The New York Knicks have won four in a row and Phil Jackson is probably, definitely, maybe, kinda, coming on board too. To get to five in a row the Knicks will have to win on the road in Boston tonight. To get a better idea of what the Knicks are in for tonight I brought in Tom Westerholm of Celtics Hub and John Karalis of Reds Army.
The Boston Celtics have won just three of their last nine games coming into tonight. What has the team struggled with most lately? What are they doing well?
Tom: To be honest, they’ve played a lot better recently, and it’s almost entirely due to Rajon Rondo’s return. Rondo is playing like himself, and although he’s missing some explosiveness that probably won’t return before next year, his basketball IQ is more than high enough to at least partially make up the difference.
Also, Kelly Olynyk is looking better and better. But no one outside of Celtics Twitter really believes me on that.
John: Whenever the Celtics struggle, it’s usually the same story. They’re missing shots and they’re turning the ball over. The bottom line is nobody on Celtics right now is good enough to hit the same shot consistently every night. Jeff Green can’t do it. Rajon Rondo can’t do it. Nobody can. And all too often those poor shooting nights coincide with sloppy turnovers. That’s just the hallmark of the team that’s headed for the lottery rather than the playoffs. They’re just not very good.
Rajon Rondo has played 19 games now this season and although it’s a relatively small sample Rondo is shooting 33 percent from 3-point land. Obviously it’d be huge for Rondo’s game if he could become a league-average 3-point shooter, and he’s close to it. What do you make of his improvement thus far beyond the arc?
Tom: I think the improvements are real. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a 40 percent shooter from deep, but his stroke looks a lot better, which is a credit to Cs assistant coach Ron Adams who apparently tinkered with his form.
John: It’s one of those things that a guy can work on during a leg injury. Since he can’t run or jump, he can shoot. He’s not doing it consistently yet, which isn’t unexpected. It’s not only a process to get to that consistency, he’s also struggling with some muscle and tendon soreness that’s not uncommon for a player getting back into NBA-level ball after a long layoff. That soreness is why he won’t play in back-to-backs. It would be nice for him to have a feared jumper, though. He’s getting closer, and that will eventually make him extremely dangerous.
The Celtics didn’t end up moving Jeff Green at the deadline. What are your thoughts on Green long-term with the Celtics? Does the front office want to keep him on board for the rebuilding project?
John: I don’t think he’s going to be around for the long-term. I think they’re going to look into moving him this summer or at the draft, depending on the pick they get. He’s capable of having big nights, but he disappears way too much. In a different world where he could be a third option, he’d be ok. But at this money, on this team, he doesn’t fit like he used to. It’s a shame, because I think he’s a legitimately nice guy and he can really be exciting to watch on his “on” days, but I think his days are numbered.
Tom: Meh. The “rebuilding around Jeff Green” talk, I think, was largely motivated by a desire to drive up his trade value. Boston was in a position where they could ask for whatever they wanted from whomever they wanted. If the other team bit, great! If not, fine. The Cs didn’t have to make a move if nobody offered a crazy good trade, and nobody did, so they stood pat. Green can be part of the rebuild, but he’s certainly not an essential piece.
Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk have had solid sophomore and rookie campaign this season. What do you like and dislike about each? Who figures to be the better big going forward?
Tom: Sullinger is big and strong. He’s developing a reliable jumper, and his positioning for rebounds is excellent. I like his low post game, although he’s not quite big enough to make it a full staple. That’s always going to be the knock on him — he’s strong and talented, but he’s a little undersized.
Olynyk’s jumper is improving steadily, which is opening up the rest of his game nicely. If teams can hang back on him, he’s not athletic enough (or long enough) to get to the basket. If they have to chase him to the 3-point line, he becomes deadly. That’s what’s been happening recently, and it’s opened up driving lanes for him. Olynyk’s also a sneaky decent rebounder, which is fun.
The knock on Olynyk is pretty basic — he’s slow, unathletic and he has T-Rex arms. But defensively, he’s learning to move his feet much better, and he’s very fluid on offense, which makes up for a bunch of his inadequacies athletically. I’m actually very high on Olynyk, unlike many people.
John: I like Sully’s ability to use his body and get to the rim both as a rebound and on offense. He’s undersized, but he’s got great footwork and body control, which allows him to be fairly effective against bigger guys. His downside right now is his insistence on shooting the 3, which is currently pretty inconsistent (and that’s putting it nicely). Maybe it will come around some day, but it’s not falling nearly enough to justify how many he takes.
Olynyk is a very versatile big who can get from the 3 point line to the rim if you’re not careful. His second half has been pretty good thanks to a big boost of confidence after being included in the rising stars challenge. His potential is pretty high, I think.
As for who will be better… I’m not sure that’s entirely fair because I see them doing different things. I actually like them on the floor together, especially in today’s more versatile, “positionless” NBA. They’re both high-IQ guys who are willing and capable passers. Olynyk has better range and Sullinger is a better rebounder. Both guys should work to improve both of those areas, but I really think they can work well alongside each other.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Tom: The Celtics need to lose. The Knicks need to win. The problem for both teams is that I still have no idea which way it will go. But if past games are any indicator, it’ll be a blowout one way or the other.
John: Without Rondo, I’m going with the Knicks. I’m not 100% confident in that, though, considering what the Knicks have been. But while they’re bad, the Celtics are worse… and they’re even worse without Rondo in the mix.