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20-game rule: The Celtics are officially great (Part 1)

My arbitrary sample size threshold has been achieved and I can make declarations about this team.

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Longtime readers will remember that I have my own personal 20-game rule. Essentially, I withhold judgement about the Celtics as a whole until twenty games into the season (roughly 25% of the season). The idea is to not overreact to small sample sizes or one or two outlier games.

In the past, I’ve used it to preach patience in the first few weeks of the season. Other times, I’ve used it to remind myself not to overreact. Occasionally, the results of the first 10 or 15 games have been enough for me to simply toss the 20-game rule aside because I had seen enough.

Note: this is where the whole thing starts to break down, because there are exceptions to every rule.

Here’s what I posted last year after just seven games.

I’ve long been a proponent of holding off judgment of a team until 20 games into the season. There is usually not enough data to overcome small sample size discrepancies.

Well, forget all that. Light that 20-game rule on fire because this team stinks.

Last year, the Celtics were a .500 team. This year they’re 2-5 with a lot of quality opponents coming up.

In my defense, that was true at that point last year. In fact, it was true right on through the 20-game point (they were 10-10 after 20 games). Sometimes, a season can take a drastic turn and finish up very differently than it started. In fact, even in the midst of my rant last year, I left the door open for just that particular scenario.

Is this all an emotional response to a bad stretch? Sure. Is there a chance that this team can turn things around and make all of this just a bad memory? Yup. The talent and potential that I saw in preseason is all still there and there’s a lot of games left in this season. It is more important to finish strong than to start strong.

All of this preamble is to remind you to take the following with an appropriate grain of salt (and feel free to knock on wood and do whatever other jinx-proofing rituals you like).

With those caveats aside, I am ready to declare that this year’s team is amazing and has the potential to be one of the greats.

I’ll lay out the statistical case in Part 2 of this article, but let me make the narrative case first.

The Celtics have an elite (and perhaps historical) offense led by a top MVP candidate and a surefire All-Star. They are deep with very high level veteran contributors who thrive in their roles. They have shooting, ball movement, spacing, aggressive attacks at the rim, and trust in each other.

Consider that this is all happening with a rookie head coach at the helm who is bound to grow even more as he gains experience. Consider that this is happening without the team’s bouncy starting center who should be back before Christmas. Consider that this is happening despite taking a step back defensively (but they still have the personnel to reach back and find some of that identity again).

This is no illusion — this team is for real and it is fantastic. Sure, things can turn in a hurry in this league, but if current trends continue, we can plan on watching this team well into the summer.

Next up, let’s look at the stats through 20 games in Part 2.

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