Tag Archives: Future of the Boston Celtics

2017 NBA Draft: Celtics take Tatum, Ojeleye, and another Bird

The Boston Celtics spent the last week driving the NBA internet nuts. Perhaps Mike Zarren has found a way to garner bitcoin off of search engine traffic related to Boston. The last week was full of peak-speculation and one actual trade that involved the top pick. This doesn’t happen. But it happened. And it will be okay, Celtics fans. Fultz does seem like a special talent…but remember that its easy to dream on 19 and 20 year-olds and convince yourself that your dreams of their success will soon become reality. After reading through Jonathan Abrams’ fantastic Boys Among Men, it will become clear just how uncertain the process of drafting young men one or two years out of high school with the hopes that they become world-class professional hoops magicians by age 23 or 24…how uncertain that process really is. By the way, read the book. Abrams is one of the better sportswriters working today, going deep with his profiles, unearthing deeper truths.

Still, despite the uncertainty, we read enough about a player and we believe. We love the player before he dons the uniform of our tribe…and then we regularly scorn the player for actually making his own choice about where to work. Free-agency was hard-won in all professional sports, but as fans, most of us remain focused on what we want out of the athlete, not on what the athlete wants for his or herself. Some make the argument that having a deeper level of sympathy or compassion for a man making $100 million over four years is too much to ask. Kind of like how the question of reparations for slavery is too much for many to even consider. Here we have a situation, the NBA Draft, where we obsess about potential, the future, and “assets.” The perfect cocktail for the internet age, where trade rumors spread like California wildfires and nothing ever makes any sense. And yet…there were a few impacting trades made this year, as we led up to the draft.

Boston Celtics

First GM Danny Ainge trades the top pick to Philadelphia for the 3rd pick, plus the 2018 Lakers pick if LA’s pick lands in the 2–5 spot next June. But if that Lakers pick doesn’t hit the high lottery sweet spot, Philadelphia will instead send a 2019 first-rounder to Boston that it acquired from the Sacramento Kings in the infamous Sauce Castillo (Nik Stauskas) swindle. The Kings will gradually improve with DeAaron Fox and Justin Jackson helping, but they’ll have a tough time winning 45 games in the crowded west by April of 2019. Watching Fox, I was amazed. Normally, I can’t watch NCAA Tournament for too long without getting annoyed by all the TV timeouts and the stagnant offense, but DeAaron Fox is really fast. John Wall-Isaiah type fast. He got wherever he wanted on the floor with his wiry frame. He’ll be fun.

So, this Celtics pick via Philly will either be great (Lakers, 2018) or possibly great (mid-to-late lottery, Kings 2019).

Why did Danny do it?

A half-dozen possible reasons:

  • Fultz and Isaiah wouldn’t be the most-ideal fit together.
  • Tatum can score in isolation and from the post. His body is more developed than the lanky Fultz. He’s 6’8″ and will be able to give the Celtics options in figuring out who will be the better long-term fit, Tatum or Jaylen Brown. Boston’s bench scoring needed a lift. They get it cheaply so they can attempt a free-agent run at Hayward/Griffin
  • The Lakers 2018 pick was too good a possibility to pass up. Not only could it be a top five pick…it was the rival Lakers pick we’d be stealing. Speaking of the Lakers, they got out from under what would have been a prickly situation with Ball coming in and reducing D’Angelo Russell to an afterthought. Instead, Russell may become an afterthought in Brooklyn (hope not, he doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet). Clearing out Mozgov’s contract allows the Lakers fans to clear the red carpet for LeBron. Aging LeBron on 50-win Lakers in three years seems like a kind of minor tragedy.
  • They just really like Tatum and weren’t 100% in on Fultz becoming a once-every-five-years type of talent. Who knows?
  • They saved just over $1 million based on draft pick slot (3rd instead of 1st), which gives them a bit more to offer Hayward/Griffin.

From Chris Forsberg (ESPN Boston):

Ainge said the Celtics would have picked Tatum with the first pick if they had stayed in that spot before moving down to №3 in a trade earlier this week with the Philadelphia 76ers. Ainge gushed about both Tatum’s scoring potential and his versatility on the defensive end.

“We liked his size and length and rebounding and shooting. [His] Intelligence [and] character,” Ainge said. “There’s a lot to like about Jayson. He’s going to be a terrific player.”

Asked about trade rumors, including whispers that the Celtics were pursuing New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis, Ainge said, “I don’t comment on trade rumors. I will say this: It was a little blown out of proportion but I’ll just leave it at that. A lot more talk by [the media].”

Jayson Tatum: Let’s Take Him

From everything I’ve read, Jayson Tatum will be a very good isolation scorer…perhaps even soon…like within two years.

A link to a Tatum story from 2015, via STL Today. Tatum is from St. Louis.

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/benjamin-hochman/hochman-like-godfather-like-godson-jayson-tatum-is-on-track/article_9599b815-ebc5-5a6a-8743-1cd389e3b0a7.html

Tatum’s Draft Express Profile: http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Jayson-Tatum-7249/

Fortunately the Celtics have a 53-win team that will probably add a high-level free-agent (Hayward still seems like the most likely possibility), and that will likely be it. No fireworks! None! Just a clear blue sky with a bright fucking future. Can we handle that?

Part of the issue is the culture of fandom is obsessed with stars. But sometimes the guys that become stars are unheralded. Sometimes they are picked 35th, sometimes they’re picked last (Isaiah). Sometimes, they’re not picked at all (Jonathan Simmons! Remember how good he was against Houston a month ago?)

Second Round Celtics Pick: Semi Ojeleye (SMU)

SI profile of Ojeleye from February:

https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2017/02/28/semi-ojeleye-smu-mustangs

From The Ringer:

There aren’t many sure-bets for the 3-and-D role in this year’s draft. Reed stands out as a good one — so does Villanova wing Josh Hart and the SMU duo of Sterling Brown and Semi Ojeleye. They’re all hiding in plain sight: Brown could go undrafted, and Ojeleye is likely a late-first-rounder at best. Ojeleye in particular, with his chiseled, Wreck-It Ralph body, has remarkable potential. There’s little doubt he will be able to effectively defend multiple positions. He also plays with intensity, which manifests in chase-down blocks.

Jabari Bird, 56th pick from Cal.

The Celtics had a chance to pick Bird again. So they did.

Wolves Howling

Anyway, the Timberwolves have some happy fans right now. They got the star. Jimmy Butler doesn’t have to move far to relocate from Chicago to Minneapolis. He’s headed for more snow this December. And Wolves fans are ecstatic. A core of Dieng-Towns-Butler-Wiggins-Rubio will battle for home court in the west, while the Clippers descend into mediocrity when Chris Paul and Griffin bolt, and the Jazz and Grizzlies try to hold firm to 48+ wins. Utah is balancing treacherously on the what-if-we-lose-Hayward?-waterslide. I’m happy for Thibs. I’m happy for Towns. I’m happy for Rubio. They need one more shooter…

Lingering Questions for Boston

Gordon Hayward?

Blake Griffin?

More trade speculation around Paul George, who probably needs a new public relations team. George has made it perfectly clear he’d like to stop playing basketball until he can move back to southern California.

Official signing date for free agents: July 9.

***

I wrote a basketball-themed memoir. It’s a collection of personal essays and reflections on the game of basketball, fandom, and identity. From childhood memories of growing up with the Boston Celtics, to playing the sport as a means of coping with adolescence, this is about basketball as a means of connection. Whether playing, watching, reading and writing about the NBA, or absorbing the intensity of being in the arena, the game has me firmly in its grasp. The book is my way of appreciating basketball and fandom.

http://www.blurb.com/b/8005459-the-dusty-jumper

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2016–17 Boston Celtics Preview with Jared Schaeffer and Steve Zukoff

Jared Schaeffer is such a steady Boston Celtics fan that he never turned on Antoine Walker. Jared was always a fan of the Antoine wiggle. Steve Zukoff has been a devoted Celtics fan since the days of Greg Kite and Darren Daye (okay, the original Big Three). They both know their Celtics. They took a few minutes to consider the 2016–17 Celtics season as we count down to the opening tip.

Salaries: http://hoopshype.com/salaries/boston_celtics/

Q. Can Kelly Olynyk become the constant deep threat that Ainge and Stevens need him to be? You might interpret this question as: Will Olynyk stay healthy and productive (70+ games, 20–25 min/game, 40% from distance)?

S: With Sullinger gone (fine by me) Kelly should get 20+ minutes every night. He has improved incrementally year by year but still had some occasions last year when he disappeared for stretches. His signature game last year as far as I can recall was the Golden State game at home, where he was aggressive even during the final minutes with the NBA world watching. He has the game offensively, hopefully he can develop consistency and confidence to take his game to the next level and be that “stretch 4” sixth man. Need all the offense we can get with him to offset his mediocre defense.

J: I think 70+ games is probably out of the question, but hopefully I’m wrong. He probably won’t begin to play until mid-November. If he can play like he did during the middle of last year, that would be fantastic. 40% seems attainable. Hopefully it comes with a decent number of attempts.

Q. Will Marcus Smart develop enough offensive skills to turn the corner and become a fully-fledged two-way player? To me, the three main skills he needs are: corner 3-pt range, decision making in the lane, finishing at the rim.

A secondary question for Smart: Will he stay healthy enough to extend next summer? The team has a 4th year option which they will undoubtedly pick up after the season either way, but extending him after his third year would make things clearer down the road.

J: I don’t think we’re going to see an amazing leap forward from Smart offensively. If he can shoot 30% from three and reasonably handle point guard duties off the bench, that should be enough. His defense is consistently amazing enough that he’s a benefit to the team even when he can’t shoot. Without offensive improvement, I’m not sure what the market is for him. He’s basically looking like a stronger, slightly less wild Tony Allen at this point.

S: I’m not sure about Smart. His defense and tenacity are unquestioned. However, with the emergence of Rozier, it might be best to explore moving him and a pick for someone like an Aldridge if you can. His shooting was brutal at times last year and he has a bad reputation with refs as a whiner, which subconsciously at least, does not give him the benefit of the doubt on calls. He also does seem injury prone. Still possible for him to improve his game, but if Rozier really becomes as good as people think he can be, is having Thomas/Bradley/Rozier/Smart too much of a logjam? Most people thought it was when Rozier was drafted. So part of this answer depends on how good Rozier is, and perhaps there’s a tiny bit of Demetrius Jackson to factor into the decision. Either way, I’m not all-in on Marcus for the extended future as of now….

Q. I’ve read one scout’s take on the small forward position as being in limbo after this year. Jae Crowder is a fan favorite, a relentless defender, is on a ridiculously cheap contract for his value, and is signed through the summer of 2020. On the other hand, Jaylen Brown may become a better all-around player than Crowder within two years. Brown’s athleticism is undeniable and he is already showing defensive versatility.

Multi-part question: If Jaylen improves his shot quickly, might Ainge consider Crowder expendable after this year?

If so, should Crowder be used as trade bait (along with the 2017 BKN pick-swap) to try and acquire an offensive big like LaMarcus Aldridge (rumors of Aldridge being slightly unhappy in San Antonio may be overblown) or DeMarcus Cousins, or call up Chicago about Jimmy Butler again?

Jaylen Brown, Boston’s highest overall pick (3rd) since Chauncey Billups (1997). (photo via: http://www.nba.com)

 

J: I think Jae’s contract may be too awesome to trade him, and I think one year won’t be enough for Jaylen to make him expendable. Playing both is an interesting option, especially with so many teams playing small. I would certainly trade him for Cousins. Aldridge is a little old for my taste (older than Horford, which surprised me); Butler is a better version of Crowder on a much more expensive deal, not sure it is worth it.

S: It’s extremely early, but Brown looks very good so far. Bob Ryan is very high on him, which he doesn’t just say about anyone. (like Tommy Heinsohn does…love Tommy but he is blindly optimistic about every Celtic) I’m definitely a Jae fan and with that contract I think it’s OK to make him your sixth man if Brown becomes that good that he would start over Crowder. Crowder is still young and may not quite have peaked yet, but Brown does have more upside. I’m not sure what the Gerald Green contract is, but if Brown emerges, you could say goodbye to Gerald and keep Crowder as a 3 and occasional 4 in smaller lineups off the bench. Of course, if you could get someone in the right deal, I wouldn’t rule out trading Crowder, but based on what I said in an earlier question, I be more apt to deal Smart than Crowder. I’d guess Crowder would have a little more value right now but I don’t think by a significant margin. Let’s see what happens with Jaylen Brown, but if he becomes that good that he has to start, it’s a good problem to have.

Q. This is jumping ahead, but…it might be best to play Crowder and Jaylen even minutes by next year. Do either/both see time at the power forward spot so the Celtics can go small and out-run slower teams?

S: You can throw Jae and even Jaylen at PF when the time is right. Still very early though. In a perfect world, yes they would have comparable minutes, but let’s see where we are around the new year with how Brown is doing before considering how to approach Brown significantly cutting into Crowder’s playing time.

J: Yeah, I think we’ll see a lot of Crowder at power forward. Smart can probably play the 3 so you could go small with a crazy defensive team of Bradley, Rozier, Smart, Crowder and Horford. The multi-position flexibility of Smart and Crowder on defense should give them a lot of options.

Q. What is Terry Rozier’s ceiling this year? What is his floor? Does he have the potential to cut into Smart’s future as a Celtic? The man can leap!

J: I think solid bench contributor is probably the ceiling. He should get a chance early on with Smart on the bench to play a lot. I’m not sure about his point guard skills, but he seems to have dramatically improved his shot over the summer. I could see Rozier eventually cutting into Smart’s future as a Celtic; could also see him speeding up a timeline where they trade Isaiah, especially if they don’t get a big free agent this summer.

S: The ceiling for Rozier is overtaking Smart and becoming the first guard off the bench. I’m not sure he can go higher than that, which would be overtaking either Thomas or Bradley in the starting lineup. Hard to see him going back to where was in the first half of last year though, with a bunch of DNPs. He certainly has a lot of athleticism and overall talent that just had to be brought out with more minutes and confidence, which he got in the second half of last year. So his floor to me is not that low. I guess you could say then that the floor would be that Stevens trusts Smart over him and that he’s relegated to 8–10 minutes per game…but it’s hard for me to imagine Demetrius Jackson being ahead of him.

Q. We know Al Horford and Jaylen Brown have improved the Celtics. The team won 48 games last year, and their point-differential had them closer to an expected-50 wins. The East has fewer weak teams than it has in recent years, with another cluster of teams likely to compete for 4th-8th playoff seeds. Barring injury, how many wins are you expecting this year?

J: 51 wins and the 2 seed is my guess. The East is so crowded they could finish 5th again, too!

S: I’ll go with 53 wins, a possible 2 seed and no lower than a 4 seed.

Jonah Predicts: 52 wins, 2nd seed.

Q. When the dust settles on the 2016–17 season, what will have made this year a successful one for the Boston Celtics?

J: Winning a playoff series and having the young players improve would make it a successful season. Hopefully Jaylen proves he’s a prospect worth the third pick in the draft, Rozier shows that summer league and preseason weren’t a fluke, and Marcus learns to shoot. I’m ready for Bradley to magically learn how to pass as well. This is the year.

S: It’s time to win a playoff series. I think if they can at least get to the 2nd round, the season will be a modest success. Hopefully though, they can get to the East Finals. I think last year, it was a little premature to think that they could get there, as a lot of people were saying. This year, if everything breaks right, they certainly could be the best team in the East besides Cleveland. So to finish answering the question, getting to the East Finals would be a very successful season, but barring a Lebron injury, I don’t see how they get further than that. Realistically, they’re not a contender to win an NBA Championship. I think they would have been if they could have gotten Durant. They’re still one star away from having a chance in a 7-game series with whomever comes out of the West. (OK, the Warriors) They’ll still have the same ammo to get another star next year. (Money and another Brooklyn pick) Speaking of that and referring to an earlier question, something else besides a Jaylen Brown emergence could happen that would make Crowder possible trade bait over the summer. His name is Gordon Hayward.

Q. What are you biggest concerns heading into the season?

J: Rebounding, shooting, playmaking off the bench. They didn’t shoot or rebound well last year and I’m not sure the roster changes amount to improvement in those areas. On paper they seemed to overachieve last year; the expectations are much higher around the league this year, will they live up to them?

S: Can Smart, Rozier, and Olynyk take their games to the next level? Can Bradley and Horford continue to improve from 3-point range? What are they going to get at the 4 from Amir Johnson as a starter? Is Jaylen Brown really ready to make a significant contribution at 19 years old? Or will we be asking why they didn’t take Kris Dunn and turn him into Jahlil Okafor instead?

Al Horford has dunked on three Nets at once. I would have added a picture of him on the Celtics, but this was too great a picture to deny. (via slamonline)

Q. What are you most looking forward to?

J: Watching Horford every night. Crowder, Smart and Bradley shutting people down.

S: Seeing the development of Jaylen Brown, and how much of a difference Al Horford can make.

Q. Any other observations or ideas?

J: Gerald Green could be key, which seems crazy to say all of these years later. Having a guy that can create his own shot that isn’t Isaiah will be nice.

S: Considering this is year four of a rebuild, with the way the NBA is set up, and understanding that KG/Ray Allen deals are extremely rare, Celtics fans should be satisfied with where we are at this time.

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Ode to Phil Pressey, Diminutive Back-Up Point Guard (Future Los Angeles Clipper reserve)

The Phil Pressey Era has ended in Boston. GM Danny Ainge accidentally drafted too many guards (well, perhaps on purpose…Terry Rozier looked good in summer league) and now mighty Phil has been waived. Here’s a look back at one of the craftiest and gritty point guards to don Celtic green in the last decade. The little engine that could: Phil Pressey. Let’s hope he catches on with another team soon…

***

 

Without shoes, Phil Pressey is 5’9″ and one-half inches tall.  He is the son of former NBA-player Paul Pressey, a two-time NBA All-Defensive team player who was a stabilizing force for the Milwaukee Bucks of the 1980s.  Paul Pressey is 6’5″.  His other son, Matt, is 6’2″.  Both Matt and Phil played hoops at the University of Missouri.  It was the younger Pressey, listed at 5’11” (with shoes), who found his way onto an NBA court.  When you watch Phil Pressey scramble around the TD Garden parquet, you can’t help but appreciate the low odds, the mere fact that he is there, scrapping and clawing with his skilled ball-handling and his defensive determination.  As I watched Pressey with fellow Celtics fan friends Jared and Eric a few weeks ago, we wondered how short his mom must be, considering his dad is 6’5″.  Though we were able to use the tools of the interweb to discover his mother played college hoops at Tulsa, we were unable to gain this critical bit of information.

Phil Pressey did something good.  Jared Sullinger was thankful.

Phil Pressey did something good. Jared Sullinger was thankful.

As a 5’8″ high school senior, Phil Pressey dunked on some unknown taller player.  The kind of play that epitomizes his fearlessness.

Phil Pressey’s sophomore season at Missouri began to make scouts drool.  Surrounded by talented shooters, Pressey’s penetration and court-vision sparked Missouri’s offense.  He finished the season with 6.4 assists per game. Though his shooting was suspect, Pressey’s game was gaining notice. Over the course of three seasons at Missouri, Pressey never shot better than 42.8% from the field, and his best season behind the college arc was a mere 36.5%.

Like Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues before him, Pressey made his impact on the defensive end, hounding opponents and averaging 2 steals per game through his college career.  His draft profile highlighted his ball-handling and play-making ability, as well as his quickness.  Pressey handed out over 7 assists per game as a junior.  The decision to enter the NBA draft after a solid, but not spectacular, junior season, was a curious one. As the draft wound down, Pressey found himself without a team.

With Rajon Rondo on the sideline for what looked to be like a sizable chunk of the upcoming season, Celtics GM Danny Ainge had an eye on the pint-sized point guard.  After a nice stretch in the summer league, Ainge quietly signed Pressey to a three-year league-minimum salary.  What did Ainge see in Pressey?  A younger, less dynamic, but more stable version of the electric Nate Robinson? Another Muggsy Bogues?  Pressey’s quickness, and his ability to make the right decisions with steady ball-handling and pick-and-roll awareness made him a high-floor prospect.  At worst, Pressey can take care of the ball, while pushing the pace, and offering himself as a nuisance on defense.  At best, he will develop a jump-shot and raise his ceiling considerably.  Remember, some of the biggest steals of the draft over the last few years are players whose shooting range was suspect coming out of school (Rajon Rondo, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard).

Starting an NBA career

Thirty-one games into his young career, Pressey is doing exactly as advertised.  In 12 minutes per game, Little Phil is averaging 2.1 assists to only 0.7 turnovers (a 3:1 ratio).  He’s also caused some havoc by collecting a total of 23 steals.  A juicy nugget: 23 steals and only 21 turnovers.  That is downright lovely.  Unfortunately, Pressey’s inability to connect with the net is painfully obvious. The numbers: 4 of 27 from distance (14.8% is rather unseemly).  From within the arc, he hasn’t been much better: 15 of 47 (32%). In fact, Pressey is one of the few NBA players with whom you can play the game: Will he or won’t he take a shot?  In two games, Pressey has played 14+ minutes and refused to shoot.  He has attempted a single field goal in 11 games.  Watching the Celtics bench attempt to score can be rather painful, as they’ve been playing a five-man group (Pressey-Lee-Wallace-Humphries-Olynyk) that has three offensive liabilities on the court at one time.  With Courtney Lee now in Memphis, Jerryd Bayless or Keith Bogans will be taking up the reserve 2-guard role until Rondo’s return, which will slide Crawford to the bench.

On the whole, despite the woeful outside shot, Phil Pressey’s presence has been a plus.  Given more productive shooters around him, he’d be even more valuable, as he can create off the dribble, something the Celtics sorely need.  Practicing against Rajon Rondo will only further to develop his already good defensive game.

Really, though, there’s one reason I’m writing about Phil Pressey: I love watching the little guys.  Under six feet tall and in the NBA? The man is determined.  Tell him he’s too small.  Tell him he can’t shoot.  Tell him he’s lucky to be there.  He’s on a mission to show the NBA he belongs.  We’re behind you, Phil.

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