Welcome to Def Pen Hoops’ 30 Teams in 30 Days series! In the month of September, we’ll be previewing every NBA team. On day two, we have the Boston Celtics.
When Gordon Hayward went down with a season-ending injury five minutes into the season, the trajectory of the Celtics’ season was drastically altered. Kyrie Irving, too, missed time, including the entirety of the playoffs. So did Daniel Theis, a solid backup big man whom the Celtics pulled out of a hat last season. These injuries derailed the Celtics’ title hopes and robbed us of seeing whether this new-look Celtics team could take down LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers squad. They also, however, gave the team’s youth a chance to flourish.
Jayson Tatum shot lights out from deep, displayed incredibly developed footwork for a rookie and played solid defense. Jaylen Brown added a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal, to go along with a strong defensive showing and his explosive athleticism. Terry Rozier took advantage of Irving’s absence to show his starting-guard ability and was crucial to the team in the playoffs.
The Celtics, without arguably their two best players, came within a minute of making the finals. Now let’s see what they can do with Hayward and Irving healthy.
The Celtics didn’t make any major moves this offseason, nor did they need to. They brought back Marcus Smart on a four-year, $52 million deal and Aron Baynes on a two-year, $11 million deal. They signed Bradley Wanamaker, who should occupy the fifth-guard role held by Shane Larkin last season. They drafted Robert Williams III – a rim-running, athletic center, the likes of which Brad Stevens has never had the opportunity to coach – 27th overall.
The Celtics’ focus this offseason was on health and player development. This roster never got a chance to see how far it could go last season – and it’s a damn good roster – so Boston had no reason to make any significant changes.
Expectations for 2018-19
Kyrie Irving. Jaylen Brown. Gordon Hayward. Jayson Tatum. Al Horford.
That’s the best starting lineup outside of the Bay Area. And then there’s the bench, which features starting-caliber players in Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, plus rotation guys in Marcus Morris, Baynes, Semi Ojeleye, and Theis.
Las Vegas is setting the over/under for Celtics wins at 57.5, the highest in the East.
Pound the over.
The Celts won 55 games last season. Hayward returning and LeBron going to the Western Conference are worth at least three games. Don’t be shocked if the Celtics end up with a win total in the 60s.
Brad Stevens will have myriad lineup options at his disposal. The team will presumably start semi-small with Horford at the five, but they can also throw out minuscule lineups like Irving-Smart-Brown-Tatum-Hayward. They have the personnel to go big, with guys like Baynes, Williams, Theis, and Ojeleye on the team. One of the most fascinating parts of this season will be keeping an eye on Stevens’ rotations.
Last year, the injury-riddled C’s were playoff underdogs. This time around, they should be setting their sights on a championship. Making the Finals is likely for Boston, assuming health. Toronto could legitimately take them down if Kawhi Leonard is healthy and there to play, but that should be their only legitimate challenger. Philadelphia and Milwaukee are very good teams, but Boston beat both of them in the playoffs without Irving and Hayward.
Should it get there, Boston won’t be favored against the Warriors in the Finals. The Celtics are outranked at every position except center, and if DeMarcus Cousins is healthy and all of what he was, there’s an argument to be made they’re outmatched everywhere.
They might just have a shot, though. Boston has a better bench than Golden State, for what that’s worth. They don’t have LeBron James, but the sum of the Celtics’ parts should make them the best Eastern Conference team (and maybe the best team, period) the Warriors have faced in this dynastic era.
Whichever way this season goes, whatever Irving decides next offseason, the Celtics are set up for the future. Brown and Tatum are phenomenal, Hayward is a legitimate star and is under contract for this season and next. They have a great pick in next year’s draft, courtesy of the Sacramento Kings.
And yet, this season isn’t about the future. The Celtics’ bright future is still there as a fallback, a consolation prize in case things somehow go south this season. But 2018-19 is about the now. This team is ready. it has a beautiful blend of young and veteran talent. They are balanced with scoring, playmaking, and defense. It projects to be a force to be reckoned with.
Banner 18 could be on its way.