- Kyrie Irving
I don’t think there’s much of a surprise here. The Celtics traded the 2018 Brooklyn pick, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Isaiah Thomas, and a 2020 second-round pick for the services of Kyrie Irving. You don’t do that move unless you think that Irving could be the face of your franchise. The Celtics believe Irving will be a transcendent player for them, capable of taking his game to the next level while also carrying his team to new heights. There’s obviously a calculated risk here that maybe Irving was what he was in Cleveland and he’ll clash with Boston’s system. But he’ll be empowered to be a playmaker in a way he wasn’t in Cleveland, and he’ll be playing with stars that aid him in running an offense rather than marginalizing his opportunities. So what could Irving potentially be? Here’s a snapshot of his numbers vs. Steph Curry at age 24:
Could a system that stresses ball movement and constant player movement lead Irving to have a higher team impact? Boston sure believes so.
2. Gordon Hayward
It was only a couple months ago that my fiancé was glaring at me as I stayed glued to my phone for an entire 4th of July as we waited for Gordon Hayward to make his final decision. After the events of the last couple weeks it feels like it happened years ago. Without a doubt Hayward is Boston’s best two-way player, and though Irving may be at the forefront of the Celtics’ fortunes, Hayward will be playing just as big of a part in it. Unlike Irving, who comes in with questions on how he will mesh in Boston, the talk around Hayward is more aligned with just how much better he can be. Boston will give him more ball-handling duties, get him in the post more, and have him hoisting threes at a much higher rate. Playing on a higher-paced team where he’ll get more shots and more chances to initiate the offense will turn Hayward into a strong candidate for starting in the All-Star game and create a dangerous 1-2 punch with Irving.
3. Al Horford
I was very, very, tempted to put Horford as the most important Celtic. Irving and Hayward will get the headlines and most of the credit, but Horford will be the key cog in creating the chemistry on this team. Irving and Hayward are two tremendous talents and are both great individual scorers, but it will require a lot of adjusting since both came from systems that are completely different from what the Celtics do. Horford on the other hand has played in spread, team-oriented offenses for a majority of his career, and though his shot distribution differed from what he was used to in Atlanta, the idea of selfless basketball is part of his DNA. With an influx of new players who aren’t familiar to what it takes to play in the Celtics’ offense, Horford is going to be tasked with setting the tone for how the Celtics play. His selfness and leadership on both ends of the court are traits the Celtics will need desperately to help integrate players whose first instincts may be to go iso.
In terms of individual production, Horford’s “master of none” game will continue to be a key initiator for what the Celtics want to do. Boston can run the offense through Horford, put him in different types of DHO and screening situations, and use his ability to shoot from all over the court to keep the floor spaced out. Horford isn’t the most talented player on the team, but his role may be the most important in maximizing this team’s potential.