There are no win expectations this season. What Brad Stevens is charged with instead, is to find effective combinations of players, do what he can to maximize each player’s potential and place these players into the best situations to grow their talents. From there, Danny Ainge will see what he can do to enhance the roster going forward. To boil it down, Brad Stevens is essentially in charge of helping Danny to see exactly what he has to work with going forward, nothing more, nothing less.
This shouldn’t be news to anyone. I’m not trying to explain Brad Stevens’ role this year with my introductory paragraph, simply trying to use it as a reminder to the reader. The real subject I find interesting is the possibility that the first breakthrough of the season may have arrived, and isn’t that what this season is all about? Breaking through.
With regard to the first breakthrough of the season, some may look to Jordan Crawford’s ability to run the point, but I don’t really see that as something that helps the team long term. Not to diminish the commendable job Crawford has done at the point, but with Rajon Rondo coming back from injury, Crawford hasn’t exactly given the Celtics a long-term building block. Within weeks, he will be relegated to backup point guard and who knows how much longer we’ll be seeing Jordan Crawford in Celtic green.
What I’d like to offer as the first real breakthrough is the increase in minutes for Jared Sullinger and what it has done for Jeff Green’s production.
It was after the embarrassing loss to the Houston Rockets that Brad Stevens elected to insert Sullinger into the starting lineup and increase his minutes, and I think most Celtics fans have been quite pleased with Sullinger’s play. In no time at all, "Sully" has become a fan favorite and quite possibly the second favorite Celtic next to Rondo. However, Sullinger hasn’t really played that much better since his minutes increase. He’s merely producing more because he’s playing more.
Here are his per game stats prior to the minutes increase and then after.
Sullinger: (first figure is before minutes increase, second figure is after)
MPG: 20, 30.85
PPG: 11.8, 15.43
RPG: 5.7, 9.86
APG: 1.3, 1.57
Sullinger’s totals increase in almost direct proportion to his minutes. Don’t think I’m pointing this out to take anything away from Jared. Not every player can produce more when given more court time. It’s indicative that he was ready for a larger role within the team and had the talent to take on the challenge. So why am I detailing these stats? Just to help give my hypothesis. Which is: Jared Sullinger’s minutes increase was the first great breakthrough of the season, but not because of Sullinger’s increased production, because of what it has done for Jeff Green’s production.
Here are Jeff Green’s per game stats before and since Sullinger’s increase in playing time.
Green: (first figure is before minutes increase, second figure is after)
MPG: 31.91, 33.71
PPG: 14.5, 20.43
RPG: 4.17, 4.86
APG: 1.5, 1.71
Jeff Green’s points per game have increased almost six points, without decreasing production in other areas. Now I understand that seven games is by no means a good enough sample size, but if the trend continues, this is a major breakthrough.
We could be looking at the Celtics already having three major pieces of a future championship contender. (Rondo, Sullinger and Green) Now, this may not be seen as a news flash for some, but it’s good to see some encouraging statistics. Let’s say Green and Sullinger can maintain the production they’ve delivered since after the Houston game. They would combine for 35.86 PPG, 14.72 RPG, and 3.28 APG. Assume Rondo can regain his old form and add 13.7 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 11.1 APG, our new core would be good for 50 points, 20 rebounds and 14 assists every night. That production isn’t that far off from the last time we had a championship level core.
Totals: 55.8 PPG, 18.8 RPG, 10.6 APG
I realize that this is assuming A LOT. But sometimes you need to break through the pessimism and find reason to be optimistic.