I’m writing this to you because no one has written the article I want to read. Or maybe they have, but I just can’t get enough of reading about “The King in The Fourth” (sorry Kobe, but IT already has a nickname). This article is not about the recent tragedy that shook the foundations of your family. It’s not about your contract. And it is definitely not about your height. This is all about how your performance in Game 2 temporarily made us forget about our city’s sordid, racist past and present. Continue reading
It might seem opportunistic to give Terry Rozier his final grade after he did this to Eric Bledsoe:
but the truth is that I was going to write this piece 2 weeks ago. Everything Rozier has done in the playoffs this year is no surprise, and if your Twitter timeline is filled with die-hard Celtics’ fans like mine is, then you probably have seen the following idea more than once: Terry Rozier has been the best guard on the floor on multiple occasions even when Kyrie Irving was healthy.
After impressing early on in summer league, Jayson Tatum didn’t look great before the Celtics shut him down. Sure, he was doing some of the things that he has become known for this season, but the general impression he left on those watching him for the first time was this: he looked stiff.
He was not moving well and was really struggling to change ends of the floor. A few times he even got his pocket picked on his patented crossover against the 76ers squad. This, combined with Semi Ojeleye’s Greek God build, caused one impatient fan to claim that Semi might be the more NBA ready rookie this season (not saying any names…).
Over the next few months, Tatum seemingly lived in a weight room doing hot yoga 5 hours a day while having Tom Brady smother him in avocados, because he came into this season looking like an entirely different athlete than he was just 4 months prior. He was bounding up and down the floor, flashing a handle smoother than whipped butter when Gordon Hayward went down with an, ahem, minor injury. It could have been easy for the Celtics to bring him along slowly, but as Brad Stevens likes to say, they “threw him to the wolves.” Tatum, like his buddy Jaylen Brown, was forced to grow up quickly in the absence of both Hayward and a recovering Mook Morris. And over the next 8 months Jayson Tatum went from “oh he’s going to be really good” to “ummm, he might be untouchable”.
Strengths: Everything (dude is a rookie. I’ll be much harder on him next year)
Weaknesses: Facial Hair
I once compared Jaylen Brown to Kobe Bryant based off of one move. It was a nondescript crossover that resulted in a bricked 18-footer, but the way he moved really impressed me. His crossover was sharp, his footwork graceful, and the shot looked smooth coming out of his hand. And at that time I realized Jaylen was a special athlete with all of the measurements you could want in a modern wing. I also realized that Jaylen had moves; he just didn’t have handle or a jumper. Now, as he finishes his sophomore season in the league, it is starting to look like Jaylen is the total package.
Strengths: Athleticism, Finishing at the Rim, Individual Defense, Corner 3s
Still Needs to Improve: Team Defense, Court Vision, Pick and Roll Efficiency, Shooting off the Dribble.
Over the last 3 games, Jaylen Brown is shooting 13-22 from distance. This is a very small sample size, but for the season he is shooting a very respectable 39% on over 4 attempts per game, and that is very encouraging for Celtics fans. The biggest question about Jaylen coming in to the league was his jump shot and many were surprised Danny drafted him at #3. It seemed like stretch, but if you could have projected Jaylen’s shooting percentages through his first two years, it would have been a certainty he would have been drafted directly after Simmons and Ingram (one of whom could be the greatest player since Lebron and the other could be a perennial All-Star, so being #3 behind them isn’t a bad thing). Jaylen has been more than impressive with his shooting all season, and when you combine that with his elite potential on defense, the Celtics very well might have hit the jackpot by “reaching” for him at 3.
Who would you rather have for the next 5 years: Jaylen Brown or Andrew Wiggins?
My favorite Jaylen comparison is saying “he is what Andrew Wiggins would be if Wiggins gave a shit about basketball.” Now, I don’t know Andrew Wiggins whatsoever, but every time I have seen him play, and this dates back to college, I always wondered if he had a competitive bone in his body. He’s one of those players who seems to float through games without ever using his elite athleticism, especially on defense where he rates below average. It got to the point where the Timberwolves had to call him in for a face-to-face meeting before offering him his max deal.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor went on record as saying, “If a guy is a real star and he really cares about it, which I think he does, I think it’s a commitment. I’m not sure that he wouldn’t do it anyway. But I think that’s part of the negotiations.” If you have any reservations if a player really wants to be great, then he probably doesn’t want to be great. Greatness has more to do with will than skill, and Wiggins is lacking in will.
Jaylen, on the other hand, has an unlimited motor to complement athleticism that few can match. Not only that, but Jaylen’s shooting is far beyond what Wiggins has accomplished thus far in his career, and this is a big problem in Minnesota because they need him to be able to stretch the floor. This isn’t 1998: shooting guards need to be able to shoot consistently in order to be great, just ask Demar Derozan. Jaylen, however, cannot be left alone in the corner 3, where he is shooting 43%, compared to Wiggins who is at 39% (30% overall). Furthermore, Jaylen knows where his bread is buttered. 97% of his three point attempts are assisted, compared to Wiggins who sits around 84%. Jaylen also shoots 35% of his 3s from this area of strength while Wiggins only shoots 17% of his from there. This tells me two things: Jaylen is a smarter and more coachable player and this should also factor into this debate. (It also tells me Stevens is a better coach than Thibs and the Celtics as a team move the ball better than the Wolves. But just watch 5 minutes of the Wolves play and you’ll see what I’m talking about. They are brutal to watch. Luckily they have Jimmy Butler and Karl Towns).
Jaylen Brown has another level to reach and it is far beyond the Andrew Wiggins level of player. I believe Jaylen could develop into a Kawhi Leonard type of player. He’s that talented and he clearly wants to be great. These playoffs will be huge for his development as he can look to expand his game even further than he had to without Gordon Hayward. I do, however, expect his efficiency to drop off in the playoffs due to increased opportunity and a higher level of defensive preparation, but the truth is that most players struggle in the playoffs (I see you Kyle Lowry). If Jaylen can transcend this postseason trap in just his second season, then Kawhi is the limit for this kid ( yeah I just did that).
Final Grade: A
As a basketball coach, it is very easy to appreciate what the Celtics’ All-Star Center brings to the table: veteran leadership, elite team defense, eyelashes, offensive facilitation, and the ability to space the floor with reliable 3 point shooting. These contributions jump off the screen when I watch the Celtics play, but the casual fan often misses the point of Al Horford (this is no knock on the casual fan – it’s just harder to appreciate these things if you aren’t looking for them). And to the casual fan, like Boston radio host Lou Merloni (yes this is a knock on Lou Merloni), Al Horford might appear to be “average“.
But the truth is that Horford has been the most consistent source of production for the C’s throughout the season, and without him, they would be nowhere near their top 2 seed in the East. Yes, that’s right: he’s been better than everyone on the Celtics not named Kyrie Irving. Rather than giving you a detailed breakdown of what Al does well and why he is a candidate for DPOY, I am going to give you a list of things to look for the next time you watch the Celtics play:
- Grabbing the defensive board and running the fast-break. There are not many big men who can do this. In fact, in terms of pure Big Men (I’m not counting other guys who are just “big men”) the only other guy I’ve seen do this consistently is Draymond Green, and to be honest, he is much more of a forward than a big man. Al does this a few times a game and it usually results in a great shot.
- Standing at the top of the key and moving the ball from side to side on a swing pass. You know who was hailed for this exact same thing? Kevin Garnett. Don’t you remember how much you loved KG? (And by the way I’ve been saying this since we got Al, but he does 85-90% of what 2007 KG did for the Celtics.) This facet of his game might not seem like much, but if you are a hockey fan, you can appreciate the “hockey assist”. He always makes the pass that leads to assist. That is just as important as the assist.
- He always has “high hands” on defense. Much like his partner Aaron Baynes, Horford always has his hands wide on defense. This allows him to cause a lot of deflections, but what it does even more than that is it discourages players from making a pass they might otherwise attempt. Opponents are very aware of Al’s hands, so he shuts down passes before they even happen. Combined with the rest of the Celtics’ length, this is why the C’s have been one of the league’s best defenses all season.
- He is shooting a career best 43% from deep! You might not know this, but Al Horford was not a 3 point shooter before he came to Boston. His first year shooting 3’s was his last year in Atlanta when Coach Bud encouraged him to start shooting from deep to help spread the floor. Al, being the team player that he is, accepted the challenge, but he only shot 34%. Still pretty good for someone who was a mid-range shooter his whole career. Two years later and Al’s percentage has increased by 10%! Do you understand how insane that is? He went from never shooting threes to finishing in the top 10 in the entire league! Not only that, but to put 43% in context: He is shooting a better percentage than both Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. Ray Allen’s career best was 45% and he shot 39% during the 2007-2008 season. This is a higher percentage than Reggie Miller’s best shooting season for his entire career. And finally, Dirk Nowitzki, widely considered the best 3 point shooting big man of all time, has never shot better than 42%. Sure, all of these shooters shoot a higher volume of 3 pointers and also take shots with a higher degree of difficulty, but that just speaks to why Al is a coach’s dream. He knows his limitations and always makes the right play. Is that enough for you? STOP HATING ON “AVERAGE” AL.
Final Grade: A
One of the most polarizing players since Trick-or-Treat Tony Allen (also affectionately known as “Smokey” because he smoked so many layups), Marcus Smart had quite possibly his most polarizing year to date. At his highest he caused this year’s MVP to implode, and at his lowest he lost a fight to an animate object. However, this polarization seems to be a case of expectation vs. reality, not a regression from actual performance. The expectation for a high lottery pick, especially one who quite visibly makes winning plays, is that there will be marked improvement by the end of his rookie deal. But when you look at the basic numbers, you won’t find it.
Marcus is a career 36% shooter who does not seem to be showing any semblance of competency from anywhere on the floor. He does have an uncanny ability to knock down 3 pointers on nights when the usual suspects are struggling, but in general he is just not reliable. This inability to shoot (and I’m not saying he can’t shoot. Clearly he can because he is an above average free throw shooter. He just can’t shoot in an NBA game. I’m sure he’d out-shoot most people in an empty gym) necessitates him serving as a primary ball-handler, a place where he definitely has improved.
Strengths: Elite Defender, Solid Facilitator in PnR, Passing, Hustle, New Haircut
Weaknesses: Shot selection, Picture Frames
On the surface Abdel Nader is not going to stand out to the casual fan. In fact, depending on the night, you literally might not know he’s on the floor. However, if you watch on a consistent basis you will start to see flashes of why Nader could be a nice long term fit on the Celtics (the guy did win D-League Rookie of the Year). And on other nights you might, through your Green-tinted glasses, notice what I do: Nader looks eerily similar to Klay Thompson.
Strengths: 3 Point Shooting, Defensive Versatility, Athleticism
Must Improve: Speeding up his release, decision making as a tertiary ballhandler
Well, the news just came in: Kyrie is out for the season. At least we know he’s gone and we won’t be strung along like KG in ’09 or Shaq in 2011, but that doesn’t make this any easier. Kyrie is one of the best players in basketball whose championship experience was the sole reason people were choosing the Celtics to upset the Cavs in this year’s postseason. I don’t need to breakdown Kyrie’s game for anyone reading this because we all know his strengths and weaknesses, but everything Kyrie does well is what the rest of the roster does not (aside from the recent isolation uptick in Mook’s and Tatum’s games). Any thoughts of us contending are pushed back a year. Therefore, the bigger question is more of a Boston-sports fan question, and it is one that I’ve been kicking around since we made this trade: Will this come to be known as The Curse of I.T.?
Here’s my case:
Let’s start with the name of this potential curse itself: The Curse of I.T. Goddamn, this is literally the “Curse of IT” ! You know, like the freaking Stephen King novel and every other gothic tale ever told. In any of these stories, IT is so terrifying because IT always comes back! It’s already freaking me out thinking about it. I mean JESUS, I just wrote “it” twice in the last sentence without meaning to! (No, but really I’ve had 3 cups of coffee and my anxiety is through the roof. I wonder if I can go the rest of this post without saying that word). Now I am not saying the franchise will fall by the wayside, but what if we get the Sisyphisian torture? What if every moment we are about to taste that delicious championship fruit, it is snatched from our grasp? (Yeah I know I mixed my analogies. @ me, Tantalus) Continue reading
Oh my, Ohtani! That was my original title for this article. Yea, pretty bad, I get it. So is this next take:
Shohei Ohtani is the real life Steve Nebraska!
Ok, maybe not, but he might be the closest we’ll see. Much like McLovin enjoys the idea of Coca-Cola more than he actually enjoys the drink itself, that’s where I am to start the season with Ohtani. He’s come out hot with a great first start and got a win that included 6 K’s, only to follow that up with successive days as the DH and hitting 2 HR’s including one off of 2 time CY young winner Corey Kluber.
It’s that time of year again. You know, when Bucking Aikman decides to come back for its annual Celtics slobberfest (by the way, revisiting that post is hilarious. I clearly make fun of Tanguay for pitching the Davis idea a year before I do, but I call him stupid for something I take credit for…in the very next sentence you are about to read! Also, seeing my growing love for Crowder is pretty funny knowing how much I hated him by the end of his stint with us. Just goes to show you how fickle the mind of a blog boy can be). The last few years we discussed things like Brad Stevens’ ATOs (which are now a national phenomenon), Isaiah Thomas’ MVP candidacy (that won’t age well), and my plan to steal Anthony Davis from New Orleans (once again, something thousands of people talked about just weeks after my article…Greg Maneikis, Nostradamus…MAYBE! Also, we aren’t even finished with paragraph 1 and I’ve already hit my parenthetical insert quota!! Can you tell I am excited???)
So to switch up the format and to give the people something a little more digestible than a 5000 word Lowesque marathon, here’s the plan: over the next couple of weeks I will be handing out end-of-the-season report cards for each key member of the Celtics roster (I mean, my day job is to teach high school English…yeah I get it; I bet you’re now thinking: so why is your grammar so freaking terrible? Well, screw you! I just used a semi-colon, and I’m 30% sure I used it correctly, so suck it!) It promises to be filled with hyperbolic player comparisons that will inevitably lead to whispers that I am a homer who doesn’t actually know basketball. But before we hop into it, let’s just recap my most recent player comps:
- Jaylen Brown is what Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be (December, 2016)
- Terry Rozier moves like Allen Iverson (January 2017)
I made both of these predictions well before either player made their leap, and boy did I catch a lot of heat for it. Sure, I understand the Iverson beef as he is the pound-for-pound champ, but my point is that Rozier “moves” like him, not that he will be as good as him. Both players have graceful, feline footspeed that just looks different from anyone else on the floor. That’s all I’m saying with that comparison. It’s quite obvious that Rozier is actually the superior athlete with better handles and a more consistent J!
With regards to Jaylen, I am a full-believer, but I am going to go into far more detail with him during his own report card. That dude is freaking good. But without further ramblings of nothing, here is our first student: Marcus aka “Mook” Morris.
I think we can say we are officially back. For now. Time for one of our favorite past-times: Friday Fives. Here’s how this worked. I, Maneikis, posed 5 questions to our panel (Me, Will Weir aka “The Fedora’d One” and Taylor “I now prefer TJ” Simpson), and what you will read is our email exchange regarding each of these key questions heading into the critical Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Fun drinking game alert: every time we refer to Lebron by a name other than Lebron or anytime you feel we are being complete homers, you drink. Prepare to get dnruk.
- How do we stop Tristan Thompson?
Will: Tristan has been bashing us over the head with a mallet like a kid playing Whack-A-Mole in an arcade for about 2 or 3 years now. Feels like every game he gets about 20 rebounds vs. us and we are just powerless. Having said that, they need to try something. Rebounding has been a sore spot for C’s all year, not a secret. Amir Johnson? Child Please. Tyler Zeller? I’ll pass. Traditional big men are out. Unfortunately, we can’t have Al guard both him and Kevin Love, so I think the answer has to fall to primarily Marcus Smart and maybe even a dash of Jae Crowder. At this point, the best hope is that these 2 can be bulldogs and, at best, slow him down. Marcus seems like he’ll get 1st billing, Jae doesn’t have the speed to stay with LBJ (Step up on up Jaylen!), but maybe he has the strength to battle with Tristan like he did with Morris last round.
Maneikis: Will, I totally agree per our conversation last night. Marcus can bang with the big guys as long as it’s purely physical play. The moment you add skill to the mix, Marcus tends to struggle, but he relishes the wrestling matches. I’d also like to see us try to exploit him on the defensive end by going small and giving Marcus an opportunity to run PnR with Horford. That might force the Cavs into some unnatural defensive rotations (have Thompson and Love ever had to defend a PnR together?), and we might even get some of their bigs in foul trouble. I don’t see us stopping Thompson from getting rebounds, but I do expect us to make him work for those rebounds and to make him uncomfortable on the defensive end of the floor.
TJ: Tristan is a player who has the specific skill set that exploits the biggest weakness on the Celtics’ roster – offensive rebounding. It would be like if in The Illiad the Trojans hired a mercenary to a $60 million dollar contract whose lone skill was throwing arrows at soldiers’ heels. In the first round against the Bulls the Celtics made Robin Lopez look like Wilt Chamberlain, so an honest goal would just not to end up like any of Wilt’s famed 20,000 women – you know, completely fucked. However as many basketball coaches have repeated to me throughout the years, there is no secret to boxing out; it just takes placement, intention and a whole lot of effort. Dedicate a spot on the floor to one of the Lunks (Kelly, Zeller, Amir) who sole purpose is to stay between the basket and Tristan Thompson. Barring a sudden fix for what has been a glaring flaw all year, sign his step-sister Kendall to a 10-day. She fixed institutionalized racism with a mere soft drink, so I’m sure she can grab a few rebounds.