Can the Celtics have a Top 10 Defense this Season?

Avery Bradley of the Boston Celtics guards Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies

Avery Bradley believes the Celtics can be a top ten defensive team, but is there any basis to his prediction?

After signing his new four-year deal, Avery Bradley has been vocal about his confidence in his current roster of teammates. He’s stated that he believes they can be “a top ten defensive team” which certainly raised the eyebrows of those who expect this year to be another long and arduous one for the C’s, potentially ending with another trip to the lottery.

Bradley’s statement has created an interesting conversation for this young and largely unproven Celtics squad. Let’s explore it in a bit more detail:

“Why they cannot be a top ten defense”

Free Layups

The Celtics do not possess a defensive big who can consistently get stops in the paint. Their two young bigs, Sullinger and Olynyk, have shown valuable strengths in other areas of their respective games, but protecting the rim is just something they were not born to do. While Kelly Olynyk measures at a flat 7’, he isn’t exactly known for his vertical leaping ability. If you stacked all of the Y’s that are in his name with standard twelve point font he wouldn’t be able to clear it. Although he possesses the height of a true NBA center, it seems like his arms might have stopped growing after the 5th grade. The man has a great offensive touch, but he’s unlikely to ever be a respectable rim defender.

Jared has his own list of issues when it comes to being able to defend in the area of the rim. While he’s known for his substantial gluteus maximus and the benefits it provides in rebounding and gaining position in the post, it offers him little help in protecting the rim. At 6’9″ in shoes, his standing reach is a full 2.5″ less than Olynyk’s.

Aside from these two, and while noting the considerable defensive strides Brandon Bass made last season, you won’t find a solid defensive big with a respected paint presence on the Boston roster. We have Vitor “please don’t be the cops” Faverani, Tyler “we wish he was Cody” Zeller, and Joel “man, this seat is really warm right now” Anthony. Not a great stable of defensive stoppers here. There is, of course, great room for improvement on defense throughout the frontcourt, and cultivation is key right now. But right now, out of the box, a top ten D just doesn’t seem realistic given the situation on the blocks.

“Why they can be a top ten defense”

Guard Play

Bradley’s confidence in his teammates’ defensive ability holds some weight, as he has proven himself over the last two seasons to be one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. This could conceivably give him the credentials and ability to judge his teammates based on his own efforts and attributes. If one so defensively savvy as Bradley thinks that the Celtics can be a defensive force next season, who can argue with him?

Avery Bradley has carved a niche as one of the more respected defensive pests in the league over the last few seasons. He’s averaged over a steal a game in the regular season, as well as the playoffs. He remains a problem for the opposing team by pressing his man across the entirety of the court. This exertion of effort throughout the game on a nightly basis is a feat of mental fortitude and a testament to his amazing conditioning. His ability to take the ball out of the opposing guards’ hands creates disorganization and puts the C’s in great positions to force turnovers. His attitude and commitment to being a great defender give this team an ideal candidate to mold their defensive identity around.

Marcus Smart, a Big 12 product like AB, also seems to have all the physical and psychological strength it takes to become an elite defender at guard. Smart turned down a guarantee of millions of dollars by not entering the 2013 NBA draft and instead remaining in college for another year. Although projected to be to be a top 3 pick, another chance at winning in college proved to be the deciding factor. This was his priority, whether it was the wise thing to do or not. It can be argued quite easily that it was not, but it was the competitive thing to do without question. This extremely high level of competitiveness gives Smart a tenacity that makes him particularly hard for the opposing player to score on. As Smart showed throughout his college career, opponents are going to work for every bucket that they get,

In a tight Oklahoma state vs. Texas Tech game, Smart infamously shoved an old white “gentleman” who called him a “piece of crap.” While I’m not saying that this was a smart decision (or a mature one), it does show that Smart is not someone who is going to be bullied on or off the court. This level of intensity is something that most players never display on the court, and it can be the driving force in leading a player to accomplish great things, especially on the defensive end.

The captain, Rajon Rondo, cements this potential juggernaut of defensive guard play with his own unique defensive abilities and attitude. For his career, Rondo averages around two steals a game, which might suggest that he’s a bit of a defensive gambler, but his steal numbers are not what makes him such a great defensive player. The fact that he thinks he can obtain the steal is what makes Rondo a special player. Instead of just playing it safe and trying to stay in front of his man, he is confident in his ability to force something more. Rondo is a cocky, self-assured jerk on the basketball court, and that is exactly the type of person you want on your team.

Even if this is Rondo’s last year in green, he has proven to be a fiercely loyal teammate. He was even willing to square up with Kris Humphries, a player twice Rondo’s size. Rondo did this to send a message (even if the foul was a bit light) that it isn’t acceptable to mess with his teammates. When he found himself teammates with Mr. Kardashian the following year, they managed to remain more than civil. He is willing to go above and beyond what is asked for his team while on the court, and this similar mentality is what makes these three Celtic guards so scary on defense. There will be at least one of these beasts on the floor at any given time, making it hell for the opposing team to run their offense. And who knows? If the bigs prove to be quick studies and the guards live up to their reputations, maybe Bradley’s prediction won’t seem so far fetched, after all.