June 24, 2016, 12:00 pm
In their second season under wunderkind coach Brad Stevens the Celtics earned another playoff bid, securing the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. Between his innovative coaching and the stellar play of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder the team finished with their first winning record since 2012, and pushed the Hawks to six games before bowing out of the playoffs. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what happened in Boston.
Since the end of the Big-Three era, Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge has taken a patient approach to rebuilding the franchise. The organization resisted the urge to go all-in on any particular path, and instead have collected assets since sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. The team now sits in prime position to snatch up the next great Celtics’ star once he present himself.
Last offseason we heard speculation that the team was on the verge of acquiring DeMarcus Cousins or Kevin Love, but those deals never materialized. The organization continues to possess the assets to insert themselves into any trade conversation, but after being repeatedly rebuffed they were forced to pivot in another direction, and reinvented themselves in Stevens’ image.
Instead of being constructed around a singular talent, the Celtics have established an identity as a team without a star. They found success by maximizing the strengths of their rotation players and playing at a fevered pace. This philosophy allowed for players like Thomas and Crowder to thrive, as their maniacal energy was expertly channeled within Stevens’ system.
On draft night the Celtics engaged in talks with the Bulls to try and lure Jimmy Butler to Boston, but again came away empty hand. Instead they drafted Jaylen Brown out of Cal with the third overall pick. He’s an intriguing prospect, but will fight for rotation minutes next season. Look for Boston to continue to explore every avenue to acquire a star as the summer continues, but for now it looks as though we are headed for another year of the status quo in New England.
In his very brief time in the NBA, Stevens has already established himself as one of the league’s primer coaches. When he was hired, Ainge was very clear that the team was entering an extended rebuilding process, but Stevens – seemingly through sheer force of will – kept the Celtics in the playoff hunt.
Boston emerged as a defensive stalwart in 2015-16, when they finished as the as the fourth most efficient defensive team in the NBA. The frenetic perimeter trio of Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart made life hell for opposing guards and wings. Offensively, the Celtics were closer to the middle of the pack, finishing just 13th in offensive efficiency. The team made up for their lack of offensive talent (beyond Thomas) by bombing away from deep.
On the whole, the Celtics’ pace and Stevens’ coaching will make the team a prime location for fantasy stats, as both talented and marginal players have seen a boost in production upon arriving in Boston.
ADP: 53/75 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 20/24 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 27/34 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
In 2015-16 Thomas was named to his first All-Star Game, making him the first Celtic to attend since the end of the Big-Three era. While such an accolade on its own might not indicate much, the achievement symbolized the symbiotic fit between Thomas and the Celtics. With the exception of his breakout season in Sacramento, Thomas has been overlooked throughout his career. He was labeled as too small or too selfish, rather than actually being assessed by his performance on the floor and impact in the locker room.
In Boston, Thomas found a home. As the offensive engine for the Celtics’ motley band, he found traction and consistency for the first time in his career. Stevens intrusted him with running the show, and Thomas did not disappoint in his first full year as a starter, averaging 22.4 points, three rebounds, 6.1 assists and two threes per contest. Moreover, he was phenomenal at the free throw line, averaging 86.6% on nearly seven attempts per game. Thomas is everything you want in a modern point guard: he gets to the line, drains it from deep, and dishes as well as he scores.
Thomas was a drag on your field goal percentage, as he shot just 42.5% on 17.1 attempts per game. He is a gifted shooter and creator, though, and his shooting percentage in Boston probably has more to do with the offensive load he shoulders than Thomas’ abilities. He was significantly more efficient in Sacramento, so an influx of talent in Boston could open the floor for Thomas and boost his shooting percentage.
Next season Thomas should again be a top flight fantasy asset. Unless the Celtics miraculously land Kevin Durant next month Thomas’ usage should remain high, making him well worth a pick in the early part of the third round.
ADP: 140/124 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 46/33 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 47/30 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 73
Crowder seized the Celtics’ starting small forward spot last offseason and ran with it in 2015-16. In fact, one could argue that Crowder was perhaps the biggest fantasy steal of the season. After being drafted outside the top-120 in almost every league, Crowder was a must start player by season’s end. In his breakout campaign he proved himself a prototypical 3-and-D player, spacing the floor on offense while also proving to be an incredibly adaptable defender.
In fantasy, Crowder’s versatility is what makes him so special. In averaging 1.7 steals, 1.7 threes and 0.5 blocks he helped owners in the rarest statistical categories. Moreover, to find such high volume production in terms of threes and steals, while also getting something in blocks, from a single player is immensely valuable. In addition to his contributions in money categories, Crowder also chipped in 13.8 points, 5.2 boards, 1.9 assists and 1.1 turnovers per game, rounding out his game nicely.
Looking ahead, there is little reason to assume Crowder can’t continue to build upon his impressive 2015-16. His versatility provides a phenomenal floor for his fantasy value, and he could be being even more impactful in his second year as a full time starter in Boston.
ADP: 112/123 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 63/56 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 71/62 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 76
In many ways Bradley was the diet version of Crowder in fantasy (though not by much). He played a similar role for the Celtics, offering fantasy owners a little more scoring and threes with a little less in blocks and steals than his teammate. All told, Bradley was a fantastic value this season, as he outperformed his draft position by six or seven rounds depending on your league’s formatt.
On the court Bradley averaged 15.2 points, 1.9 threes, 2.9 boards, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals. He doesn’t offer a ton in the traditional counting stats, but makes up for it with his production in threes and steals, where he provides specialists level number without taking anything off the table. He improved his field goal percentage to 44.8% as well, easily his best mark since taking on a starting role.
Bradley did miss six regular season contests, as well as five postseason games, with various lower leg injuries in 2015-16, putting a slight damper on his breakout season. While none of his more recent injuries have been particularly alarming, he has yet to play a full season in the NBA. While minor concerns might not be enough to bump Bradley down your draft board, it seems safe to assume he’ll miss a few weeks every year.
ADP: 117/121 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 83/75 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 116/104 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Sullinger took a reduced role in 2015-16, as the addition of Amir Johnson left fewer available rotation minutes in the frontcourt. Still, Sullinger was underrated coming into the season and continued to meaningfully contribute as a rebounding specialist for his owners. In averaging 9.9 points, eight boards, 2.2 assists and 0.9 steals in just under 23 minutes per game he demonstrated his ability to thrive in a bench role.
The problem with Sullinger, however, has always been his inability to help you in traditional big man categories outside of rebounding. It’s nice to snag some out of position assists, but Sullinger shoots just 42.9% from the floor, a putrid mark for a power forward. His inability to play above the rim also impacts him defensively, as he averaged just 0.5 blocks per game.
Sullinger is a fine role player, and can help a team in need of boards or an unconventional source of assists, but owners might be better suited trying to grab a player with more upside in their drafts.
ADP: 119/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 74/98 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 108/130 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
The king of popcorn stats reprised his role in Boston for a second year, yet again making solid contributions in easily supplemented fantasy categories. Snarkiness aside, Turner did offer owners a nice blend of points (10.7 per game), boards (five per game) and assists (4.4) as well as multi-positional eligibility. He’s also proved remarkably durable, playing in at least 81 games in each of his last four seasons.
The problem with Turner in fantasy is, and always has been, his paltry contributions in threes, steals and blocks. While he does give owners a little bit in each category, his averages are well below fellow players at his position. In 2015-16 he averaged just 0.3 threes, one steal and 0.4 blocks per contest. Yikes. Turner will have some value as long as he gets minutes in Stevens’ system, just don’t go reaching for him based on his cursory counting stats.
ADP: 117/125 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 89/78 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 121/110 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79
In terms of real basketball production, Johnson was phenomenal for the Celtics this season. His work as a rim protector and ability to disrupt pick-and-rolls 20 feet from the hoop had a lot to do with the team’s defensive resurgence. In fantasy, however, his minutes and production dipped as a result of Boston’s crowded frontcourt. He averaged just 7.4 points and 6.4 boards in 22.7 minutes per game.
Where Johnson differentiates himself from a player like Sullinger, however, is in his defensive contributions. Johnson averaged 1.1 blocks and 0.6 steals per contest, allowing him to remain valuable in his reduced role. He also shot 59.1% from the floor on 5.4 attempts per game, which was just enough to make a positive player rater impact in that category as well.
ADP: 120/120 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 179/169 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 135/137 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 61
Smart did not improve nearly as much as fantasy owners might have hoped in his second season. He was again hampered by lower leg injuries and continued to struggle shooting the ball when he was on the floor. Smart finished with averages of 9.4 points, 1.1 treys, 4.2 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 steals on 35% shooting from the floor. The threes and swipes are useful in fantasy, but Smart’s horrendous efficiency has a noticeable negative impact on fantasy squads. He’s developed into an elite defender, but fantasy owners should let someone else reach for him in the later rounds of drafts next fall.
ADP: N/A / 135 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 154/145 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 151/142 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 69
Outside of his three-point shooting Olynyk offered little to fantasy owners in his 69 games this season. All of Boston’s big men cannibalized each other to some extent, and Olynyk probably got the short end of the stick from a fantasy perspective. Averaging 19.5 minutes, 9.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.2 threes, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks he barely clung on to standard league value. If Olynyk can find his way to more playing time his shooting and steals potential would make him interesting, but until then he’s little more than a gamble.
The Celtics continue to tread water as they look for their next superstar, acquiring assets and chasing down every available trade lead. That said, between Stevens, Thomas and Crowder they’ve managed to make the status quo highly entertaining. Even if they again fail to pull off a blockbuster trade or miraculous free agency signing, they still should remain highly competitive in the East as they bide their time. One thing’s for certain, Boston continues to be a team to monitor in 2016-17.