The Grizzlies enter Tuesday with a two-game losing streak, and things won’t get much easier as the current three seed in the East roll into town on a two-game winning streak.
To help us get to know the Grizzlies’ opponent a little better, we have Alex Kungu of CelticsBlog, who’s the latest writer to take part in our Five Questions series.
1. The Celtics are around 18th in the league in terms of defensive rating right now. What do you attribute the defensive struggles to, and what do you think their defensive ceiling is?
Well as of today, (December 18th), the Celtics have moved up to 13th and from November 10th till December 14th have been at a 101.2 defensive rating which would be good for fifth in the league via Chris Forsberg of ESPN. I think the initial woes defensively came from the early season injuries; Horford has missed 11 games, Jae Crowder has missed 9 games, and Smart and Thomas have each missed multiple games. Without any continuity, the Celtics were unable to establish any type of identity and hence started off with one of the worst defenses in the league. Since then, the club has slowly started to regain health and looks a bit more like the top defensive club we thought they could be. Realistically, I still believe their defense has top-5 potential, but health will be key for them to reach their full potential.
2. How has Jaylen Brown fit into the wing rotation this season and what are your early thoughts on his play?
Coming into the year I expected Brown to play around 12-15 minutes a game with roller coaster performances highlighted by his pure athleticism and first step balanced with his rawness. Early on, Brown showed that he may not have been as raw he was originally projected to be. He’s become a quick learner defensively, doesn’t try to play out of his skill-set, and has been on a two-week stretch where he’s given the second unit a much-needed boost. Unfortunately, the Celtics have guys like Terry Rozier, Jae Crowder, and Jonas Jerebko who are better than he is, so play time can at times be sporadic. But overall, he’s showed the necessary potential that you would hope for in a big-time lottery pick. We’re high on him over here.
3. Al Horford has missed some time this season, but overall how has his addition impacted the team?
Al Horford’s impact has gone way beyond his production. With Horford, the Celtics have re-done their offensive identity, going from a fast-paced team that relied on transition baskets, to a slower-paced, more half-court oriented offense, driven by strong ball movement and constant movement. On defense, the team can fly around the perimeter with Horford in the place that was once occupied by the slower Jared Sullinger. The Celtics already had one of the better perimeter defenses in the league, but Horford added a big who can both get out and defend on the perimeter and protect the rim. Horford has transformed the Celtics into a sustainably good team with a play style that translates to the postseason, something we haven’t had since the departure of Kevin Garnett.
4. Where do you think the Celtics match up well against the Grizzlies? Where do you think they'll struggle?
Well, I’m not sure there’s a “good” matchup because Memphis is currently sporting the best defense in the league, and having Mike Conley and Tony Allen will make things difficult for our high-scoring backcourt. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Celtics start the game small and start Jonas Jerebko over Amir Johnson. The point would be to try and get Gasol on Horford and run 1-5 pick and rolls with IT and Horford to try and get the Grizzlies defense shuffling. Of course, Gasol is no dinosaur, but it’s pretty difficult for a seven-footer to get that low and defend a 5’9 bowling ball running downhill. One place I’m worried about the Celtics is on the glass. Without a legitimate center, Boston’s rebounding problems aren’t going away and Memphis is one of the better rebounding teams in the league; also, because Memphis isn’t a strong shooting team, it could open the door for second-chance opportunities.
5. Boston has a lot of assets and is always in the discussion for making a big trade. Do you see them finally putting together some sort of package, and if so, who's a realistic target you'd like to see them make a move for?
This has been a non-stop talk in Celtics nation for the past two years, and it remains one of the more polarizing topics. To me it comes down to whether the Celtics want to maintain sustainability, or try and compete for a championship in the next 3-4 years. Personally, I lean towards keeping the picks unless some type of can’t-miss deal materializes for a guy like Jimmy Butler, Paul George, or someone of that caliber. The Celtics have a top-5 pick in a deep draft class, a couple of promising young prospects overseas, and a roster filled with high potential prospects such as Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Boston also has the power to explore the free agent market where guys like Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Serge Ibaka, etc. will be available. So I’d like to see the Celtics stand pat and continue to build the farm, but that can easily change if the right deal comes along.
Thanks again to Alex and the crew over at CelticsBlog! Be sure to check them out for all your Celtics news, as Memphis and Boston will face off twice in the next week.