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NBA Season Preview: Brad Stevens is a star, but don't sleep on the Boston Celtics' players

Players play. Coaches coach.

Brian Babineau / Getty Images

You'll find a lot of praise for Brad Stevens while reading articles on the Boston Celtics. They're 100 percent accurate. Stevens is the Celtics' biggest reason for hope. Stevens is their best advantage. Stevens is an elite NBA coach.

Stevens is even better than expected and I had high expectations; his process-oriented philosophy and understanding of player psychology have always set him apart.

So all that praise for Stevens is justified.

If he's not the NBA's best head coach today, he might be tomorrow.

The Celtics are retooling at a swift rate largely because of Stevens' ability to utilize his players in ways that maximizes their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses.

But let's not forget the players donning the Celtics uniform.

Or the front office that put the team together.

They also deserve a bulk of the credit, because the Celtics have accumulated a lot of good players -- through trades, the draft, and free agency -- and have significantly more talent than they're given credit for.

Because these players matter, here's a one-sentence introduction to each Celtic:

Isaiah Thomas: Speedy pick-and-roll playmaker who scores and distributes efficiently with a superstar-level usage percentage.

Marcus Smart: Ferocious defender that can hit clutch shots and has progressed as a pick-and-roll ball handler.

Avery Bradley: One of the NBA's elite perimeter defenders and has evolved each season of his career as a shooter.

Jae Crowder: Super aggressive, versatile defender, and could exceed expectations on offense if he improves his three-point percentage.

Amir Johnson: Elite pick-and-roll finisher and should add a new element of rim protection.

Tyler Zeller: A good all-around big man without any noteworthy weaknesses, who flashed elite pick-and-roll finishing skills last season.

Kelly Olynyk: Unique 7-footer with his ability to drain threes, drive closeouts, and create looks for his teammates.

David Lee: A savvy veteran who can serve as a playmaking forward, while providing complementary skills as a finisher around the rim.

Evan Turner: Clutch, versatile pass-first guard with the size of a forward, capable of defending multiple positions.

Jonas Jerebko: Hustling maniac, defends multiple positions, and can stretch the floor as a small or power forward.

Jared Sullinger: In rare company on a per-minute basis, and could extrapolate that production if he improves his conditioning.

R.J. Hunter: Arguably the best pure passer on the Celtics and could help their perimeter shooting with his flamethrower stroke.

Terry Rozier: Active defender who can provide energy in a limited role as a rookie.

James Young: Potentially a knockdown shooter and has progressed on defense.

Jordan Mickey: Could be a version of the new-age center in the modern NBA, with the versatility to protect the rim and switch onto smaller players.


Individually, these players all have talents that should allow them to carve out a career in the NBA, regardless of the situation. Collectively, they fit and provide the Celtics the building blocks to have a successful season.

The Celtics had a top 10 defense after the All-Star break last season, which was their driving force as one of the league's hottest finishers. Smart, Bradley, and Crowder will all start for the Celtics, and could cause a lot of headaches with their tenacious defense.

Johnson was one of the NBA's best pick-and-roll finishers last season, and Thomas was one of the best pick-and-roll scorers. They'll likely be paired together as much as possible, and could create problems for the defense, especially when they're surrounded by shooters like Olynyk, Jerebko, or Bradley.

With Lee, the Celtics added a second playmaker other than Thomas. In preseason, the Celtics ran much of their offense through Lee, who is able to facilitate from the high post. It's unorthodox, but it has presented a lot of different looks.

The Celtics ranked 27th in three-point shooting last season, arguably their most notable weakness, but could see an uptick in efficiency. They'll have Thomas the entire year. Bradley appears to have extended his range while the coaching staff has evolved his play types. Crowder has made subtle improvements to his mechanics. Olynyk is entering his third year and could finally click offensively. And Hunter was added through the draft, who could be a weapon after timeouts.

The Celtics do lack a reliable second go-to scorer, but they have plenty of players who are capable of stepping up each night.

"We have a lot of guys," Danny Ainge recently told Toucher & Rich. "We don't need all of them to do it every single night. We just need a few of them to do it on any given night. I feel like we have a lot of options. That's why our depth is a big advantage."

The depth is an advantage in terms of scoring, but also in terms of night-to-night flexibility.

With Lee, Johnson, Sullinger, and Zeller, the Celtics have the ability to play big, traditional lineups. But with players like Jerebko, Crowder, Turner, and Smart, they're also able to play small ball. The Celtics can be chameleons and take on different forms depending on the matchup and situation.

All of this is to say that the Celtics have more talent than they're being given credit for.

It's also a reason why the media and fans are surprised prediction machines expect the Celtics to finish with anywhere between 46 and 52 wins.

But when assessing the roster, both individually and collectively, it's not so surprising.

No matter how the Boston Celtics perform this year, keep in mind that while Brad Stevens is the franchise's star, there are other factors that deserve much of the credit.


View my season predictions below:

2015-16 NBA Season Standings Predictions
Seed Western Conference (Wins) Eastern Conference (Wins)
1 Golden State Warriors (65) Cleveland Cavaliers (62)
2 San Antonio Spurs (59) Boston Celtics (50)
3 Houston Rockets (57) Atlanta Hawks (47)
4 Oklahoma City Thunder (57) Toronto Raptors (47)
5 Los Angeles Clippers (56) Chicago Bulls (45)
6 Memphis Grizzlies (47) Indiana Pacers (43)
7 New Orleans Pelicans (46) Washington Wizards (43)
8 Utah Jazz (41) Miami Heat (40)
Non-Playoff Teams (Wins)
9 Sacramento Kings (38) Detroit Pistons (37)
10 Phoenix Suns (36) Milwaukee Bucks (35)
11 Dallas Mavericks (36) Charlotte Hornets (35)
12 Portland Trail Blazers (35) Orlando Magic (33)
13 Minnesota Timberwolves (29) New York Knicks (24)
14 Denver Nuggets (25) Brooklyn Nets (21)
15 Los Angeles Lakers (21) Philadelphia 76ers (20)

My original prediction for the Celtics was around 47 or 48 wins, but the possibility of player development and trades pushes it to 50.

Out West, I fully expect the Warriors to continue their domination. The Rockets appear to be somewhat overlooked around the league and they could push for 60 wins.

2016 NBA Playoff Predictions
First Round Conference Semis Conference Finals NBA Finals
West Warriors (1) over Jazz (8) Warriors (1) over Thunder (4) Warriors (1) over Rockets (4) Warriors (1) over Bulls (5)
Thunder (4) over Clippers (5)
Spurs (2) over Pelicans (7) Rockets (3) over Spurs (2)
Rockets (3) over Grizzlies (6)
East Cavaliers (1) over Heat (8) Bulls (5) over Cavaliers (4) Bulls (5) over Celtics (2)
Bulls (5) over Raptors (4)
Celtics (2) over Wizards (7) Celtics (2) over Pacers (6)
Pacers (6) over Hawks (3)

I'm not trying to get cute with my Western Conference or NBA Finals prediction: the Warriors are the best team, period. There are plenty of contenders out West, but none are quite on their level. The Spurs will also be in the conversation, but if there's one dark horse team that matches up very well against them, it's Houston.

Most pundits are picking the Cavaliers to represent the Eastern Conference, but I'm making the contrarian guess and going with the Bulls. LeBron James' back injury seems to be bothering him more than ever, so it's plausible by the playoffs he's worn out.

I don't think it's crazy for the Celtics to win a playoff series or two, especially if they make a plus-trade during the season. It all depends on who they face each round. But, for that matter, most of these teams could make a run if they get hot.

2015-16 NBA Award Predictions
Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry (Warriors)
Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
Rookie of the Year Karl Towns (Timberwolves)
Sixth Man of the Year Isaiah Thomas (Celtics)
Most Improved Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (Jazz)
Coach of the Year Brad Stevens (Celtics)

Curry will once again dominate, maybe he'll be even better than last season.

Gobert should take the next step up as a player, and I have him taking both DPOTY and Most Improved. After January 1, the Jazz were second in the NBA with a 98.3 defensive rating. Much of the credit for that success goes to Gobert.

Towns should receive ample opportunity with the Wolves, and he'll likely be efficient with his minutes. If the Wolves make an unexpected playoff push, it'll probably because Towns develops quicker than expected.

Thomas takes Sixth Man (he should have won it last year) -- with one of the league's highest usage rates in 28 minutes per game. The 50-win Celtics will surprise the national media, making Brad Stevens the no-brainer choice -- and then he'll thank the players during his acceptance speech.

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