For Brad Stevens one of the most troubling issues with this incarnation of the Celtics is player personnel and the right mix of players to play with each other. We already know this team isn’t winning anything but playing players at the right positions with the right players is still a vital part of their development.
In this age of he NBA traditional position labels are almost meaningless, it’s more important for players to have established roles and for coaches to maximize the talents that the roster provides. Instead of focusing on the fact that Boston lacks a “true point guard” or a “true center”, it’s easier and more productive to say that they lack a full time ball handler and a competent interior defender. Compensating for those two deficiencies won’t be easy.
Without Rondo, Boston’s only credible ball handler and facilitator, players like Avery Bradley will have to step up. Rondo’s passing and creativity are impossible to replicate. There are things he does with the basketball that only few players in the league have the talent to do and his understanding of the game is incredible. His numbers suggest that he sees angles and plays before they even develop — Rondo’s Assist Rate(39.05) was 2nd among guards playing at least 20 minutes a game last year.
These are things that Boston probably wont be able to alleviate with in-house adjustments. Trying to find a way to replace the production that Rondo brought to the table is a near impossible task. It’s tough to ask any of the guards on the Celtics to carry such a burden. Rondo’s usage was never at a huge rate but still asking 17% usage players to step up to Rondo’s 21% is unfair. We saw the difficulty Bradley faced when asked to step up to being the primary ball handler in the regular season and the playoffs. Bradley and Lee are serviceable replacements for the short term as long they don’t try to do too much and maybe Phil Pressey will get some run but without Rondo there is still a gaping hole on the team.
There could be reason to suspect Jeff Green filling the role of the Primary Ball Handler. Though to think that we’d have to assume two things
1. He improved his ball handling(which was pretty bad)
2. He improved his passing(which was also pretty bad)
Other than those two there’s not much to go on with Jeff being a credible primary ball handler. He might prove to us that he’s a different player than the was last but not much of that can be determined without having seen him play yet.
The interior defense being he other concern is definitely something that will have to be fixed. As of now Boston’s bigs include Humphries/Olynyk/Sullinger/Bass/Faverani with Green and Wallace being options for occasional small ball forwards. Sully is slated to play against Toronto in tonight’s preseason opener but still might be limited in his conditioning so expecting him to a world beater on defense early on isn’t wise. Even when healthy Sully’s ability to play defense without fouling is somewhat suspect.
Last season Sullinger averaged 6.2 fouls per 36 minutes, that number has to go down if he wants to have a positive impact on defense. Some of the foul trouble stemmed from just being a rookie and not getting the same calls as a vet but still there is some reason to be concerned. He showed signs of being a solid defender last year and had a defensive rating of 102, according to basketball ref, but if you can’t play defense in the NBA without fouling then you’re a liability. Even with the foul problems Sullinger showed a lot of promise with his ability to quickly grasp one of the more complicated defensive schemes in the league as a rookie. Mobility and conditioning will be an issue but going forward Sullinger’s ceiling as a team defender is solid.
Bass, at times last season seemed, as if he could be a competent defender but his inconsistency and lack of length might prevent him from being Boston’s answer on defense. Even Kris Humphries — who has never been considered a good defender in his career — has a better shot at being Boston’s lead interior defender.
Olynyk & Faverani are the biggest marks in Boston’s big man rotation. Neither have stepped a foot on an NBA court and there’s zero data or film for or against them being capable defenders at this level. Olynyk was never a great college defender and there’s reason to believe he could a solid defender while we have nothing to measure Faverani with. Green might be a good defensive option at the 4, while optimism with Wallace should be less prevalent.
There are a lot “if’s” and “maybe’s” with this team as nothing is certain. It’s a season for Stevens and the staff to experiment and find the right formula. Injuries won’t help but it’s not a “make it or break it” season like its been for the couple of years. Stevens has even said he doesn’t like to call this season a rebuilding season which is comforting but it is important to note that this will be a season where guys will have to learn new roles, adjust and react to new situations and prove that they can flourish in those situations in the future.