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Revisiting the 20-game rule for a shortened Celtics season

Do all the rules go out the window in a year like this?

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

I have an annual tradition of encouraging folks to wait about 20 games into the season before making rash judgments of the team. For those new to the blog I’ll explain that this is only a “rule” in the sense that I try to hold myself to it. And some years I can’t even follow my own rule. How you fan is up to you. Still, if you want my unsolicited advice, I say reserve your hot takes till you’ve seen enough of a sample size to really make an educated evaluation.

With all that said, this year is going to be very weird for a lot of reasons. For one thing, there are 10 fewer scheduled games. 20 games is just under a quarter of a regular season. One quarter of 72 games is an even 18 games. So should this be an 18-game rule this year? Maybe.

Looking at the schedule, that would put us in late January. In fact, Games 16 and 17 would both be against the Sixers. That sample size will also provide us tests against the Bucks, Nets, Raptors and Heat (twice). Oddly enough we only have 38 games on the schedule so far. The league will work out the rest of the schedule later.

We do know that we’ll have a trade deadline on March 25th. That’s well past the halfway mark of the year. One would hope that most teams would be well aware of where they are at by then. Few teams are going to know who and what they are out of the gates. Nor would I encourage snap judgments after a slow or fast start that could be influenced by everything from bad matchups, injuries, and a fluke good or bad game or two. Which is why I try to come up with a happy medium of 1/4th of the season.

Speaking of injuries, we’ll be getting a Kemba Walker update in early January. That doesn’t mean he’ll be back to work at that point. Hopefully the team will be able to slowly bring him along. A full speed Kemba significantly changes the team’s upside. But they’ll have to cope without him for long stretches. In fact, one of the most glaring aspects of Gordon Hayward’s exit is that it reduces our room for error by a lot. To a lesser degree, Romeo Langford missing time hurts the team’s depth as well.

So once again, it boils down to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and how strong the supporting cast can be around those two. Are there enough adults in the room with Marcus Smart, Jeff Teague, Daniel Theis, and Tristan Thompson? Which of the kids can step up and play consistently enough that Brad Stevens doesn’t go grey by April? Is there enough shot creation on the team when Tatum is on the bench? Can this team stay in the top-5 defensively?

These are the kinds of things that we can understand better once we’ve had a good sample size. Some trends will emerge quickly while some may need more time to play out. Personally, I’m going to try to wait about a month before I panic or start making Finals plans.

At least that’s the plan.

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