Going into the summer, there were several areas in which the Boston Celtics needed improvement (just like any other team). However, actually addressing those issues is much more difficult than identifying them.
Some of the problems the Celtics faced were obvious last season and were fully exposed during the playoffs.
So, where did Boston need improvement, and did it get the job done this offseason?
Let’s break it down.
The C’s used several frontcourt players in 2015-16. The problem was none of them were able to consistently put up points.
Jared Sullinger (now of the Toronto Raptors), Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko represented the Celtics’ interior last year, with Sullinger, Johnson and Olynyk receiving the bulk of the minutes.
While Sullinger is a talented offensive player and Olynyk absolutely has some skill as well, neither were able to provide Brad Stevens with a regular source of offense.
As for Johnson, well, he is primarily a defensive guy anyway, so you’re going to be in some trouble if you are relying on him to score.
So, Danny Ainge went out and landed Al Horford this summer, a guy who has been one of the better big men in the league for some years now.
Is Horford Kevin Garnett on the front line? No, but he is certainly a heck of a lot more dependable that what Boston trotted out last season. Horford is someone who can give you 15-18 points a night on good efficiency, something the C’s have sorely lacked in their frontcourt ever since Garnett was traded during the summer of 2013.
For now, it looks like the Celtics have remedied this issue.
This was even more of an issue than the former. Sullinger, Olynyk, Zeller and Jerebko all at least had some ability on the offensive end.
Defensively? Well, that’s another issue entirely.
Johnson was the only Boston big man who had any semblance of a defensive presence in 2015-16. The rest of the crew was hindered by physical limitations. Too short, too slow, too unathletic.
Enter Horford, who will not only give the C’s better rim protection, but supply them with a solid pick-and-roll defender who has the lateral movement to recover up top. How many times did we see the likes of Sullinger and Olynyk get burn in high screen-and-rolls last season? Let’s just say a lot.
Horford should absolutely aid in mitigating those issues. And think about it: the Celtics’ defense was very good last year even with those problems. Now it should reach the next level.
Another huge hole in Boston’s game in 2015-16 was its complete and utter lack of floor spacing. The C’s ranked 29th in three-point percentage last season, and with Avery Bradley and Olynyk injured in the playoffs, watching the Celtics brick triple after triple was almost comical. While they still aren’t exactly the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics have taken steps to improve their outside shooting.
Again, Horford comes into play here. The 30-year-old shot 34.4 percent from long distance on 3.1 attempts per game last year, and while that may not look great, keep in mind that Horford is a center.
The mere threat of Horford being able to knock down a trey will spread defenses out and force opposing centers to step out and defend him on the perimeter. This will not only improve Boston’s three-point shooting but will open up driving lanes for Isaiah Thomas and the rest of the guards. Sometimes, it’s not even about making the threes; it’s about the threat of making threes.
The C’s also went out and signed Gerald Green, a mercurial 2-guard who has demonstrated the ability to stroke it from deep in the past. While 2015-16 wasn’t really an indication of that (he shot 32.3 percent from downtown last year), Green is a lifetime 36.1 percent long-range shooter and connected on 40 percent of his attempts as recent as 2013-14.
It seems safe to say the Celtics have improved here.
Finding a legitimate No. 2 scorer
This is one area where Boston is still lacking. Yes, Horford is a very good player. Yes, he can put the ball in the basket. But is he someone the C’s can regularly depend upon to get them buckets late in games?
Eh, it’s debatable, but probably not. Horford is just not that type of player. He is more of a do-it-all guy who can provide solid support as a No. 3 scorer.
The Celtics really need another player on the wing who can get them 18-20 points a night like Thomas, but right now, they don’t have that, and it is going to put a cap on their ceiling.
Just take a look at the contenders around the league. All of them have at least two great scorers who can take over games. The Warriors have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. The San Antonio Spurs have Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
You get the drill.
Boston tried to find someone to fill that role this summer, but came up empty. The good news is there is still time for the C’s to do it between now and the trade deadline, and if they can’t get anything done by then, they can always try to add such a player next summer.
Regardless of when they do it, it’s something that needs to be done.
No check here.