5 Surprising Takeaways from Boston Celtics' Season
The Boston Celtics were very bad this year. They lost 57 games, struggled to score on a nightly basis and regularly rolled out lineups that belong in the NBA D-League.
We knew this would happen; the Celtics were who we thought they would be.
But not everything was expected. Here are five surprises from one of the most forgettable seasons in Celtics history, ranked in order by just how shocking they were.
5. Brandon Bass Wasn't Traded
Heading into the trade deadline, the Celtics appeared ready to sell everyone and everything. Their 2013-14 season was going nowhere, and the main focus had turned away from the court, toward the luxury tax and gathering future assets.
Once Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford were dealt, the next man up appeared to be hard-working veteran forward Brandon Bass.
Bass is 29 years old and a solid two-way player. His mid-range jumper is among the best in the world. But his $13.3 million salary from 2014 to 2016 didn't and doesn't quite jibe with Boston’s plans. Keeping him on board is fine, but it’s almost definite Bass’ tenure in Boston will expire as soon as his contract runs out.
That’s why it was so surprising to see Celtics general manager Danny Ainge fail to find a trade partner who could send back something of value—even if all he received was an expiring contract.
4. Avery Bradley's Offensive Development
Anyone who watched Boston’s first-round series against the New York Knicks from 2012-13 knows Avery Bradley looked completely lost handling the ball.
He couldn’t dribble up the court or make a decent entry pass. Asking him to conduct a pick-and-roll was out of the question.
Bradley still doesn’t run Boston’s offense, but that isn’t his job. What he did this year, though, was drastically improve his offensive effectiveness, particularly in the form of a prickly pull-up jumper.
Bradley shot a respectable 40.7 percent on pull-up jumpers this season. He still isn’t a playmaker or a guard who can attack the rim and draw fouls at will, but his gradual improvement with the ball in his hands is a possible sign of better things to come.
Remember, he’s only 23. Even though Rajon Rondo is the point guard, today's game demands two high-usage/capable ball-handlers in the backcourt. For Bradley to get playing time, he needs to become one.
3. Jared Sullinger's 3-Point Shot
Jared Sullinger made one three-pointer in 2012-13. He had five attempts. Coming off back surgery, this part of his game was one of the last things anyone expected to see develop in his second season.
The primary focus was instead on his ability to defend in space and whether he could make strides as an interior presence, both rebounding the ball and finishing around the rim.
All those storylines had relatively happy endings, as Sullinger showed he can be a durable workhorse. But his three-point shot was definitely a surprise. Sullinger jacked up 208 threes in 2013-14, making only 26.9 percent of them. Nearly one out of every four of his total shot attempts came from beyond the arc.
Here’s what head coach Brad Stevens had to say about the development back in December, via MassLive.com’s Jay King:
You can always expand your game. Because you haven’t done something in the past doesn’t mean you can’t get better at something. He has a natural touch, he has a great arc on his shot. (Sullinger is) a guy that looks like an obvious candidate to extend his range.
It’ll be interesting to see what impact Sullinger’s ineffectiveness from deep has on his shot-distribution chart next season.
2. Defending the Corner 3
The Boston Celtics ranked in the bottom third for almost every meaningful statistical category this season.
However, one of the few areas they really excelled at happens to align itself with winning basketball: defending the corner three.
Only the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls allowed fewer corner-three attempts this season, and only the Houston Rockets kept opponents to a lower shooting percentage.
The corner three is a hallowed shot for every smart offense, and Brad Stevens’ ability to take it away is a testament to how well-coached this team really was. The Celtics didn't have the most talent, but they almost always rotated correctly with hard closeouts.
1. Kris Humphries Finished with Team's Highest PER
When the Celtics traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, they received several first-round draft picks in return. Players were exchanged, too—so salaries would match up—but they were an afterthought.
Kris Humphries was one of them, and he’s anything but an afterthought now. The 29-year-old power forward led Boston with an impressive 18.2 PER, which doubled as his career high.
Given his age and expiring contract, Humphries wasn’t pegged to be a piece in Boston’s rebuild. He began the season out of Brad Stevens’ rotation and looked satisfied riding the bench until a campaign every Celtic wanted to end finally did.
Instead, Humphries started 30 games, played over 1,300 minutes and was Boston’s main source of rim protection. His tireless effort on the offensive glass helped the Celtics become one of the NBA’s better teams in that area, and when Rajon Rondo returned from his anterior cruciate ligament injury, Humphries helped immediately create an on-court chemistry, particularly with how the two worked a pick-and-roll.
Don’t be surprised if the unrestricted free agent is in a Celtics jersey again next season. It'll only be a two or three-year deal (with a team option on the third year, most likely), but Humphries has shown immense value as a backup power forward.