Projecting the NBA using xWARP: Boston Celtics

This offseason, the Boston Celtics blew it all up. As a result of that blow up, and to a lesser extent, Rajon Rondo’s absence to start the season due to the ACL tear he suffered last year, the Celtics will probably be absolutely dreadful next season. They lost two aging future Hall of Famers essentially for nothing of consequence on the court this year from a squad that won just 41 games last year, plus they’ll be without their best player to start the season. It all points to a pretty rough season in Beantown. Just how rough should C’s fans expect it to be, though? What do the numbers have to say?

After adjusting things to the projected league-wide context, the Celtics projected Net Rating is a bleak -5.24, which translates to about 27 wins. To make matters worse, I projected Rajon Rondo to play over 2000 minutes next season, which could prove wildly optimistic. If Rondo is out for more than the first month or so of the season, the Celtics projection gets much worse in a hurry. For an idea as to why, take a look at Rondo’s projected xRAPM relative to the other guards who are likely to fill in at point guard on the Celtics roster. He’s head and shoulders above all of them. Avery Bradley is Rondo’s replacement in the starting lineup and Rondo outpaces him by 4.4 points per combined 200 offensive and defensive possessions.For a frame of reference, that’s basically the same difference between Stephen Curry and Kirk Hinrich this past season. It’s just an enormous gap and the longer Rondo is out, the bleaker things will get for the Celtics.

That bleak outlook may be- and frankly probably is- precisely the point. The Celtics need more than Rondo to win anything of any import, and Danny Ainge knows that as well as anyone. He acquired 3 unprotected first round picks from Brooklyn in order to increase his odds of building a team from the ashes of the Celtics’ former juggernaut, and he’s almost certainly content to let this year’s iteration of the Celtics lose as much as possible to increase the odds of getting a top 5 pick in the 2014 draft, which should allow him to draft the franchise’s next All Star or flip the pick for an established star in a manner similar to the one in which he acquired Ray Allen in 2007. He could then attempt to parlay all of those Nets’ picks into a third star to pair with Rondo and mystery star #2. It’s a plan he’s executed before, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him try it again.

In terms of potential bright spots for this year’s Celtics, Jeff Green, as ever, will tantalize with his highlight plays, but it’s also likely that he will continue to madden with his inconsistency and overall mediocrity, despite his natural gifts. Jared Sullinger, should he be able to get his back issues settled, projects to be a solid, average level NBA contributor. Gerald Wallace will likely win Boston fans over with his proclivity for hustle plays, while also driving the home crowd batty with the spacing problems his presence on the floor with either Bradley or Rondo will compound. Finally, despite a relatively average statistical projection for a rookie, Kelly Olynyk should be an interesting watch, especially if he’s able to continue to find ways to score over and around length, like he did in his head-turning Summer League performance, in the games that count. He’ll probably be a defensive sieve, judging from his college play, but then, most rookies are bad on that end. Celtics Nation should try not to worry too much about this season and should instead feel secure in the knowledge that the man at the helm (Ainge) has built a winner before, knows what he’s doing, and has a clear vision for the future.

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