This is one of my favorite times of year. The season is nearly upon us and this year’s version of the team still has that new shoe smell straight out of the box. I generally like to follow a tried and true format for my previews and this year is no different. So let’s unbox this thing.
Last Year’s Record: 57-25 (lost in ECF)
Key Losses: Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, Mike Muscala, Danilo Gallinari
Key Additions: Kristaps Porzingis, Oshae Brissett, Dalano Banton, Jordan Walsh, Lamar Stevens
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
Oh no big deal, just a gut-wrenching trade that sent away Mr. Love and Trust himself. This is one of those deals where the heart and head don’t play nice with each other.
Heart: How could you?
Head: Well, for one thing we got the best player in the deal and extra picks.
Heart: Which just goes to show how valuable Marcus was. Intangibles are important and now there’s a void that you won’t be filling with picks.
Head: Do you ever wonder if perhaps Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were not able to be the leaders that they could be because there was just a bigger personality in the room?
Heart: I mean, if you need to remove the soul of the team to see if the stars have soul, what are we even doing here?
Head: Hey, logic is supposed to be my thing. Look, we added a better offensive player who’s a matchup nightmare for other teams and he can protect the rim on defense. This is a better basketball team now.
Heart: Porzingis is best known for getting hurt. We needed more players like Marcus Smart, not fewer. Guys who really care and put all their blood, sweat, and tears into every game are rare and precious.
Head: Smart was prone to injury as well and might not age well. Besides, talent wins in this league. Have the most talent and you’ll be in position to win. Plain and simple.
Heart: We’ll see.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Exactly one year ago I was certain that the Celtics calling card was going to be their defense. They leaned fully into the offense (along with the rest of the league by the way) and the defense sort of played catch-up eventually (2nd in the league in defensive rating for the regular season). The problem was that in the playoffs the offense was not always reliable and the defense wasn’t dominating enough to bail them out.
Exit Marcus Smart and Grant Williams and enter Porzingis and some new assistant coaches (including Charles Lee from the Bucks). Suffice to say that things are going to look different. They seem to be doubling down on their reliance on 3 pointers and more of a drop coverage defense. That probably translates to continued success in the regular season, but will it carry them through the playoffs this time?
Of course it isn’t just as simple as “how many 3’s go in?” The Celtics will always go as far as Tatum and Brown carry them and now they have a 3rd star level player to carry some of the load. Those three players can attack in many different ways and each is in their prime years.
Surrounding that new big 3 is still a very skilled supporting cast including the ageless Al Horford, the timeless Robert Williams, and the ego-less Derrick White. As for depth, they have reigning 6th man of the year Malcolm Brogdon (for now), Payton Pritchard stepping into a larger role, Sam Hauser dropping bombs, and an open competition to provide depth at the wing.
Bottom line: This is going to be a very strong team this year.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
In a word: Injuries.
Optimistic view: To borrow a phrase from finance, “past performance is not indicative of future results.” So you can’t just assume that players that have been injured before will get injured again.
Realistic view: Yeah, but Brogdon was dealing with an injury just a few months ago, Porzingis sat out the World Cup for plantar fasciitis, Rob Williams just had his first healthy offseason, and Al Horford is just old and age is undefeated.
Diplomatic view: All teams are subject to variance from injuries and some of the best teams are one major injury away from the lottery. If anything this team has the depth to withstand short term issues. If they enter the playoffs reasonably healthy, they have as good a shot as anyone.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Banners are always the only goal. Even moreso when you have two stars in their prime and just traded away the heart and soul in exchange for a 3rd star. Tatum and Brown have a lot of time left in their primes but the CBA has made it harder and harder to pay those kinds of stars and still fill out a roster around them. Time is ticking and this team needs to be contending for titles while they still can.
5. Conclusion and Bold Predictions
The Bucks are going to be really good with Dame providing Giannis more room to operate. The Cavs are going to be another year older and probably better equipped to thrive in the postseason. The Knicks are getting better, the Sixers and Hawks still have high end talent, and the Heat simply will not die.
With all that said, I’m still going to pick the Celtics to finish first in the East with a 58-24.
This team is going to score a lot of points. They are going to have to adapt their defense a bit but I have some degree of confidence that the coaching staff will put them in position to succeed on defense. When it boils down to it, I believe in Tatum and Brown and I’m excited to see what dimensions Porzingis adds.
Quick Hit predictions:
- Brogdon does not end the season in Boston
- Porzingis, Williams, and Horford miss fewer than 20 games each
- Tatum and Brown repeat as All Stars and Tatum finishes 2nd in MVP voting
- Sam Cassell becomes a meme for something he does on the sidelines (and is universally loved by the players)
- Pritchard and Hauser both get larger roles (including the playoffs)
- Brissett starts the year as a rotation wing; Jordan Walsh finishes the year in that role
- There will be times when the team really misses having Grant Williams as an option
- Jaylen Brown will finally understand when to drive left and when to pull up or pass out of certain coverages
- Banner 18, enough said
Your turn: What are your bold predictions for the season?