Boston Celtics: Comparing the 2016-17 and 2017-18 teams

The Boston Celtics have completely rehauled the roster that took them to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and it has some fans questioning whether this team will actually be better.

The Boston Celtics were the #1 seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference last season, and they made it to the Conference Finals before falling to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then in the offseason, they retooled the roster completely, as only 4 players remain from last season.

Marcus Smart is now the longest tenured Celtics player, and he’s joined by Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier as the only Boston players still on the team from a season ago. Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder are now both members of the Cavaliers, while the Celtics have added Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. It’s a whole new team, and fans are wondering whether this new squad can also compete for the top seed in the East and make a push towards an NBA Finals appearance. I decided I wanted to take a look at both teams and compare them, to see how well this 2017-18 club might perform.

In order to compare the Boston Celtics from 2016-17 and the upcoming 2017-18 team, I took a look at VORP, or Value Over Replacement Player, from basketball-reference.com. Here is a brief definition of VORP, but you can read the whole piece from the site here for a more in-depth look at this statistic.

“Value over Replacement Player (VORP) converts the BPM rate into an estimate of each player’s overall contribution to the team, measured vs. what a theoretical “replacement player” would provide, where the “replacement player” is defined as a player on minimum salary or not a normal member of a team’s rotation.”

So, let’s take a look at the VORP for both teams’ players from last season, along with their career average. Starters are italicized and in bold. For the 2017-18 team, I chose who I believe the starters will be, even though we aren’t quite certain yet.

Boston Celtics

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 04: Isaiah Thomas

2016-17 Celtics

  • Isaiah Thomas: 4.8 (Career Average = 1.86)
  • Al Horford: 2.8 (Career Average = 2.72)
  • Jae Crowder: 2.1 (Career Average = 1.04)
  • Amir Johnson: 1.7 (Career Average = 1.59)
  • Marcus Smart: 1.0 (Career Average = 1.2)
  • Kelly Olynyk: 1.0 (Career Average = 1.13)
  • Avery Bradley: 0.7 (Career Average = 0.26)
  • Jonas Jerebko: 0.0 (Career Average = 0.33)
  • Tyler Zeller: -0.1 (Career Average = 0.14)
  • Terry Rozier: -0.2 (Career Average = -0.3)
  • Jaylen Brown: -0.7
  • Gerald Green: -0.7 (Career Average = -0.1)

Starters = 12.1 in 2016, 7.47 career average

Isaiah Thomas was off the charts last season, we all know that. We can’t underestimate how crucial he was to the 2016-17 team at all. That said, he far outplayed his career numbers and averages. There’s no way that Thomas would have continued at a 4.8 VORP rate in Boston if he had stayed. He could still play above his career average though, likely somewhere around 2.0. That’s why the Celtics sold high on IT for Kyrie Irving.

Al Horford was the next best Celtics player, with a 2.8 VORP that fell right around his career average. You can expect those same type of numbers from Al year after year. He’ll be a key piece for Boston going forward as well.

All of the other starters were lost as well, with Jae Crowder joining IT in Cleveland and Avery Bradley getting shipped to Detroit.

Marcus Smart was near his career average, and he is still likely to improve going forward. Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown should also see better VORP numbers going forward into their careers.

So, while 2016-17 was a great year for Boston, you can see why the front office didn’t believe a repeat was coming in 2017-18.

Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MA – APRIL 30: Al Horford

2017-18 Celtics

  • Gordon Hayward: 4.0 (Career Average = 2.33)
  • Kyrie Irving: 2.9 (Career Average = 2.7)
  • Al Horford: 2.8 (Career Average = 2.72)
  • Marcus Morris: 1.0 (Career Average = 0.75)
  • Marcus Smart: 1.0 (Career Average = 1.2)
  • Aron Baynes: 0.1 (Career Average = 0.12)
  • Shane Larkin: -0.1 in 2015-16 (Career Average = -0.2)
  • Terry Rozier: -0.2 (Career Average = -0.3)
  • Jaylen Brown: -0.7
  • Jayson Tatum: Rookie
  • Abdel Nader: Rookie
  • Daniel Theis: Rookie

Probable Starters = 10.0 in 2016, 7.8 career average

While Kyrie Irving’s VORP was behind Isaiah Thomas last season, his career average is almost a full point ahead. Of course, anyone playing with LeBron James is not going to have a VORP much higher than Kyrie did.

Gordon Hayward, who is essentially replacing Jae Crowder, is clearly a much better player. He won’t post a 4.0 VORP again playing alongside Kyrie and Al, but he could be somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0, much higher than Crowder’s career average of 1.04.

There are question marks as to who will start on this Boston team, but I’ve slotted Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown in there for now. Morris will again be around 1.0 VORP, while Brown should certainly improve. Even with his -0.7 career average VORP factored in, this starting 5 still has a better career average VORP as a group as compared to last season’s team.

The 2017-18 Celtics can take down the Cavs

The Celtics will be even better in 2017-18 than they were last season if they can work out the chemistry kinks. Anytime you have so many new players together for the first time, there will be some hiccups, but they should be able to work it all out.

Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are in improvement over Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Though Avery Bradley’s VORP was low, they’ll certainly miss his defensive play, but hopefully, they can overcome that with the play from both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Marcus Smart may also have an increased role with this team, and he’s become one of the most underrated players in the NBA.

This is a new era of Celtics basketball, and it’s certainly going to be fun to watch this team compete for NBA titles over the next 4+ years. This year, they take a step forward, defeating the Cavs to get to the NBA Finals.