Saturday, January 21, 2017

Celtics Mid-Season Progress Report

Through 42-games the Boston Celtics stand at 26-16 and third in the Eastern Conference. While some will consider the first half to be close to what was expected, some will tell you that it just isn’t good enough (this guy included).

Below we discuss some of the key points from the first half: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Celtics MVP: Isaiah Thomas

Is it any surprise? Thomas is a top-5 scorer in the NBA and the games preeminent fourth quarter assassin. His offense has been enhanced with the presence of Al Horford and another year with the Celtics core of Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart. I.T. has been among the game’s most dominant forces and is earning himself a ton of respect across the league along the way.

While Thomas may not be the NBA MVP because of his lack of defensive presence, his importance to this Celtics squad can’t be understated. Without Thomas in the lineup Boston would be in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, with him…well let’s just say his doubters seem to be a dwindling group after each offensive masterpiece.

Biggest Surprise: Avery Bradley

Again, not a huge shock here. Bradley is having a career year (17.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 1.3 SPG) and is reaching new highs on the offensive end of the floor. Perhaps the most underrated player in the NBA, Avery is scoring, rebounding, and defending at an elite level and fans have to start to wonder how much it will cost Boston in the long run. With Bradley set to hit the market after next season, G.M. Danny Ainge may have to make a big decision in regards to A.B. sooner rather than later. Until then, keep shocking us Avery.

Biggest Disappointment: Jaylen Brown and James Young (tie)

This was a tough one for me. The hyper-talented swingman who is seeing out the last few months of his career in green or the third overall pick who can’t find a role in this season's Celtics squad.

While Brown has certainly provided more playing time and highlights, Boston fans shouldn’t be feeling all too proud of a top pick in this past year’s draft who can’t even shine on the teams second unit. That said, Brown has been able to show glimpses of his potential and does seem like a player who has a future in the league but the 'wait and see' approach SHOULD annoy Celtics fans who are tired of the 'rebuild.'  Considering the Celtics could have used this pick for something that could be helping them now…Brown can go down as a disappointment.

James Young was widely regarded as the 'last man' to make the Celtics roster in the pre-season. He will also likely be the first off the roster when free agency hits this summer. Young has had a terrible run in Boston and has never fit into Brad Stevens squad and this season is no different. With only 11 games played in 2016-17, one has to assume Young is due to be a throw-in for a trade or will be out-right released when his contract expires this summer. Disappointing considering he’s still only 22-years old and was picked in the top-20 of the 2014 draft. Shame.

What to Expect in the Second Half: 'Trader Danny' finally makes a move (even if it’s a small one)

While I don’t see a blockbuster on the horizon for Ainge and the Celtics, I do think we see a deal made before the deadline. Expect Boston to look to fill its gap in the front court with a veteran presence who can defend and fit into the Celtics current mix. A few names that might make sense:
Tyson Chandler (Suns):

Chandler checks all the boxes for Boston’s needs except one…he can’t shoot. While some teams would consider a basket protector and rebounder of Chandler’s level a huge get, the Celtics may not love his lack of perimeter skills in Brad Stevens 'space and pace' offense. Because the Suns are amidst a full rebuild, the deal could likely be done with Boston offering Jaylen Brown straight up or could try to convince Phoenix they would be better suited with a couple expiring contracts (Tyler Zeller, Gerald Green, and James Young) and a few non-Brooklyn first round picks…but I don’t know if they’ll fall for the same trick twice (see Isaiah Thomas deal to Boston).

Andrew Bogut (Mavericks):

Less sexy but still gets the job done on the boards and defensive end. The forgotten man of the Golden State Warriors title run in 2015, Bogut can defend most other bigs for 20-25 minutes a night and will give the Celtics some needed beef under the rim. Bogut’s old school post-up game won’t provide much in Boston but he wouldn’t be coming to Beantown to score buckets. The Mavs have crept back into the Western Conference playoff picture but Bogut can still be had for a reasonable package that would add some 'assets' to a team that is starving for them.

Bogut could be landed for expiring deals and non-Brooklyn first round picks. BUT if Boston could convince Dallas and Dirk Nowitzki to make one last run at a title, the team who publicly stated they would have picked him 10th in the 1998 NBA Draft would do well to add his perimeter game to its arsenal in a bigger deal. Perhaps sending Avery Bradley with Boston’s 2018 first rounder?

Luis Scola (Nets):

Least sexy. Scola is on his last legs and is playing for a franchise who can’t seem to get out of it's own way no thanks to Ainge and the Celtics (THANKS FOR THE PICKS!). Scola would be a cheap get for Boston and would likely be someone who could be added for expiring deals (Zeller plus Young or something to that idea). While Scola is no longer the double-double threat he was in his hey-day he could still provide a good big off the bench whose game would fit the Celtics style without any tweaks.

The most important thing to remember with the Celtics in the second half of the season will be simple. Play as if the league is laughing at you. Boston is still too short on the talent scale to 'cruise' on any given night but when they are locked in and hungry to prove they’re worth they can be as hot as any team in the NBA.

Here’s to a focused and healthy 40 more games

Zachary Peloquin

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