If the past few weeks are any indication, predicting what will happen to the Celtics this season is a near impossible task.
However, someone has to try, right? Here are 18 educated guesses for how this year will pan out in the hunt for Banner 18. Hopefully some of them get your mind off of everything that’s gone wrong and onto everything that could go right.
There’s still plenty of basketball to be played, and the Celtics are pretty darn good.
They start the season hot.
With the Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams injury news followed by the Ime Udoka saga, it’s safe to say everything is currently not quite as rosy in Celtics-land as everyone thought it might be.
However, the Celtics have a veteran team capable of blocking out the noise. They find a way to put the distractions and setbacks behind them and maintain their stranglehold as the team to beat in the East.
Malcolm Brogdon fits in perfectly.
If you could design a player for the Celtics to acquire, it would be someone who can control the pace of the game, take pressure off of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as ball-handlers, both pass and shoot and not set them back defensively.
The Celtics never needed a third star. They needed a specific type of third catalyst, and Brogdon fills that role swimmingly. Expect him to shine right away.
They mix-and-match with their closing lineup.
Tatum and Brown are locks, of course, and Brogdon and Marcus Smart will almost always be on the floor late in games.
Interim head coach Joe Mazzulla (that’s going to take some getting used to) has the luxury of complementing them with a variety of players.
If the Celtics need a sturdy presence down low against a team like the 76ers, they can go with Al Horford. If they need a glue guy who thrives in key moments, Grant Williams is there. If they want to go small, they can insert Derrick White and play Tatum at the 5.
Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser and yes, Luke Kornet, can always fill in occasionally as needed, too.
Jaylen Brown shoots over 50 percent from the field.
With Brogdon, Smart and White all handling the ball, Brown and Tatum will be under less pressure to consistently facilitate. It’s great that both players have improved their passing ability, and that trait is still important, but they should have less responsibility with Brogdon in the fold.
Brown should be able to take fewer risks and get easier looks, and his shooting percentage should increase as a result. His career high was 48.4 percent in 2020-21, and last year he was at 47.3 percent. Fifty percent is an attainable goal, as is 40 percent from 3-point range.
Jayson Tatum finishes fourth in MVP voting.
Tatum’s MVP chances take a hit because of the talent he has around him. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid finish 1-2-3, Tatum takes fourth and Luka Doncic nabs fifth.
He averaged 26.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists last year, which is pretty darn outstanding, and his numbers should be right around there once again. Lowering his turnovers from 2.9 per game to, say, 2.3 would go a long way.
Tatum has the talent to win MVP, but he doesn’t have the right setup. He’ll take this setup all day, though.
Marcus Smart wins back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year.
Smart made history last year, becoming the first guard since Gary Payton in 1995-96 to win Defensive Player of the Year.
“The way the game is changing, the guards are being more recognized for their abilities to do certain things that we shouldn’t be able to do at our size,” Smart told reporters. “I think this award and me winning it shows that and the path for us guards now and in the future.”
Perhaps he paved the way for himself. Now that it happened once, there’s no reason it can’t happen again. Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert went back-to-back in recent years, and Smart could certainly do the same.
Luke Kornet fares admirably but not extraordinarily.
If the Celtics were planning on turning to Luke Kornet even before the Williams news, they’re almost certainly going to need him now.
Kornet, a Brad Stevens favorite, is the definition of serviceable. He has good hands, moves well for a guy his size, plays solid defense and finishes well with both hands inside.
He’s in an unenviable spot where he has to pick up the slack with Williams out. It’s unfair, of course, to expect the same level of production, but it is fair to expect consistent production.
Kornet does his part, and fills in decently well, but he doesn’t wow anyone in the process. His minutes dwindle considerably when Williams is back.
Sam Hauser gets some run with the starters.
Hauser is the kind of player who is best utilized with elite players around him. Playing him with Smart, Brown, Tatum and Horford could be a nice look for the Celtics.
Tatum and Brown would command a lot of attention, as always, and Smart and Horford would make the extra pass and find Hauser open for 3. Defenses would have to worry so much about everyone else that they wouldn’t have much of a choice, and he’d make them pay.
Playing him 8 to 10 minutes a game, mostly with the starters, would be better than, say, 15 to 17 minutes a game, mostly with the bench.
Noah Vonleh cracks the rotation in spurts.
It seems like the Celtics are bringing in a third-string big every week. Out of all the options, Vonleh has the best chance to log semi-regular minutes.
He has a great feel for the game, has improved his shot and is a steady defender. Vonleh also has NBA experience – an important factor that doesn’t disappear just because he’s been out of the league for a bit. No one’s expecting him to play 20 minutes a night, but with Williams and Gallinari out, he should have a chance to see some time.
Starting five: Smart, Brogdon, Brown, Tatum, Horford. Bench: White, Pritchard, Grant Williams, Hauser/Vonleh, Kornet.
JD Davison flaunts his potential but has a long way to go.
It’s human nature to want to come in as a talented rookie and log heavy minutes right away, but that tends to only happen on bad teams.
Instead, Davison has the better situation, where he gets to learn from Smart, Brogdon and White (plus assistant coach Damon Stoudamire) and truly work on his craft. He’s a player who is far from a finished product but clearly has tremendous upside, and this is a terrific opportunity for him to flourish.
He plays well in Maine, and shows some signs, yet struggles when he joins the Celtics. But, the future is bright, and he eventually gains momentum and establishes himself as an NBA role player.
Grant Williams shoots over 40 percent from 3 again.
Without Grant Williams, the Celtics may not have made the Finals. It’s still wild that he shot 41.1 percent from 3, and it’s not far-fetched to think he may do it again.
Williams looked like a totally different player last year, and he should be able to build on that momentum this season. Especially with Robert Williams and Gallinari sidelined, he’ll be counted on even more. He’s ready for the task.
They bring in some super random players along the way.
Joe Johnson, Juancho Hernangomez, Jabari Parker, Kelan Martin, Juwan Morgan, CJ Miles, Nik Stauskas and Justin Jackson all saw action for the runner-up Celtics last season. If you had some combination of them on your bingo card, come claim your hefty cash reward now.
What will 2022-23 bring? It says here that LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, Michael Carter-Williams and Nemanja Bjelica all play at least one game with the Celtics this year. Chances are none of those predictions will come true, but if they do, please tell your friends you saw it here first.
Four Celtics average in double figures.
Last year, six Celtics averaged in double-figures (not counting Dennis Schröder, because he doesn’t count): Tatum (26.9), Brown (23.6), Smart (12.1), White (11.0), Horford (10.2) and Robert Williams (10.0).
This year, that number dips to four, but it’s not a bad thing. It simply means that Tatum and Brown take over even more and Brogdon does his part. Tatum (27.1), Brown (24.2), Brogdon (12.2) and Smart (10.6) lead the way, and White (9.1), Horford (8.1), Robert Williams (8.0), Grant Williams (7.1) and Payton Pritchard (5.8) all contribute.
We get fewer Gino Times.
Gino Time was a rarity early in the season and became regularly scheduled nightly programming late in the year. He must have been exhausted.
This season, the Celtics get to bust it out a little less often. They still have a great season, but they have to win tighter games along the way.
Enjoy Gino when you get him, because he may be held in captivity for longer than you’d like.
They regress slightly defensively, but not much.
Without Udoka and Williams, the Celtics initially don’t resemble the same defensive juggernaut they did a season ago. They win games based more so on their offensive skill and chemistry, but that toughness and tenacity is initially missing.
Eventually, they get it back and hit their stride late like last year (though not quite as dramatically). They allowed 104.5 points per game last season, which was the best mark in the NBA. This year, that number rises to 105.8, and they end up fourth in points allowed.
Still great, yes, but not the elite of the elite.
The Nets, Bucks and Heat all take the season series.
Those are three talented teams, and you best believe all three want revenge after last year’s playoffs.
The Celtics end up losing the regular season series to all three but peak at the right time and look better against them as the year progresses.
The Celtics win 54 games and get the 2-seed.
The Celtics and Bucks finished with identical records (51-31) a season ago and ended up with the 2 and 3 seeds.
This year, they do the same, but each team ups its win total by three games and they end up 1-2 instead. With Khris Middleton back, the Bucks will be as dangerous as anyone, but the Celtics are still right there with them (assuming nothing else crazy happens, though that may not be a fair assumption).
The Bucks get the 1-seed, and the Celtics (2), Heat (3), 76ers (4), Cavaliers (5), Nets (6), Hawks (7), Hornets (8), Bulls (9) and Raptors (10) follow. The East is the strongest it’s been in quite some time (maybe ever), with four or five teams that have a legitimate chance to make the Finals.
They either lose in the Eastern Conference Finals or win it all.
Last year unfolded like a movie for the Celtics, but it didn’t have the uplifting ending many expected. This year, if they make the Finals, they win.
The East is officially better than the West for the first time in quite a while. If the Celtics lose, it’ll be to a team in their conference. If they get out unscathed, they finish the task against whichever team they face.