Kevin Pelton, who puts together the projections for ESPN, has the Celtics finishing second in the Eastern Conference with 53 wins. This is two wins off the 55 Boston tallied last season. Pelton does note that the projection for Boston is influenced by last year’s point differential being closer to that of a 51-win team. He goes on to comment that projections for Gordon Hayward and Al Horford are conservative in his models. This gives the Celtics room to outperform the projections.
These projections have Boston finishing two games behind the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the East. If the projections hold serve, the Celtics would face the Washington Wizards in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
Something else of note is that Pelton projects the Sacramento Kings to have the NBA’s worst record with 25.4 wins. If this projection is accurate, and the NBA Draft Lottery holds to form, the Kings first round pick would land at the number one overall spot. That would mean it would convey to the Philadelphia 76ers, instead of the Celtics, due to the protections placed on that pick at the time of the 2017 Boston/Philadelphia trade.
If that is the scenario, Boston would then get the Sixers first rounder, which projects to be 23rd overall. Boston would have that selection, plus their own first round pick, at the 2019 NBA Draft. This is because the Los Angeles Clippers (pick is protected 1-14, Clippers project to finish 10th) and the Memphis Grizzlies (pick is protected 1-8, Grizzlies project to finish 8th) aren’t projected to convey their picks to the Celtics either.
While Pelton notes there is significant room for variance in these projections, it at least opens some eyes that Boston may not be a mathematical favorite to finish at the top of the East. And at the other end of the spectrum, not getting the Sacramento pick would be a huge disappointment. For early August, as the NBA news cycle grinds to a halt, these projections give NBA fans something to chew on, as we (not so) patiently wait for training camps to open.
(Editors Note: This article has been updated to clarify confusion about the Sacramento Kings first round pick. The verbiage “and the NBA Draft Lottery holds to form” was added.