A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The upside of a perimeter like Boston’s Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder in the modern NBA

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After trading Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green Danny Ainge built a treasure chest full of mid to late 1st round picks. The strategy behind the picks is as much having the firepower to make a Kevin Garnett or James Harden like trade as to draft an all-star with those picks.

Despite making the playoffs last year dissatisfaction with the Celtics plan is starting to grow. Drafting Terry Rozier 16th overall did not help matters. In the words of many such as Bill Simmons the Celtics have a roster full of quality depth players rather than all-star caliber starters.

The Celtics frontcourt is undeniably imperfect. Kelly Olynyk’s perimeter skills have value in the modern game but will likely always struggle defensively and on the glass. Jared Sullinger has the ability to create shots in the post but has below average scoring efficiency and defense. Tyler Zeller is an efficient scorer and competent defender at C but doesn’t space the floor. Amir Johnson is a quality two way pick-up but declined last year in Toronto and is on a short contract. These players may all be better served as backup big men on an elite team.

I am higher on the upside of their perimeter. What the Celtics perimeter helps show is the paradigm shift in upside in the modern NBA. In a summer where DeMarre Carroll made 14 million a year, Danny Green’s 11 million a year was a steal and Wesley Matthews made 17.5 million a year, Jae Crowder’s 7 million a year contract by the Celtics represents a new type of high upside signing. Crowder only shot 28.2% with the Celtics last year, but in his last full season with Dallas shot 33.1% from 3, followed by 34.2% with the Mavericks for 25 games this season. His increase to 3 attempts a game in Boston may have hurt his numbers. Crowder is also a strong defensive player and has the potential to develop into a Carroll or Danny Green if his 3pt shooting shoots upward. At SG the Celtics have an elite defender in Avery Bradley who shot 35.2% from 3 on 4.6 attempts a game this year, but the season before hit 39.5% from 3 on 3.3 attempts a game. Despite neither projecting as a high upside shot creator this combination has strong upside in another way. If both reached their highest potential as outside shooters the Celtics ability to defend and space the floor from those positions would provide dynamic value in today’s NBA.

That’s not to say their weaknesses can just be ignored. There’s value in shot creating in the NBA by helping create those open 3s. The Golden State Warriors have a fantastic ability to defend and hit open 3s with players like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson, but Thompson and Stephen Curry’s ability to draw defensive attention and multiple defenders is critical to allowing players like Iguodala to be open.

Jared Sullinger’s volume scoring helps, but the key for the Celtics going forward in this area is point guard. Their 6th man Isaiah Thomas is precisely that type of high volume scorer and he showed it by averaging a whopping 26.4 points per 36 minutes last year for the Celtics, with 18.8 FGA and 9 FTA per 36 minutes. A key is Marcus Smart’s development into more than just a defender and shooter. He has the athleticism to drive and collapse the defense which could help him be the facilitator the Celtics starting lineup needs.

If the Celtics perimeter reaches their upside they could be potent. Bradley and Crowder could provide elite floor spacing and defense at SG and SF, while Marcus Smart plays defense, hits 3s and drive to create open shots for them. The combination of Smart, Bradley and Crowder from a shooting 3s and playing defense perspective could be deadly. Isaiah Thomas could come up the bench and provided needed shot creation and efficient and help the Celtics take even more 3s.

They’re not a guarantee to get there. Bradley and Crowder could stall as mediocre outside shooters and Smart could struggle to penetrate to the basket long term. Without better 3pt shooting teams may not respect their range enough for the Celtics to get full floor-spacing value from these shots. Isaiah Thomas could end up a journeyman like Kevin Martin and Lou Williams, a professional scorer who’s defensive weaknesses prevent him from sticking in any winning situation for too long.

But this uncertainty doesn’t separate them from the other rebuilding teams in the league. Franchises like Philadelphia, Orlando and Minnesota also have a high upside scenario if their players pan out and will need a plan B if they don’t. The Celtics are not fortunate enough to have guaranteed success but because of the value of players who defend and shoot 3s the upside on the perimeter is there to contend. If it doesn’t pan out extra draft picks from teams like Brooklyn and Dallas and free agency plans in 2016 and 2017 along with the potential to one day make a blockbuster trade will give them a backup plan.

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Written by jr.

July 28, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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