On a night when Celtics coach Brad Stevens declared Kelly Olynyk “tough to unseat” for the starting center spot, Tyler

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

On a night when Celtics coach Brad Stevens declared Kelly Olynyk “tough to unseat” for the starting center spot, Tyler Zeller broke out of his slump, converting all six of his shots and emerging as a potential solution to the C’s rim-protecting woes in a 92-89 preseason win over the Raptors in Portland, Maine.

Zeller entered averaging 5.8 points and 3.2 with just one block in 75 total minutes. In 12 first-half minutes against Toronto, he broke out for 11 points, three boards and a trio of blocks, anchoring a 13-3 run to tie the game at the half. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and the three blocks in 18 minutes.

The 7-footer played well off the pick-and-roll with Evan Turner, who assisted Zeller’s first four buckets, all inside of 4 feet. And the Celtics enjoyed their best string of basketball with both Zeller and Olynyk in the frontcourt.

OTHER REASONS TO CARE AOBUT CELTICS-RAPTORS:

Avery Bradley pulled a Paul Pierce. With eight seconds remaining, Bradley made a step-back elbow jumper to tie the game at 89-89. But Lou Williams answered with a 3-pointer over Bradley with 0.6 seconds left, and Jared Sullinger’s buzzer-beating heave bounced off the back of the rim.

Evan Turner was ejected. In the third quarter, he mouthed off to the ref under Toronto’s basket, and sent the ball (gently) bouncing off the official’s leg for a second technical. Turner still managed 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes, perpetuating his promising preseason.

Marcus Thornton converted a five-point play. Yup, that’s right. During another offensive explosion by the oft-traded shooting guard, he made a 3-pointer, got fouled by Jordan Hamilton and then earned another free throw for a Hamilton tech. Thornton sunk both freebies and finished with a team-high 17 points on nine shots.

Jeff Green got poked in the eye. Green returned from a calf injury for his first action, and promptly found himself on the floor in the pain again. Amir Johnson poked the Celtics forward in the eye, and after a few scary moments Green returned to miss both his free throws. He left the game briefly and finished 0-for-3 after returning.

James Young is nearing a return. The Celtics rookie’s hamstring injury is scheduled to be reevaluated on Monday, and the team is optimistic he could return for their preseason finale. Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo was seen getting in a workout before the game in Portland. He still had a protective cast on his left hand.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. Next up: Evan Turner.

Evan Turner isn’t this good.

At least, he hasn’t been, not at the NBA level. Through four preseason games with the Celtics, though, Turner is producing at a level we haven’t seen since his Ohio State days, and there’s reason to believe he can maintain that success.

His performance on the 76ers and briefly the Pacers hasn’t proved worthy of the No. 2 pick in 2010. The averages of 13.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists from 2011-13 aren’t so bad, but he’s never posted a true shooting percentage better than 50 percent and submitted a PER (12.4) worse than the C’s top seven rotation players last season. Likewise, his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.39) ranked among the league’s worst for guards who dominated the ball as much as he did in 2013-14. By few measures has Turner been a productive basketball player.

All of which seems strange for a 6-foot-7, 205-pound consensus collegiate player of the year who was considered by DraftExpress “a dynamic shot-creator” and “one of the best perimeter stoppers in the draft” after three seasons on the Buckeyes. What happened to the guy who ranked among the 10 most efficient college players in 2009-10?

Turner has fired several shots at the Sixers since arriving in Boston — from former coach Doug Collins overexerting players to the front office overhauling a roster that he helped reach the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Offensively, Turner struggled in a Collins system that slowed the pace. On the opposite end, though, the 76ers ranked third in points allowed per possession with Turner playing 26.4 minutes a night just two seasons ago. As Brett Brown pushed the pace to the league’s fastest in his first season at Philadelphia’s helm, the entire roster struggled to keep up on either end. Although, Turner owned the best on/off numbers (+4.4) of the pathetic bunch.

Things only got worse in Indiana, where he played all of four minutes in the Eastern Conference finals.

“Evan seemed like he had to get into the flow of the game before he really got it going,” Pacers president Larry Bird told reporters at season’s end. “I’m a firm believer. I love his game because he can do a little bit of everything. Whatever happens, wherever he’s at next year, if he plays 30-35 minutes he’s going to average 17 points.”

Considering nobody on the Celtics scored more than 16.9 points per game last season, that’s encouraging.

He thrived most in Thad Matta’s floor spacing system. Ohio State shot 39.0 percent on 19.1 3-pointers per game in 2009-10, offering Turner more opportunities to do what he does best. While the 25-year-old rated as a below-average shooter last year from everywhere but the left corner, his ability to get into the paint prevented even worse percentages. Turner attempted 38.9 percent of his 1,021 shots at the rim in 2013-14, making 51.4 percent of them.

Interestingly, Celtics coach Brad Stevens counts Matta among his biggest basketball influences, having earned his first coaching gig on Matta’s Butler staff in 2000-01. In this preseason, the C’s have shot 40.2 percent on 26.8 triples per game, respectively ranking fourth and fifth during the NBA’s limited 2014-15 sample size. That style of play has led to a 55.2 true shooting percentage, 19.1 PER and 1.89 assist-to-turnover ratio for Turner — numbers the Celtics would welcome in the former No. 2 pick’s expanded role this season, particularly at a price tag of $3.3 million.

Then again, Evan Turner isn’t this good, right?

Asset Rating: B

This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.

ASSET MANAGEMENT: Avery Bradley | Jeff Green | Kelly Olynyk | Marcus Smart | Jared Sullinger | Marcus Thornton | James Young | Tyler Zeller

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach
Kirk Minihane joins the We Hate Dwyane Wade Show to preview the upcoming Celtics season. Ben and Sam also discuss the Rajon Rondo/Jeff Green trade rumors and dabble in the classic NBA analytics debate.

The Celtics kicked off the preseason with a busy stretch of four games in just six nights. They since have had an off day, then practice resumed on Monday and Tuesday in Waltham leading up to Wednesday’s game against the Raptors in Maine.

Here are some notes from prior to Tuesday’s practice.

Rajon Rondo shows improvement

Rondo has been on the court shooting the ball prior to each preseason game, which is a very good sign. He also has been doing ball handling with his broken left hand (with a brace on it). All signs point to Rondo being right on schedule in his recovery, if not ahead of schedule.

“We’ve increased his conditioning within workouts,” Brad Stevens said. “So what we’ve done is, the last couple of days, we’ve actually worked him out with a couple of other guys early in a small group. And then he’ll do all of the non-contact stuff in our workout, which [Tuesday] will be most of the workout. So that’ll be good. He’s getting there, it’s just a matter of he can’t be involved in contact.”

Jeff Green returns from calf injury

Green has been practicing this week, and Stevens indicated he will be in shape to play against Toronto.

“Yeah, he’ll play [Wednesday],” Stevens said. “That’ll be part of his conditioning.”

With the emergence of Evan Turner so far this preseason, Stevens would like to find ways to get Turner and Green on the court at the same time now that Green is back. It’s something Turner sees going well.

“I think Jeff and I have a good rapport,” Turner said. “It’s all about communication, and once again, [Green] is our go-to-guy. I just want to play, so whatever he wants I’m going to do.”

Turner expressed confidence that he and Green will be able to play off one another.

“We attempted to,” he said with a laugh. “We played together before he got hurt, too, so I think clearly he will have to get re-acclimated because he hasn’t played in the last couple of weeks, but it should be fine.”

Rotation is being defined

Stevens played around with a lot of different rotations last season. But now in his second season, the coach will be making up his mind on his rotation sooner rather than later.

“I’ve made a commitment to myself as much as anything that I was going to make those decisions earlier than I did last year,” he said. “Fair or unfair, mixing and matching just doesn’t help a team. The first four games I think it’s been good; I think I have a good feel moving forward. Again, whether that means a guy starting or being a sixth or seventh guy, those are harder calls right now. But as far as getting a good idea of who the 10 or 11 guys are that have the best chance of being in the rotation, I have that idea.”

NBA will experiment with shorter games

As media availability ended, news broke that the NBA will be experimenting with shorter games when the Celtics visit the Nets for a preseason game on Oct. 19. The game will consist of four 11-minute quarters, cutting the game by four minutes total. The league decided to test this shortened game in order to gain data after the idea came up at coaches meetings.

Follow Julian Edlow on twitter @julianedlow.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow
Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

If you’re one of the many folks still ripping Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley‘s perimeter shooting, wait until you get a load of Celtics rookie Marcus Smart.

Following a trend that’s been in decline since his days at appropriately named Marcus High in Flower Mound, Texas, Smart is attempting a higher rate of his shots from distance, even as his 3-point percentage progressively worsens.

Let’s take a look at Smart’s shooting percentages from inside the 3-point line — where he’s an exceptional finisher at the rim and gets to the free throw line with tremendous effectiveness — and beyond it since his junior year of high school.

2010-11 (high school junior): 176-292 2P (.603), 29-84 3P (.345)
2011-12 (high school senior): 143-216 2P (.577), 41-110 3P (.372)
2012-13 (Oklahoma State freshman): 113-243 2P (.465), 38-131 3P (.290)
2013-14 (Oklahoma State sophomore): 114-222 2P (.514), 49-164 3P (.299)
2014-15 (summer league/preseason): 14-41 2P (.342), 13-56 3P (.232)

At the prep level, Smart could get to the rim with ease, but his 6-foot-4, 226-pound frame becomes less of an advantage as the competition level rises. Likewise, scouting plays an increased role at each stage, and defenses are designed to encourage Smart’s shooting while discouraging his penetration.

As a result, the Celtics rookie’s long-distance attempts have increased from 27.6 percent of his total shots in high school to 38.8 percent in college and now 57.7 percent in nine games of summer league and preseason action. Granted, that’s a limited sample size in the NBA — where the 3-point distance is greater and he may be attempting more exhibition 3′s to adjust — but Smart’s excessive poor 3-point shooting remains a concern.

As usual, DraftExpress did a nice job of breaking down Smart’s catch-and-shoot struggles at Oklahoma State, where he was just as bad — if not worse — from mid-range as he was from 3, per shotanalytics.com.

Interestingly, Smart’s shooting stroke hasn’t changed all that much since high school.

His lengthy stroke still started at the knees and finished with his feet off balance in summer league.

Same goes for the preseason.

Our man Trags captured video of Smart working on squaring his feet better in practice, but the results through four preseason games haven’t been kind, illustrating a similar trend in both perimeter shooting volume and success.

Game 1 (Celtics 98, 76ers 78): 0-2 in the paint, 0-1 mid-range, 0-5 3P
Game 2 (Celtics 106, Knicks 86): 0-1 in the paint, 2-3 mid-range, 2-4 3P
Game 3 (Raptors 116, Celtics 109): 1-1 in the paint, 0-0 mid-range, 1-7 3P
Game 4 (Knicks 96, Celtics 80): 0-0 in the paint, 0-0 mid-range, 1-5 3P

Outside of a hot-shooting performance in his first game against the Knicks, Smart is 0-for-1 from mid-range and 2-for-17 from 3. Including that game, he’s attempted just four shots in the paint and made only one. If that’s not concerning, then when does it become a problem? Smart made his living at the rim in high school and college, remarkably shooting 67 percent in the restricted area and getting to the line eight times per game as an Oklahoma State sophomore. Barring a marked improvement in his shooting percentages, it won’t be pretty as NBA defenses sag off Smart enough to prevent penetration, forcing him to create offense entirely from the perimeter.

It’s not unprecedented for a poor-shooting guard to improve over the course of his career. Jason Kidd is probably the most oft cited example, shooting 27.2 percent from 3 as a rookie and submitting two 40 percent 3-point shooting seasons toward the tail end of his career. But Rondo and Bradley offer two more recent case tests closer to home.

Both Rondo and Bradley have significantly improved their mid-range jump shots, and the latter emerged as a prolific 40 percent 3-point shooter this past season. Maybe not this year, but there’s hope for Marcus Smart’s shooting yet.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

I think we can all agree the Celtics won’€™t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon RondoAvery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’€™s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’€™s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’€™s pieces in a series we’€™ll call Asset Management. Next up: James Young.

James Young

James Young

Young’s received an awful lot of praise before he’s played a regular-season NBA game. It’s curious how analysts already determined he’s the next Paul Pierce, Ray Allen or Bradley Beal, or why Comcast commentators questioned Avery Bradley‘s signing since Young is so clearly the starting shooting guard in waiting.

It’s a wonder he slipped to No. 17 in the draft. Maybe all they needed to see was his 20-point performance in the national title game, since a season-long look at Young’s Kentucky production reveals a worse true shooting percentage (53.6) than Marcus Smart (55.2), the other Celtics rookie whose stroke has been roundly criticized. Or maybe Young’s 3-for-8 effort in his preseason debut was enough to anoint him, since he missed all of Summer League with a concussion.

Truth is, James Young is a project. At the end of the 19-year-old’s assignment, we may look back on him as a steal. But odds are Danny Ainge didn’t find the next great Celtic in the latter half of the first round, especially since the C’s president has long stated that fewer stars existed in the 2014 draft than most believed.

Still, the early returns on Young are encouraging, at least from his coach’s perspective.

“I went through all of our scrimmage segments on film,” Brad Stevens said on the season’s second day of practice. “Anything that was live at all, I went through in pretty good detail. The most impressive thing about James was he never really crossed my radar as making mistakes defensively, which is pretty impressive for a young guy. …

“James picks up things really quickly. Sometimes you watch guys play, and you’ve got to find things that help them read the game better. The basketball plays come very easy to him. Some guys you have to talk through a 2-on-1. You don’t have to do that with James Young. He’s a savvy basketball player very naturally.”

Young has high expectations for himself, too, laughing off the notion he could be sent to the D-League this season during his media day session. His list of goals this year includes “definitely coming in and being the best team player I can be. If that means scoring, I can definitely do anything to score. And then just getting on the defensive end and bringing a lot of energy and just getting the crowd involved and everything.” EVERYTHING, DEFINITELY. Is that it?

Plenty of folks snickered over Young’s failure to alert the C’s training staff about a hamstring injury that may now sideline him for weeks, but there are positives to take from his rookie mistake. He was so eager to prove he belongs on an NBA stage that he played through the pain. That’s often a great sign and, occasionally, the sign of a great.

In an underrated preseason aside, Young added, “I’m more of a visual learner,” illustrating an understanding of his development few players have as teenagers. As a result, the rookie has worked closely with player development coach Ronald Nored in 1-on-1 film sessions after practice, and the two have come up with a lesson plan that includes improved footwork on that fluid jumper. The project has begun, but let’s not retire No. 13 just yet.

After all, if the Celtics thought Young were the next Pierce, the guy they picked 11 slots higher must be Larry Bird.

Asset Rating: B

This has been another edition of Asset Management. Check out more Celtics player valuations below.

Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Kelly Olynyk’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Marcus Smart’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Avery Bradley’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Jared Sullinger’s Celtics future
Asset Management: Marcus Thornton’s Celtics future

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

With two preseason games in the books, the Celtics are off to a somewhat impressive 2-0 start. Let’s not overreact to a couple of dress rehearsals, but Danny Ainge has veterans who could be valuable contributors on contending teams — something the Celtics will not be this season no matter how many preseason victories they accumulate.

Obviously, the ideal move for the future would be to bring in a star to go alongside Rajon Rondo and Boston’s young core. The problem is that a player like that doesn’t exist on the trade market this season, at least for the moment. Anything is possible, but with the current drought of available star power not expected to change, the Celtics might need to continue shedding veteran contracts for assets of sorts. Digging deeper into the youth movement might sound like a long haul, but it could prove to be the faster path to return to contention.

Last year Ainge shipped Jordan Crawford off to the Warriors and Courtney Lee to the Grizzlies — both trades currently seem to be working in Boston’s favor for one reason or another. The Crawford deal was successful because they traded an overachieving player and brought back assets in the form of draft picks. Ainge has some players who fit the bill for that type of trade.

Outside of Rondo (who will be the topic of the final Rebuild Spotlight feature), the Celtics have three expiring contracts that could make sense to move. Ainge likely will let Joel Anthony‘s $3.8 million expire in Boston this season, but if his salary is needed to complete a larger trade he would gladly be shipped out. However, Brandon Bass ($6.9 million) and Marcus Thornton ($8.6 million) could be valuable contributors off the bench for a team that feels they are in the mix.

Both players already are providing a spark off the bench in limited minutes in Boston, what’s to say they can’t do that elsewhere? We already know what Bass has been during his time in Boston, and Thornton is averaging 13 points in just 17 minutes per game in his first two stints in green. Just last year the Nets added Thornton at the deadline to try to give Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the help they needed in Brooklyn. It proved to be too little, but the point is: Why wouldn’t a team want to do that this season now that he and Bass are in the final year of their contracts? They are perfect rental players.

While Bass and Thornton are good candidates to be moved for future assets, the Celtics also have some Courtney Lee-style trade pieces. Lee had multiple years left on his contract when he was sent packing for Jerryd Bayless, who arrived on the last year of his deal. The whole idea of the trade was that Lee would not be worth paying in the future, so Ainge brought in Bayless, who only had to be paid until the end of last season.

Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green both fall into this category for very different reasons. Wallace and Green both are under contract until the end of the 2015-16 season for $10.1 million and $9.4 million, respectively (assuming Green picks up his player option). I was an advocate of attempting to shed Green’s contract last season for a player like Trevor Ariza — who would have come off the Celtics’ books as a free agent this past summer. Since then we have learned that Ainge sees Green as a player who will require assets in return if he is to be traded (and the Wizards also have filled their small forward role with Pierce). If Ainge can find any sort of draft pick or young player that he values in return for Green, trading him away could make sense. The key likely would be acquiring that asset along with an expiring contract in order to clear cap space for the summer of 2015 rather than 2016.

In order to deal Wallace, Ainge likely would have to take the opposite approach. Wallace’s deal is considered one of the worst in the NBA, but if Ainge were willing to throw in one of his many draft picks with Wallace, maybe he could command an expiring contract in return. This trade could make sense for a contending team, but unlike the other trade scenarios, a rebuilding team also could consider a deal like this just to get its hands on the draft pick. If Ainge sees the Celtics as an active team in 2015 free agency, an aggressive move like this could turn out to be worth the risk.

Of course, all of this is just speculation based on the Celtics’ current roster situation. These are only trade ideas, in a business where finding a trade partner and identifying the specifics of the deal make all the difference. A star could already be on Ainge’s radar, or maybe Ainge doesn’t make any deals at all this season. But the more likely option is that Ainge treats this season similar to last year, which means there are trades on the horizon that don’t necessarily mean getting better right now.

Check out the rest of the Rebuild Spotlight series:

Rebuild Spotlight: What to expect from Marcus Smart and James Young

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

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

In all likelihood, Tim Frazier and Rodney McGruder won’t be on the Celtics much longer, but the two combined for a memorable highlight in a 106-86 preseason blowout of the Knicks in lovely downtown Hartford. Frazier’s alley-oop feed found a flushing McGruder. Not to be confused with “MacGruber,” despite the flowing hair. #RippingThroats

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

HARTFORD – The Boston Celtics beat the New York Knicks 106-86 Wednesday night at Hartford’s XL Center in Hartford (