NBA Handicpping: Boston Celtics Playing Hard and Cashing Tickets
by Trevor Whenham - 3/5/2015
The Boston Celtics are not a good team. They have a flawed roster and are in the midst of a long rebuild. Lately, though, they have done a very good job of imitating a solid team. Since Feb. 3 the team is 8-5 and looking quite solid. The winning isn't the only thing going their way lately, either. Trading away Rajon Rondo looks better every single day. The trade deadline went fairly well - and looks better lately, too. This is not a title contender or anything, but it is a lot easier to be optimistic about this team now than it has been for a while.
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So, how are they doing it? And what does it mean for bettors? Here are six factors to consider when looking at this team:
Brad Stevens is a great coach: When Stevens was hired from Butler it was a bit of a surprise. He was obviously very talented, but he didn't have NBA experience and he was very young. Well, now the surprising move has become a brilliant one. Stevens isn't a good coach. He is a great one. He's tactical. He's obviously a motivator. He hasn't had a whole lot to work with, but he is getting as much as he can out of them. The future is very bright for this guy - and the team that has him at the helm. The team is clearly buying heavily into his message. For example, he is really preaching the importance of ball security right now, and the team responded by setting a franchise record with just three turnovers in Wednesday's win over the Jazz. That same game was also marked by much-improved play after Stevens had publicly called his team out for selfish play in the prior two outings.
Thomas has been strong: It surprised many people when the Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline just months after they drafted Marcus Smart to play the point. So far, though, it has worked very well. Thomas was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week last week and has been playing very good basketball since arriving in town. He's motivated by the frustration of the last year - he surely feels like he doesn't deserve to be playing for his third team since the end of last year. In the long term it remains to be seen how it works out, but for now he is a real boost to the team. He's confident, and he brings a swagger to the team that they haven't had - at least not in a positive way.
Smart coming around: Early in the year Marcus Smart was a disappointment. He showed flashes, but he was a whole long way from consistent. It wasn't pretty. In February, though, he turned a corner and was good enough to be named the conference's rookie of the month. I believe in Smart long term, and the team obviously does, too. It will be important to watch closely in the coming weeks to see if the success of February means he has turned a corner or if the inconsistency is just going to be par for the course until he gets more experience.
ATS performance: At 33-25-1 ATS on the season, the squad has been nicely profitable. They sit eighth in the league in term of ATS record and have the worst record of those eight teams. That means, in very simple terms, that they are a better team than the public assumes them to be. They are a stunning 15-5-1 ATS since Jan. 19, so their ATS performance is hotter than their play when you consider win/loss record.
Olynyk back: Kelly Olynyk is not, by himself, a game-changing player. He's solid, though, and before he missed 18 games with an ankle injury he was taking steps forward in his second year in the league. Plus, he's a Canadian, so he's automatically likeable. Olynyk returned from injury on Wednesday night, and he made a brief and underwhelming appearance in the Utah game. It will take a while for him to find his confidence and fitness and return to form. He will figure it out, though, and when he does he provides the luxury of depth in a really key position. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, having him available makes this team better.
Playoff race?: I left this one until last because it is almost too ridiculous to believe. The Eastern Conference is so bad right now that a team at 24-35 finds themselves in the heart of the playoff race. They currently sit 11th, but there is a traffic jam of mediocre teams fighting for their due. They sit only 2.5 games behind Miami in seventh and two back of eighth-place Charlotte. Indiana is a game and a half better, and Brooklyn is a game ahead, while Detroit is a game and a half back. It is still going to be an uphill battle to make the postseason, but the mere fact that it is more than possible tells us how silly the conference is and adds an extra wrinkle or two to the finals weeks of the regular season.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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