After one quarter of the season, the Boston Celtics are in first place of the Atlantic Division at 9-12. Before the year, many fans were hoping that the Celtics would develop their young players, but still lose enough to get a top draft pick. However, with the C's exceeding expectations, there is a possibility that they make the playoffs.
To report on the State of the Celtics, I asked our team of writers a series of questions. To begin our five part series for the first quarter of the season, I asked:
Are the Celtics too talented to get a high lottery pick? Are fans wasting their time wishing for the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Julius Randle?
When the season began, I was firmly hoping for this team to play itself into a chance at drafting Wiggins, Parker, or Randle. But given Boston's early-season play, and the meager performances by multiple teams across the Eastern Conference, it's become clear this team is too talented to earn a high lottery pick without a ton of luck in the lottery.
The Celtics will certainly fall back from their current place atop the Atlantic Division, but they've already made it through one of the toughest stretches on their schedule, and they will only improve as the season goes on. Jared Sullinger and Jordan Crawford have proven to be solid performers, and with Rajon Rondo returning soon, this team has more talent than a lot of other teams across the NBA.
I'm hoping for Wiggins, Parker, or Randle as much as anyone, but with the way the league is shaping up, there will just be too much competition for one of those last-place spots in the standings.
That's true, the Celtics are much better than most of us thought they'd be so far this season, and they'll get even better after Rajon Rondo returns. But really, who have the Celtics beaten so far this year? Besides the Heat and Nuggets, the teams the Celtics have defeated are a combined 35-74! That's pretty a horrible 32.1 win percentage.
For the most part, the Celtics have defeated cupcake teams, but they've lost to them too. They haven't even gotten to the toughest part of their schedule, in January, which features nine games against Western Conference teams. I think, more than anything, this start is encouraging as it signals that the team is developing, but I haven't seen enough for me to believe that this team still can't finish without a top-five pick.
The schedule definitely gets tougher in January, but the Celtics could conceivably be .500 by the end of the New Year. By then, the season will be 30-games-old, teams will start taking stock in where they're at and what they'll need, and GM's will begin to identify who are buyers and who are sellers. What should scare Team Tank is that Boston isn't the only team with players that they want to move. Ainge will only make a deal for Humphries, Wallace, Lee, and Bass if it helps the future of the club, but by the end of December, he won't be the only salesman knocking on doors.
Depending on how their season goes, Chicago could have Boozer, Deng, and Hinrich on the block. Brooklyn and New York could put up "for sale" signs at MSG and Barclay's. With the market flooded with expiring contracts and vet role players, Boston's rebuilding project might be stuck in neutral for the rest of the year.
Personally, I'd love to see Sully kicking "wishy-washy fans" off the bandwagon. If we're winning, that means that the young starting lineup is working and the bench is playing well. How is this a bad thing?
Coming into the year, I didn't expect this team to be bad enough to land a top three pick. Top 10 was likely, but top three was always a bit of a pipedream in my mind. My thinking is only reaffirmed now that we've seen how many teams are either underperforming or just much worse than we expected, specifically in the Eastern Conference.
Alex and Bill summed up every argument I was going to make so I won't repeat those opinions. I'll add though that for a team to start off as well as they have, or better than expected, it bodes well for improvement the rest of the season. This team has a mix of young and new faces, which should have translated to unfamiliarity and growing pains in the first month of the season. I'm not saying that didn't happen but with the mediocrity of the league, I don't think this is a hollow 8-12 record.
Ironically, I'll say that beating bad teams, which Kevin mentioned, is actually an indicator to me that they're not going to suddenly take a sharp turn downward. There's just too many of those bad teams that unless Boston is playing Miami or Indiana or any team in the West, it has even odds of winning every night, especially with Rondo.
As the season progresses, it'll be less about what the Celtics' record is and more about how it compares to the rest of the league and more specifically, the Eastern Conference. Of the teams that are .500 or less, who can you confidently say is better than the Celtics?
I think the Celtics have shown already they are better than a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference, including the Bucks, Magic, Cavaliers, and potentially Sixers. In a funny way, one thing that will help them long-term, but could be a detriment to their high lottery hopes is how smart and well-run the organization is. The Celtics have the benefit of using reams of analytical data (data we know they currently use to improve their present performance), which is something a lot of teams have yet to embrace to the extent Boston has.
It's odd to say, but the very thing that gives me such optimism for the future (Danny Ainge and Co.'s commitment to being a smart, savvy, analytically inclined organization) may being giving them a little too much of an edge in the present.
That's a very important point. Tommy talked about it a few nights ago when he was answering tweets. The Celtics need to be more concerned about building a winning culture in Boston rather than looking to tank for a draft pick. If it looks like Boston is just a piece or two away from contending, that makes us an attractive destination for free agents (Love!). And if you're concerned about this summer's lottery, remember that we have two picks and could potentially move up via trade.
I appreciated Tommy Heinsohn's passionate argument against tanking, but I think all the "tank talk" is silly in the first place. No team is tanking here. Not the Celtics or any other team in the NBA. Some teams are built to lose but that's not exactly tanking. The Celtics can build a winning culture but also lose a lot of games at the same time. Wouldn't we all agree that, at 9-12, a 42.8 win percentage, that the Celtics are making their way towards building a winner?
I'd say so. And if, by chance, the Celtics only win 24 games this year, but play with the same heart and effort, wouldn't you agree that they are still building a winning team? I believe so.
That's where we turn the discussion to you, the readers. What do you think? Are the Celtics too talented to get a top 3 or top 5 pick? How about a top 10 pick? Let us know in the comment section below!