The Celtics are coming off of their worst season since 2006-07. Despite high expectations this offseason, the team is entering 2014-15 with a similar roster to last season, which comes with similar expectations. However, Brad Stevens will be in his second season as coach, Rajon Rondo
will begin the season healthy should play most of the season and Danny Ainge has added some new, young talent. But it’s still clear that the Celtics are entering yet another rebuilding season, leaving us with some major questions. We’ll try to find some answers in this five-part series called Rebuild Spotlight.
When a team has a season like the 2013-14 Celtics did, much of the conversation amongst fans shifts from the play on the court to the potential that the future holds. We’re all guilty of it. Talking about who Boston’s next star could be is just more appealing than discussing why the C’s couldn’t get it done that game, again.
The problem is, those hopes and dreams rarely come true, as was the case this offseason. It started with the idea of winning the draft lottery, which would allow the Celtics to get their hands on either of the top prospects — Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. When that didn’t happen, the focus moved to trading for a star like Kevin Love. What actually happened wasn’t the flashiest move, but Ainge made the most of his opportunity selecting at No. 6 and 17 overall.
Many believe the Celtics selected the best available player with both of their first-round picks — Marcus Smart and James Young. The rookies came to the Celtics with completely different expectations for the upcoming season, but both figure to play huge roles Boston’s long-term success.
Here’s what they were able to accomplish statistically in their college careers at Oklahoma State and Kentucky, respectively:
Smart: 2012-13 as a freshman: 15.4 ppg (40.4 FG%, 29.0 3P%, 77.7 FT%), 5.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 3.0 spg, 33.5 minutes in 33 games
2013-14 as a sophomore: 18.0 ppg (42.2 FG%, 29.9 3P%, 72.8 FT%), 5.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2.9 spg, 32.7 minutes in 31 games
Smart didn’t quite make the jump that he was expected going into his sophomore season, but he did show improvement. He shot the ball a little bit better and proved to be as versatile as any player in the 2014 draft. Smart upped his scoring in slightly fewer minutes by attacking the basket more, while maintaining highly productive numbers in rebounds, assists and steals.
Young: 2013-14 as a freshman: 14.3 ppg (40.7 FG%, 34.9 3P%, 70.6 FT%), 4.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.8 spg, 32.4 minutes in 40 games
Young played a lot of games considering he helped carry a youthful Kentucky team all the way to the NCAA championship game. Obviously, on a roster stocked with McDonald’s All-Americans, shots can be limited at times. But Young seemed to be the player that John Calipari gave the ball to when the Wildcats needed a bucket. Young is a fantastic scorer, but he arrives as a much more raw talent than Smart (Young just turned 19 in August). Despite not being able to contribute immediately, Young was thought of as a lottery pick much of the season and a top-10 pick in 2015 had he chosen to return to Kentucky for another season.
Smart has some of the highest expectations of all rookies this season, despite joining a crowded backcourt. Already deemed to be the next great perimeter defender, Smart is going to have to earn his minutes playing behind Rajon Rondo (when he returns from his broken left hand) and Avery Bradley. Combine Smart’s talent with his physical abilities and there is no chance that Brad Stevens can deny him a major role in Boston’s rotation, especially if Rondo ends up missing any serious time.
But can Smart be a serious contributor in just his first season? Absolutely.
Much like Kelly Olynyk last season, minutes as well as production could be inconsistent to begin with for Smart. But Olynyk really flourished after the All-Star break, and I expect that breakout to occur even earlier for Smart. It’s not out of the question to think Smart can play over 25 minutes per game while averaging in double figures and providing lockdown defense. Failing to become a first-team All-Rookie would be a disappointing debut season for Smart. Big things are in his future and they start right away.
Young projects to be a good player in the league as well, but unlike Smart, expecting any kind of contribution from him this season would be foolish for a couple of easons. For starters, as mentioned, the backcourt is packed. Smart has the skill set and body type to crack the rotation; Young does not. Guys like Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner will be much more attractive options off the bench for Stevens, especially early on in the season.
Being patient could be a very good thing for Young, though. Frankly, he is not yet ready to play consistent minutes in the NBA. It would have been nice for his preparation had Young been able to play in the Orlando summer league, but injury prevented him from doing so. All of these factors point to Young being a perfect candidate to take his talents to the D-League. It’s similar to a top prospect in baseball; Young’s options are to ride then bench in Boston, or play major minutes in Maine for the Red Claws. One of those options presents much more upside at age 19: playing time.
Young would be a star in the D-League and ideally get a huge confidence boost while playing 35-plus minutes on a nightly basis. Of course if Boston has another disappointing season, which is likely, Young could gain some NBA experience later in the season when the games carry less meaning.
Ainge could very well pull the trigger on a deal that would force Young to suit up for the Celtics at any time. But if all goes to plan, it seems likely the team will try to bring Young along slowly, while letting Smart off the leash right out of the gates, especially following the news of Rondo’s injury.
Check out the full rebuild spotlight series here:
Rebuild Spotlight: What to expect from Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller
Rebuild Spotlight: What to expect from Brad Stevens
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow