The Hippo


Mar 17, 2018








The Celtics All-Star Break Report


 The NBA All-Star break arrives in the nick of time for your Boston Celtics. It was a mostly solid first half, especially in light of the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward five minutes into the year. But after they won just six of 14 since returning from London, some of the luster has been taken off what was mostly a spunky and enjoyable first half. So it’s obvious they need a break to decompress, and for Brad Stevens to figure out how to get them back on track.

In the meantime here’s my annual All-Star break first half assessment.
The Gordon Hayward Injury: Many gave up on the season about five seconds after his injury. I said it wasn’t over but expectations should be lowered to 45 to 47 wins. But it looks like they could win 10 more than that.
The Highlight: The stunning 16-game win streak that started after losing the first two games while in a trance following Hayward’s stunning injury. It propelled them to the top spot in the east, where they stayed until this week. 
Biggest Surprises: (1) Jayson Tatum — I knew he’d be better than Jae Crowder next year, but he already is. Not every night, but his best game is much better than Crowder’s. (2) Jaylen Brown — He was 19-7 starting when Avery Bradley was injured last year. But he’s improving daily, unafraid of the moment, and his three-point shooting has dramatically improved. He’s going to be really good. (3) Marcus Morris — better than I knew. He plays multiple defense positions effectively, hits threes and has brought a needed feisty edge. (4) I’ve never seen any seven-footer miss as many three-foot-and-in shots as Aron Baynes — ever.
Kyrie Irving Trade: I’ve got issues with Kyrie diddling too much with the ball, especially when surrounded in the key, which leads to turnovers and bad shots. And he’s not having the offensive year Isaiah Thomas did last year. But he’s been mostly terrific and given it the college try on D — which is an improvement over IT. So with the Nets pick looking lower than expected, while Thomas and Crowder are already traded again, this is another major win for Danny.
The GM: Much has been made of the Brooklyn heist, but two deals he made with Memphis since are looking like robberies too. First he miraculously got a first-round pick for the infuriatingly inconsistent Jeff Green to be used between 2019 and 2021 when it’s lottery protected to 8, then 6 and totally unprotected in 2021. Then on 2016 draft night he sent the Grizzlies the 32nd overall pick who to select Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis for the L.A. Clippers 2019 pick that Memphis owned. When the deals were made both were 50-plus-win teams. But they’re now cratering and headed for rebuilds, making those picks increasing in value by the day. If he’s not the best in sports, he’s in the top few.
The Bench: (1) They need a guy who can consistently hit threes, which hopefully can be found in the buyout market. (2) While I really like what both Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier bring to the team, they duplicate each other — high energy, defense, toughness and inconsistent shooting. I expect only one will survive the quest to find a long-range shooter this summer. Rozier leads that battle today, because while streaky, his shooting is vastly improved and Smart’s hasn’t. (3) When they got Daniel Theis (pronounced “Tice”) I thought, big deal, another soft Euro import. But he plays hard, hustles and fights on D to get his hands on loose balls and keeps rebounds alive. In short, I like Theis. (4) Scoring on the block and rebounding, which Greg Monroe provides, was needed. Time will tell whether he delivers.  
The Coach: Seeing Crowder, Isaiah and Bradley already re-traded after not fitting in with Detroit and Cleveland points to an under-appreciated benefit of Brad Stevens. It’s that almost players exceed their talent level playing here, which raises their trade value. It started with the busted in Washington Jordan Crawford playing well enough in Stevens’ first season to let Danny sell high to (kinda) get a No. 1 pick for him from Golden State — where he busted again.
Issues to Fix: I’m the lone wolf in howling they need better shot selection, but they do. While having far better shooting accuracy and range over 2016-17, they still fall behind by double digits quite often. That’s because when the threes aren’t falling, they keep chucking it up — even those who shouldn’t, like Smart (29 percent), Semi Ojeleye (29 percent) and Theis (31 percent) — rather than taking it to the basket to get fouled. That creates long scoring droughts, which I guarantee will be an issue against good teams in the playoffs.
Latest Trend: With 20-point beatdowns by Toronto and Cleveland, sandwiched around Friday’s loss to Indiana featuring what likely was the worst half of basketball ever played on this planet at least, it was an alarming week. The latter was filled with a series of beyond belief bad passes, horrendous ball handling, awful shooting, terrible rebounding, atrocious defense that gave up the base line an astonishing six times, capped by seven-footer Aron Baynes actually taking a catch-and-shoot three with 16 still on the clock. Either it’s the wall, or they were fried.
Bottom Line: Turns out the grittiness of last year’s club didn’t leave the building with the 11 players from last year’s 53-win club who did. Which has to be a testament to a job well done by the guy who picks the groceries and the one who cooks the dinner, as along with retaining the 2016-17 competitive fight the Celtics are a lot more talented, athletic and deeper now. And with their three back court/wing players all at least three inches taller than the departed they’re a lot longer as well. Not sure when/if the current malaise ends, but overall the future is bright. They get a B+.

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