FORCE-FEED THE YOUNG POINT GUARD
After an expert demolition of his aging team, general manager Danny Ainge has found that rebuilding it is more of a challenge. He spent the summer unsuccessfully dangling his cache of draft choices and promising young players in front of teams with a veteran centerpiece to offer. The picks will always be valuable—especially the top-seven-protected acquired from the Mavericks for point guard Rajon Rondo—but Boston can speed up the reconstruction by making its young talent more enticing. Off-season pickups David Lee and Amir Johnson are proven commodities, but coach Brad Stevens must resist the temptation to rely on them if that takes court time away from big men Jared Sullinger, 23, and Kelly Olynyk, 24. Likewise, there should be extended minutes for 6'6" sharpshooter James Young, 20, even if it means living with his defensive lapses.
Most important, 6'4" point guard Marcus Smart needs an extended run. The No. 6 pick in 2014, Smart was uneven as a rookie—better than expected as a three-point shooter (33.5%) but disappointing at taking on players and getting to the foul line (1.9 attempts per game). During summer league the 21-year-old Smart showed signs of improved leadership and sharper skills (especially his dribble-drive). Despite the presence of superscorer Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics must make Smart the starter and let him grow on the job. If he develops, Ainge has another trade chip. Or something better: a franchise player.
A rival scout sizes up Boston
They lack a star but have good depth, one through 11. They addressed their inside game; I'm not saying they brought in a stopper, but they added two decent-sized bodies in David Lee and Amir Johnson. Lee is still a good, seasoned forward, a double-double guy who can really rebound. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk just don't have a presence inside. They're step-out bigs, a little softer than the two guys they brought in.... They have a lot of good wings: Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, James Young, R.J. Hunter. I don't know if they'll go with Marcus Smart as the starter at point and bring Isaiah Thomas off the bench. Thomas was really effective last year, but I'm not sure he'll be happy coming off the bench.... With all that depth, I think they can now play small and run, or they can play big. There's just no one guy other than Thomas who gives instant offense.... Olynyk is one of those guys I just haven't seen improve. He's a good player, a rotation guy, but he hasn't taken it to the next level. He could be out some minutes.... I love Bradley. He's not a star, but every year that kid gets better. Every year. He'll probably start at the two. It is somewhat of a smaller backcourt, but they played well together last year, Smart and Bradley.... I've been in the league a long time, and I've watched a lot of college coaches come in. Maybe 90% of them don't make it. Brad Stevens made the smoothest adjustment I've seen. In the last two or three minutes, they won more games than anybody in the league. I know there are coaches in this league that copy his ATOs [after timeout plays] and end-of-game plays.
COACH BRAD STEVENS
(3rd season with Celtics)
2014--15 RECORD 40--42
(2nd in Atlantic)
PG MARCUS SMART
7.8 PPG; 3.1 APG; 1.5 SPG; 36.7 FG%
SG AVERY BRADLEY
13.9 PPG; 3.1 RPG; 42.8 FG%; 35.2 3FG%
SF JAE CROWDER
7.7 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 42.0 FG%; 29.3 3FG%
PF DAVID LEE*
7.9 PPG; 5.2 RPG; 0.5 BPG; 51.1 FG%
C KELLY OLYNYK
10.3 PPG; 4.7 RPG; 47.5 FG%; 34.9 3FG%
PG ISAIAH THOMAS
16.4 PPG; 4.2 APG; 42.1 FG%; 37.3 3FG%
PF AMIR JOHNSON*
9.3 PPG; 6.1 RPG; 1.6 APG; 57.4 FG%
PF JARED SULLINGER
13.3 PPG; 7.6 RPG; 43.9 FG%; 28.3 3FG%
Points per game for Isaiah Thomas after he was acquired from Phoenix last February—all off the bench. The highest scoring average for a Celtic with zero starts in a full season is just 10.7, by Kevin McHale in 1992--93.
FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES