Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What Can We Realistically Expect from the New-Look Celtics?

With Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward in the fold, talent won't be a problem for Boston. But, with so many new faces, chemistry might be.
By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

The Boston Celtics will tip off the 2017-18 season in a week's time when they visit Quicken Loans Arena to take on the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving will visit his not-so-old stomping grounds and the only NBA stadium that he called home for his first six professional seasons.

The Green has not fared well in Cleveland recently. Though Brad Stevens’ squad had Avery Bradley’s miracle shot fall in to give the coach his only ever conference finals victory, Boston has dropped six of its last eight games at “the Q.”

The 2017 All-Star Game Eastern Conference head coach and two-time Coach of the Month award winner will bring his team to Cleveland for the first and only time of the 2017-18 regular season. Irving has had a lot of success playing at his former home, and he will look to continue to do so on Tuesday.

The four-time all-star point guard is looking to extend a career-best streak in which he has attempted a free throw in each of his last 78 games. Irving is one of only three NBA players (James Harden and DeMar DeRozan) to have a current streak of that many contests.

To compare the 25-year-old former Cavalier to the counterpart he was traded for, Isaiah Thomas had multiple games in the 2017 playoffs without a free throw attempt. However, Thomas did average more than three free throws better than Irving last postseason. In the end, Irving finished with more points per minute in the 2017 postseason than Thomas due to Irving’s better shooting percentages across the board.

Irving will hope to move the Celtics’ offense into the NBA’s upper echelon after the green’s offense finished with the eighth-best efficiency last season. Brad Stevens’ offense continues to improve over the years, but a top-three offense like the 2016-17 versions of the Warriors, Rockets or Cavaliers would give this Celtics team an opportunity to make its first NBA Finals since 2010.

According to Basketball-Reference’s offensive box plus/minus statistic that calculates players’ offensive quality and contribution to the team since 1973-74, the Celtics added two of the league’s best offensive players during the offseason. Unsurprisingly, those players are Irving and Gordon Hayward. Uncle Drew owned the league’s second-best offensive box plus/minus last season.

In addition, Irving owns the 22nd-best free throw percentage of all time, after posting the third-best percentage in the NBA last season.

Hayward’s career offensive box plus/minus ranks in the top 90, and last year he posted his career bests in most statistical categories. In the year that he made his first NBA All-Star Game, the Butler University alum also led Utah to its best offensive season since 2012-13.

Not only are Irving and Hayward offensive stalwarts, but the third of the Celtics’ dynamic trio, Al Horford, is also an efficient shooter, strong defender and among the top 250 players in terms of career offensive box plus/minus.

Although his rebounding rate has decreased with age, Stevens coached by far Horford’s best passing season of his career last year.

This Celtics team has played well during the preseason and could move from the Eastern Conference’s best 2016-17 assist rate to the best in the NBA this season, but improvements will need to be made in rebounding and defense if the Celtics want a chance at making waves in the Eastern Conference Finals and hopefully, the NBA Finals.

For more sports coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam. Statistics used from Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

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