Celtics

Celtics Season Preview: How Bright is the Future?

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The Boston Celtics had a tumultuous 2017-18 season that transpired in cresting waves of tragedy and triumph. The season outlook tumbled when Gordon Hayward gruesomely injured his foot in just the first game, then rose when Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum formed a superstar duo during the regular season, then fell again when Kyrie had season-ending surgery before the playoffs, then lifted once more as Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Terry Rozier took the Celtics to a game short of the NBA Finals. Now with Irving and Hayward returning healthy, as well as another year of growth from Boston’s young stars, are championship hopes plausible?

Offseason Outlook: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

Last year’s Celtics were superb all-around. They ranked best in the league in defensive rating, second in three-point percentage, eighth in rebounds per game, and sixth in overall net rating. This is with injuries to their two main stars, which is quite impressive. Since many of the players are still young, keeping team continuity was a priority.

The Celtics will forever be involved in trade rumors because of their wealth of assets and whispered desire for Anthony Davis. This offseason was a quiet one, however, which is by no means bad. The Celtics had the 27th selection in the NBA Draft and used it to snatch Robert Williams, a lottery talent who fell hard over the course of the night. He’s a defensively masterful center who averaged 2.6 blocks per game in college and posted a defensive rating of only 90.2 last season. While his work ethic is in question, Williams should be a helpful piece as the season wears on.

Boston met summer free agency with little fanfare. Shane Larkin was let go and replaced by Euroleague guard Brad Wanamaker. Wanamaker was unimpressive but solid last year, averaging 15.3 points and 5.3 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 41% from the field. Reserve Abdel Nader was traded for reserve Rodney Purvis, who was then released. Walt Lemon Jr. and P.J. Dozier were signed to two-way contracts. Veteran center Greg Monroe left for Toronto. Other than that, the only key changes for Boston will be getting their two stars back from injury.

Boston Celtics 2018-19 Projected Depth Chart:

Point Guard- Kyrie Irving (starting), Terry Rozier (bench), Brad Wanamaker (reserve)

Shooting Guard- Jaylen Brown (starting), Marcus Smart (bench), Jabari Bird (reserve)

Small Forward- Gordon Hayward (starting), Semi Ojeleye (bench)

Power Forward- Jayson Tatum (starting), Marcus Morris (bench), Guerschon Yabusele (reserve)

Center- Al Horford (starting), Aron Baynes (bench), Daniel Theis (bench), Robert Williams (reserve)

The Celtics’ roster is notably impressive because of their switchability. Brown, Hayward and Tatum are all interchangeable between the shooting guard, small forward and power forward positions. Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Morris alternate between the 3 and 4 off the bench. Marcus Smart can play some point guard if injuries require so. This lineup is symbolic of the modern NBA. Guards, wings and bigs are now the three umbrellas of positions.

Preseason Question 1: What Are Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier’s Futures?

The Terry Rozier hype train took off in last year’s playoffs. His stats back up the praise, too. Rozier averaged 16.5 points, 5.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds while playing solid defense in a new role as starting point guard. While he certainly is no Kyrie, Rozier has made his case for a sizeable extension next summer and should continue to do so this season. He has shown skills in nearly every facet of the game, and a quality young point guard is prized in today’s league. His name will be popping up around the trade deadline, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rozier on a new team by next September because the Celtics can’t afford to hold on to him..

Boston would love to have Kyrie Irving long-term, but are the Celtics in Kyrie’s plans? Multiple rumors have surfaced about him being open to New York or wanting to pair with Jimmy Butler. These are all unknown sources with unknown credibility. However, while Kyrie has made no mention of plans to leave Boston, this still is cause for mild concern. Another Irving trade would stun basketball, and it’s highly unexpected, but gossip will continue.

Preseason Question 2: Can the Starters Share Effectively?

The Celtics have one of the best starting lineups in basketball, but they’ve never played on the floor together. Coach Brad Stevens will have to divide up scoring chances among four dominant scorers. Take a look at the most recent usage rates from each starter (note: Gordon Hayward’s 2016-17 season is used). Between the starting five, the total usage rate is 117.9%! To get that number down to 100, Irving and Hayward are going to see a significant reduction in plays centered on them. Tatum and Brown also need opportunities to continue growing, but they can’t dominate possessions. This could throw off the rhythm of some players or make them unhappy. However, if the starters can commit to playing selflessly, the lineup could become a devastating machine.

Preseason Prediction: Celtics go 60-22, Lose the NBA Finals in Six Games Against the Warriors

This Celtics team looks incredibly deep. With a Coach of the Year candidate at the helm, it’s reasonable to assume growth from every player on the roster. The Celtics could potentially have three or even four East All Stars come February. While the Raptors, Sixers, Pacers and Bucks appear to be worthy adversaries, the Celtics are the presumed favorite to claim the NBA Finals throne left by LeBron James. Jayson Tatum is a superstar in the making and Jaylen Brown is not far behind him. The roster has capable backups at every position. Chemistry level seems high, and as long as no one gets hurt, talent level is very high, too. Do they have a shot at the Warriors this year? We may find out in June.

Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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