NBA Season Preview 2013/14: Boston Celtics

NBA Season Review 2013/14: Boston Celtics.

2012/13 Record 40-41:

Last year saw the last hoorah for the Boston’s Big Three, or at least what was left of it. After Ray Allen chose to join LeBron James and co. down on South Beach, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were left without the third part of their championship-winning triumvirate. This didn’t threaten to be too much of a problem given the progress Rajon Rondo had made, however when he went down with a torn ACL at the end of January any potential for a final flurry of glory went down with him.

After the Knicks successfully stole Boston’s Atlantic Division title and sent them tumbling out of the play-offs, the Celtics’ GM and head of basketball operations Danny Ainge saw the opportunity for a new beginning, a beginning that wouldn’t involve Boston’s stalwarts, instead choosing to build around their point guard maestro Rondo.

In what was the move of the summer Boston sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J White to division rival the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and several first round draft picks, including one in the 2014, touted as one of the most promising classes in history.

In truth this was a trade that benefited both parties. Brooklyn have their heart set on winning now and while both Pierce and Garnett’s talent may be one the wane they are still talented ballers that bring championship winning experience to the Nets roster. Boston on the other hand have set themselves a distinct path, always a good thing for an NBA franchise, and for the next few years Celtics fans should get ready for some serious rebuilding.

In the meantime things are looking pretty bleak for the Celtics this season. The first item on the Celtics agenda will be getting Rajon Rondo back to full fitness, hopefully in time for the start of the season. The longer Rondo is off the court the more Boston will suffer.

While some have their doubts about Rondo’s ability due the calibre of player he’s been surrounded by during his time in the NBA, it’s hard to watch him play and not be impressed by the sheer amount of talent he displays every night. It also seems like he’s ready to step as a leader on this Celtics team. In the 38 games he played before he went down last year Rondo averaged a career high 13.7 points per game and, unsurprisingly, led the league in assists.

Of course, there are areas where Rondo needs to show improvement. The passing whizz will be forced to take on an extra scoring burden now that Garnett and Pierce are gone and questions abound as to whether he is capable of carrying the load, the main source of criticism being his misfiring jumper.

This criticism isn’t entirely justified though as Rondo shot at 45% while 3-23 feet from the basket, a percentage sits with some of the league’s best shooting point guards. From the same range Steve Nash hit 48% of his shots, Kyrie Irving 47% and Stephen Curry 46%. However, the contrast between these sharpshooters and Rondo is their performance beyond the arc. Nash, Irving and Curry are all premier three-point marksmen while Rondo’s three-point percentage last year was 24% and he’s never shot above 35% in any of his NBA seasons. If Rondo wants to break into the upper echelon of NBA point guards then he must improve his ability to shoot the three.

The real trouble for Boston comes when they look past Rondo for points and creativity. There don’t seem to be many players on the Boston roster that have the ability to make and take their own shot.

Jeff Green showed that he still has that capability at the end of last year. After Rajon Rondo went down injured Green averaged 16.4 points per game for the remainder of the regular season and then stepped his production up to 20.4 points per game during the play-offs. This season Green has a chance to be a number one option alongside Rondo and if last years numbers are anything to go buy he could be a candidate for the Most Improved Player award next year.

Boston’s youngsters will be forced to take center stage as well next year. Avery Bradley has shown flashes of offensive potential and Kelly Olynyk looked excellent at the Orlando Summer League, though these budding players can’t be looked to for production night in night out and outside of the aforementioned talent, Boston really don’t have much going for them offensively this year.

The Celtics should also be worried about their performance on the defensive side of the ball. Kevin Garnett performed the anchor role for the Boston defence with aplomb and now that he’s gone expect the Celtics defence from their ranking of 6th in 2013/14.

While we can probably predict which way the Celtics season will tilt, there is an unknown factor in the form of their new head coach Brad Stevens. The former Butler man led the Bulldogs to two national championship games in his five seasons there, an impressive accomplishment given Butler’s mid-major status. It did, however, surprise many when Stevens was offered the Celtics job given his all round lack of experience and the fact that he’s only 36, making him only three years older than the Celtics oldest player Keith Bogans. Whether Stevens will be able to command the respect of seasoned pros such as Rajon Rondo and Gerald Wallace will be an interesting story to follow this year.

There are definitely things to look forward to if you’re a Boston Celtics fan but unfortunately most of those things will come after a long and difficult season in 2013/14.

Prediction: 2013/14 Record 26-56

image: © reneS