Every year, I like to look back at my preseason preview article and see how the team did in comparison to my expectations. This generally results in a few outcomes. I get a better step-back, overall perspective on the evaluation of the season. I get more context for looking ahead to the following season. And of course, I get humbled by how little I actually know. So without further ado, here are my reactions to my predictions.
This year the SBNation preview model was to give our best case, worst case, and likely case scenarios for the upcoming season.
The best case is always another championship. To get there a lot of things would have to break right. Jayson Tatum would have to be a top 3 MVP candidate. Jaylen Brown would be the topic of highly sophisticated fan debates contending that “well actually Jaylen is more valuable than Jayson.” Ime Udoka would be in the running for Coach of the Year by convincing the team to play elite defense and move the ball reminiscent of the Spurs “Beautiful Game” years. Veterans would fit in and have perfect health and younger players would step up into roles making winning plays. If all that happens, make room for another banner.
Tatum didn’t quite make it into the top 3 of the MVP debate, but he’s not far outside that elite group. If not for a few months of struggling with his shooting touch and getting used to Ime Udoka’s offensive principles, he might have been right up there. Tatum’s leap does seem to have slotted Jaylen Brown into a solid #2 role, but he’s thrived there, in particular in the 2nd half. In fact, the two have thrived together, putting to bed the early season doubts about their ability to co-exist.
Speaking of Udoka, I don’t know if he’ll get COTY, but he deserves consideration. I once had an English teacher that had a unique grading system. If your grades started out low but progressed throughout the year, he would give you an A, despite the average being lower than that. If you grade Udoka in that way, he gets an A++.
All things considered, my “best case” isn’t that far off from what happened.
The worst case is essentially a repeat of last year. Injuries and COVID outbreaks prevent any sort of cohesion or stability. The defense doesn’t show up as advertised and the offense falls back into bad habits of “your turn, my turn” with no ball movement to speak of. By the end of the season people would be questioning if Ime Udoka is in over his head and wondering if Tatum and Brown will be the next stars looking to push their way out of town.
Oddly enough, this worst case was happening for the first few months of the season. The new defensive scheme didn’t click right away (though it wasn’t long before they figured it out). The offense was very “your turn, my turn” and there was a very vocal minority calling to “Fire Ime.” People were even calling to “break up the Jays.”
I wasn’t there on those extreme takes. I was happy to give Ime a chance to prove himself and I was adamant about keeping both Tatum and Brown. I was, however, very frustrated with what seemed like a continuation of the previous year’s struggles. Turns out they were more growing pains than anything else.
This team has too much talent to hover around .500 like they did last season. They may be another year or a piece away from being a legitimate title contender though. Injuries happen to every team, but at least this year’s version has more proven depth. They did seem to need a new voice in the locker room and the team seems very motivated to buy in to Udoka’s leadership. The East is very good, but I could see the Celtics landing in the 3rd or 4th seed and making another run to the Eastern Conference Finals behind a big year from Tatum and Brown.
Somehow, I still managed to underestimate this team. Third or fourth seemed laughable at the turn of the year when the team was hovering around the 11th seed. They finished the year as the two seed (though to be fair they finished with identical records to the 3rd and 4th seeds).
Now let’s hope this team can exceed my expectations once again. Instead of settling for an Eastern Conference appearance, let’s see if they can win this whole thing!
Your turn: What were your expectations for the season and how did the team’s performance compare? Bonus points if you link/quote yourself from early season articles.