Since bottoming out and winning only 25 games in 2013-14, the Boston Celtics have been slowly and steadily improving each subsequent season since. They won 40 games in 2014-15, and then jumped up to 48 wins last season.
Now, Boston fans are hoping their team will be able to make arguably the toughest leap of all, graduating from feisty and tenacious upstart into a true contender. Are the Celtics ready to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers and other elite teams?
Basketball Insiders previews the Boston Celtics’ 2016-17 season.
FIVE GUYS THINK
I’m very high on the Celtics entering this season. I’ve stated numerous times that I believe they can be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference and perhaps present the biggest challenge to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The addition of Al Horford is huge, as he will help Boston tremendously on both offense and defense. Horford is ridiculously consistent and he’s going to be an excellent anchor for this Celtics team on both ends of the court. Isaiah Thomas should continue to be an elite point guard, especially now that he has a new toy in Horford and more familiarity with his supporting cast. And, of course, head coach Brad Stevens is a wizard who does an amazing job getting his players to buy in and play to their full potential. Oh, and I don’t think Danny Ainge is done wheeling and dealing either. This may be bold, but I’m predicting that Boston snatches the No. 2 seed in the East this year.
1st Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
Danny Ainge may not have snatched up Russell Westbrook the way that it seemed destined, but walking away from the summer with Jaylen Brown and Al Horford still presents an amazing scenario. Kris Dunn has a higher perceived ceiling than Brown, but Brown will fit right in with the Celtics, especially in the wake of Evan Turner’s departure. In Atlanta, Horford proved that he could excel with ball-dominant guards and he has improved his game each and every season. With respectable range out to the three-point line, I think he will form a potentially devastating partnership with Isaiah Thomas. As has been the case with Brad Stevens thus far, the individual pieces on the roster seem underwhelming, but so long as the team continues to abide by his philosophy, I think it’s incredibly reasonable to expect them to improve a bit from last season. I would still favor the Raptors in the division and, if the stars align, would give the Knicks a shot at supplanting Horford and his new team. In the end, though, the Celtics are the safe bet to end the season as the runner-up in the Atlantic.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
The Celtics’ ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder continued last season when the team posted 48 wins and made their second straight trip to the playoffs. Boston followed up their impressive season by landing four time All-Star center Al Horford in free agency. But the question is, even with Horford now in the fold, did the Celtics improve significantly enough to successfully make the jump into true title contention? Or will the franchise need more time to acquire additional pieces? Boston is undoubtedly headed in the right direction and the addition of Horford was huge for their program. However, the Celtics are still pretty young and sooner or later, they’ll have to wait for the younger core to truly mature.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
Arguably the East’s deepest team, the Celtics have no excuse not to make a leap this season now that they’ve added a bona fide All-Star to the mix in Al Horford. While he’s not the game-changing superstar that Kevin Durant would’ve been, he still injects some veteran muscle into what has been a fairly mediocre frontcourt rotation the last few seasons. He is obviously a huge upgrade over the outgoing Jared Sullinger. Meanwhile, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are one of the most underrated and gifted backcourt tandems in the league, and Jae Crowder just keeps getting better. Knowing they’re getting Brooklyn’s draft picks the next couple of years (one outright, the other a swap) is just suffocating. Even before adding any more firepower, the Celtics should be one of the East’s powerhouses this season.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
The Celtics made one of the biggest free agent signings this offseason, signing Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract. Horford fills an area of need and should slot in nicely as the team’s starting center. This team thrives on aggression and chemistry, a culture Horford should fit in perfectly. Brad Stevens, one of the best all-around coaches in the NBA, has the task of taking a deep, young roster that lacks top level star power to the next level. Horford brings intelligence, defense and veteran leadership, but he doesn’t address the team’s shaky three-point shooting (and neither do any of Boston’s other acquisitions this offseason). While I like the composition of this roster, I think it’s safe to assume that general manager Danny Ainge will continue looking for potential deals for another star up until the trade deadline. If he can turn his treasure chest of assets into a high-end contributor, the Celtics could become the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
1st Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Isaiah Thomas
Thomas has been consistently climbed the NBA ladder, going from being an afterthought as the 60th overall pick to a role player to a starter to an All-Star. He did this by establishing himself as one of the NBA’s more creative, exciting and effective offensive weapons. In 2015-16, Thomas became just the fourth player since 2005 to average at least 22 points, six assists and two made three-pointers per game over the course of a full NBA season. The other three members of that exclusive club are Steph Curry, James Harden and Damian Lillard. Also, beginning in March and extending into April, Thomas led the Celtics in scoring in 17 consecutive games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 17 consecutive games as the team’s outright leading scorer broke a franchise record that was held by Larry Bird, who recorded 13 straight games as the C’s leading scorer during the 1987-88 season. Al Horford will be an important offensive weapon for the Celtics too, but don’t be surprised if Thomas remains the go-to scorer.
Top Defensive Player: Avery Bradley
Back in April, Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, tweeted: “Avery Bradley [is] the best perimeter defender in the league and I don’t think it’s close.” The media pundits who vote on awards at the end of each season were more or less in agreement, giving Bradley First Team All-Defense honors for 2015-16. Having a guard who can lock down other perimeter scorers is invaluable in today’s NBA. Better yet for Boston, Bradley is only 25 years old and just now entering his prime.
Top Playmaker: Isaiah Thomas
The Celtics have very few playmakers on their roster other than Thomas. Last season, Evan Turner finished second on the team in assists and big man Jared Sullinger actually finished third. With Turner now on the Blazers and Sullinger on the Raptors, the Celtics will be even more reliant on Thomas setting the table for others. But they will also need backup point guard Marcus Smart to improve his distribution abilities, and may need to run more of the offense through the newly acquired Al Horford (who averaged 3.2 assists per game) in the post. Avery Bradley may be asked to handle the ball a bit more as well. However, Thomas will end up shouldering most of the playmaking responsibilities, as he excelled in the role last season. In 2015-16, he joined Larry Bird and John Havlicek as the only Celtics in franchise history to record at least 1,600 points and 500 assists in a single season.
Top Clutch Player: To Be Determined
Isaiah Thomas took many of the big shots late in games last season, but one of the Celtics’ issues was their offense stalling in important moments. Thomas had a tough time getting good, clean looks when the defense focused on him. For instance, he was a far less efficient as a scorer in the postseason. Will Al Horford be able to ease the burden on Thomas in clutch situations? Will Avery Bradley step up and become a reliable late-game shooter? Stay tuned.
The Unheralded Player: Jae Crowder
Crowder has become a cult hero in Beantown, but he’s not viewed with nearly the same reverence outside of New England. He’s the quintessential glue guy who contributes on both ends of the floor. However, his true calling card is being a dogged perimeter defender. Crowder finished the 2015-16 season ranked 14th in the NBA with 1.73 steals per game and finished 15th in total steals across the NBA with 126.
Top New Addition: Al Horford
Of all the free-agent additions made by teams in the East this summer, Boston adding Al Horford might be the most significant. Ainge and company are hoping Horford is a major piece to the puzzle that can help push them over the top. Horford is a terrific two-way player who contributes substantially on both ends of the floor. In fact, last year, Horford became the first player in NBA history to tally at least 60 steals, 80 three-pointers, 120 blocks and 200 assists in the same season.
– Tommy Beer
WHO WE LIKE
- Brad Stevens
Stevens, 39, is one of the youngest head coaches in the NBA, but he’s already one of the most respected sideline generals in the league. The Celtics have improved dramatically in each of the three seasons under Stevens’ tutelage. Stevens has quickly established a winning culture and an unselfish, defense-first mindset that has produced impressive early returns. If there was “coaches draft” where GMs and owners could select any other coach in the NBA to run their team, Stevens would go near the very top.
- Danny Ainge
Ainge has done a masterful job putting together this balanced Celtics roster. Each of the Celtics’ top-five scorers last season made less than $8 million, and they are set up well going forward too. Considering the insanely enormous contracts handed out this summer, Ainge has many of the C’s core players locked into bargain deals. All-Star Isaiah Thomas will make just $12.8 million combined over the next two seasons. Jae Crowder will earn an average of approximately $7 million for each of the next four seasons. Avery Bradley will earn less than $8.8 million per season through 2018.
- Jaylen Brown
It was assumed by many that the Celtics would take guard Kris Dunn with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Instead, the C’s went with Jaylen Brown. Brown is extremely athletic, with an impressive wingspan and the ability to become a versatile defender. Boston’s first impression of Brown was extremely favorable, as he filled up the stat sheet at the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 16 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 steals per contest. Just 19 years old, the sky’s the limit for this kid.
- Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk actually finished the 2015-16 season ranked second on the Celtics in total plus/minus. He was +218 this past season, which was good enough for the 16th-best mark in the entire Eastern Conference. His true value lies in his shooting accuracy. Olynyk knocked down 85 three-pointers last season, while shooting 40.4 percent from behind-the-arc. This is very impressive, especially for a big man. That ability to stretch the floor opens up plenty of space on the offensive end for his teammates. With Horford in the fold, Olynyk’s minutes may be reduced a bit, but he’ll still contribute when on the floor.
– Tommy Beer
SALARY CAP 101
The Celtics landed free agent Al Horford this summer, using cap room to sign him to a four-year, $113.3 million contract. Now at the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, Boston still has their $2.9 million Room Exception, but 16 players with guaranteed contracts. Not only will invites Ben Bentil, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Jalen Jones and Damion Lee have a difficult time making the squad, a guaranteed player like James Young or R.J. Hunter could be on the outside looking in. Boston could look to make a trade, instead of waiving outright, but before the season the team needs to get to 15 players.
Next summer, the Celtics could have $31 million in spending power, under a projected $102 million salary cap. That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Young and Hunter by the end of October. Given the roster crunch, that could increase slightly. That number also assumes that Boston cuts non-guaranteed players Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson and Jordan Mickey ahead of free agency next July. Kelly Olynyk is eligible for an extension before November. The Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with the Brooklyn Nets in next year’s NBA Draft.
– Eric Pincus
Boston’s defense has been the key to its recent resurgence. Brad Stevens demands defensive effort from his players, and Ainge has supplied him with a roster of spirited, versatile defenders. As a result, they have improved every season under Stevens. Per NBA.com, the Celtics finished the 2015-16 campaign tied for the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA (according to Defensive Rating) with a mark of 100.9. They were also second in the NBA in opponent turnovers per game (16.4), second in steals per game (9.2), 13th in defensive points per game (102.5), seventh in defensive field goal percentage (44.1), fourth in defensive three-point field goal percentage (33.6) and eighth in defensive effective field goal percentage (48.7).
– Tommy Beer
The C’s were strong defensively (as noted above) and also finished 10th overall in Offensive Efficiency (scoring 106.8 point per 100 possessions) last season, so there aren’t many glaring weaknesses the Celtics need to overcome in 2016-17. However, there is obviously room for improvement. They were only middle of the pack in terms of defensive rebounding, which is an area they will need to improve on going forward. They also need to become more creative offensively, as they were often inefficient on the offensive end when the pace of the game slowed down.
– Tommy Beer
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Celtics make the leap from scrappy, up-and-coming team to legit threat next season?
The C’s won 48 games last season, which was tied for the third-most wins the Eastern Conference. One of their flaws in the past was their lack of a reliable low-post scorer and interior defender, but they addressed that hole by reeling in one of the preeminent free agents on the open market in Al Horford. The Celtics were already one of the best defensive teams in the entire league and Horford not only improves them defensively, but also provides much-needed offensive punch. Horford’s versatility allows him to score inside and out. Isaiah Thomas is ready to build upon an All-Star campaign. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson round out what is arguably the most complete and impressive starting five in the East outside of Cleveland. For all these reasons, there is understandable optimism in Boston that the Celtics can capture the Atlantic Division title and advance all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016-17.
– Tommy Beer
How NBA League Pass is Changing
Ben Dowsett dives deep into some of the technical improvements being made to NBA League Pass.
As the NBA continues to grow in popularity, demands for available programing rise in lockstep. A new mammoth TV rights deal that began last season promised increased visibility and advertising dollars, and was the primary factor in a sudden jump in the league’s salary cap figure. Between that and an exploding digital marketplace, there are a lot of eyes on the NBA as an entertainment product.
For the NBA fan interested in watching the entire league and not just their home market (or even for cord-cutters who only want to watch their local team), NBA League Pass is a familiar tool. Available for both single-team and league-wide subscriptions, League Pass is a multi-device platform that allows for both live and on-demand viewing of NBA games.
For many users of NBA League Pass, this is a relatively issue-free experience. For many others, though, League Pass has long lagged behind competitors in the digital sports sphere, with a number of glitches and absent features still present as recently as last season across multiple devices. These issues are a regular source of annoyance for NBA fans everywhere, particularly the most invested ones.
Basketball Insiders spent the summer investigating the causes of some of these issues, both with the NBA and with various extended providers of League Pass. Here’s what we found regarding previous issues, their fixes, and other developments to the service moving forward. (Also be sure to check out our broader report from earlier this week on some of the general new features being offered by League Pass.)
League Pass on TV
For several years at minimum, customers of most cable and satellite providers have been able to enjoy NBA League Pass with virtually no major issues. Companies like DirecTV, Dish, Uverse and others have all had solid programs for years, with full-HD channel lineups and a simple, straightforward purchasing and viewing process.
For customers of Comcast, however, things haven’t been so rosy.
Through the completion of the 2016-17 NBA season, Comcast XFINITY customers were not offered such a robust slate. Just a single high definition channel was available on League Pass via XFINITY last season, and even that one channel wasn’t dedicated only to NBA action.
Unless a game was being broadcast on a national station like ESPN or NBATV, you simply had to cross your fingers and hope that the game you wanted was the one that was showing in HD. Otherwise, you got to watch it in standard definition or not at all.
Before we discuss how this is slated to change moving forward, a necessary aside: This is crazy. Even before the new massive TV rights deal, the NBA was unquestionably one of the most popular sports in North America; for the largest broadcasting and cable television company in the world by revenue to enter the year 2017 without basic HD channels for the league – channels present in hundreds of other areas and on every other major provider, no less – is nothing short of asinine, and speaks to the limited alternatives available and the simple power of a conglomerate like Comcast.
Back to greener pastures: Changes are in motion, even if they’re still moving a little slower and more timidly than most customers would prefer.
Per sources familiar with the service, HD channel options will be in place for all games under Comcast XFINIFY’s offering of NBA League Pass during the 2017-18 season. These will be available under Comcast’s Beta program, one that’s been offered for both MLB and NHL programming over the last several years. A sample MLB Beta page can be found here.
Beta pages are a bit nebulous and tough to access if you aren’t already paying for one of these services, but our research suggests they function reasonably well. There are multiple ways to access Beta channels, either via a voice or keypad search or through the guide – though doing it through the guide won’t be quite as simple as just clicking a single channel (you have to click a Beta channel, then choose the team you want to watch and wait for blackout and subscription verification).
Blackouts are still present for local markets and nationally televised games, but this is to be expected for all such services.
Now the bad news: There are some pretty serious limitations to this Beta program. Firstly, as you’ll note if you click the link above, it’s considered a trial offering. Features like recording, pausing or rewinding games will not be available. For the busy basketball fan who can’t be present to watch his or her team right from tipoff every night, this is an obvious problem.
Additionally, sources say that this Beta program will only be available by the end of November. As the astute NBA fan will note, the season began on October 17 – what about the time in between? The previous version of League Pass will still be available during this period, sources say, but XFINITY customers who want all their games in HD will be out of luck for about a month and a half. Combine that with some apparent clunkiness in accessing the games themselves, and this new development still leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, it’s progress where previously there had been very little. Sources say that work is being done to move each of the NBA, MLB and NHL offerings away from the Beta package and into full-time circulation, which would ostensibly get rid of most or all of those functionality issues. No firm dates were given for this, however, and NBA fans are probably safest assuming this will be the program for the full season once it kicks in during November. Make your purchasing decisions accordingly.
League Pass Broadband
Understanding how NBA League Pass fits into the broadband landscape requires a look back at the history of streaming sports technology. In particular, we have to look at a competitor: Major League Baseball.
For years, MLB’s streaming service has been considered something of a gold standard within the digital world, with numerous parties contacted for this story gushing about their quality. Basketball Insiders’ research revealed this to be a total falsehood – those compliments simply weren’t going far enough. The degree to which MLB has outpaced the field when it comes to streaming is almost shocking.
(For those only looking for the nitty-gritty details of what will change with NBA League Pass Broadband moving forward, skip to that section by clicking here.)
In the year 2000, while most of us were still worried about Y2K bugs and voting machines in Florida, Major League Baseball was getting to work pioneering online streaming sports. That was the year that the league’s owners centralized all digital rights into a new, independent tech startup called MLB Advanced Media, per sources. The “independent” part was important: MLB was purposefully building a distinct, separate entity that operated in a different facility than league HQ, hired tech-savvy folks and was, truly, its own company.
On August 26, 2002, MLB Advanced Media broadcasted their first live Major League game. Roughly 30,000 people (!!) tuned in to watch a Yankees-Rangers tilt on a date nearly three years earlier than famed video site YouTube would even launch on the web.
Over the next several years, MLBAM (pronounced em-el-BAM by insiders – it’s fun to say!) paved the way for streaming sports technology. They sold a nine-game pennant race package later that season, then a full-season package in March of 2003. By 2005, they had installed a private fiber network dedicated to streaming in all 30 MLB ballparks.
By 2008, two representatives from MLB were on stage and demonstrating the product as Steve Jobs introduced the Apple App Store for the very first time – MLB’s At Bat App was the first sports app in the history of the store, and one of the first 500 ever created of any kind. By 2010, they were pioneering connected devices like PlayStation and Xbox.
All the while, MLB made a concerted effort to keep all these efforts completely in-house. No outsourcing, no reliance on a third party.
Their success quickly started drawing attention. As other similar entities looked to enter the streaming space, they were faced with their own decision: To outsource, or to attempt to build a ground-up technology sector like MLB had.
Some went the outsource route, and their first call was to MLB. Few outside the industry knew it at the time, but MLB was behind the first-ever streaming of March Madness games on CBS Sports back in 2006, per sources. They’d later help ESPN in their switch from ESPN360 to ESPN3 in 2010, and assist with the advent of HBO Now in 2014.
Also in 2014, they helped create a groundbreaking new sector of the streaming world – a full OTT (over-the-top of subscription) network dedicated to WWE wrestling. This wasn’t just live matches, it was a full network complete with archives and on-demand programming. This kind of service is now called direct-to-consumer programming.
By this point, outsourcing demands had grown so much that MLB took some new steps. In 2016, MLBAM was spun off into a new entity called BAMTECH, which was in charge of all outsourced efforts (MLBAM remained on the baseball-only side). One third of BAMTECH was sold to Disney for $1 billion – a $3 billion valuation for what was at one time nothing but a tech startup. In August 2017, Disney acquired additional shares to reach a 75 percent controlling stake in the company at an even larger total valuation, per sources familiar with the finances.
Today, MLBAM continues to manage baseball-related streaming services while BAMTECH, now primarily owned by Disney, works with several other large entities. These include ESPN, the NHL and Riot Games, a big player in the rapidly rising eSports sphere. They also stream their own MLB client to over 400 different devices.
This is a high standard for any other sports or streaming entity to hold itself to, even one as successful as the NBA. Interestingly, though, MLB could end up serving as a perfect template for the path the NBA is now taking – just on a different timeline.
Just as the MLB decided years ago to prioritize their own in-house development of this technology, the NBA has recently done the same. About three years ago, Turner – which handles nearly all of the NBA’s entertainment assets – purchased a majority of a company called iStreamPlanet, a leader in the streaming technology sphere.
Founded in 2000, iStreamPlanet is perhaps best known in the industry for their recent work on the Olympic Games, which began in 2010 at the Vancouver Winter Games. Their coverage of Sochi in 2014 had over 9.1 million users in just 18 days of competition. They’ve also broadcast all the recent Super Bowls, starting in 2011.
Before the beginning of last season, the NBA and Turner migrated all of their League Pass technology over to iStreamPlanet, per sources familiar with the technology. This was in place of a previous internal solution that had managed League Pass streaming.
As one can imagine, the very first year under this new migration came with a few bumps in the road. The migration included a complete change of the infrastructure that processed video, from the way it’s taken to the way it’s encoded. New software was instituted, and then tech experts with Turner and iStreamPlanet meticulously went through each individual platform to diagnose issues and test functionality. Every platform has its own individual player and its own individual quirks, so this was no small project across a wide variety of platforms.
In essence, this was a test run for a product built from scratch. There’s really no other way to do this – for the NBA to truly build its own infrastructure here, they had to start from the ground up.
If last year’s inaugural season under the new technology was all about finding bugs and ensuring functionality across all platforms, the offseason has been all about fine-tuning the execution. The teams at Turner and iStreamPlanet analyzed every step of the video process, from when it left a given NBA arena to when it made its way to your device screen. They hardened the path of video from the venue to the fan, allowing it to arrive more quickly and in better quality.
A few specific changes, possible future changes, and notably similar areas to be aware of here:
- Per sources, changes to video encoding and pathways have resulted in roughly a 50 percent reduction in lag time compared to a television broadcast across a majority of NBA League Pass platforms. No platform experienced worse than a 33 percent reduction in lag time, with most up around this 50 percent figure. Lag time versus standard TV broadcasts has long been a prominent issue among broadband users.
- Down similar lines, extra steps have been taken to protect clients who want to watch games spoiler-free. A new “Hide Scores” button has been introduced at the top of users’ game menu – when clicked, it will remove the live scores from both completed and live games, allowing viewers to start watching a game late without having the score ruined for them in advance (though it appears users still have to manually rewind to the start of the game, so spoilers are still possible).
- With Adobe preparing to soon begin phasing out the Flash player from their content offerings, sources say Turner and iStreamPlanet are working on an eventual transition of NBA League Pass from Flash technology over to HTML5. This transition is expected this season for both live and on-demand content.
- While it won’t please some customers, blackout rules across all areas of League Pass appear to remain the same. These are issues of media rights, and unfortunately that’s just how things work.
- Customers have access to numerous platforms, with up to five connected devices per customer.
- Standard log time for games to enter the on-demand section of League Pass streaming is between 48 and 72 hours – once again, some of this is related to business rules with the NBA and regional television networks. For condensed games, the turnaround time is closer to an average of 24 hours.
- The NBA is offering a free trial preview of League Pass services from now through October 24.
Once again, things won’t be perfect overnight. Lag issues still exist, and media rights considerations make certain bits of timing sub-optimal. Like any platform still in its earlier stages in a relative sense, there will be glitches here and there.
When you experience these issues, speak up. Turner has a full support team in place, with logging capabilities that allow them to identify issues that frequently come up among customers – this process is how some of their biggest changes have taken place over the last year.
Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for any updates or changes to NBA League Pass in the future.
NBA PM: Frank Kaminsky’s Massive Opportunity
The potential frontcourt pairing of Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard should make for an exciting season in Charlotte.
With both highs and lows to account for, it’s been an incredibly eventful offseason for the Charlotte Hornets. From trading for Dwight Howard and drafting Malik Monk to the news that defensive stalwart Nicolas Batum would be out for the foreseeable future, the Hornets will start the 2017-18 season off looking considerably different. Still, it’s difficult to see Charlotte stepping into the conference’s upper echelon alongside the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, among others, without some major internal growth.
Down those lines, there may be no better candidate for a breakout season than Frank Kaminsky, the team’s modernly-molded stretch big man. Heading into his third NBA season, Kaminsky struggles at times but has generally affirmed why the Hornets passed on the Celtics’ huge offer and selected the former collegiate stud with the No. 9 overall pick back in 2015. Combined with the more defensive-steady force of Cody Zeller, the Hornets quickly found themselves with a solid, if not spectacular 1-2 punch at the center position.
Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky’s best nights statistically last season came when he hit multiple three-pointers. There were games like his 5-for-9 barrage from deep en route to 23-point, 13-rebound effort against the Sacramento Kings in late February, but his inconsistencies often got in the way just as much. In 2016-17 alone, Kaminsky tallied 41 games in which he converted on one or less of his three-point attempts — and the Hornets’ record? 13-28. Perhaps a tad coincidental for a franchise that finished at 36-46, but the Hornets ranked 11th in three-pointers with an even 10 per contest, so when Marvin Williams (1.6) Marco Belinelli (1.4), Kaminsky (1.5) and Batum (1.8) weren’t hitting, it was often lights out for an ultimately disappointing Charlotte side.
With his 33.1 percent career rate from deep, there’s certainly room to improve for Kaminsky, but his 116 made three-pointers still put him in a special group last season. Of all players at 7-foot or taller, only Brook Lopez made more three-pointers (134) than Kaminsky did — even ranking four ahead of Kristaps Porzingis, one of the league’s most talented unicorns. Once that category is expanded to include those at 6-foot-10 or taller, the list gets far more crowded ahead of Kaminsky, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
On that lengthier list of three-point shooting big men is Ryan Anderson, one of the strongest like-for-like comparisons that Kaminsky has today. Drafted in 2008, Anderson has been an elite three-point shooter for quite some time and his 204 makes last season ranked him ninth in the entire NBA. In fact, Anderson’s 2012-13 tally of 213 ranked only behind Stephen Curry; the year before that, his 166 total topped the rest of the field for a first-place finish. Coming out the University of California, Anderson was solid late first-round pickup by the New Jersey Nets and he knocked down one of his 2.9 attempts per game as a rookie.
Then, Anderson was traded to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2009 and found out that true basketballing nirvana is playing on the same team as prime Dwight Howard. For three seasons, they were a near-perfect fit for each other as Howard averaged 13.9 rebounds and Anderson hit two three-pointers per game over that stretch. Howard deftly made up for Anderson’s defensive shortcomings while the latter stretched the floor effortlessly on the other end.
Although Howard is now considerably older, he’s never recorded a season with an average of 10 rebounds or less over his 13-year career. Howard’s impressive rebounding rate of 20.8 percent — the third-highest mark in NBA history behind Dennis Rodman (23.44) and Reggie Evans (21.87) — has made it easy for his partners to stay at the perimeter or bust out in transition. Other power forwards that have flourished next to Howard also include Rashard Lewis (2.8 three-pointers per game from 2007-09) and Chandler Parsons (1.8 in 2013-14), so there’s some precedent here as well.
Simply put, Howard still demands attention in the post, and Kaminsky is the Hornets’ best possible fit next to him. As Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Williams will likely slide up a position at times to help navigate Batum’s injury, throwing Kaminsky into the fire seems almost too logical.
An improved sophomore season for Kaminsky saw rises in every major statistical category outside of his percentages due to an increase in volume. However, that 32.8 percent mark from three-point range is considerably lower than the league average and it’ll need to improve for somebody that spends much of the offensive possession ready to fire away. Regardless, Kaminsky’s 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 2016-17 are a bright sign moving forward, but with Howard, he’s about to be gifted his best opportunity yet.
Whether he’s operating in transition, out of pick-and-pops or catch-and-shoots, Kaminsky has the tools to join the elite stretch forwards in the near future and stay there permanently. Kaminsky’s growing chemistry with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has made the pair difficult to defend out on the perimeter. From the aforementioned pick-and-pops to a slightly more complicated dribble hand-off, trying to guard the two three-point shooting threats is enough to make your head spin. When he’s not firing from behind the arc, Kaminsky has also exhibited a soft touch and an ability to score among the trees as well.
As he continues to grow and expand his skill set, Kaminsky just needs to find some much-needed consistency as a shooter. If Kaminsky can raise his three-point percentage up closer to the league average this season, he’ll be an invaluable asset for the Hornets as they push for a playoff berth. Over his two full NBA seasons thus far, the Hornets have never had somebody like Howard to pair with Kaminsky and past results for those shooters playing with the future Hall of Famer are promising. Of course, head coach Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded leader — Charlotte’s defensive rating ranked 14th in 2016-17 at 106.1 — so Kaminsky will need to improve there to take full advantage of the available minutes. Fortunately, Howard’s savvy rim protection should make it a palatable experience on both sides of the ball.
When the Hornets rebuffed the Celtics’ massive draft day offer in order to select Kaminsky two years ago, it would’ve been impossible to predict Howard falling right into their lap as well. Between his expanding game and the new frontcourt combination, there’s potential here for Kaminsky to take the next big step in 2017-18.
If and when they do indeed pair him with Howard, the Hornets will be both maximizing his talents as a perimeter threat and minimizing his weaknesses as a defender. While Clifford leaned on Zeller in the past, Howard’s decorated history surrounded by court-stretching shooters should make the decision even easier. Kaminsky’s got all the workings of a modern offensive big man, the faith of the front office and the perfect paint-clogging partner — now it’s up to him to put it all together and become one of Charlotte’s most indispensable players.
Where Do the Celtics Go From Here?
The Boston Celtics face an uphill climb after the loss of Gordon Hayward, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Boston Celtics suffered a crushing blow Tuesday night after losing marquee free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury in the early goings of the season’s opening contest. Unfortunately for Boston, the NBA will continue to march on and Brad Stevens and his squad will have to adapt, adjust and learn on the fly. With 81 games still to play, all might not be lost for the Celtics, but where can the team go from here?
A lineup shuffle is almost certainly in the cards. Marcus Smart, projected to be Stevens’ first man off the bench, will likely slot into the starting lineup as the shooting guard next to Kyrie Irving, sliding Jaylen Brown to the small forward position. From there, a larger rotation and a minutes bump for other bench guys like Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, etc., would make the most sense as Stevens attempts to ensure his key guys — Irving, Brown and Al Horford — have fresh legs down the stretch. Nineteen-year-old Jayson Tatum, who impressed in his debut with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, should also get an extended look, even after presumed starter Marcus Morris is back and healthy enough to play. Irving and Horford’s veteran presence in the locker room cannot be understated as well.
Brown, who should move into Hayward’s spot in the lineup, had already been pegged for a major role on the team this season. Now, the second-year wing will bear an even heavier burden and will seemingly have to produce all over the floor for the Celtics. Without Hayward, Brown now joins a defensive group of Smart, Horford and Morris that will have their work cut out. Brown will also be expected to produce more on the offensive end as well and do so efficiently. While he poured in 25 points last night, Brown did so on an inefficient 11 of 23 shooting while going just 2-of-9 from three-point range. Still rough around the edges as expected, Brown will need to quickly smooth out his game if Boston wants to remain competitive during the season.
Danny Ainge will certainly survey the remaining free agent and trade market as well. If a low-cost, low-risk opportunity were to present itself, don’t expect the thrifty general manager to just sit back. While low-cost and low-risk doesn’t fit Ainge’s usual MO, he knows better than to make a knee-jerk reaction to a freak injury like the one Hayward sustained; he isn’t going to break the bank and mortgage the future he painstakingly built over the past several seasons to bring Anthony Davis to Boston, but a grab at JaMychal Green or a similar player certainly isn’t out of the question.
The real key to the team’s success going forward will be the play of Irving. Formerly the 1A to Hayward’s 1B, Irving will now be the sole No. 1 option and will be relied on by Stevens and the rest of the team as such, which is what Irving has really wanted all along. The whole reason he wanted out of Cleveland, out of LeBron James’ massive shadow, was to show that he could be “the guy” and now Irving has a prime opportunity to prove that he can be. The Celtics from here on will go as he goes; if Irving falters, the team will as well. While the initial showings were positive — Irving posted a double-double of his own with 22 points and 10 assists — there is a lot of basketball left to be played.
All is not lost for Boston and the 2017 season can certainly be salvaged. While Hayward’s injury is devastating and certainly sucked the enjoyment out of what many expected to be a very exciting season, the Celtics are more than capable of weathering this storm and coming out stronger on the other side with Ainge and Stevens at the helm and Irving, Brown and others leading the team on the floor.