Celtics Lead

Consistency is Boston’s Offseason Need

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The 2019 NBA Playoffs ended in a grinding halt for the Boston Celtics. After a dominating opening series against the Indiana Pacers and a monster road Game 1 win against Milwaukee, the Celtics lost four straight contests and became the victim of a “gentleman’s sweep”. The Bucks frankly obliterated Boston in their four wins. Though Brad Stevens and his players did an admirable job working to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo, the rest of Milwaukee’s roster largely feasted on the C’s. Meanwhile, the Celtics’ offense showed no signs of consistency, which we addressed as a must-have for a series win.

Heading into summer, Boston’s franchise has a multitude of pivotal decisions to make. The NBA Draft could grant GM Danny Ainge up to four chances to grab young talent in the first round. On July 1, superstar Kyrie Irving‘s free agency decision will loom large, but as many as six other current Celtics might also hit the market. Of course, the Anthony Davis trade rumors will also be flying around throughout the offseason. Come fall 2019, this roster could look drastically different than the one recently shredded by Milwaukee.

Right now is (finally) the time to reflect on the current squad. Why wasn’t Boston the 67-win, Finals-bound juggernaut so many people expected? What changes need to be made? When looking across the roster, one clear attribute is missing: continuous offensive consistency.

Lack of Point Guard Consistency

How’s this for a stat: Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier shot a combined 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from downtown during the postseason. They led the charge for Boston’s offensive struggles in the second round. Kyrie may have been adamant in the belief that he would step up his game, but the results never panned out for the star lead guard.

In Irving’s case, the inconsistent playoff performance is a surprising change from his regular season statistics. His field goal rate dropped by over ten percentage points when the postseason hit, highlighted by the three miserable outings that concluded the second round. Uncle Drew was widely considered one of the best postseason players coming into this spring. Due to a stunning lack of production, his usual consistency and reputation are now in doubt.

Of course, Irving’s tango with responsibility as a leader has been well-documented. Though it’s unclear if chemistry issues were actually a problem behind closed doors, his public remarks frequently drew head-shakes and questions. There’s a very real chance Kyrie leaves Boston in the summer, and Green-Teamers are divided on whether or not his departure is a good thing.

Meanwhile, Terry Rozier looked nothing like the hype-fueled “Scary Terry” from last season. The 24-year-old averaged a measly 6.4 points per playoff game and never found his shot. For Rozier, the bad games only continued a downward trend from the regular season. The inconsistency arises when looking at Rozier’s starter-vs.-reserve splits. Across the board, the young guard posted better offensive numbers in his 14 games started, which shows that he struggles to get in a rhythm off the bench.

Rozier is a restricted free agent this summer, and his stock has decreased dramatically. However, he may be looking for a starting job and not want to return to Boston. The Celtics could plausibly enter next season with a completely different point guard picture.

  Young Wings and Reliability

At the shooting guard and forward positions, the Celtics often were hit with erratic shooting stretches. Marcus Smart, arguably the streakiest player on the team, made major strides as a shooter this year. However, he is still prone to brutal runs of bricks. Smart should be a long-term fit for his defensive prowess and locker room presence, but canning triples with consistency would boost his value tremendously.

Meanwhile, the heralded duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown dealt with the common ups and downs of young players. Brown started the season slowly, but came on strong late and played well in the postseason. He also was dropped to a bench role for much of the regular season. Tatum, however, took minimal steps as a top-tier prospect. He often disappeared on the scoring end for entire games and put up some duds in the playoffs. Both young guns desperately need to improve their facilitating skills as well. The ceiling is still extremely high for each prospect, but to win now they have to step up their consistency.

No Consistent Veterans

Gordon Hayward faced unfair expectations after returning from his gruesome ankle injury. Still, the former All-Star went through incredible lapses throughout the season with random dominating performances sprinkled in. He’s currently a bench spark with a max-level salary. An offseason of training at full health will be beneficial, but Hayward won’t be given a pass for bad games next season. He was known for consistency in Utah, and needs to be a trustworthy scorer in Boston.

Marcus Morris is the only Celtic wing who is an unrestricted free agent. The power forward was spectacular in the first portion of the regular season, shooting 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc on his way to 14.5 points per contest. But after the All-Star break, those numbers fell off a cliff, turning into 12.5 points per game on 37 percent shooting and just a 30 percent clip from deep. Yet Morris rebounded again in the postseason, turning in some of Boston’s most efficient games.

As a free agent, Morris will likely receive salary offers of around $12 million per year. Would the Celtics put such a deal out there for a non-passer who doesn’t score reliably? As for Hayward and the other wings, each one has the potential to be included in an Anthony Davis blockbuster. If not, they each need to bring consistent scoring so defenses do not key in on one star.

Addressing the Centers’ Consistency

The center position has the best offensive outlook of any grouping. Aron Baynes has developed an impactful three-point stroke, which he converted at a 34.4% clip this season. Daniel Theis built on his long-range shooting and also placed as the best inside finisher on the team (76 percent within three feet). Both players have decisions to make in the summer months, as Baynes holds a $5 million player option and Theis is an restricted free agent. However, neither should command much money, so expect them to remain Celtics for next season. They bring the consistency Brad Stevens should be looking for.

Al Horford‘s season was more confusing. On the surface, his regular season offensive contributions of 13.6 points and 4.2 assists per game look standard for the big man. However, Horford was all over the place in terms of shooting. The 32-year-old was dominant inside and in the mid-range, but his perimeter stroke looked nothing like last season, dropping from a 43 percent clip to a 36 percent rate. But in the playoffs, the veteran center came back to life, though his complementary scoring proved too little in the end.

With a $30 million player option at his disposal, Horford’s decision is a major factor in Boston’s offseason. He could accept the option and receive the highest payday he could realistically find. Or he could decline the option and negotiate a cheaper, long-term deal. Thirdly, if Horford thinks Boston’s chemistry can’t be saved he could walk entirely (which would contradict the above tweet). Should Big Al return, he would remain a Celtic fan favorite, but he’d have to find that perimeter shot again to really help the team on offense.

Offseason Teaser

The Celtics need consistent shot-makers and proven facilitators on their roster. A proven glass-cleaner would also help create second chances. The draft gives Danny Ainge a chance to find these players, potentially in prospects like Tyler Herro or Keldon Johnson. The Celtics might also need a point guard depending on their feelings surrounding Irving and Rozier. Unless some surprises come in free agency, the team won’t have the cap space to chase a star.

Meanwhile, Ainge needs to figure out if Anthony Davis is the right leader to bring to Boston. His ceiling and current production vastly outweighs any potential return the Celtics could offer. But as this year showed, simply having a superstar on the team doesn’t equal a championship.

In order for Davis to truly be worth the gamble, Boston must assess if he has the personality to thrive in Brad Stevens’s system and in the city. Davis also needs to bring the reliable production that Kyrie Irving has sometimes struggled with. Thus far, the Pelicans superstar has been nothing but phenomenal. If the Celtics are able to swing a deal, that consistency has to be a guarantee.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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