Boston Celtics: Building a Championship Contender


The Boston Celtics have made noticeable and somewhat significant strides from last year to this year. At 25-35 they are 1 1/2 games out of the playoffs and may find themselves playing past the 82 game mark this season. With that said, the team is a long ways from title contention.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders suggested a number of players whom Danny Ainge might target this offseason in order to expedite that ascent. The list includes players such as Kevin Love, Greg Monroe and Kawhi Leonard. While the prospect of adding any one of these players is sure to excite Celtics fans, let’s put names aside for a second and focus on what type of team that Ainge and the rest of the front office should build.

Boston already has its point guard of the future in Marcus Smart. The former sixth overall pick came into the league NBA ready at the defensive end, something that has been apparent since the season’s early stages. But there were a great deal of questions about the Oklahoma State products offensive ability.

According to Real, in his two seasons in Stillwater, Smart shot just 41 percent from the field and an even more appalling 29.5 percent from three-point range. Since entering the NBA his shooting mechanics are much improved and he is progressing at a far faster rate than most expected.

The numbers don’t necessarily back up that statement; Smart is shooting just 31.9 percent from beyond the arc. However, his mechanics are much improved and he’s had plenty of games and stretches where the results have been there. For example, in a recent win against the Knicks he made six of nine attempts from three and followed it up by shooting 44 percent from deep against the Hornets.

While there is still plenty of room for Smart to grow as a shooter, it is also pivotal that he learns how to operate in pick-and-roll and while still important, to a lesser extent, pick-and-pop situations. This is a huge part of the game, especially when you’re a point guard. From lay ups for the ball handler to dunks for the roll man to finding an open shooter as the defense tries to adjust to this action, there are a plethora of ways to score and create for others out of the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop.

Smart has spent much of this season playing mostly off the ball. However, since the trade deadline, which actually saw the Celtics acquire another ball handler in Isaiah Thomas, the rookie has primarily been operating with the ball in his hands. Just like with his shooting, this is a work in progress. However, Smart does flash glimpses of what he can become.

After signing Avery Bradley to a four-year $32 million extension in the offseason, the Celtics current starting shooting guard is likely to still be entrenched in that role when the team is finished rebuilding and ready to compete for a championship. As a three-and-D perimeter player, Bradley fits the bill. According to, he is shooting 36.3 percent from three-point range for the season. However, prior to an elbow injury sustained against the Jazz, Bradley had been heating up from beyond the arc. In his last five games he is shooting 40 percent from three and is shooting 38.4 percent from deep in his last 20 games. Furthermore, the heavily anticipated cap spike will only make this deal more palatable for Boston moving forward.

While the Celtics are set at shooting guard, that is far from the case at small forward. The team currently employs a trio of Evan TurnerJae Crowder and James Young at the position. Since being acquired in the trade for Rajon Rondo, Crowder has been very effective coming off the bench. His blue-collar approach makes him an excellent fit for the city he plays in. It would certainly make sense for Boston to make a long-term commitment to him as a rotation player.

Young remains an unknown, due to the fact that he is playing just 11 minutes a game. The lefty’s confidence figures to play a key role as he works to transition from raw talent to proven commodity. It also helps that he has shown that he can develop into a consistent three-point shooter.

Whether it is via the draft, free agency or a trade, the Celtics should not settle for anything short of an all-star caliber small forward. Specifically, one who is a gifted scorer. Of course, this is easier said then done. Landing an all-star is no small feat and it is especially difficult right now to find one at the small forward position.

Ainge and company would be wise to look to round out the front-court with a stretch-four and a rim-protector who is effective in the pick-and-roll on offense. A dynamic line up like this would provide the Celtics with a well balanced starting unit that is equipped to handle any style of play.

It will be interesting to see what type of team the Celtics put together in order to ascend from fringe playoff team to title contender. But for a fan base that had to wait 22-years for its most recent championship, the more pressing question is how long will it take them to climb back up the mountain?