Early conclusions after 20 games

Jared Wickerham

20 game rule lifted!

I did it!  I made it 20 games without making (too many) declarative statements!  I've (mostly) made it through the first quarter of the season without rushing to judgement or jumping to conclusions.  Kinda, sorta.  Well, I tried at least.

But now the gloves are off and the judge's robe is on.  Like Ceasar I shall now give these gladiators ... a thumbs up!  I'm actually pretty impressed.  I had my expectations set fairly low and I feared the wheels coming off right about the time Wallace was on his 3rd post-game rant of the year.  They are 4 games below .500, but in the weak East that is good for first place in the Atlantic and an automatic 4th seed if the season ended today.

Granted, there's still more than 3 quarters of the season left to play and we haven't seen our best player on the court yet, but let us review what we (or at least I) know so far.

This team is NOT tanking: Rebuilding, yes.  Working through some learning curves, sure.  Lacking in top-line, in-their-prime talent, of course.  But they are giving the effort on most nights (perhaps Crash's rants were helpful after all).  They are the 10th ranked team in Defensive Efficiency.  They beat the Miami Heat, put together a 4 game winning streak, and had their first taste of Gino Time in a post Pierce world.  The front office can do what they like, but on the court the effort is there and the pride in these players is evident.

This team is ...still not that good: The NBA can be cruel to the young and inexperienced.  There have been plenty of silver linings and moral victories, but the wins themselves are still few and far between.  The Celtics are the 4th worst team in terms of Offensive Efficiency (97.8%) and there are stretches of games where you can't understand what they are doing with the ball.  They've struggled with turnovers (6th in the league in TO Ratio with 17.3 - this is not a good thing).  They've struggled with rebounding (19th in the league in Rebound Percentage at 49.3%).  Also, for a young team that has stressed transition, they rank just 21st in pace.  Finally, and this stat shocked me, they rank dead last in Assist Percentage at just 49.3%.

The rest of the East, and in particular the Atlantic Division is even worse: I don't want to belabor this point since we covered it the other day and Steve Bulpett talks about it today, but man the East is bad.  Talk of tanking aside, if this team backs into the playoffs with a losing record that will be the worst of both worlds and puts them in a strategically diminished position going forward.  As Bulpett alludes to (and I've been saying all year long) don't be shocked if the team trades a veteran or two for future considerations.

Sully can play! Come what may with the standings, the primary objective this year is to develop our young talent and the shining star thus far is Jared Sullinger.  We knew that he would rebound, but we weren't sure that he would get his shot of in the NBA (he is), and we certainly didn't know that he would start developing a 3 point shot.  He's consistent, assertive, smart, and showing early signs of being a solid leader.  I'm legitimately excited about this guy.

Brad Stevens is the right man for this job: There were more experienced options available for Danny Ainge and company.  Stevens is still getting used to the NBA and it would be unfair to call him a "good" or "bad" coach this early (I lean toward giving him the benefit of the doubt based on what I've seen thus far).  What's clear, though, is that he fits well with what they are trying to do right now.  His calm presence and hyper focus on "process over results" is essential for a young team struggling to find an identity.

Jeff Green is a very,very good 2nd or 3rd option. Again, no need to pound this subject into the ground any further than it is already.  I said that there would be no more excuses this year and I think that is true.  I also don't think I can hold out hope for the highest of expectations on Jeff Green any longer.  He is what he is, and that's actually a really good thing.  He's not a bust and he's not a star.  He is, however, a very, very good player that can help your team in a lot of ways.

Jordan Crawford is the surprise of the year. Seriously, if you had told me before the season that Jordan Crawford would be the team's starting point guard and that he's be one of the main focal points of the offense this far into the season, I'd have assumed that the tank job was going in full effect.  Nothing has been more eye opening than seeing Crawford corral his wayward tendencies and become such a solid player on the court.  Some of that is maturity and some of it (I'm sure) is coaching but he's finally maximizing his talent.

More quick hits:

  • Avery Bradley is developing a very solid mid-range jumper and is improving all around on offense.
  • Courtney Lee is quietly having a solid season in somewhat limited minutes.
  • Brandon Bass is just flat-out good.
  • Gerald Wallace is the most expensive glue-guy in the league.  Does a lot of small things to help a team but he's well past his best days.
  • I'm giving Olynyk an incomplete because of his injury but I'm optimistic about him despite some early season shooting struggles.  Kid knows how to play.
  • Vitor Faverani is a nice backup center.  He's got potential to be more, but at the moment he's still learning with the rest of the team.

So far, so good.  I'm enjoying the 2013-14 Boston Celtics a lot.  The players are fun to watch, the coach has a system, the GM has a plan, and the future seems pretty bright.

How about you?  Any early observations that I missed or that you agree/disagree with?

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