The only difficulty in picking an overachiever from the Boston Celtics in recent seasons has been the notion that every player on the roster fits that description. The outsider view of the Celtics is of a starless team from which coach Brad Stevens has squeezed every last bit of talent during Boston's climb back to contender status in the Eastern Conference.
That's not exactly wrong. But things are slightly different as we look ahead to the 2016-17 season. Isaiah Thomas, once just a spunky sixth man, is a bona fide All-Star now. Boston also signed Al Horford to the most lucrative contract (four years, $113 million) in team history this summer. The Celtics are expected to win 50-plus games and push the defending champ Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. It's getting a bit more difficult to be an overachiever on this team.
For Day 8 of our Celtics Summer Forecast series, we asked our panel of 18 Celtics bloggers: Who will be the Celtics' biggest overachiever this season? Respondents still voted for 10 different players. Ultimately, it proved best to have a colorful last name, as rookie Jaylen Brown and veteran free-agent signee Gerald Green each earned 22.2 percent of the vote to lead the pack. Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko earned 11.1 percent apiece, while Terry Rozier, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk each landed on one ballot (5.6 percent).
This writer's choice? As many in our panel noted, the hardest part was identifying a player capable of exceeding general expectations. More experienced players like Thomas and Horford are expected to put up big numbers, while younger guys like Olynyk and Smart will be expected to make great strides. It would be difficult for any of those players to greatly exceed even the lowest of expectations.
You can more easily make a case for someone like Zeller, who was lost in the land of DNPs last season. Or second-year guard R.J. Hunter, who could overachieve by simply becoming a consistent 3-point threat in a smaller role off the bench.
Ultimately, this writer settled on Jerebko. Despite elevating to a starting role in last year's playoffs, Jerebko flies quietly beneath the radar, especially given his bargain-basement salary of $5 million. While many will expect him to resume his role as an energy guy off the bench, the departure of Evan Turner is going to leave a scoring void on the second unit. Jerebko, while not necessarily the same position as Turner because he'll play more 4, will get every opportunity to give the Celtics a jolt and provide a steadying presence on a new-look reserve unit.
If more of Jerebko's 2-point attempts fall this season -- last season was a bit of an outlier in shooting 42.1 percent on all shots inside the 3-point arc -- and he continues to knock down 40 percent of his 3-point attempts, the legend of "Swedish Larry Bird" will continue to grow.
A sample of our panel's responses:
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (Green): Heaven help me, I believe in Brad Stevens. After witnessing Jordan Crawford's resuscitation, it's impossible not to. It's entirely possible Green doesn't even get on the floor, but if he does, are you putting it past Stevens to turn Green into a 3-point-shooting and windmill-dunking threat? I'm not.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Johnson): It's easy to forget that Johnson is back after powering through nagging injuries last season to give the Celtics what they needed as a defensive anchor and garbage man on the offensive end. I'm not sure he ends up starting, but given that he'll be playing for his next contract, Johnson should give the Celtics everything he has. I also think he'll be re-energized playing next to an All-Star in Horford.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Olynyk): Olynyk finally got healthy and found his rhythm during the meat of last season, but shoulder woes torpedoed a promising start. With Horford at the 5, Olynyk can stand on the weakside elbow and launch 3s at will. He'll be recovering from offseason surgery, but, come All-Star break, look for Olynyk to again be among the league-leaders in 3-point percentage. While Smart looks ready to take a big step forward, Olynyk is in position to excel in a lower-pressure role.
Alex Kungu, Red’s Army (Crowder): I don't like the term overachiever, but I do think that Crowder is moving down the offensive totem pole and his role will better match his skill set. I could see a 3-point percentage in the high 30s and increased points per game due to open lanes. Combined with his high-level defense, he could even become a dark-horse All-Star candidate if the Celtics are near the top of the East in February.
Bobby Manning, CelticsBlog (Green): Gerald Green is bound to be the next great Celtics reclamation, following in the footsteps of Evan Turner. One word: shooting. Green, throughout his career of ups and downs, has been at his best finding a high volume of perimeter attempts and burying them in a fast-paced offense. That was evident in Phoenix, where he soared to a career year in 2013-14. His production wavered in the turmoil of 2015, and he got lost in Miami's stagnant pacing the next year, but now he joins a roster hungry for efficient 3-point shooting and is coming off a campaign where it outpaced both of his former Phoenix teams, offensively. The recipe for success is there, and as Stevens has shown before, he'll make rotational amends for shooters.
Jon Duke, Celtics Stuff Live on CLNS Radio (Rozier): The only thing standing in Rozier's way is a glut of guards on the roster. Between Rozier's efforts in the playoffs and his outstanding efficiency during summer league, he has earned a rotation spot just a year after many panned his selection in the 2015 draft. If a deal occurs, Rozier seems to have a little bit of each of his teammates' abilities -- Thomas' skill in getting to the bucket, Bradley's athleticism and Smart's tenacious defense. Of course, he isn't nearly as ready as those players, but his skills allow Boston to potentially deal someone ahead of him in the backcourt and the team can keep humming along.
Sam Packard, WEEI (Bradley): I have no idea what Celtics fans expect of Bradley next season, but because he got injured I have yet to hear his name outside of trade talks. He is coming off a first-team all-defensive season and is definitely the team's most consistent shooter. I expect him to continue to improve his jumper, and maybe, just maybe, he will finally abandon the long-range 2.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Brown): The fans who booed Brown on draft night don't expect him to live up to being the No. 3 overall pick, but Brown will be motivated to prove himself. If he hustles, plays defense and throws down the occasional loud jam -- which he will -- Brown will earn both minutes from Stevens and love from the fans.
Jake Keaney, CelticsBlog (Brown): With low expectations for his rookie season on a squad projected to compete for the No. 2 spot in the East, Brown has just as much of an opportunity to break through and make some waves as second-year guys like Hunter, Rozier or Jordan Mickey. After showing confidence in getting to both the hoop and the free throw line in summer league, why not Brown for overachiever?
Mark Van Deusen, CelticsLife (Green): Green will enter training camp battling for a roster spot, but he's the kind of reclamation project who can excel under Stevens -- just ask Crawford and Turner. My guess is Stevens' natural tendency to fight tooth and nail for every victory might lead him to give consistent minutes to the veteran Green rather than young guys like Rozier or Brown.
Ryan Bernardoni, CelticsHub (Jerebko): Smart hopefully makes the biggest improvement this season, but I don't know if a No. 6 pick entering his third season can be an overachiever without being awfully good. Jerebko's path to minutes at power forward seems more clear than last season with David Lee not on the team and Zeller having been retained instead of power forward/center Jared Sullinger. Add in Brown and Green, and Jonas won't be stuck filling in at small forward, where he was poor last season. He should be an important part of the rotation in both traditional and small lineups, setting him up to be viewed as an overachiever.
Dan Greenberg, Barstool Sports (Crowder): We all saw the jump from Crowder during his first full season in Boston last year. He's now one of the Celtics' most important players. Something makes me think that is just the beginning. If he's truly recovered from his ankle issues, I could see him elevating to more of a Greek Freak-type season (Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 16.9 points/7.7 rebounds/18.8 PER last season) up from Crowder's 14.2/5.1/15.8 last season.
Sean Penney, CelticsBlog (Green): You could argue that Stevens' teams have a habit of overachieving in general, as the young coach knows how to squeeze every ounce of potential from his roster. If we have to pick one player, I'm going with Green. He is a good shooter (career 36 percent from behind the arc) and has a chance to carve out a nice role off the bench.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Jerebko): With Olynyk potentially slowed by his shoulder surgery and Brown learning the ropes, Jerebko could pick up right where he left off during the playoffs. By Game 3 against the Hawks, Jerebko was starting in place of Sullinger and producing as a small-ball stretch 4. He’s set to make only $5 million in the final year of his contract, and his name will be included as a throw-in in rumored trades, but Swedish Larry Bird shouldn’t be overlooked as a major contributor off the bench and maybe even as a spot starter.
Justin Poulin, Celtics Stuff Live on CLNS Radio (Brown): I was tempted to select Smart, but everyone knows he is poised for a breakout year. The minutes are available for Brown, and the expectations are low despite his overwhelming athleticism. He appears to be a tireless worker and dedicated student. Brown will be shaky in the early going. He will learn to handle harsh criticism and that his athleticism can be mitigated with veteran savvy and experience. To his benefit, he will come off the bench and largely play the role of a defender. He will struggle with foul trouble, and his body language on the court will tell us a lot about his future in the league. The good news for Brown is that his coach happens to be one of the best in the business at hiding players' weaknesses and accentuating their strengths.
Sam Sheehan, Celtics Reddit and CLNS Radio (Zeller): This question is going to be affected by how each panelist chose to read overachiever. For me, it's a question of which Celtic will contribute the most versus what you expected him to do? I can't put Smart in that scenario because I expect him to really improve. By contrast, I expect nothing from Zeller after a nightmarish 2015-16 erased the happy memories Celtics fans had of him as a top-25 center in 2014-15. He's probably fifth on the depth chart right now; however, he's backing up players in Horford, Johnson and Olynyk who have all had injury issues. If Zeller can find a way to get on the court, hopes for a return to his 2014-15 form wouldn't be that much of stretch.
Lachlan Marr, Celtics Blog (Smart): With a roster full of high-character guys, the Celtics are likely to have a whole team of overachievers. I feel like the easy answer here is to say Crowder, but people are so used to him overachieving now that it's expected. While Brown and Rozier could both have a positive impact on the Celtics' record, I hope it's Smart that shocks the league with his competitiveness. This season should see Smart step up in a significant way.
Rich Jensen, Red's Army (Brown): I'm going with Brown because the kid was booed on draft night. Basically, at that moment, Brown was considered a net negative for the Celtics -- the worst possible outcome (or at least that was the opinion until Guerschon Yabusele was drafted and everybody just left the team's draft party). There are still internet commenters griping about Brown. And yet, on a worse team, I'm pretty sure he could contend for rookie of the year. He's a smart guy, he views this all as a learning process, and he has a chip on his shoulder when he gets on the court. In terms of changing fan opinion? I don't think anyone is going to do more than Brown.