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20 games in, how good are the Boston Celtics?

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Not great, but not really bad either.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It has been 20 games, so I'm lifting my self-imposed rule against rushing to judgment on the Celtics.

Re-introducing the 20 game rule for Boston Celtics fans - CelticsBlog

Every year is slightly different but I generally like to promote a "20 game rule" which isn't so much a rule as it is a recommendation or guideline.  4 or 5 games isn't enough of a sample size to make up your mind about a team and the season that they are having.  Waiting till half the games are over isn't exactly practical though.  So 20 games out of 82 seems like a good enough cutting off point.  By then we'll know a lot more about the makeup of this team.

So, the Celtics are currently 7 - 13 and one game out of the 8th seed in the terrible, no-good Eastern Conference.

Do we really know more about this team than we did at the start of the season?  Yes and no.  There are some details that we know better now than we did then but in general they are largely an unfinished product.  Like most young teams with talent they struggle with consistency.  One day they look like surprise contenders and the next day they look lethargic and lost.  Come to think of it, several individual games have featured both sides of this split personality.  Sometimes they get big leads and give them up.  Sometimes they get down early and come back.  They are Gump's proverbial box of chocolates.

Still, I think we can identify some specific things that are good and bad about this team.  Here's a little bit of each from my viewpoint. Feel free to disagree and debate.

The Good:

At a healthy 19.6 points per game Jeff Green is playing the best season of his career.  He fits perfectly into this system of ball movement.  He is thriving in the role of being the best scorer without having to be the best player on the team.  I almost hate to jinx it, but so far he's been downright consistent.

Marcus Smart is still young and has had to sit for half the games thus far with a bad ankle, but he's shown some amazing flashes.  His defense is as good as advertised and the sight of him stripping opponent ball handlers and streaking up the court is becoming a common occurrence.  His relentless effort and drive is infectious in a way that is reminiscent of KG and Pierce.  I think they both would have really loved playing with this kid.

The bigs have been up and down but each has had moments in the sun.  Jared Sullinger has probably been the most consistent (outside of old reliable Brandon Bass of course).  Kelly Olynyk started the season hot but has cooled off a little.  Tyler Zeller has been very good since being inserted into the starting lineup.

In general one of the big goals of this season is to develop the talent that they have.  It appears that they are succeeding in this.

Insider: C's tops in developing talent - Boston Celtics Blog - ESPN Boston

The Celtics ranked second in Insider's rankings based on a calculation called VOE, value (in wins) produced over expectation from young players. Boston is second behind only the Golden State Warriors.

Finally, when Rajon Rondo is "on" he's flat out one of the best and most entertaining players in the league.  He changes games and makes his teammates better.  However, this brings me to the next section...

The Bad:

When Rondo is "off" the whole team looks out of synch.  This happens to any team when their best player struggles but it has happened a little too often for comfort with Rondo this year.  I'm not sure how much longer we can use the ACL injury as an excuse. Especially since the problems appear to centered north of his neck.  The free throws are a problem and the late game mistakes are concerning.  Hopefully he can snap out of this occasional funk.  He's saying all the right things, taking responsibility, and remaining outwardly confident and optimistic.  That's about all you can ask for at this point.

Aside from Rondo, as you might expect, there are issues with consistency from everyone on the roster - again, with the surprising exception of Jeff Green.

The Ugly:

The 4th quarter is a legit problem.  Sure there have been some games where they were down and came roaring back because they had nothing to lose and got on a roll.  But for whatever reason they can't seem to find that same energy level and execution when they are up or even playing in a close game.

Offensive sets that worked in the prior 3 quarters bog down and fall apart in the 4th.  Where the ball was zipping around the court early in the game, it sticks and stalls in the final quarter.  They don't really have a go-to scorer in the clutch.  That might be an overrated concept but they at least need a few guys that are able to create their own shot and relish that moment.


Maybe this isn't as big of a mystery as it seems when you are staring at the bark of the trees in front of us.  Taking the bird's eye view, we see much of what we expected.  The talent is there but the experience isn't.  They still lack a rim protector.  Most of the veterans are expiring contracts and the young players might be used as trade chips in a couple of months.

In short, this is a rebuilding year.  If they overachieve, that's great. But there are no grand expectations for this team to compete for a title this year.  If the name of the game is development and building experience then "so far so good."

If you are looking for wins, things aren't as rosy just yet.  But there's still hope for that too.  A difficult November created most of those losses and they have an easier schedule for the rest of this month.  We'll see if they can capitalize on that and get a little momentum for the rest of the year.