Monday night’s loss to the Bulls provided a mightily insightful microcosm on the tough year this season has been. Trailing just one heading into the final quarter against the playoff-bound Bulls, it looked like the Celtics might steal a confidence booster. Instead, we saw why Joakim Noah is regarded as an elite bigman and why the frontcourt should be the Celtics biggest area of concern this offseason.
In that fourth quarter, Noah opened with a jumper before racing back and blocking Kelly Olynyk‘s layup attempt. Another deep jumper and a layup followed. An offensive rebound and a defensive rebound came minutes later during a Celtics scoring drought. And then Noah drove the nails into the coffin with an offensive rebound, a layup, and a jumper to put the game out of reach. His ten points matched the entire Celtics teams output that quarter. During that time, the Celtics only scored one basket from their frontcourt, a Kris Humphries jumper. Humphries had a terrible night on the boards while Sullinger had a terrible night shooting, largely due to the Bulls behemoth. Matchups like these have resulted in terrible games for Celtics big men all season and are a big reason why I think the issue of size should be the focal point of Celtics issues this summer.
The Celtics rank in the bottom five in both FGM and FGA from within five feet on the offensive end. Defensively, Boston is among the bottom ten in FGA, FGM, and FG% when opponents are within five feet. Bump that distance back to the 5-9 ft. range and the numbers get even worse.
Addressing the problem through the draft will probably not be the right choice. With star big man Joel Embiid expected to go with one of the first three picks, the Celtics would have to bank on a Sullinger-esque steal to fill the role there. Beyond Embiid, there are a plethora of players standing 6’9 or 6’10, roughly the same dimensions that have proven unsuccessful with Humphries and Bass this season. Willie Cauley-Stein and Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic are projected in the 9th-14th pick range, a bit below the expected Celtics selection. While a bonafide 7-footer isn’t necessarily a requirment, I wouldn’t want to see Boston pass up on some swingmen studs for the risk of another undersized forward/center. Also, with the delayed production of most young big men, the risk of a bust is more likely (Darko, Kwame, Traylor, Araujo, Tskitishvili, Thabeet, Olawokandi, you get it).
So that moves us to free agency, the land of the PROVENS. Greg Monroe is
still young (and unhappy) in Detroit and is no lock to return to the Pistons next season. A lot depends on the financial situations of other players that GM Joe Dumars has to juggle. If he does hit the market, there are numerous teams expected to be intrigued and anxious his services, potentially driving him out of our price range. After being traded to the Cavs at the deadline, Spencer Hawes has also stood out. He’s a respectable two-way big on a fringe-playoff team. His large size and defensive prowess stand out to me, but they may to other teams as well. With Cleveland also having to resign Luol Deng this summer, I see Hawes walking. After Hawes we see Washington’s Marcin Gortat. Gortat has already stated that he plans on changing addresses this summer. His injury history could drive his price range down and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Polish big man in Celtics green based off his proven success with Steve Nash. I could picture him putting up similar numbers (15.4 ppg and 10.0 rpg) with another pick-and-roll passing specialist like Rondo. The other free agent big men that stood out to me were Emeka Okafor (very defensive minded) and Chris Kaman (injury-prone 7-footer with offensive touch).
Be it a proven big man through free agency or the miracle of Embiid, the Celtics froncourt issues should be considered dire. While I love Olynyk, I don’t know if I can trust him as my starting center on a squad I expect to take deep into the playoffs. Keep these names in mind as the summer rolls along and expect big improvements if one of these guys is in Celtics green next year.