The way Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics approach the free agent pool in 2016 will be largely dictated by how they fare in 2015. Although 2016 doesn’t have nearly the crop of big name players becoming unrestricted free agents as 2015, there are still a number of players who would have an immediate impact in Boston. Lets leave Kevin Durant out of this discussion, since the chances of him coming to Boston in 2016 are basically non-existent.
What the Celtics really need is a strong, rim-protecting center who can also finish at the basket. With the possible exception of Tyler Zeller, who is developing in to quite a strong young player, the Celtics current lineup of centers is comprised of power forwards playing out of position. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk both have the height, the rebounding prowess, and some of the offensive skill to play at center, but neither can compete with a monster like Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol. Both Olynyk’s and Sullinger’s skill set are better utilized playing as a power forward, stretching the floor so they can shoot the ball or open lanes for driving guards.
The Celtics backcourt is almost as unorganized as their front court. Marcus Smart is the only sure-thing who deserves to be out on the court, getting minutes, and developing in to the star he has the potential to be. Avery Bradley is locked up until 2018, and has been much more consistent offensively since the departures of Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo. However, his defensive game has not been quite up to par, and it’s yet to be determined whether his offense will continue to disappear for games at a time (as it did earlier in the year). While both small forwards Jae Crowder and Evan Turner have been stringing together some good games for the C’s, they are only under contract through the 2015-16 season.
This leaves the largest holes to plug in the Celtics roster at the center and small forward positions. Here are five players who could potentially fill those spots.
Batum will be 27 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016. On paper, he is actually quite close to Evan Turner. Not an exceptional scorer, though he can make some big shots, and he stuffs the stat sheet almost every night. Both players average somewhere around 10 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game. In fact, Turner’s player efficiency rating (PER) of 11.9 is just slightly higher than Batum’s 11.7.
Batum, however, would be a better fit in Boston than Turner. It’s important to note that while Turner gets more than his fair share of touches and time on the court, Batum is sharing the stage with the likes of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez. There is simply not as much opportunity for him to shine in Portland among such impact players. Considering Batum and Turner’s statistics are nearly identical, it’s safe to guess that Batum would receive a statistical boost in Boston, given more chances to touch and shoot the ball.
Just the name is enough to make most Boston fans cringe. Many of them probably still have nightmares thinking about “The Dunk” in Game 6 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2009. With that said, any one of them would be a fool to deny that Joakim Noah is one of the league’s best players, particularly on the defensive end of the court (so much so that he was named the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year).
Although Zeller does have the advantage on Noah in FG% and points per game, Noah more than makes up for it. Joakim has 400 rebounds so far this year, while Zeller has just 276. Noah also averages 3.6 assists to Zeller’s 1.3, and 0.7 steals as opposed to 0.3. Although the Bulls season has frequently shifted between brilliance and a train-wreck, Noah is still the same energetic, defensive-minded center that led Florida State to two NCAA championships in two years.
About a month ago hardly anyone had even heard of Whiteside, who plays center in Miami. Today, you would be hard pressed to find an NBA fan who hasn’t heard his name floating around. For a guy who has spent most of his career in the D-League, he is playing absolutely out of his mind right now. Though his current level of play is almost surely unsustainable, he will find himself getting paid big money if he plays even half this good going forward.
Out of 24 games this season, Whiteside has started nine of them. Since you are looking at a small sample of games and minutes from Whiteside, his per 100 possession stats absolutely annihilate those of Zeller. He is averaging 23.3 rebounds per 100 possessions, 1.5 steals, and 6.9 blocks. Whiteside is a bit of a gamble since he hasn’t played in that many games yet, but if Miami doesn’t lock him up between now and 2016 he could be a potentially good fit for Boston.
Gilchrist will be a restricted free agent come 2016. He will be just 22 years old. Things just haven’t panned out for MKG the way they expected in Charlotte when they drafted him 2nd overall in the 2012 draft. The first three years of his career have been plagued by injury, and even still he is averaging 7.2 rebounds per game, just 10.2 points per game, and a measly 1.3 assists per game.
With that said, Gilchrist boasts a significantly superior player efficiency rating of 15.3 compared to Evan Turner’s 11.9. He also has a better FG%, shooting .452 from the field compared to Turner’s .426. These numbers make you wonder whether Gilchrist is simply surrounded by the wrong pieces in Charlotte. While Charlotte is arguably a better team than Boston, its easy to see how MKG could fit in with Smart and Sullinger. Lastly, Charlotte may be willing to part with him as a restricted free agent considering he has been less than stellar for them so far.
The starting center for the hottest team in the league right now, Horford will be 29 when he hits free agency in 2016. There have been long-standing talks about the possibility of Horford making his way on to the Celtics team. While Horford at 6′ 10″ isn’t as tall as Olynyk or Zeller, he weighs in at 250 pounds which makes him more than fit for the job. Out of Noah, Zeller, and Horford, Horford is averaging the most points per game with 15.5. He also has the highest player efficiency rating of the three at 21.69. He also has the best offensive rating (estimated points produced per 100 possessions) and the lowest defensive rating (estimated points allowed per 100 possessions. This means that Horford has the biggest impact on the court out of the three centers.
It’s hard to see any reason why either the Hawks or Horford would want to part ways. The Hawks are currently the best team in the East and are early favorites to go to the finals. If there is any reason that Horford chooses not to stay in Atlanta in 2016, the Celtics would be wise to throw all of the money they can at him. The addition of a player like Horford could make Boston a near-immediate contender in the Eastern conference.
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