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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 at 3:45 PM

The Boston Celtics continue their steady upward progression under head coach Brad Stevens. Now in his fourth year, Stevens has overseen improvement every year. In his first year of 2014, the team started a rebuilding project and won 30 games. In 2015 they jumped up to 40-42 and stole a playoff spot in a weak Eastern Conference. Last year they became a legitimate playoff team, winning 48 games before making a first-round exit. This year they’re on a pace to get 50 wins and currently hold down the #3 spot in the East. How high can the Celtics climb?

It’s a question with financial implications for NBA bettors, because Boston is valued relatively high based on a comparison to their peer group. Toronto has an edge for the 2-seed and is a proven winner in the playoffs. Atlanta is in the 4-spot, not far behind the Celtics and it was the Hawks who ousted Boston from the postseason a year ago. Yet if you review the futures odds, you see Atlanta as a 100-1 longshot to win the NBA title, with Boston at 50-1. Toronto is only marginally ahead at 40-1.

I bring this up not because I think any of these three teams are worth betting to win the championship, but because those odds reflect market support and those in turn get translated into pointspreads on a game-to-game basis. It’s possible to admire what Stevens and the Celtics are doing while simultaneously wonder if the market isn’t getting a little bit ahead of itself.

Boston has very clear strengths. Isaiah Thomas is a genuine star in this league, a worthy heir to the former Detroit Pistons great of the same name and whom the Celtic player was named after. The modern Isaiah averages 28 ppg, while shooting a respectable 45 percent. His play can overshadow just how good Avery Bradley has become in the two-guard spot. Bradley averages 18 points/7 rebounds per game and hits over 40 percent from three-point range.

Al Horford was this team’s biggest acquisition on the free-agent market and his moving from Atlanta to Boston undoubtedly drove a lot of the market support northward. After a slow start, in which being in the concussion protocol slowed his growth in the Stevens system, Horford has settled in to produce a steady average of 15 points/7 rebounds/5 assists. He’s a good all-around player and veteran presence.

Stevens has a deep supporting cast, where anyone from Jae Crowder to Marcus Smart to Kelly Olynk can be a contributor each night. His team shoots 37 percent from three-point range collectively and that’s ninth in the NBA. That’s why they’re on a pace to win 50.

But...the Celtics only rank 20th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, a disappointment for a team with as many athletes capable of pressuring the ball as they have. The reason boils down to a lack of inside presence. On the stat sheet, Boston is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. When you watch live action ,Horford often plays on the perimeter. Olynyk runs pick-and-rolls off the top of the key. Amir Johnson just wont’ cut it as the one true inside player.

Boston is headed in the right direction, but they’ll need to rebound more consistently if they want to play up to market expectation over the long haul.  

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