and get to the free-throw line got him going but also helped the offense develop a rhythm.
From January 27 (the date Rondo's ACL injury was reported) until the end of the season, Green averaged a whopping 16.6 points on 49.7 percent shooting and 4.7 rebounds per game, per NBA.com/stats. If he can get his rebounds up, Green could become a very important piece of Boston's future.
Wallace saw his skill set deteriorate over the season as Brooklyn made changes in an effort to get younger and further into the playoffs. From Basketball-Reference.com, Wallace's points per game (7.7) and minutes (30.1) dropped to a career low since 2004-05, when he established himself as a franchise cornerstone for the Charlotte Bobcats.
He'll be a valuable veteran off the bench and, if he can bounce back with a strong year, could be a trade piece to a contender late in the year.
Position Grade: B+
Depth Chart: Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk
The power forward spot holds easily the most talent and depth out of any position on the current Celtics roster. Bass was an overlooked stud last year, holding down the 4 spot with the ability to slide down to the 5 as well. While he wasn't nearly the efficient shooting big he was in his first year with Boston, and he missed the occasional rotation, Bass was a tough player who defended the 3, 4 and 5 spots.
He'll be relied upon even more heavily in the upcoming season as Rondo works his way back to the floor and the new-look Celtics attempt to develop an identity.
Sullinger, who missed half the season with a bad back, is also looking to come out of the gate firing. He'll be attempting to shed the "injured big" label associated during last year's draft when his back was medically red flagged. If he can stay healthy, Sullinger could once again take over the starting spot at power forward, as he did at times last season, with strong interior offense and a knack for putting his body on the line on the defensive end.
Behind both players is the guy with the most upside on this Celtics team. Olynyk is the first-round draft choice for Boston this year, who displayed an all-around offensive game in summer league that drew rave reviews. He has since been hampered with plantar fasciitis, but his skill set leaves much to be expected of the 7-footer. During his stint this summer, Olynyk showed he could handle the ball, run the floor, knock down 18-footers and rebound.
It will be interesting to see how Stevens utilizes these three unique talents. It's not out of the question that he could consider playing all three players in one rotation together, but Stevens will surely consider all options moving forward.
Position Grade: C-
Depth Chart: Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani
While point guard lacks a true backup, the center position doesn't hold one true starting big man. Since moving Kendrick Perkins in the Jeff Green deal back in 2011, the Celtics have struggled to fill the void left by the big man.
After using mostly D-League talent and the occasional fill-in starter, Boston relied on Kevin Garnett to hold down that position for much of the past two seasons. This year, however, the Celtics could rotate Kris Humphries, Bass, Sullinger and Olynyk between power forward and center.
Olynyk has the best size, but his lack of toughness down low is reason to leave him at the 4. Humphries is a solid rebounder and finisher at the rim, so Boston might opt to put the 6'9" forward in a position to boost his stock early on.
Bass and Sullinger both played some at center last season, but concerns with Sully's back is enough of a reason not to put him at this position. If Olynyk or Sullinger can take over the forward spot, Stevens might look to switch things up with Bass at the 5.
Faverani is largely unknown, but according to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, it sounds like the true 7-footer is an offensively talented but defensively flawed big. He'll be another player to look out for as Stevens attempts to divide up the minutes among a pretty talented roster.
Having undersized centers is generally an issue, but according to Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News, he seems fully prepared to play small despite the lack of size and talent.
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