The Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their third straight NBA Finals by ending the Boston Celtics season.
Despite what the team said throughout their postseason run, this season went the way many people expected it too by having the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals and lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers; they had entered the season with 20-1 title odds according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and that was the second best mark in the conference.
But with the end of the season comes some loose ends to tie up and one of those is always some final grades.
Avery Bradley: B+
Having Bradley miss a significant amount of time with an Achilles injury does hurt this grade a bit, because he was brilliant when healthy and had arguably his best season yet. It’s no secret that Bradley is one of the league’s elite defenders, but his offense is really coming along. He’s been the team’s second leading scorer in three of the past four years now – technically finishing third behind Isaiah Thomas and Jeff Green in the 2014-15 season and because of trades those two never saw the floor together, so you can make an argument that he’s been the second leading scorer in four straight years – and this season might have been his best offensive act yet, post his best shooting averages since the 2011-12 season when he first took the starting shooting guard job from Ray Allen and averaging a career high 16.3 PPG.
Jaylen Brown: B-
It was an up-and-down year for Brown, but you’d have to expect that from most rookies. There were a number of flashes of what the 20-year old could eventually be while other times he was cast aside for veteran Gerald Green when he was struggling. Brown was 15th among all NBA rookies in points per game this season, but he was also one of just two rookies in that group of 15 to average under 20 minutes per game. A player like sixth overall pick Buddy Hield averaged roughly four more points per game in six more minutes per game, finishing behind Brown in terms of shooting percentage; 45.5% to 42.4%. If a crappy team had drafted Brown, it’s reasonable to believe that he could have competed for Rookie of the Year by ballooning his number with a bigger minutes load. That just wasn’t possible in this situation.
Jae Crowder: B+
Believe it or not, Crowder was actually the plus/minus darling of the team this season. Boston outscored opponents by 7.8 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and were outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions when he wasn’t; the net difference of 11.5 between the numbers was the highest mark on the team. His overall scoring average took a hit this year, but he easily had his most efficient offensive year to date. Crowder entered the season shooting at a 42.6% career clip and 32.4% from three but he exploded for career highs of 46.3% shooting from the floor and 39.8% from beyond the arc. He also averaged a career high 2.2 APG and decreased his turnover rate as well.
Gerald Green: C
It was really cool to see Green come up big a few times this postseason, but it also can’t be ignored that the regular season was probably his worst since the 2008-09 season when he was with the Dallas Mavericks. After that forgettable season in Dallas, Green was unable to get an NBA job and he bounced around between Russia, China and the D-League for two years before finally getting back into the NBA. This year saw Green post his lowest scoring total and second lowest shooting percentage since he got back into the league and he also appeared in just 47 games despite having no real injuries, he dressed the entire time but just not playing well enough to get himself on the floor.
Al Horford: A-
There were some wild expectations for Horford after he inked a $113 million deal over the summer, but those were coming from fans who expected the four time All-Star to be some sort of Kevin Garnett like force. In reality, Horford did exactly what the Celtics brought him in to do and even went above and beyond that. His 5.0 APG was second among all listed centers and power forwards in the league, he led the Celtics in rebounding and also chipped in with solid defense and 14.0 PPG. The playoffs saw an even more dominant Horford. In the Celtics three rounds, he averaged 15.1 PPG on an insane 58.4% shooting.
Demetrius Jackson: B
Here is a case where the grading is really tough, but it’s only fair to do so on a curve. Jackson only appeared in five regular season games and never saw the floor in the postseason, but he was a key piece for a Red Claws team that advanced to the D-League Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. The former Notre Dame standout led Maine with 6.0 APG and 1.3 SPG. He also added 14.4 PPG and 5.1 RPG. Seen as a late first round pick by a number of people, many analysts viewed Jackson as one of the draft’s biggest steals after Boston scooped him up with the 45h overall pick, but there were simply too many guards for him to even get a real shot to prove that he was a steal.
Jonas Jerebko: D+
This was easily the worst year of Jerebko’s career. He’s now long removed from being that second round pick out of Sweden who turned some heads by averaging 9.3 PPG and 6.0 RPG in a starting role for the Detroit Pistons as a rookie. Those are still both career highs for the now 30-year old Jerebko, who put up career lows in both of those categories this past season, despite seeing a minutes increase from his role with the Celtics last year. The Swedish swingman came up huge in the Celtics lone win over the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but he was otherwise silent in the postseason. Jerebko flat out didn’t play in six of the 18 playoff games this year and there were many instances where he was only receiving garbage time minutes.
Amir Johnson: C
It was a very disappointing postseason for Johnson, who got shuffled in and out of the starting lineup because of his poor play or Gerald Green’s poor play forcing Stevens to turn back to the veteran power forward. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Johnson’s dreadful stretch in the playoffs is how good he was looking at the end of the regular season. He might have finished the year by averaging just 6.5 PPG, but Johnson scored 7.4 PPG on 58.2% over his final 20 appearances of the campaign and there was reason to be excited about what he was going to bring to Boston in the playoffs; things just didn’t wind up working out.
Jordan Mickey: D+
Al Horford played just three games for Boston before a concussion sidelined him for the next nine contests and Kelly Olynyk hadn’t yet returned to the lineup after offseason shoulder surgery. This opened up a huge door for Jordan Mickey as he was able to see the floor in eight of the Celtics first 12 games, but he blew his opportunity with poor play and he only appeared in 17 of the remaining 69 games. With stashed players like Ante Zizic breathing down his neck, it seems doubtful that Mickey will ever be a regular in the Celtics rotation.
Kelly Olynyk: B
His offseason shoulder surgery really set him back and it was clear once he got back on the floor that we were watching a guy who had spent the offseason doing no basketball activities what-so-ever. Olynyk was averaging 7.6 PPG on 43.9% shooting though his first 30 appearances, but things quickly turned around for him as he averaged 10.1 PPG on 55.5% the rest of the way. This was the first season of the Canadian big man career in which he shot over 50% from the floor and then he kept things going in the playoffs by shooting 51.2% from the floor over 18 appearances. People are often quick to rag Olynyk for his rebounding skills, but his 11.6 boards per 100 possessions was actually higher than Horford, Johnson and Jerebko this season. Does this mean he’s a good rebounder? Not at all. But Olynyk was the best rebounder in the team’s rotation.
Terry Rozier: C+
The second year point guard appeared in 74 games this year – well up from the 39 he posted as a rookie – but he often found himself with different roles as it was hard to trust him with big minutes at certain times. Rozier is probably the most athletic player on the Celtics right now and this causes him to be great in short bursts. He often makes huge plays that can go unnoticed in a box score, such as a deflection that leads to somebody else securing a steal before cashing in on some easy fast break points. The big issue is his basketball IQ and the longer he’s on the floor for, the more boneheaded decisions you’ll see him make. There is plenty of reason to believe that Rozier has a very bright NBA future ahead of him, but he’s still a project player who needs more time.
Marcus Smart: B-
Year three is now in the books for Marcus Smart and the same glairing problem is still there; shooting. He shot 35.9% from the field this season – which is right on par with his career average – but his three point percentage of 28.3% fell short of his first two seasons, dropping his career three point mark down to 29.1%. Smart only recently turned 23-years old and his free throw percentage has gone up each year he’s been in the league, so there is reason to believe better days are ahead. He’s a really good player outside of these shooting woes. Smart is an excellent defensive player and his passing was noticeably better this season, averaging a career high 4.6 PPG after not getting above 3.1 in his first two years.
Isaiah Thomas: A-
It was great to see Isaiah Thomas go off and score 29.9 PPG this season and it really carried the Celtics through a number of stretches of the regular season. You really can’t say enough about the amount of regular season games that Boston won because Thomas spent the entire night trading baskets with the other team just to keep the game close and the Celtics came together at the end just to pull things out as a team. The Celtics wouldn’t have finished ahead of Cleveland, Toronto or Washington without him. But the playoffs came around and you stop getting “going through the motion” games from the rest of the players and the Celtics found ways to win four games this postseason in which Thomas failed to score 20 points, something they only did three times during the regular season.
James Young: C-
Young avoids finishing in the “D range” thanks to one four game stretch where he actually flashed some potential. The Celtics limped into the All-Star break very injured at the wing, playing without Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green. This forced the team to actually ask him to play real minutes for seemingly the first time in his three year NBA career. Young averaged 7.5 PPG over the four games before the break on 60.0% shooting and it was actually pretty refreshing to see. Boston had everyone healthy on the other end of the break and he went back to being a benchwarmer. The Celtics are too deep to expect anything from Young going forward, but the potential is still there for Young as a player.
Tyler Zeller: D+
Zeller took a big step back, and it goes beyond the fact that he posted career lows in points, rebounds, blocks and games played. Even though he lost playing time between his first and second year with the Celtics, Zeller’s per possession stats kept climbing and he had actually scored more per possession in each of his first four NBA seasons. He has averaged 18.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per 100 possessions last year in his limited role, but those numbers dropped to 12.2 and 8.5 this past season as he failed to be effective even when on the floor.