The Boston Celtics are like a traveling band of misfits and outcasts, with a bench featuring the leftovers, Evan Turner and Marcus Thornton. Very few teams had any interest in acquiring them this offseason, but Boston welcomed them with open arms.
More on Evan Turner
More on Evan Turner
Of course, Thornton came along with Tyler Zeller and a first round pick, and Turner signed a market-friendly contract, but Brad Stevens and the Celtics are quickly looking like a rehab center for players who were once thought to be busts.
Jordan Crawford was last year's revitalization story for the Celtics, as he played exceptionally well for a long enough period of time for Danny Ainge to unload him for two second round draft picks.
Maybe Turner or Thornton will meet the same fate after a short stint in Boston, as it appears they are ascending in their brand new system, but at the moment the Celtics are just worried about putting their new acquisitions in positions to perform at a high level.
The Green Light
Marcus Thornton says that Brad Stevens has given him the green light, which means he has the freedom to improvise and shoot the ball within the construct of the offense. Thornton has a reputation for being a chucker -- which is one reason why he was exiled from Sacramento -- but having a player who can score from anywhere is something the team lacked last season.
More on Marcus Thornton
Danny Ainge's love for "sparkplugs" is a story I have beaten to death already, and Thornton's role as that is pretty clear. So far in preseason he is averaging 20.5 minutes per game and is tossing up 0.6 shots per minute. With that, he's scoring 15 points on a 52.9 effective field goal percentage.
But this isn't groundbreaking stuff, since everyone already knows Thornton can shoot the rock and heat up for some huge performances (and some duds too). The way Stevens is using him is virtually the same way he has played his entire career.
Thornton is playing hard on defense, which is something he really hasn't done since early in his career. While he was never a terrific man-to-man defender with New Orleans or Sacramento, he at least tried. But then, as the culture rotted in Sactown, Thornton's effort did too.
At one point last season, Grantland's Zach Lowe accurately ripped Thornton's defense to pieces:
Grantland: Marcus Thornton's Defense
He still gets lost away from the ball, and he’s always spacing out or ball-watching as his man cuts behind him. He has never shown any organized commitment to team defense or help schemes. He’s just not a useful NBA player right now.
So far this preseason, I've observed some of the errors that have plagued Thornton his entire career, especially off-ball awareness, but I'm at least seeing effort. He's busting his butt, fighting through screens, jumping passing lanes, and picking up scrappy steals.
Stevens didn't just give Thornton the green light because he's the only go-to bench scoring option they have; he gave it to him because he's actually exerting energy on both ends of the floor. Maybe he's just playing for a big contract when he hits free agency next summer, but his agenda doesn't really matter, because right now the process and results are beneficial.
Thornton is likely motivated since he is being positively reinforced for his play on offense and defense. If Thornton is playing consistent minutes in a healthy environment, and is enabled to shoot the basketball when he wants, then it'll lead to effort on the defensive end.
At least so far.
Unless the light turns yellow or red for Marcus Thornton, the Celtics are going to try and take advantage of his hot scoring touch, and they'll hope he rewards them back with his full attentiveness and defensive effort.
The Stat Sheet Stuffer
Many readers called me crazy when I said that Evan Turner was a bargain free agent signing and that he had a chance for redemption with Boston. Through four preseason games, I believe my prediction is accurate so far.
Brad Stevens has even hinted that Turner may have played his way into a starting role, which really isn't too much of a surprise since he is filling up the box score on a nightly basis. In 27 minutes per game, Turner is averaging 11.8 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game.
He also has an underwhelming 45.3 eFG percentage, but he's not expected to score in this role, which is exactly why his results are so promising.
Turner is still ridding himself of his "pound the ball for 15 seconds and shoot" habits that were developed the past few years in Philadelphia, but he is clearly looking to pass first.
Even though he still gets a little loose with the dribble, bringing the ball into traffic, he's at least keeping his head up and looking to distribute. Turner isn't looking to do too much -- he's not trying to be the star -- he's trying to be a part of the team.
Stevens must have wet dreams thinking about all the lineup possibilities once Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green return, since Turner's proficiency could improve even more once he's being worked as a secondary pick-and-roll ball handler, as opposed to the primary. Turner is Boston's Swiss Army Knife, and you can be certain that Stevens is going to do what he can to put him in a good position to take advantage of match-ups and situations.
Turner is also bringing it defensively, as he is allowing only 0.743 points per play, according to Synergy Sports, per ESPN's Chris Forsberg. Turner's defense regressed the past few seasons, similar to how Thornton's did, but he now appears fully committed, much like he was early in his career and in college.
His fundamentals are sound, and his size and length allows him to defend multiple positions with ease. If Turner continues to perform at this level, then Stevens' confidence in him will only increase.
But sustaining this productivity is the key. If Boston's early promise begins to fade, it'll be a challenge to keep Thornton and Turner on the right track. After all, they are misfits and outcasts, and these are the types of players who tend to sink with the ship.
Continuously putting Evan Turner and Marcus Thornton in positions to succeed will be one of the greatest challenges of Brad Stevens' young career, but if his track record is any indication, then they are in very good hands this season, and the Boston Celtics will reap the benefits.