It’s been a little bit since I’ve had anything up, so I thought the best place to start would be with my beloved Celtics. If you haven’t been keeping up with them recently, then you are missing out. Since starting out 13-12, the C’s have gone on a 10-2 run with quality wins over teams like the Grizzlies and Jazz, and a competitive game, albeit a loss, against the Cavaliers. At the center of it all is the most valuable player (yes, you read that right) in the Eastern Conference, Isaiah Thomas. Because of the slow start they had many people wrote off the Celtics as at most the #3 seed in the East, still struggling to eclipse the Raptors and Cavs. With this run their having, I have a few reasons why people outside of Boston need to stop sleeping on the Celtics.
Reason #1: Isaiah Thomas is an Elite Point Guard
For a small guy, he’s truly the biggest reason for the Celtics climb to the top of the East. After scoring 38 points Saturday night against the Pelicans, Thomas leads the Eastern Conference in PPG with 28.0, passing Demar Derozan who has 27.8. The bulk of this scoring has come in the fourth quarter, and it’s clearly affecting the team’s scoring late in the game because the Celtics lead the league in fourth quarter PPG with 29.4. His expertise and confidence in the fourth quarter levels off with Avery Bradley’s burst in the first quarter. While bench scoring has consistently been a problem, a maturing Marcus Smart has helped with that.
It can’t be understated how important Thomas’ offense is to the Celtics. With his consistent scoring in the paint, he’s given the chance for players like Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley to thrive, who are both shooting just about 42% from three. Their stats show how much Thomas impacts a defense, especially considering those are career high three-point shooting percentages for both of them. His ability to not only get to the free throw line (averages about 9 free throws a game, top 10 in the league), but to be so consistent at shooting said free throws (90.8%) is probably my favorite aspect of his game. Between his effortless ability to drive to the basket, get his teammates open, and score in clutch moments, Thomas is undoubtedly becoming an elite point guard in the NBA.
Reason #2: The Celtics Don’t Need a Blockbuster Deal
Now, I don’t see too many Celtics disagreeing about Isaiah Thomas being an elite player at this point, but this is where I’ve seen disagreements. It just doesn’t make any sense to me to break up the core we have. If anything, the core we have is what has gotten us this far. There is no doubt we need a consistent scoring option besides Isaiah, but I don’t think this player is coming to us through a trade without breaking up the chemistry we already have or trading the oh-so valuable Brooklyn pick for this year’s draft (will discuss shortly). The way this team is currently playing has me confident a small trade would do the trick. In this small trade the Celtics need to solve one thing, rebounding. Regardless of whether it’s the starters or bench players in, second chance points have been a killer against the elite teams of the NBA. Ranking 28th in total rebounding per game, it’s hard to see the C’s actually getting past the Raptors or Cavs if they are giving up second chance points on a consistent basis. My favorite trade option would be Nerlens Noel, but if it’s at the cost of a Brooklyn pick, I’d kindly ask Danny Ainge to wait out for free agency.
Why am I so high on the Brooklyn pick for this year? Well, it begins with the fact that as a fan I’d like to see sustained success. Trading away a possibly #1 pick for an established player is great, but it won’t lead to long-term success. Also, in next year’s offseason Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart will all be free agents. Thomas will be priority number one, but it’s going to be hard to even sign back two of these guys, especially with Marcus maturing the way he is. So, having a #1 pick on the roster leads to great flexibility in free agency, and with a plethora of PG’s in this year’s draft (I’d suggest watching a Markelle Fultz highlight video, wow is an understatement) the Celtics could sign a solid big that can defend/rebound this year, or my personal favorite, Gordon Hayward. The possbilities are endless with the assets Ainge has accumulated, but jumping the gun and trading that Brooklyn pick now would not be beneficial to the Celtics long-term.
Reason #3: They Play the Raptors Tonight for Second Place
A 13-12 start did not give me much hope of this happening any time soon, yet here we are in January with a chance to tie the Raptors for second place in the East, and hopefully never look back. It’s going to be the toughest game of the year for two reasons: The game will be in Toronto and they will be without Avery Bradley. I’m looking to Marcus Smart to step up in this game with Bradley out, as guarding Derozan will be the tallest task to the C’s winning this game.
With momentum on their side, as the Raptors have dropped their last two games to the Rockets and Bulls, and with two days rest, I’m confident the C’s will be firing on all cylinders for this game. The last time these two teams played, Isaiah Thomas was absent, so I’m sure he’s hungry to prove himself in this matchup. I know this is overused but it’s fitting for how I feel about this game….Can’t wait! (Bart Scott voice).