Tomase: Now begins hard part for Celtics — figuring out how to win with Irving, Hayward
Kyrie Irving was reminiscing about playing against his new head coach when Brad Stevens interjected on Friday.
“I coached you in a game where we gave up 197 points,” Stevens reminded.
“You know that goes back to just playing both ends of the floor,” Irving responded with a grin.
The light-hearted exchange nonetheless points to a serious issue we haven’t spent much time discussing in the euphoria of Irving’s arrival: the Celtics are probably going to be worse this year.
Las Vegas has set their over-under at 56.5 wins, and the under feels like one of the safest bets in sports. In the long run, I love the Irving trade, as I’ve already made clear. It may even pay off by the end of the season when Uncle Drew gets to do his thing in the playoffs.
But between now and then, here’s a prediction: The Celtics will struggle to win 50 games.
Last year’s team led the conference with 53 victories, but posted the point differential of a 48-win team. The C’s received an historic season from point guard Isaiah Thomas, a stealthily outstanding one from Avery Bradley (16.3 ppg), and valuable contributions all the way down to the ninth (Terry Rozier) and 10th (Gerald Green) spots on the roster.
(For an in-depth look at the analytics of the new roster, by the way, read this Ryan Bernardoni piece at Celtics Hub. You should probably be reading him anyway).
That team won in part because of continuity. The core of Thomas, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk had played together for three straight postseasons. The addition of Al Horford made them even better.
They flourished under head coach Brad Stevens because they knew his system like the Pledge of Allegiance. Dribble handoffs to Isaiah. Bradley curling around screens. Smart leading the pick-and-roll. Crowder shooting corner 3s. Olynyk launching them from the wings.
After a while, it seemed the Celtics could run their offense with eclipse glasses. They may not have made their open shots — an indictment of a maxed-out talent base that necessitated Danny Ainge’s gutsy overhaul — but they were constantly in a position to do so.
Replicating that chemistry with a virtually new cast won’t happen immediately even if Irving and fellow newcomer Gordon Hayward are All-Stars. Whereas Thomas did much of his damage off the ball and scored with breathtaking efficiency, Irving’s game is about isolation and beating defenders one-on-one (or 1-on3, as the case may be).
If the concepts of “isolation scoring” and “Brad Stevens offense” sound antithetical, it’s because they are. The Celtics have traditionally relied on movement to create shots, though Stevens has certainly integrated players with different skills — think Evan Turner’s intermediate post-up game — into the offense to maximize the talent on his roster.
This year, he’s starting from scratch, a challenge he acknowledged on Friday at Irving’s and Hayward’s introductory press conference.
“We haven’t met yet,” he said. “We’re still in the offseason where we’re limited in what we can do. When we have our first team meeting, when training camp begins, that’s going to be important because we need to set a tone for building a foundation on both ends of the floor.”
We all assumed that foundation would be laid on the small shoulders and gigantic heart of Thomas, but the King in the Fourth is now playing sidekick to LeBron James. It will instead be built on Irving and Hayward, two players who have spent some time together on Team USA, as well as for about a weekend in 2013 when Hayward was being wooed by the Cavs as a restricted free agent before, as he put it, “LeBron came and that kind of squashed that whole thing.”
“We understand that a lot of the responsibility of growing this team and making this team go will predominantly at times be on us,” Irving said, with a nod toward Hayward, “but at the same time, we’re empowering our teammates and elevating them, because a t the same time, this will get very real and we will get tested in a number of ways.
“The fact that already everyone’s trying to put all this pressure on our team that we just put together and we’re just incorporating ourselves into is step one that starts day 1 of training camp. It will extend throughout. Our identity will be formed and our existing culture they have in Boston will only grow from here.”
The 2008 Celtics, who raced to 66 wins in the debut of the New Big Three, are the exception. The 2011 Cavs are more representative. They opened just 12-8 before the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put things together en route to 58 wins and a berth in the Finals. It didn’t happen right away.
Don’t be surprised if the Celtics need time to figure things out, too. In the long run, Irving will be a far superior player to Thomas, but it’s unlikely, for instance, he’ll surpass what Thomas did last year while finishing fifth in the MVP voting.
And while Hayward represents a gigantic upgrade on Crowder, second-year man Jaylen Brown isn’t yet the player Crowder would’ve been this year, even though he’s going to be expected to play Crowder-like minutes.
He’s only 20. His fellow face of the future, Jayson Tatum, is only 19. Can the Celtics win 60 games with both playing significant roles? Doesn’t feel likely.
The C’s still can’t rebound, we still don’t know if Irving will play defense, and the team’s depth has taken a legitimate hit.
Eventually, the Celtics are going to be really good, with Irving and Hayward leading the way. They may even figure it out by the playoffs, where Irving’s superiority over Thomas will be most prominently on display.
Just don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen right away.
Full article @ Tomase: Now begins hard part for Celtics — figuring out how to win with Irving, Hayward
Source: GreenStreet Blog