With the Boston Celtics’ second straight first-round exit from the postseason in the books, it’s clear president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has plenty of work ahead of him this offseason to help the team advance to the next stage of its rebuild. Before looking to add pieces to the roster, Ainge will have to evaluate the progress of his own personnel over the past season.
What players rose above expectations? Who failed to make an impact? And which individuals could be a major part of the team’s plans moving forward?
We’ll explore all of these questions in the final edition of Celtics player power rankings for the 2015-2016 season.
15. John Holland (preseason rank: N/A): The journeyman will be able to tell his grandkids that he played in at least one NBA game, seeing the floor for one minute at the end of Boston’s Game 1 loss against the Hawks. Moving forward, he’ll merely be a trade chip for Ainge this summer, thanks to his non-guaranteed contract for next season.
14. James Young (14): Year two of the James Young era in Boston was arguably more disappointing than his rookie season. His percentages (30.6 percent on field goals) and averages (1.0 points per game) dipped across the board amid inconsistent playing time and frequent trips to Maine. The fact he wasn’t called upon by Celtics head coach Brad Stevens for a meaningful look in the Hawks series despite Boston’s inept shooting was telling. He’s only 20-years-old, but he may not be around for the next stage of the Boston rebuild.
13. Jordan Mickey (15): After playing no more than nine minutes in any one game in a Celtics uniform, it’s tough to accurately gauge the progress of the LSU product in his rookie year. The big man did average a double-double in 23 games for the Maine Red Claws and added 4.4 blocks per game. He’ll have to hope for a less crowded Celtics frontcourt next season so he has a chance to work his way into the rotation.
12. R.J. Hunter (13): The 22-year-old shooting guard showed the most out of Boston’s rookies during the regular season, but that isn’t saying much. Hunter averaged 2.7 points per game and shot a lackluster 36.7 percent from the field. He got his chances against the Hawks in the postseason, but was exposed defensively by Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver while filling in for injured teammate Avery Bradley. There’s untapped potential here, but plenty of work to do this summer.
11. Terry Rozier (13): One of the few bright spots in the Hawks series was the play of the No. 16 overall pick in the last draft. After looking lost for most of the regular season, Rozier worked his way into the Celtics’ rotation in March and held his own defensively against a talented Hawks backcourt. His offense and shooting are a work in progress, but the 22-year-old’s athleticism stood out on a Celtics roster in dire need of more of it.
10. Tyler Zeller (7): On a roster with a loaded depth chart in the frontcourt, there was one player who had to be the odd man out most nights. More often than not, it ended up being Zeller. The seven-footer averaged a career-low 11.3 minutes per game in just 60 games, and never found a consistent rhythm on either end of the floor. With free agency looming, the center may look elsewhere for more opportunity.
9. Jonas Jerebko (10): Like Rozier, Jerebko saved his most impressive work of the year for the postseason. He started four games for the first time in three years and was the only Boston big capable of spreading out the Hawks’ defense with his shooting. After putting together one of his best seasons from 3-point range (39.8 percent), Jerebko is a strong candidate to stick around with his modest contract ($5 million) for next season.
8. Kelly Olynyk (8): First, the good news: The seven-footer took a sizable step forward offensively this year, hitting a career-best 40.5 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. That’s a six-point jump from his previous top mark. Unfortunately for Olynyk, those numbers failed to matter for much of the second half of the season as a shoulder injury limited his effectiveness after the All-Star break. The ugly finish to his year was capped by scoring just two points in the entire series against Atlanta.
7. Jared Sullinger (11): For the first time in his four-year NBA career, Sullinger stayed healthy for a full season, playing in a career-high 81 games. Still, it was an up-and-down season for the 24-year-old. He grabbed a career-best 8.3 rebounds per game, tops on the team for the second straight year. Still, like Olynyk, he ended the season on a sour note, looking outmatched by a Hawks frontline that forced him to the bench for much of the series. As a pending restricted free agent, his future with the Celtics is as uncertain as ever.
6. Amir Johnson (6): Plantar fasciitis hampered Johnson for much of the regular season, but the veteran center rose to the occasion in the final months of his first year in Boston. He was the team’s only consistent frontcourt performer in the playoffs, averaging 8.5 points and 7.2 rebounds on 66 percent shooting, while also anchoring the back line of Boston’s defense. At age 29, he’s one of the most senior members of the roster and could be trade bait for Ainge this offseason as he’s under contract for a reasonable $12 million for next year.
5. Marcus Smart (2): The Celtics floundered among teams at the bottom of the 3-point shooting rankings for the second straight year, and Smart’s regression was a big reason why. He hit just 25.3 percent of his attempts from distance, a drop of eight percentage points from his rookie season. Despite his offensive woes, the 6-foot-4 guard still ranked fifth on the team in minutes per game, and was third on the team in postseason scoring (12.0 points per game) once Bradley went down with a hamstring injury. That performance and his stellar defense should give Celtics fans reasons for optimism about his growth potential heading into the offseason.
4. Evan Turner (9): With Jae Crowder’s ascension to the starting lineup, Turner was somewhat of an afterthought heading into the 2015-16 regular season. The swingman responded to the demotion by excelling as Boston’s sixth man, giving Stevens a little bit of everything most nights as he put together the best shooting season of his career. The improved efficiency should bring the unrestricted free agent a sizable payday, although it may not come in Boston.
3. Jae Crowder (4): A career year by the small forward was sidetracked in the final two months of the season, thanks to a high ankle sprain and lingering bone bruise in his foot. Those injuries should not take away from the fact that Crowder was Boston’s second-best player for a large part of the 2015-16 campaign. After signing a five-year contract with Boston last offseason, the two-way swingman is positioned to be a key piece of the team’s future, either as a core piece or trade chip.
2. Avery Bradley (3): Fans saw firsthand how important Bradley’s offense is to the team when the shooting guard went down with a hamstring injury in Game 1 of the postseason. Boston went on to shoot 38 percent from the field in the series against the Hawks, the worst performance out of any team in the first round of the playoffs. With career-highs in points (15.4) and minutes (33.4) per game, Bradley solidified his value as a vital contributor for the Celtics on both ends of the floor.
1. Isaiah Thomas (1): Outside of the 5-foot-9 point guard, only six players in the NBA averaged at least 22 points and six assists per game in the regular season this year. With a well-deserved All-Star appearance and a top-10 postseason scoring average to boot, Thomas established himself as one of the league’s best offensive creators. He’s a piece that Ainge will be looking to build with, not move, this offseason.