Boston Celtics offseason review

Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images   Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo by Kelly Kline/Getty Images Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /

As the NBA offseason plows ahead we’re taking some time to pause and assess the work each team is doing, building for the present and future. Today, we’re looking at the Boston Celtics.

The Boston Celtics have been a slow-burning rebuild since the departure of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. With all those assets finally coalescing into a playoff team, this offseason was crucial in preparing the roster for the next steps.

Inputs: Jaylen Brown (SF, NBA Draft pick No. 3); Demetrius Jackson (PG, NBA Draft pick No. 45); Ben Bentil (PF, NBA Draft pick No. 51); Abdel Nader (SF, NBA Draft pick No. 58); Al Horford (C, signed for four years, $113 million); Gerald Green (SF, signed for one year, $1.4 million)

Outputs: Evan Turner (SG, signed with the Portland Trail Blazers); Jared Sullinger (PF, signed with the Toronto Raptors),

Retained: Tyler Zeller (C, signed for two years, $16 million)

Pending:  None

Boston was linked to just about every major NBA star this summer but in the end, their free agent haul came down to Al Horford. He may not have been the transformative star they were hoping for but he’s a tremendous asset. A mobile two-way big man, Horford is capable of improving the Celtics significantly at both ends of the floors. His skill set is also fundamentally complementary which should allow the rest of this young roster to continue developing unimpeded.

The Celtics reportedly worked hard to trade their first pick in the draft but when a deal didn’t materialize, they settled on Jaylen Brown. He is an athletic wing with tremendous defensive potential. Offensively, he’s mostly limited to straight line drives at this point but there is some hope that he’ll eventually be someone who can create his own shot off the dribble. Brown was also an inconsistent jump shooter in college, something that will need to improve dramatically if he’s ever to reach his potential.

The rest of the Celtics draft picks turned into low-risk lottery tickets. Demetrius Jackson, Ben Bentil, and Abdel Nader will likely spend significant portions of the year in Portland, Maine with the Celtics D-League team, if they make the roster. Each has the potential to contribute down the road but will be squeezed for minutes on a crowded roster. In addition, the Celtics picked up three potential-laden prospects — Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, and Rade Zagorac — who will play overseas next season.

It may not have been the home run they were looking for, but Horford makes the team definitively better and the rest of their young assets roll over as Danny Ainge continues to hunt for the established star to put this team back on top.

3 Big Questions

To really dig deep on Boston’s offseason, I’m leaning on friends with some Celtics expertise. Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) is an editor for SBNation’s Celtics Blog and a contributor to CSNNE, SBNation, Sporting News, and Draftexpress. Andrew Johnson (@CountingBaskets) is a regular contributor to FanSided’s Nylon Calculus. Evans Clinchy (@EvansClinchy) is a contributor to Celtics Blog, The Cauldron, and SBNation’s Blazers Edge.

Kevin, Andrew, and Evans were nice enough to help out by answering three big questions about Boston’s offseason.

Is Al Horford enough to make the Celtics a contender in the Eastern Conference?

Kevin O’Connor: No one is on Cleveland’s level in the Eastern Conference, but the Celtics are right there in the next tier. The Celtics ranked 28th in pick-and-roll screener scoring efficiency last season, per Synergy via, and Horford was one of the best last year either on the roll or the pop (1.13 points per possession). Not to mention that he’s a tremendous passer (2.5 assist-turnover ratio), and can be utilized as a facilitator to make life easier on Isaiah Thomas. Defensively, of course, Horford isn’t a traditional shot blocker, but he’s a very good rim protector. He’ll enhance the Celtics’ already elite defense, while giving them a boost on offense. They should be in the conversation for the Eastern Conference Finals.

Andrew Johnson: It depends on how you define contender. The addition of Al Horford and reasonable internal improvement from players like Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk should make them reasonable candidates to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. It doesn’t make them reasonable threats to the Cavaliers without more moves or a whole lot of luck.

Evans Clinchy: Does it make them better than Cleveland? Nah. But adding Horford does put the Celtics squarely in a two-horse race with the Raptors for the title of second-best Eastern Conference team. At that point, you could be one lucky injury break away from sneaking into the Finals. Horford is an All-Star, mighty close to his prime, and an excellent fit for how Brad Stevens wants the Celtics to play. He’s going to make them considerably better.

Jaylen Brown will be                        this season.

Kevin O’Connor: Brown has his flaws — mostly his at-rim finishing and shooting — but he checks a lot of the boxes even as a rookie. He played well defensively in the summer league, showcasing the same level of versatility he did in college. He’ll realistically only be asked to be a complementary player on offense, but he might be one of the better passers on the roster, so don’t be surprised if they ask him to take on more ball handling responsibility off the bench.

Andrew Johnson: Fascinating but raw. Brown was a highly polarizing prospect in the draft. His physical talents are both tremendous and apparent from watching him, and can lead to some spectacular plays. But his one year in college was disappointing with questionable decision making leading to turnovers and forced shots, along with occasional loss of focus limiting his defensive impact. All of those problems may be correctable, but they won’t be corrected this year.

Evans Clinchy: Trade bait? I don’t see the Celtics, who have more talent than they can fit on their roster, finding much playing time to give the 19-year-old Brown. They’re loaded with solid veteran guys at both the three and four, and when you’re gunning for a 55-win season, you probably want to lean more on the guys you can certainly trust. Brown is promising, but this might not be the right situation for him.

Of the other assorted young pieces — Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, Ben Bentil, Demetrius Jackson, James Young — who makes the biggest impact this season?

Kevin O’Connor: Terry Rozier, assuming the roster stays the same, should share the team’s backup point guard duties with Marcus Smart. With Evan Turner now in Portland, there will be plenty of opportunities for them both to make an impact. Rozier’s burst off the dribble, spot up shooting ability, rebounding, and pesky defense mean he’ll be able to contribute in a number of different ways. He still needs to make strides as a decision-maker, because sometime it’s still like his feet are moving a lot quicker than his mind, but it’s OK considering his other positives.

I don’t see a path for Ben Bentil or Demetrius Jackson to make an impact on the Celtics, but they could certainly be quality players in the D-League. R.J. Hunter will fight for a roster spot against James Young, and probably beat him out. It’ll be tough for Hunter to earn minutes though considering the amount of talent ahead of him on the depth chart.

Andrew Johnson: It is almost certainly going to be one of the second year guys. Rozier has the clearest path with the departure of Evan Turner. Though a breakout by Smart could partially block Rozier. Hunter has a chance because of his shooting and great feel for the game, he just has to be able to hold his own on the defensive end enough to get playing time.

Evans Clinchy: Hunter. I’m not sure if he’s the best player in that group, but I definitely think he’s the best fit for the Celtics’ needs. I say this both because of his position (as a two-guard, he’s going to get a lot of minutes that previously went to Evan Turner) and his skill set. The Celtics have a ton of talent at their disposal, but shooting is still a pretty clear weakness up and down the roster. Hunter helps alleviate that problem, so he can certainly make himself useful this season.

Get you a man who can do all three

Al Horford is a special player but it’s hard to pin down the area where he really excels — it is essentially his versatility and adaptability that makes him such an important piece. On defense, he is a capable rim protector and quick enough to defend in space on the pick-and-roll. Offensively, he is a skilled passer, a reliable jump-shooter, and a post-scorer who can punish the right mismatch.

His offensive versatility places him in a unique group among NBA big men. Horford was one of just 13 players who used finished at least 150 possessions last season as the screener in the pick-and-roll, on a post-up, or a spot-up.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 11.24.08 AM
Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 11.24.08 AM /

This group represents some of the most versatile offensive bigs in the league, players who represent the full array of scoring skills required from the ideal modern big man. It’s not just that Horford finds himself on this list, it’s also his efficiency in each category. In points per possession among all qualified players (not just these 13) he ranked in the 78th percentile on the pick-and-roll, the 65th percentile on post-ups, and the 47th percentile on spot-ups. That last number should even come up a little as he continues developing his three-point shot (he attempted 256 threes last season, after attempting just 65 across his first eight NBA seasons).

Horford is a perfect fit for this Boston team because of his malleability and the varied ways he can exploit mismatches. For a young team still building an offensive identity, he’s a fantastic tool to have.

For more NBA coverage and analysis, visit the FanSided NBA hub page.