The Boston Celtics enter the 2019-20 season with plenty of talent, and nearly as many unknowns. How will they plug the Al Horford sized hole in their roster? Can Kemba Walker provide something approximating the on-court value of what the now departed Kyrie Irving once offered? Will a likely boost in team chemistry translate in the form of victories? What’s to become of Gordon Hayward? Can any of the team’s young players take a meaningful step toward stardom? What is growing on the sides of Jayson Tatum’s face?
The answers to these questions, and more, will define Boston’s season, and dictate its success or failure. Prognosticating exactly what one might expect to happen based on the various probability inherent to each variable can be fun, but so too can be living in the extremes.
As an exercise in setting some boundaries for expectations heading into the year, we’ve laid out what to expect if everything breaks just right and if all goes to hell (excluding the truly, truly unlikely).
Worst Case Scenario
The Celtics worst case likely comes in the form of a defensive disaster. Enes Kanter is a mess defending in space, and opponents will undoubtedly put him into an endless number of actions. Toss in the fact that the ball handler in many such situations will be defended by the diminutive Kemba Walker, and Boston could be looking at an exceptionally flammable combination.
If Daniel Theis doesn’t regain his bounce a year removed from injury and Robert Williams fails to take a substantial step forward in the defensive recognition department, then the Celtics won’t have much choice but to grin and bear it, hoping that Kanter can make up for his defensive warts by providing value as a screener, roll man, and offensive rebounder.
Hitting a truly unlikely negative outcome for Boston also means a decided lack of progress for the team’s young players. If Jaylen Brown’s development remains plateaued after a somewhat disappointing third season, and Tatum turns out to be closer to a finished product than originally presumed, the Celtics ceiling caves in on itself a bit.
Both players have proven themselves to be valuable contributors already, and in that fact Boston can take some solace. But they need Brown and Tatum to be better than they were last year to make any real noise in the present.
The final consideration that must be made is Gordon Hayward. If last year is his new normal, the Celtics are in trouble. Boston desperately needs playmaking beyond Walker, and Hayward is their best shot at finding it.
If he lacks explosiveness in the way he did last year, and Brown and Tatum fail to develop, the Celtics will have just a single player with any real, consistent dynamism off the bounce. That’s a recipe for offensive demise. Pair it with an unreliable defense and Boston is likely something close to a .500 team.
The good news? That probably gets them in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Best Case Scenario
Let’s get to the fun part.
Boston’s best case scenario sees them become an offensive juggernaut. Hayward returns to form. Brown and Tatum make significant strides attacking off the bounce and facilitating offense, and the Celtics turn into a versatile nightmare of three-point shooting, offense initiating demons surrounding whatever big man happens to have the joy of playing alongside Walker, Brown, Tatum, and Hayward.
To hit their most optimal outcome Boston will need to cobble together a respectable defense, which means either Brad Stevens will work some sort of Midwestern witchcraft on Kanter, or another big on the roster will prove capable of taking on a larger than anticipated role.
The Celtics would also get immediate contributions from their rookies in this scenario, with Grant Williams functioning as mini Al Horford, Carsen Edwards raining down fire from all over the court, and Marcus Smart leading a band of misfit but shockingly effective players as one of the most impactful benches in the league.
That’s a lot that would have to go right, but if it did Boston could find its way to 50 wins.
Remember, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, but this isn’t about finding the truth. It’s about stress testing what you believe the floor and ceiling is in Boston. Give it a try and see where you land.