The Boston Celtics' roster is impossibly young. There's only one player older than 28 -- offseason import David Lee at 32 -- and a whopping eight players who might run into difficulty renting a car (some companies won't rent to those under age 25).
For Day 8 of our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we asked our 15-member blogger panel: Which Boston Celtics player is most likely to have a breakout season?
Maybe not surprisingly, with all those young bodies on the roster, our panel responded with five different possibilities. That said, it was a landslide victory for second-year guard Marcus Smart, who garnered 66.7 percent of the vote. Kelly Olynyk, James Young, Jared Sullinger, and Jae Crowder each grabbed 6.7 percent of the ballots while finishing tied for a distant second.
Smart is a safe and solid choice, and this writer stuck with the majority. The No. 6 overall pick had an impactful rookie season, displayed All-Defense potential on one end of the floor and made strides in learning how to run an offense at the NBA level on the other.
Smart, who landed on the NBA's All-Rookie second team, didn't post an eye-popping stat line -- 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists over 27 minutes per game -- but his two-way talents played a big role in Boston's second-half surge to the playoffs (a stretch when he was elevated to a starter). The glimpse we got at summer league suggests a player more confident in his ability to be a floor general and the Celtics appear ready to toss him the keys of the car (last year Boston often kept someone like Evan Turner in the passenger seat to help steer the offense).
Smart was streaky behind the 3-point arc last season and shot only 33.5 percent from distance overall. He was more confident with that shot this summer and, combined with a more aggressive approach to attacking the basket to create for himself and others, should lead to a bump in his offensive production.
It's noteworthy that a couple of our voters pegged Smart as possibly Boston's most likely candidate to earn an All-Star bid this season during Tuesday's forecast. It only hammers home the sort of jump most are expecting from Smart. It's been said by those in our panel that, of the players on Boston's current roster, Smart might ultimately be the team's best hope for a homegrown superstar.
It remains to be seen just how high his ceiling is, but clearly our panel believes he'll leap a little closer to it this season.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (Smart)
Smart looked great in summer league, and his numbers last season didn't really indicate the impact he had on the floor. If his stats begin to match his impact, he'll have a big sophomore season. This, of course, assumes he stays healthy -- a pretty massive assumption given the way he throws himself around the court. Knock on wood furiously.
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (Sullinger)
Sullinger’s three biggest weaknesses are 3-point shooting, defense, and stamina. At least two of those should improve tremendously if he successfully gets in better shape this summer. Sullinger ranked 10th out of 133 players in field-goal percentage from 16-plus feet the last two years. By trimming his baby fat, his legs likely won’t be as tired, allowing him to step out and shoot from 3, instead of living in mid-range. And better conditioning will mean he won’t have to coast through games, potentially making him an even better rebounder.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Smart)
Chosen with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Marcus Smart endeared himself immediately to a Boston crowd accustomed to seeing players simply get after it. Smart’s tenacity and 3-point shooting potential allowed coach Brad Stevens to put the rookie in meaningful situations. With a year under his belt, Smart will be expected to provide scoring in different ways this season. Stevens seems determined to get Smart the ball in his hands more often, and given his already exemplary defense at this point in his young career, expect Smart to soar above expectations.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Kelly Olynyk)
Generally, young NBA players take three seasons to incubate. I don't know if it's the speed or strength of the pro game or if it's just a matter of confidence, but by Year No. 3, guys start figuring it out. Comfortable Kelly Olynyk is just such a joy to watch and I think that he'll settle in nicely as the first big off the bench. It's a role that he thrived in last year and he'll make an even bigger leap playing alongside Thomas on the offensive end and Amir Johnson on defense.
Alex Kungu, CLNS Radio (Smart)
Towards the end of last season, and in the summer league, Smart showed real improvement as a pick-and-roll player, and his instincts as a passer were quite impressive. With a healthy ankle, and more ball-handling duties, Smart will have the most freedom he's ever had. If he can improve his shot selection, and make a better effort to attack the rim, he'll look every bit like Boston's next franchise player.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Jae Crowder)
The breakout started late last season, but Crowder is primed to be this year’s DeMarre Carroll in the East. Crowder earned a deal averaging around $7 million a season this summer, but his play down the stretch merited a double-digit salary. He continues to improve as an on-ball and help defender, but it was his offensive growth that stood out. He is relentless driving to the hoop, can pull off awkward finishes and is flashing signs of a high-post game. Crowder epitomizes the kind of swing Stevens looks for and will be one of the league’s best glue guys this year.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Smart)
I believe that Smart has the highest upside. He's already a stud on defense but he's got plenty of growth potential on offense. If he can improve his jump shot and attack the basket more consistently, that alone could be enough to push him to the next level. He'll also need to stay healthy but I'm optimistic about his sophomore season.
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (James Young)
I like both Smart and Crowder as options here (although Crowder may have already had his breakout year in 2014-15), but I'm going with Young simply because it won't take much for him to overachieve. After his basically non-existent rookie season, many Celtics fans seem to have already given up on him. We forget how "young" he really is though -- he just turned 20 this month and is still the youngest player on Boston's roster.
Nick García, CelticsLife (Smart)
As a rookie, Smart showed off some of the tools that made him a lottery pick, including the kind of defensive intensity Celtics fans love, but he suffered from a lack of consistency and some very uneven shooting performances. The Rajon Rondo trade was great news for Smart’s development, and the arrival of Isaiah Thomas didn’t hurt his numbers at all. With a good half season as a starter under his belt, he looks ready to lead the team for a full year and his stats should improve across the board.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Smart)
Smart demonstrated in Summer League that he’s completely shed the "rookie" label. He clearly has the talent and mindset to become a star. He can get there this season, if he stays healthy and remains aggressive, while avoiding dumb moves like his encounter with Matt Bonner. Category runner-up: Crowder.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live (Smart)
I don't see, in any capacity, how Marcus Smart isn't viewed by March as a star in the making. The early season ankle injury that truly didn't heal during the season limited Smart's ability to attack the basket and create off the dribble. Adding those skills in addition to his tenacious defense and better than expected shooting puts him on pace to be the type of player other teams would covet (not unlike Al Jefferson in 2007).
Ben Mark, Red's Army(Smart)
He'll be given the keys to the offense to start the season and there's no questioning his potential to be one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league. The confidence that comes with a year's experience in the NBA and his innate ability to lead will also contribute to an even bigger year. Whether Smart becomes a cornerstone or the piece shipped away to bring in a legitimate superstar, his breakout will have a huge impact this season.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Smart)
Smart will take on more of a leadership role this year. During summer league you could see that he had a different mentality. Smart took it to the basket more often and had a confidence about him that screamed he knew he was the best player on the court. It’ll translate to his regular-season play and we’ll see less 3-pointers out of him, and see him taking it to the basket to try and draw more fouls.
KWAPT, Red's Army (Smart)
Smart is definitely capable of having a breakout year. My only concern is if he can stay healthy. His 110-percent effort every minute of every game is admirable, but he must learn to pace himself in order to avoid injury. But watch out -- I believe this kid has only just begun to scratch the surface talent wise.