After easily beating the pathetic 76ers on Opening Night, the Celtics have dropped games in TD Garden to the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs. There’s nothing to worry about yet because it’s been only 3 games, but we have to be real about what has lacking for the C’s to start the season.
Against the Raptors, the Celtics laid an egg in the shooting department. That might not repeat itself too often, but be very careful before thinking that shooting was the only reason they lost. The C’s were out-rebounded 53-38 and gave up 113 points, which irks me a little bit extra because the Celtics took the Raptors’ best defense/rebounding player in free agency. The Celtics can’t take a step back defensively and on the glass if they’re gonna improve.
The Celtics played better against the Spurs, but they’re still no match for an elite team. The Spurs shot 43-26-72 FG%/3FG%/FT% and had only LaMarcus Aldridge and Kahwi Leonard play more than 29 minutes — so this was by no means their best effort — and the C’s were the inferior team the whole game. Still, we’re gonna take these 2 games as a sign of a minor growing pain, because this team has a long way to go.
And there’s one more reason to be encouraged about the Celtics have looked even if you do think the past 2 games are indicative of their true ability. Remember the spot that the Celtics are in now. How good the Celtics are now is not nearly as important as finding a core group who can compete in the future. Therefore, it would benefit the Celtics more if the Celtics are playing inconsistently because some players are great and some are weak, rather than have everyone be slightly above average en route to 45 wins every season. That way, the Celtics find some studs to anchor the rotation of their roster for the next half decade and simultaneously weed out the guys who can’t cut it. It’s better to lose games with some dead weight bringing you down than it is to have everyone be just OK. Makes sense, right?
And we’re in luck, because 3 Celtics have been playing terribly, and it would not chock me if at least 2 of them are playing their way out of Boston by as early as the trade deadline. David Lee’s PER through 2 games was 13.6 and his FG% was 30.8%… and he’s 10 times better on offense as he is on defense. The David Lee experiment was a fine one for Danny Ainge to undertake — so long as Ainge and Stevens pull the plug on Lee the minute it’s clear that he has nothing left for a playoff team. And that minute may be coming very, very soon. If Lee is done, Stevens simply can’t afford to take minutes from the 3-4 serviceable big men the Celtics have.
Tyler Zeller has played 11 minutes per game despite starting all 3 games this season. He is never going to be anywhere near the defense that the Celtics will need to make him a starter once the team is a Finals contender, and his offense has been lacking with just 16 points all season. Zeller’s ceiling might be just an 8th or 9th man, and the Celtics won’t be able to devote much effort to keeping him long if that’s the case.
Finally, Evan Turner has been himself. He’s bad at scoring, good at everything else. Pretty basic. But the Celtics already have good defense at the guard and swingman spots with Smart, Bradley, and Crowder, and each of those three has more future promise than Evan Turner. He has an expiring contract at just $3.4 million, and it wouldn’t shock me if Danny Ainge moved Turner in February to free up more minutes down the stretch run for guys who are more likely to be on the Celtics’ roster in a few years.
On the good side, Marcus Smart looked great today. His stats should be the first thing that Celtics fans check in the box score after the score itself. His progress is invaluable to the C’s’ ability to compete in the years ahead.
Jae Crowder needs to be able to shoot. He’s clearly valuable to the team, but his value would skyrocket if he was a legitimate 3 and D guy.
Finally, i love seeing Jared Sullinger get almost 20 minutes per game so far. So many in the fans and media wanted to right him off because of his discipline issues last year, but dropping him from the rotation would have been exactly the wrong way to handle him. Stevens has been playing Sullinger a good amount, which sends the message of “We know you have what it takes, but you better be a professional and be ready to go once the season starts.” learning what the Celtics have in Sullinger is an important and intriguing aspect of how the Celtics will be in a few years.