Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jaylen Brown make up the Celtics sixth, seventh and eighth men whenever the team is playing with a fully healthy roster and this bench trio has been rapidly improving all year as Boston keys in on the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics looked good at the end of December. They had a 20-14 record and were playing some of their best basketball, winning seven of nine to end the calendar year of 2016. But the improvements have continued to come and Boston is 22-11 since New Year’s Day, with some marquee wins against teams like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers which were seemingly absent earlier the season.
Smart, Olynyk and Brown have been a huge part of this 2017 success and they’ve all stepped up their games, whether everybody is healthy or they’re picking up some extra minutes for a guy like Avery Bradley or Al Horford. While Boston was still a very competitive teams heading into the new year, having all three of them improve their games just a little bit have helped take the Celtics to a new level, that includes the ability to knock off top teams.
For Brown, he’s almost following the same path that Olynyk and Smart did as rookies under Brad Stevens. Both Olynyk and Smart were given Second Team All-Rookie honors during their respective first seasons in the NBA and they each did it behind a strong second half. Olynyk actually got off to a disastrous start and it took him seven games to finally knock down a three pointer, which we all know is a huge part of his game. He was averaging 6.4 PPG when New Year’s Eve rolled around and shooting just 22.2% from beyond the arc. Everything changed after that and he went on to average 9.4 PPG in the remaining games, including a 49.0% mark from the floor and a strong 37.8% clip from three.
While Brown is still on the path toward an impressive second part of the season like Olynyk had back in the 2013-14 season, his turnaround probably mirrors Smart’s even more because they’re both mostly playing time driven. There is no doubting that Brown has been playing much better the last two months compared to what he was doing earlier in the season, but his spike in number is also thanks to a spike in minutes as well. Smart entered his rookie year as the backup point guard behind Rajon Rondo, who then opened the door for Smart to get more playing time once he was traded in December of Smart’s rookie year and he wound up taking full advantage of those minutes and earned himself that Second Team All-Rookie spot.
These three guys will really determine how deep of a playoff run Boston makes. You can say it rests on the shoulders of a guy like Isaiah Thomas, but he’s still been an offensive beast even when the team is at their lowest points and it’s really the depth of this team that carries them to wins or causes them to lose.