Summer tends to be a time of unbridled NBA optimism. Teams and players have fresh slates and everyone can dream big before reality takes over when camps open and games start in the fall.
Not every player will perform up to expectations for the Boston Celtics during the 2015-16 season. For Day 9 of our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we asked our blogger panel: Which Celtics player will be the biggest underachiever this season?
Our 16-member panel responded with six names, but it was second-year swingman James Young who topped the polling, appearing on 43.8 percent of the ballots. Offseason acquisition David Lee (25 percent) placed second, while Avery Bradley was behind him at 12.5 percent. Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, and Jared Sullinger tied at 6.3 percent of the vote.
This writer's thoughts? While I understand that Young is an easy target, it seems unfair to suggest that a player with 332 minutes of NBA floor time could possibly underachieve. Yes, there's expectations based on his draft spot (17th overall last year) and his perceived potential. But after a lackluster and injury-deterred summer league performance, I'd make the case that Young has among the lowest expectations on the team entering the season, making it even more difficult for him to be dubbed the biggest underachiever.
Given the roster crunch in the frontcourt, this vote had to go to a big man. Initially, there don't seem to be enough minutes to go around, and that's going to impact stat lines. That puts the likes of Sullinger, Lee, Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Zeller in jeopardy.
My vote ultimately went with Lee. While he could just as easily be the team's biggest overachiever if he returns to a double-double type of player, you can also see things going the opposite way given his age (32) and defensive struggles. If Sullinger and Olynyk demonstrate the sort of strides that reward them with an uptick in playing time, and if Johnson wins over fans with his hustle-heavy style, then Lee -- especially with his contract -- will be challenged to distinguish himself, potentially in short minutes.
Jay King, MassLive (Lee)
To be clear, Young will produce the least of anyone on this list. But even if the lefty fails to crack the rotation, it would hardly come as a surprise, and it would not mean he's underachieving. I'm not sure any of the other guys will underachieve either, but since you're forcing me to choose, I'll go with Lee. Why? Well, we know what Bradley will provide -- rugged defense and outside shooting. Sullinger and Lee will be competing against a village of power forwards for minutes. The latter big man has been an All-Star, and his skill set will help to charge the offense. But Sullinger went for 13 and eight per game last year even while thoroughly out of shape. If the 23-year-old likes big money, he will prepare his body for a strong contract year.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Young)
The early returns on Young's summer league campaign were disappointing across the board. We didn't see the improved dribbling and off-ball awareness that was expected after all those reps in Maine. Although he has added muscle, he didn't put it to much use. If you can't separate yourself physically during summer league, what will you do when you have to guard a bruiser like Jimmy Butler?
Mark Vandeusen, CelticsLife (Bradley)
Sometimes I wonder whether Bradley peaked as a basketball player in the spring of 2012 (when he stole the starting shooting guard spot from Ray Allen). Even though he's only 24 years old, Bradley is the longest-tenured Celtic and it feels as though he's been around forever. His reputation as one of the fiercest on-ball defenders in the league is slipping away. Young, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter will all be fighting for minutes in the backcourt this season -- it seems a lot more likely that their playing time will come at the expense of Bradley rather than Marcus Smart or Isaiah Thomas.
Kevin O'Connor, CelticsBlog (Johnson)
Johnson won't necessarily underachieve in the eyes of the Celtics' front office, but he might not live up to fan expectations. Johnson suffers chronic ankle sprains, which has, over the years, have mired his rebounding and defense. He's missed just 13 games the last three seasons, but had to grind it out through many of them, looking like a shell of his former self at times. Johnson will win the hearts of the TD Garden faithful with his hustling style of play, but if he can't stay on the floor that love might fade.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Lee)
The rebuild starts now, and I just can't see Brad Stevens giving playing time to Lee, who more than likely won't be in Celtic green next season. Lee will have his moments -- just like he did for the Warriors in the NBA Finals -- but there's just too much in the youth movement in the frontcourt. Is Sullinger healthy? Can Olynyk turn the corner? Are Johnson and Jonas Jerebko trade chips or pieces to a championship team? Can Jordan Mickey live up to his unique rookie contract? The only question I have about Lee is which contender will Danny [Ainge] flip him to in February?
Ben Mark, Red's Army(Jae Crowder)
I'm worried that, after an admirable playoff series against Cleveland and a new five-year contract extension, expectations will be too high for Crowder. Some expect him to start this year, but he would ideally be better suited as a key cog on a contending team's second unit. Hopefully, it's with the Celtics in the near future as a James Posey-type, but if asked to do too much, Crowder could be seen as an underachiever.
Alex Kungu, CLNS Radio (Bradley)
His inability to play the point guard position at 6-foot-2 has really lowered his ceiling. Last season we saw a dip in his defense, posting an unimpressive 102.5 defensive rating with opponents shooting better than their average all over the court against him except from beyond the 3-point arc. Mix that in with streaky shooting, the inability to create for himself or others consistently, and you have to wonder if Stevens would consider moving Bradley to a bench role where his skill set makes more sense.
Jeff Clark, CelticsBlog (Young)
It almost isn't fair to count out a guy who still isn't old enough to buy alcohol, but he's playing with the big boys and it would be nice to see some progress from Young this season. He's got the talent to be a very nice NBA player, but he gets my nod for "most likely underachiever" if only because he hasn't shown us anything so far.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live(Young)
By definition, to underachieve, a player would have to fail to meet expectations, but this roster makes it very challenging to determine any sort of expectation level. While I'm not as down on Young as others, I sense that he has been put far too high on a pedestal since draft night. While other candidates here have established themselves as NBA pros, the 20-year-old Young has struggled to do so. Can he make a mark in a very crowded backcourt? Bradley made that same leap in his second year after struggling mightily in his first, so it can be done.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (Sullinger)
I want to trust Sullinger, (Really! I do!), and his offseason photos do seem to indicate a player who has lost a lot of weight. But past results speak loudest, and we have yet to see a complete season out of him, despite a lot of promise. How is his conditioning? Can he stay healthy? Will his shot selection improve? Will he still be strong enough to bang down low and clean the glass? Can he defend the pick-and-roll or the paint? These questions all need to be answered, and the confluence of all of them gives me pause.
Nick García, CelticsLife (Young)
Whether it's fair or not for a 20-year-old, the expectation is that one year in the D-League should be enough for the 17th pick in the draft to become a serviceable NBA player. In the (admittedly limited) chances he got as a rookie, Young showed little evidence of improvement in any area other than scoring. The fact that he's bulked up to 220 pounds is promising and shows he's putting in the work, but if it doesn't translate to improved defense and rebounding, there could be more trips to Maine in Young's future.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Young)
This is Young's "crown" to lose. You have to wonder about his confidence, because his biggest strength -- outside shooting -- has failed him repeatedly. At this point, Young has to be described as a prove-it-to-me player. If he starts slowly in preseason, he may spend a lot of time on the bench watching Hunter.
Cory Prescott, CLNS Radio (Young)
Young was selected with the expectation of being a project. Still the youngest player on the Celtics' roster, Young has yet to prove that he's worthy of earning playing time, best exemplified by his unremarkable play with the Celtics' summer squad. Young doesn't possess the strength yet to hang with the small forwards in the league, and with an overly crowded backcourt at the moment, Young will likely need more seasoning up in Maine this season.
Eddie Santiago, CLNS Radio (Lee)
It's not a given that Lee even cracks the rotation. With Sullinger and Olynyk expected to improve, Johnson being tabbed as the defensive anchor, and Zeller being the only 7-footer on the roster, Lee could be in line not to play much this season. He's a liability defensively and the Celtics will be looking to improve there after finishing 16th in defensive efficiency after the NBA trade deadline.
KWAPT, Red's Army (Young)
Young is going to have to do a lot to prove why he was worth the 17th overall pick in 2014 because, despite having some impressive games for the Red Claws, he has been underwhelming with the parent club.