To all but the most optimistic it appears that our defense is going to take a step back next year. When you lose one of the all time greatest defensive big men of all time, that tends to happen. When your center position is most likely going to be filled with rookies and out of position power forwards, that doesn't bode too well either.
But a recent column by ESPN stating that the Celtics would be the worst defensive team in the league did seem to overstate things by a tad. After all, Brad Stevens had strong defensive teams and his lead assistant Ron Adams certainly has the chops to help in that area as well. Most of the key players tutored under Doc and KG and know their way around that side of the court. So I don't think all is lost by a long shot.
However, all this is conjecture and perhaps a little wishful thinking. So let us look at some stats and discuss.
By season's end, the Celtics had slid Jeff Green into the starting lineup and his defensive boost (0.79 ppp, 82nd percentile) only strengthened that side of the ball. As we noted at the start of this series on Monday, it's impossible to project what Boston's starting 5 will look like, but here's one way the unit could look early in the season (at least after Rajon Rondo's return) with defensive stats from last season:
Yes, Wallace's numbers from last season are an eyesore and Pierce never got enough credit for how crafty of a defender he could be. But we also know that Wallace is a gritty defender who is going to make things tough on opposing wings. The real question is just how big of a drop off will Boston experience in going from Garnett to the likes of Humphries?
That Wallace number is pretty shocking to me. Was he really that bad last year? My impression of him was that he was a good defender and that it was just his shot that was failing him last year. Perhaps the team around him skewed the numbers a bit.
Of course that's the kind of context that you have to keep in mind with all these stats. Kevin Garnett was roaming the middle as Rondo, Bradley, and Green were putting up solid defensive numbers. Bradley is, of course, a master craftsman in his own right and Rondo can kind of turn it on and turn it off (like the rest of his game) at times. Green had a pretty unfavorable reputation on defense until recently but has really stepped up his game in that regard.
Of the non-starters, Brandon Bass also has stepped up his game considerably in recent years as well. Sullinger is undersized but smart so I'm not overly worried about him. Olynyk is going to have to learn a lot on that side of the ball, but his offense makes it worth the growing pains. Ditto for MarShon Brooks (to a point). I haven't a clue what to expect from Faverani.
The challenge for the Celtics will also be about buying in. It has to start with Rondo and it has to flow down to the rest of the team - most of whom still remember the we-not-me mantra that Kevin Garnett preached daily. They've got a great opportunity to step up and prove some doubters wrong.
Of course, if things go south in the standings, it is also possible that players might get discouraged and eventually lack the motivation to put forth the full effort needed on defense. But if that happens, we'll know pretty quickly who's worth keeping around and who isn't.
It should be an interesting year. There will be growing pains and missteps along the way, but I certainly hope that they'll be working hard and giving it their all regardless of the score or standings.
What do you think? Will the Celtics be reasonably good at defense this year?