Why the Celtics' Defense Will Be Even Better
With the additions the Celtics made this offseason, there is no reason they should not finish with a top 3 defense. Despite the oversized expectations as a championship contender, the C's fielding an elite defense should be expected. Great team defense in today's NBA defenses does not require a behemoth and shot blocking center with a rugged power forward matched next to him. Instead, versatility to switch across all positions is more valued over size. It's why Timothy Mozgov couldn’t get on the floor in the NBA Finals and Tristan Thompson replaced him at center. Or why a 6’7 Draymond Green can be considered one of the best defensive players in the league. Switching onto ball handlers and explosive wings is more important than ever with teams employing small lineups with increased regularity.
Enter Al Horford, who is already an upgrade over the plodding and out of shape Jared Sullinger. Of course Horford is not the same as signing Kevin Durant, but the former Atlanta Hawk center should anchor this Celtics starting 5 with great pick and roll defense. Unless he suffers a rapid decline, Brad Stevens should be able to to employ an aggressive hedging and trapping scheme if he chooses. Despite being a tad undersized, Horford can defend the towers but also chase quick guards off a screen. That alone is an upgrade over Sullinger and makes his max contract worth it.
The other factors that should make this defense elite are the guards. Avery Bradley is calling his shot and aiming for Gary Payton like defensive season. Next is Marcus Smart. While his main development needs to come on the offensive end, Smart is already an elite defender who can defend up to four positions. We have seen him irritate Westbrook with his defense and even guard Dirk Nowitzki.
A lockdown lineup of Horford, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, Bradley, and Smart should be an absolute terror on the defense of end. Bradley and Smart will be able to switch onto any point or off guards and limit penetration. Crowder is a proven wing defender and is capable of defending as a small ball four. With Horford as the lynchpin of this defense, the Celtics should have no problem holding teams below 100 on most nights.
The Celtics defensive efficiency was fourth in the league last year with an sluggish Jared Sullinger commanding minutes at the five. It should only improve with Horford in his place and players having another year in Brad Stevens system. Add in Terry Rozier, starter Amir Johnson, and Jalen Brown, the Celtics will have at least 7 plus defenders on the roster. The questions for this team will come on the offensive end, the defense should be set.