One week into what most expected to be an unforgiving 2013-14 season, the Boston Celtics are 0-4 and their fan base is confused about how it should feel.
One section is thrilled by the unintentional tanking (entertaining games but still winless!), while another subset is upset by the losses, given that the Celtics have put themselves in position to win each of those four contests. Most casual fans are just sobering up from a World Series hangover and have greeted Boston's winless start with shrugged shoulders (our football team is 7-2!) and general indifference (this is Titletown, after all).
But as these Celtics take the difficult first steps of this transition process, fans have plenty of questions. Let's dive into the first regular-season mailbag of the new season:
A: I see what you did there. I think the first four games of the season have actually shown that Boston will be more competitive than some people think. That doesn't mean they'll win a lot of games, but they'll steal a few along the way, particularly as players settle into roles and get comfortable playing together under a new coach (and especially when Rajon Rondo is back on the floor). But the Celtics are still lottery-bound, particularly given the fact that they might be 3-16 after a brutal November passes.
A: One of the perils of having logjams on your roster is that you can't play everybody. So if you're Stevens and the best bet for the future of your team is leaning on youngsters like Vitor Faverani, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, then that's who you have to ride. Sure, you can make the case for building Humphries' trade value by showcasing him more, and he was actually very good while filling Sullinger's absence in Toronto. But Stevens has promised opportunities for all 13 healthy players on this roster, and Humphries simply has to be patient as the Celtics ride their younger bodies early on.
Q: Does Danny Ainge plan on making changes? -- @ro_thegreat (via Twitter)
A: Given the roster clogs -- both in terms of too many players of similar skill sets at similar positions, and money committed -- it seems likely that Ainge and Co. will seek Drano down the road in the form of trades. This early portion of the season is for identifying the players that will constitute the building blocks for the future and Ainge can better maneuver from there. Keep in mind, the team was open to making moves before the season to ease these roster jams, but you get the sense that there simply wasn't anything available. Contenders will be more aggressive shoppers after the holidays and Boston will have an intriguing storefront display regardless of the team's record.
Q: Why do you think Brad Stevens is dead set on playing Avery Bradley at the point when Phil Pressey may be a better option? -- Rob (Portland, Conn.)
A: Nothing about Boston's backcourt is ideal without Rondo. The team essentially has five shooting guards and Pressey, an undrafted rookie free agent. Right now, running Bradley at point guard allows the Celtics to put their most talented lineup on the floor at the start of games (using the Jeff Green/Gerald Wallace combo at the wing positions). That helps Boston's defense as well and is reflected in how the team's defensive rating is stellar (93.9 points per 100 possessions) when Bradley is on the court this season (that number jumps to 118.6 when he's not). Could Boston sustain those numbers with another guard next to Bradley? That remains to be seen. Even in the preseason, we didn't get much of an idea of how a Bradley/Pressey backcourt would fare. One way or another, I'd expect Pressey -- three DNPs in four games -- to get more floor time soon to see what he can do, at least in a reserve role. At the moment, Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee are providing a decent bench spark, limiting Pressey's chances to crack the rotation.
Q: Vitor Faverani has looked much better than I expected. How does his career project going forward? Do the C's keep him, or move him for a pick? -- KaraokeJack (via Twitter)
A: I'll admit, Faverani's defense has been better than I expected. Maybe it's just Boston's lack of backline size, but his ability to block and alter shots near the rim has been impressive. Like any rookie, he finds himself out of position at times, allowing too many rebound opportunities or forcing him to foul, but his individual defensive numbers have been solid (0.732 points per play, according to Synergy). Here's the troubling part: Boston's defensive rating with him on the floor is four points worse (106.2) than the team's average (102) and the offensive rating is even more of an eyesore (84.9 with Faverani on floor; 104.3 without). What's more, Boston has been a better rebounding team without him on the court based on early rebounding percentages. Regardless, there's a lot to like about Faverani and his bargain contract (three years, $6.3 million) should make him a building block in a youthful front court.
Q: What's the biggest surprise so far for this team? -- Terrence (Chicago)
A: Faverani's emergence as an effective starting center probably tops the list, but I'd also point out how excellent Brandon Bass has been. I don't know if Bass is part of the long-term future here -- he's got one more season on his deal with plenty of young bigs on the roster -- but Boston is a better team with him on the court this season. Just look at the plus/minus split: Even in four losses, the Celtics are plus-1 with Bass on the court; minus-31 when he's not. Boston's defensive rating with Bass on the floor is 95.1 and it jumps to 114.3 when he's off. I don't know if you can keep Jared Sullinger on the bench the entire season (and it's difficult to pair Sullinger with Bass), but Bass has been the defensive back-line anchor that Stevens desired. In his typical fashion, Bass' contributions have slid quietly under the radar.
Q: Biggest surprise, in a bad way? -- Chris (Auburn)
A: All right, so I asked myself that one, but after pondering Terrence's question, it felt right to consider the opposite. The obvious answer here is the need for more offensive aggression from the Green/Wallace combo. Wallace has taken just 16 shots in four games. His energy on the court makes good things happen, but an anemic Celtics offense desperately needs him to be more selfish (especially when Green gets passive). Avery Bradley has taken 37 more shots than Wallace in 10 minutes less floor time. The optimistic spin that Celtics fans can take is that more consistency from Green and Wallace, coupled with Kelly Olynyk's development, could eventually give Boston's offense a jolt even before Rondo returns.
Q: I'm so confused about how to feel about this 0-4 start. Help me make sense of it all. -- Erik (Plano, Texas)
A: It's a process. For a city spoiled by the success of its sports teams, watching the Celtics get pegged as the worst team in basketball isn't easy to swallow. As hard as it may be, Celtics fans have to ignore the win-loss record and try to gauge success by development, both by individual players and the team as a whole. The fact that they've been competitive despite the circumstances should be encouraging to fans, and the losses aid draft position. In a way, some see that as the best of both worlds. Silver linings are not as fun as gold trophies, but you can still find enjoyment in this Celtics season if you focus on the growth and the climb toward an end goal (as rocky as the path to that point may be).