The Boston Celtics open their season on Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers. And yet, despite so much excitement surrounding the team this season, many readers are looking towards the future, asking questions about the future of the franchise.
This mailbag answers your questions about the 2015-16 Celtics, with other notes on player development and the 2016 NBA Draft.
If your question wasn't answered here, I may have included it over on About.com, where you can find some more of this week's mailbag.
Q: Should I be worried that Avery Bradley started shooting those long two-pointers rather than three-pointers after his return from Europe? -- Findlay_Celtics (New York)
A: Findlay, don't be worried at all about Avery Bradley. 33 percent of his field goal attempts in the preseason came from mid-range. Last season, 43 percent did. Bradley's shot distribution from behind the arc are an inverse, with 34 percent last season to 41 percent this preseason. So, mid-range jumpers aren't going to disappear, they're just going to decline. Keep in mind that it was Bradley himself who said "long twos don't make as much sense as a three-pointer." I wouldn't be surprised if we see his numbers continue to evolve over the course of the season, like they have in past years.
Q: Do you think Tyler Zeller is underrated? -- Aravind (Boston)
A: Aravind, Nate Duncan and I actually had a great conversation about Tyler Zeller on his Dunc'd Podcast. You can listen to that by clicking here. As far as I'm concerned, 2015-16 is Zeller's third true developmental year (Cleveland was a dumpster fire in his "real" second season). Zeller might not be exceptional in any single category, but he's at least average in everything and he's very good or great in some. I'd prefer if Zeller were a better rebounder, but he makes up for it with his rock solid positional defending. It'd be nice if Zeller could hit threes, but he makes up for it with his passing ability, and super efficient pick-and-roll scoring. Plus, Zeller appears to be a team-first player who can accept his role. Some nights, against teams with traditional bigs, Brad Stevens might play him 30 minutes. Against other teams he might play only 10 minutes. Every team could use a Tyler Zeller.
Q: Considering the amount of second round picks that Danny Ainge has had, why hasn't he used more the international pick option as a means to draft talent and let it develop overseas? -- Marcos (Spain)
A: Marcos, the last International player the Celtics drafted (and kept) was Semih Erden in 2008. Erden spent two seasons overseas before joining the Celtics in 2010. So, you're right, it's been quite a while. However, Ainge has drafted players and stashed them overseas. They traded for the rights to Colton Iverson in 2013, who played in Turkey. And this year they drafted point guard Marcus Thornton, who is currently playing in Australia. The Celtics have previously scouted overseas talent, so perhaps the right players just haven't fallen into their lap. Also, consider the Celtics are well ahead of the curve in terms of their NBA D-League team. Maybe they'd prefer to draft players and keep them close to home playing for the Maine Red Claws. I think we'll see more NBA teams use the D-League similarly to the Celtics in coming seasons.
Q: Kevin, I don't think I'm alone in being impressed with Jordan Mickey's contributions in limited minutes over the course of the pre-season. Realistically how many opportunities do you think he will get to play over the regular season? Cheers! -- Angry Ranga (Melbourne)
A: Ranga, I think it's a little difficult to make a prediction about Mickey's minutes. There are so many variables, including potential injuries and trades. But what summer league and preseason did begin to show us is that Mickey can at least be relied upon to fill a limited role. Mickey is undoubtedly a natural shot blocker. The things he does well almost always translate to the NBA. The key, like for any rookie, will be for him to extrapolate that production over the course of a full season, or a larger workload within a single game. Mickey might not be "ready" offensively, but he doesn't need to be since he wouldn't be a go-to scorer in the event he's playing. He's likely already good enough as a screener, which is an area he excelled in college. So, to answer your question, I think he can play if he has to. But whether he does or not is really hard to know.
Q: How big of a deal is the C's loss of Darren Erman from the coaching staff, given his rep as a defensive wizard? -- Michael (Twitter)
A: Michael, it could hurt, but it remains to be seen how much, if at all. Darren Erman was a terrific coach, the perfect defensive coordinator for the Celtics. Erman helped the Celtics to a top 8 defensive rating after the All-Star break. But Brad Stevens and the rest of the staff are pretty good, too, and likely learned a lot being around Erman. David Lee mentioned that a lot of Boston's defensive concepts are "Tom Thibodeau influenced." So, with that in mind, don't expect too many changes. And, look, system matters, but as Bill Belichick would say: players play, coaches coach. And the Celtics have a lot of good defensive players that'd excel regardless of the system.
Q: Will Brad Stevens run a series of plays for R.J. Hunter? -- peterschott99 (Boston)
A: Peter, I think we'll see it at some point during the regular season. On a sideline out of bounds play during the preseason, Stevens actually did run a play to get Hunter a three at the top of the key. So, clearly the plays are installed. The key will be for Hunter to prove that he come off the bench cold, and then heat up and drain shots. That's something Stevens lauded Gigi Datome for last season.
Q: Does this look like the best Celtics draft class in recent memory? -- Rio Contrada (Los Angeles)
A: Rio, it certainly could be, but it's too early to tell. I think anyone from the Celtics would tell you that. But there is definitely reason to be excited for the futures of Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and Jordan Mickey. Rozier could develop into an effective two-way guard that can fill multiple roles offensively due to his ability to shoot off the catch. Hunter's basketball IQ is off the charts and he could become a knockdown shooter, plus his defense is much better than people give it credit for. Mickey's defensive skill-set could be a great fit to stop modern offenses, since Mickey can defend inside and outside. And lets not forget point guard Marcus Thornton, who's currently playing in Australia; he could develop into a spark plug scorer. We'll see how it pans out in the years to come, but the early returns are positive.
Q: Do you think it's possible for the Celtics to make the second round of the playoffs, as well as getting a top 5 lottery pick from the Nets this year. Maybe they slowly become closer to a championship contender. -- Austin G (Johnston, RI)
A: Austin, I think the Celtics are a lot closer to being contenders than people think. Sure, they aren't in the upper echelon of NBA teams yet, but they have tons of talent. I think it's insulting to the players and the front office when the national media consider Brad Stevens the only "valuable" asset on the Celtics. That discounts the talent of the players -- Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, etc -- and the team the front office is building. As for the Nets, I definitely think there's a strong chance they finish with one of the worst records in the league. More on that in the next question.
Q: I know it's early, but I'm super stoked about that Brooklyn pick next year. Could you give me a hand full of names to dream about with the Nets pick? -- Scuba Bleeds Green (Grinnell, Iowa)
A: Scuba, there are a handful of talented players at the top of this draft. The two big names you'll hear early in the year are LSU's Ben Simmons and Kentucky's Skal Labissiere. Simmons has the size of a forward, but the skills of a point guard. His vision and positional versatility is outstanding. But I'm a little lower on him than other prospects at the moment, because I haven't seen him develop his jumper as much as I would like. Labissiere could develop into an effective two-way big man, plus he has a very good shooting stroke. For international players, keep an eye on Dragan Bender. He doesn't turn 18 until mid-November and is truly a unique prospect. Bender's a 7-footer with guard/wing skills. I probably like Bender better than Simmons, but I haven't watched as much of Bender to say that with full confidence.
Q: Can Kelly Olynyk finally break out this season? He was really good at the FIBA Americas and his Dirk Nowitzki like shots in the pre-season look good. -- jh.schipper (Netherlands)
A: JH, Olynyk certainly could. Click here to read my back-and-forth with Olynyk from Media Day, which sums up most of my thoughts. I think the key will be for the coaching staff to enable him. Olynyk has talked openly about how his role on the Canadian National Team really made him a focal point, so he wasn't worried about making mistakes. We've seen flashes of what Olynyk is capable of and in preseason I think we saw him maintain that mindset. He was shooting without hesitating, while still utilizing his superb pump-and-go. I don't know what qualifies as a "break out," but Olynyk should be better in 2015.
Q: How many wins do you expect the Celtics to get this year? -- Nick C. (Boston)