<
>

Handing out some Celtics hardware

With the 2013-14 NBA regular season drawing to a close, it's award time. You won't find many Boston Celtics in the mix for the league's major awards, so we're handing out some team-focused hardware as Boston wraps up this grueling transition campaign:

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Let's disqualify Rajon Rondo here. If he plays in Wednesday's season finale, he'll top out at 31 games played after a mid-January return from ACL surgery. Rondo's stat line is impressive at 11.7 points, 9.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds over a mere 33.3 minutes per game, but the Celtics are 11-30 since his return, including 6-24 in games he appeared. Examining the rest of the field, you could make a case for a number of players, maybe even the departed Jordan Crawford given Boston's early-season success. Our pick? Jared Sullinger.

Despite not having the luxury of a pure center alongside him, Sullinger performed admirably in his sophomore season, averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. The Celtics asked him to step outside his comfort zone and he spent much of the season trying to extend his range beyond the 3-point line (to limited success while shooting 26.9 percent beyond the arc). The fact that Sullinger will shoot more triples (208) than free throws (203) is worrisome, but let's chalk it up to experimentation in a transition year. If the Celtics add a pure center next to him, Sullinger needs a serviceable 3-point shot to stretch the floor, but we'd also like to see more back-to-the-basket next season. According to ESPN's new WAR (Wins Above Replacement) metric, Sullinger topped the team and his real plus-minus stats help show that he was a better defender than might appear. Sullinger was the team's best two-way rebounder, giving the team a lift on the offensive glass that hasn't been seen in these parts in recent seasons. All this while coming off back surgery that limited his offseason. We're intrigued to see where Sullinger goes from here, but he certainly was one of the brightest spots this season.

Honor roll: Avery Bradley's blossoming offensive game made him a legitimate two-way threat, but injuries did rob him of nearly a quarter of his season. ... Jeff Green, for all his inconsistencies, is set to start all 82 games for the second straight season since heart surgery, but his WAR is even lower than that of D-League call-up Chris Johnson (albeit in two very different sample sizes).

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kelly Olynyk's late-season exploits make this one a slam dunk. Olynyk, who set a career-high for scoring with 28 points in Monday's loss in Philadelphia, is averaging 15.6 points on 51.5 percent shooting in seven games for the month of April, while grabbing 7.3 rebounds over 25.1 minutes per game in that span. Olynyk's confidence has steadily grown and his natural offensive talents are on display more frequently. There's still strides to be made on the defensive end, but it's clear the 13th pick in last year's draft has a very bright future and, assuming the Celtics add a legit big next season, projects as one of Boston's top reserves.

Honor roll: If not for Olynyk's April strides, Phil Pressey might have made things interesting with his own April emergence. Pressey has been a serviceable backup ball-handler all season, making the most of spot starts as Rondo works his way back from surgery, but his playmaking talents have been on full display recently. ... It's too bad Vitor Faverani's season ended with a knee injury while on D-League assignment. It would have been interesting to get a longer look at him late in the season when he would have had more freedom to make the mistakes that caused him to get plucked from the rotation earlier in the year.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Avery Bradley didn't put up the sort of eye-popping individual defensive numbers that helped him land on the NBA's All-Defense second team last year and cemented his reputation as a defensive pest, but he was still the best of the bunch on a Celtics team that faded defensively in the second half of the season (when, maybe not coincidentally, Bradley missed time with ankle woes). Chalk up Bradley's individual regression to the rotating cast of backcourt mates and not having Kevin Garnett to protect the back line behind him. He remained Boston's most tenacious on-ball defender, though Boston's guards were often plagued by dribble penetration that needs to be cleaned up moving forward.

Honor roll: Sullinger topped Boston in terms of points allowed per play at 0.807, according to Synergy Sports defensive data. But in terms of score percentage (amount of plays that opponents finished with points), Brandon Bass leaped to the top of the list (38.1 percent). Among regulars, Pressey had the best defensive rating at 101.9 (more than 3 points lower than Boston's season average). Gerald Wallace deserves special mention for his willingness to defend other teams' top scorers. Boston's defensive inconsistencies only hammered home the need for rim protection, which should give the entire team a boost in future seasons.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kris Humphries made 30 starts, but he still gets the nod here considering that most of his 69 appearances came in a reserve role. Sure, Humphries was overpaid for his role (a team-high $12 million), but he won fans over with his relentless energy and lunch-pail mentality. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and should finish the season as Boston's top rebounder on the defensive glass (grabbing a team-best 23.9 percent of available defensive caroms). Even with a logjammed power-forward position, Humphries found a way to carve out a role and impact the game despite varying chunks of playing time.

Honor roll: As much as we lament his contract, Wallace provided much-needed versatility off the Boston bench and did a little bit of everything. Sure, he's not the offensive player he used to be, but Wallace accepted the task of checking the other team's top scorers. His stat line shows him impacting the game in multiple areas as he averaged 5.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals over 24.4 minutes per game in 58 appearances.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Maybe the toughest award to hand out. With Sullinger vaulting from influential rookie to team MVP, it's hard to suggest that he didn't make the greatest leap this season. But Bradley's offensive emergence deserves particular attention, though the case can be made that he simply reverted to 2011-12-caliber shooting performances while further removed from double shoulder surgery. You could even make a case for Chris Johnson, a D-Leaguer who went from a guy on a couple 10-day pacts and couldn't stick in Memphis to someone who logged almost as many minutes per game in Boston as Humphries and Olynyk. Ultimately, the award here goes to Sullinger, who more than doubled his scoring output this season and moved closer to being a consistent double-double threat.