We’ll start with the big reveal: The Celtics are who we thought they were. At the moment, that means they’re not a very good team. The Celtics won their first game of the season, 97-87, at home Wednesday night vs. the hapless Utah Jazz. At 1-4, the C’s are on pace to win 16.4 games. That’s well below the the 27.5 number one Las Vegas book set to get action on the team before the season started.
Rajon Rondo’s return should make this team much better, and Brad Stevens just coached his fifth NBA game. The Celtics will improve as the season goes along. That improvement, however, doesn’t mask the fact that this roster isn’t built to win now. Outside of Rondo, the C’s don’t have a reliable ball handler; there’s redundancy at both forward spots and they lack size in the middle. None of their four shooting guards are particularly good outside shooters.
As hard as it may be to watch, right now, the Celtics are meeting expectations. Stevens was not handed a playoff team or anything close to it. It’s going to get better, but not dramatically so. Remember, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (and Rondo for much of the season) the Celtics were 41-40 last season and suffered a first-round exit. Without those players, it’s hard to expect much more than this.
Here are five early observations after the first five games of the season:
— Avery Bradley isn’t a point guard: No, this isn’t some ethereal discussion on what it means to be a true point guard vs. a combo guard. Bradley can’t run the offense. Brad Stevens started Bradley at shooting guard Wednesday night alongside Jordan Crawford, and the results were much better. Heading into the game the Celtics were averaging a league-worst 21 turnovers per game. That number dropped to 14 vs. the Jazz.
I’m one of Bradley’s biggest supporters, but through five games he’s averaging 3.4 turnovers to 2.6 assists. On the other hand, Crawford has averaged 3 assists and 1 turnover per game. Bradley is a plus defender and a better shooter than he’s shown. Asked if he felt more comfortable starting next to Crawford, Bradley said, “A little bit. If there is somebody else there you can kind of get a rhythm a little better because you don’t always have the ball.”
Bradley should improve slotted next to Rondo. For now, Crawford is the better option.
— Jordan Crawford is a sneaky good passer: Last season, Doc Rivers said several times that the shoot-first Crawford was an excellent passer. The statement elicited eye rolls and smirks, but through the first part of this season Crawford has proven to be better than expected in that area. Crawford is still looking for his shot first, but he’s pulled off some great dishes so far. My favorite came in the third quarter last night when Crawford drove the lane and found Sullinger with a nifty no-look that screamed right into his hands. Per 36 minutes Crawford is averaging 5.2 assists. Not exactly high volume, but it’s the best on the team to date.
— Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are good and bad together: As an offensive duo, Olynky and Sullinger are mesmerizing. They each move well without the ball, have a deft passing touch, and have all the little tricks you need to score around the rim. They feed off each other, finding one another when there’s a mismatch in the post.
Defensively it’s a different story. Olynyk is not ready for NBA defense, which makes sense: he’s a rookie. He gets lost on screens and bullied in the post. On a play near the end of the first quarter Wenesday, Olynyk gave an awful close-out on a baseline jumper by Derrick Favors. Through no effort of Olynyk’s, Favors missed the wide-open shot, but OIynyk was able to sprint free and score an easy layup. Such is life watching the rookie.
Sullinger is better on defense and great at keeping his man off the defensive glass. But he lacks the height to be an NBA center. Together, they form an exciting NBA frontcourt on one end and a potentially disastrous one on the other.
— There are a lot of bad teams out there: Did you see that Jazz roster last night? Outside of Gordon Hayward and above-average big man Enes Kanter, there’s no one on the team who worries you. Utah tried to rebuild while also contending the last few seasons. It didn’t work. They’re going to be bad, along with half a dozen or more teams in the league. The Celtics face a couple of them — the Magic and the Bobcats — this week. Even if a team were theoretically tanking for a higher draft pick, it wouldn’t guarantee anything.
— Kris Humphries isn’t being used enough: Humphries could be Boston’s most complete big man, but he barely sniffed the floor last night, seeing just 5:42 of action. That’s about half of what he usually plays. Sullinger and Olynyk are undoubtedly more exciting, but they’re also greener. The Celtics would be a better team with Humphries on the floor more.