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After a tour around Europe (Italy and Spain), New York and even New Hampshire, the Boston Celtics finished 6-1 in their preseason. They tip-off against the Philadelphia 76ers once again in their season opener on Wednesday night at the TD Garden. It's a big week on Casuseway Street as we have graded the C's roster from 1-15 before the real games are set to begin.
Here's what our progress report looks like:
The 10-year veteran is exactly what the Celtics' frontline (although crowded) needed to improve on a 40-win season. A solid big who can start or come off the bench and can rebound, protect the rim and score inside and out. Doesn't put up flashy numbers but when called upon will get the job done. Most were not sold on Johnson being the first free agent signed by Ainge back in July, but it's fair to say they're starting to buy-into what he's displayed over the last three weeks of preseason play.
Probably the only 'true' center the Celtics have, Zeller's hands continues to show why he's the best finisher around the rim on the team. He has earned a starting spot for a second straight season especially since it's a contract year. Ainge has to consider a significant raise for the young vet if he's in fact part of the future in Boston.
The longest tenured Celtic has not only improved his 3-point shooting (especially from the corner), but has gotten back to what made him a starter three seasons ago; his ability to get to the hoop. Along with his great on ball defensive skills, Bradley is reverting back to his slasher days thus getting to the free-throw line in the process.
The $35-million dollar man is not only going to be in Boston for the foreseeable future but he also just earned a starting spot as well. The swingman has been hitting the gym and his tenacity on defense has hit another notch, not to mention he's shooting the ball well and getting to the free-throw line as well. Crowder makes any lineup Brad Stevens puts together instantly better and he's a crucial piece for the Celtics to defend at an elite level this season.
He has a noticeably better shooting touch so-far and continues to become a better playmaker. Can he take it to the next level though? If the Celtics want to climb the Eastern Conference standings, they need their starting point guard to do all things (shoot, defend and pass) well. The more Smart can create for his teammates the more valuable he will become to Stevens for years to come.
IT4 wants to start because he knows he's the best sixth man in the NBA, with that being said he will most likely lead the team in scoring at about 19 points per game. Thomas is at his best when he has shooters around because of his ability to get to the hoop or create his own shot thus forcing opposing teams to collapse on him without realizing there's options waiting on the wings. However the Celtics team defense tends to mask the veteran guard's deficiencies on the opposite end of the floor.
The combo of Turner and Thomas in the backcourt could mean nightmares for opponents. ET is one of the C's best playmakers plus he knows how to create offense for himself and also rebound. A solid swingman that is affective as a starter and or coming off the bench for Stevens. But could Ainge be looking to include Turner in any future trades? Seeing as this is a contract year and a long-term deal could be pricey going forward, we shall see.
A surprise to many on the his ability to shoot and create for others, Rozier had the best preseason of all three Celtics' draftees. Can he crack Stevens' rotation as the third-string point guard? That remains to be seen, though he is an upgrade over Phil Pressey (glad he's been claimed of waivers in Utah). Despite hiding an injury ( i.e. James Young a year ago), he took advantage and made an impact in limited minutes especially when Smart and Turner each missed a couple of games in preseason.
The highest-paid second round draft pick in league history showed flashes of being a legit NBA big man; rebounding, blocking and scoring in the paint. However due to the long-jam that is the Celtics' front court, the rook will help boast the Maine Red Claws' (odd favorites to be D-League champs) roster for a good majority of this upcoming season. His future does look bright though.
He is exactly what the Celtics were waiting for from James Young a year ago; a spot up shooter off the bench. Instead this rookie doesn't just stroke it from the outside with confidence, but has the awareness of an NBA vet to pass and rebound as well. Hunter is likely to get the most playing time out of the team's three rookies especially if he continues to knock down open 3-pointers and Evan Turner is used more as a small forward rather than a shooting guard.
An underrated scorer who gets to the charity stripe with ease and matches up well against small and power forwards. Jerebko can eat up minutes for Crowder or Turner to get a breather while doing all the little things that don't necessarily show up in the box score.
Someone we won't see on opening night because he cut Kevin Love's postseason short (one-game suspension), the Canadian is looking to have a good season. After participating with his country's national team in the FIBA America's tournament, Olynyk started off the preseason great, then faded into the background by the end. What keeps holding him back is missed defensive assignments and getting into quick foul trouble.
Had arguably the best preseason a year ago when he was a guaranteed starter. This time around it looks as though Sullinger had to earn every single minute of playing time. Had a decent 15-minute outing in Italy then went on a horrible slump until he had a brushing with Kyle O'Quinn of the Knicks. Whatever the reason, Sully wrap his preseason on a high-note with a double-digit scoring and rebounding game. Let's see how his conditioning is put to the test this year.
Had one semi-decent outing in the Celtics only loss of the preseason, Young still doesn't look NBA ready and will spent a lot of time up north again. The 20-year old's only claim to fame is his shooting ability and at 28-percent in seven games, that's going to further keep him at the end of the bench.
Celtics coach has his work cut out for him as it's his first season (third overall) where he will feel some sort of pressure due to last year's playoff appearance. Stevens looks to add to his resumé and the win column by embracing the challenge of having a 'deep' team. ESPN has Boston finishing at 48-34, an eight-game improvement from 2014-15. In the last 18-months no one expected the C's to be more than another lottery team after all the trades, but Stevens has found a way for his players to buy-in and without a superstar. If he keeps this up, Stevens could be reminiscent of a particular coach out west.
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