For the 14th -- and final -- day of our 2016 Boston Celtics Summer Forecast, we asked our panel to hand out some hardware by selecting a Celtics player who is likely to win an NBA postseason award this season.
Avery Bradley, who landed on the All-Defense first team during the 2015-16 campaign, was a popular choice to repeat that feat (or even rise to Defensive Player of the Year). Marcus Smart landed on a handful of ballots for different awards. And a couple members of our blogger panel cheated and pushed for Brad Stevens as Coach of the Year.
This writer's choice? Here's our pitch for Marcus Smart as Sixth Man of the Year.
Few in this Summer Forecast space had high expectations for Evan Turner last season. You might remember some even suggested that his roster spot might be better utilized by Perry Jones, who was cut during training camp and did not appear in an NBA game last season. Turner, meanwhile, emerged as a vital presence because of his versatile skill set and ultimately finished fifth in voting for Sixth Man of the Year.
For the Celtics to reach many of their loftiest goals this season, someone on Boston's bench is going to have to step up and emerge as a Sixth Man candidate now that Turner is in Portland. You could make a case for a handful of dark horses, including guys such as Jonas Jerebko or Kelly Olynyk (if the Canadian 7-footer remains in a bench role). We're casting our ballot with Smart because Turner's departure opens the door for the third-year guard to make the sort of leap that many believe he's capable of.
If Smart improves his offensive game -- and simply avoiding another of the worst shooting seasons in league history might be enough -- then his defensive talents combined with his hustle and grit will thrust him into the national spotlight this season, especially if the Celtics compete for a top spot in the East. Smart might ultimately not make enough progress in terms of scoring for voters to really take notice, but his two-way talents should put him in the mix.
A sample of our panel's responses:
Brian Robb, CelticsHub (Bradley, All-Defense first team): Coming off his best defensive season in the NBA while entering his prime at age 25, Bradley is a safe bet to earn All-Defensive honors again. Bradley's job harassing guards on the perimeter should get a bit easier as well with an improved defensive anchor (Al Horford) manning the paint behind him.
Tom Westerholm, MassLive (Bradley, Defensive Player of the Year): OK, this probably won't happen BUT ... let's say the Celtics emerge as the best defense in the NBA (not impossible!). Let's say people decide to reward the best defender on the best team (not impossible!). At that point, couldn't Bradley be the Defensive Player of the Year? It's not likely, but it's not impossible.
Sam Sheehan, Celtics Reddit and CLNS Radio (Smart, Most Improved Player): This is a tough one because I don't think any Celtics player is very likely to walk away with postseason accolades outside of sportsmanship. However, if I had to pick, Smart's Most Improved campaign slightly edges Jaylen Brown's Rookie of the Year potential. I don't think most casual fans (or even diehards who just ball-watch) really understand the role and impact Smart had last season. A lot of Turner's success came at the direct expense of Smart, and that role is really going to open up. Smart had one of the worst shooting seasons ever last season and was still an above-average contributor by most metrics. Imagine what even a slightly below-average shooting year would do for him.
Jon Duke, CSL on CLNS Radio (Smart, Most Improved): I've believed for a long time that Smart's gruesome summer-league hand injury last year had a lot to do with his poor shooting in the 2015-16 season. After a healthy summer and a larger role in Turner's absence, it says here that a guy who would be an All-Star with average shooting percentages will emerge as Most Improved in 2017. That's a pretty big stretch, but honestly it will be hard for any Celtics player to win individual hardware, apart from the obvious All-Defense nods for Bradley or Smart.
Dan Greenberg, Barstool Sports (Terry Rozier, Sixth Man): Rozier should get the minutes to qualify for this spot and, if he proves to be the No. 1 option on a successful second unit, he should absolutely be in the conversation (much like Turner was last season). He'll have competition with the regulars such as Jamal Crawford and Louis Williams, but, of all the postseason awards, this seems the most likely for a Celtics player to win.
Ryan Bernardoni, CelticsHub (Isaiah Thomas, All-NBA third team): The easy pick is to hand out All-Defense kudos but I wanted to go for something a bit more fun. It's tempting to tip Smart for Sixth Man or Most Improved, but both of those are usually driven by scoring. If the Celtics really do ascend to a high seed in the East there are voters who will be looking to reward them. Playing with Horford should benefit Thomas in that he'll have both more space to work and a better partner to work with. A small boost in scoring efficiency and a nice uptick in raw assists would put Thomas on the fringe of the All-NBA conversation, even at the league's deepest position. The credit may just go to Horford, but seeing The Little Guy continue his climb up the league hierarchy is too good a story to pass up.
John Karalis, Red's Army (Bradley, Defensive Player of the Year): Let's take the next step with Bradley, shall we? First-team All-Defense puts him on the map with the media. Every time he locks guys down, you'll hear announcers refer to his All-Defense selection and that has an influence on the voters. Boston could be the second-best team in the East, and if the Celtics finish with a top-flight defense, Bradley could be the go-to vote for voters who (a) shun Kawhi Leonard because of the defensive dip San Antonio takes without Tim Duncan anchoring them and (b) shun Draymond Green because Golden State is too loaded to be handing anyone defensive awards. Bradley could be the guy voters are looking for to make a justified protest vote.
Justin Poulin, CSL on CLNS Radio (Brad Stevens, Coach of the Year): He's not a player, but it is a postseason award and the stars are aligned for Stevens to win it. ESPN Insider has already declared the Celtics' schedule as the easiest. That bodes well for Stevens and, quite frankly, Steve Kerr just simply cannot be awarded now that Golden State has acquired Kevin Durant. I mean, his job is so easy that Tyronn Lue could win a championship with that roster.
Mike Dynon, Red's Army (Bradley, All-Defense): In a star-driven league, the Celtics are outliers. We all know they have no superstar, no one who's automatically penciled in for All-NBA. Avery Bradley earning first-team All-Defense last season was a well-deserved breakthrough and he should repeat. But that's it. Stevens will get some Coach of the Year votes, but unless the Celtics win 60 games, he'll be a runner-up again.
Sam Packard, WEEI (Bradley, All-Defense first team): I don't expect Bradley to get any worse at defense and, once you make the team the first time, you are more likely to make it again.
Jared Weiss, CLNS Radio (Smart, Sixth Man of the Year): If there is anyone on the team in position to make a run at an individual award, it is Smart. He is on the preseason short list for both Sixth Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. It is unheard of for a bench player to win DPOY, so Sixth Man is more plausible. Both awards are primarily narrative driven, and Smart is someone who makes a narrative shine. His defensive intensity became a league-wide story last season, and he now will have the responsibility to carry the weight, offensively, as well. If he can prove to be an effective two-way player, he will be in the running for the best bench player in the league.
Bill Sy, CelticsBlog (Stevens, Coach of the Year): Yes, I cheated, but this is the year Stevens wins Coach of the Year. Without an MVP candidate, a go-to Sixth Man of the Year, or an All-NBA first- or second-teamer, Stevens will guide the Celtics to a top seed in the East. With 22 nationally-televised games next season, he'll finally get recognized as one of the best in the business.
Ian Keilty, Dirty Water Media (Smart, Most Improved): I'd love to sit here and confidently tell you that Brown is going to win Rookie of the Year, but I'd be lying. Smart, on the other hand, finally will have his breakout season. He's already one of the premier defenders in the league, now he just needs his offense to match. I almost went with Sixth Man of the Year, and the argument could definitely be made, but that would really require him to be a big-time scorer off the bench. I see his jump shot improving this season, but it's his defensive tenacity that will get him national recognition.
Jake Keaney, CelticsBlog (Bradley, All-Defense first team): Assuming Brown doesn’t shock the nation and take home Rookie of the Year, I think the surest bet is for Bradley to earn his second All-Defense first-team selection. If the Celtics finish with wins in the mid-50s, Bradley’s defense will be a big reason.
Mark Van Deusen, CelticsLife (Stevens, Coach of the Year): Kerr isn't going to get it again unless the Durant Warriors win 74 games (not happening). Lue? Come on, LeBron James is the real coach of the Cavs. Gregg Popovich? Tim Duncan may have been the Tom Brady to his Bill Belichick. Quin Snyder could be a trendy pick if the Jazz make some noise out West, but if Stevens guides Boston to 50-plus wins and the East's No. 2 seed, he should have as good a case as anyone.
Rich Jensen, Red's Army (Bradley, All-Defense): Those All-Defense awards develop momentum. There are voters who seemingly rubber-stamp the previous year's winners unless they've gotten injured or fallen off dramatically in performance. Chris Paul has been on one of the All-Defense teams eight of nine years; Tony Allen, five of the last six; and last season eight of the 10 winners -- including Bradley -- had been named to an All-Defense team at least once before.
Ben Mark, Red's Army (Smart, Sixth Man of the Year): I'm high on Smart really breaking through in Year 3 and, if he does, he'll do it off the bench. Turner received some Sixth Man buzz last season, and Smart will be called upon to fill Turner's void as a playmaker off the bench. Smart, or maybe Bradley, will likely land on an All-Defense team. But if Smart has the impact I think he might, it will be hard to ignore him as one of the league's best off the pine.