Heading into the Season…
Allow me to start this preview off with a brief commentary on last season’s 2018/’19 Boston Celtics. Personally, I had Great Expectations. Ultimately, the Celtics didn’t live up to them which resulted in last season’s team being one of the most disagreeable and frustrating seasons of Celtics basketball I’ve ever witnessed. This season however, is a fresh start, a new year. A chance to get back to what Celtics basketball really means in Boston. I’m going to refrain from projecting any lofty Championship expectations for this season but I do have some smaller expectations that I think this team should have no problem meeting. Playing Celtics basketball means you compete at a high level, every minute and every second of every game. One of the reasons last season’s team was so difficult to watch was the lack of effort the team showed as a whole. Opposing players went for career highs against us, teams came back from double digits and generally, teams clowned us when the going got rough. I expect this year’s team to put that shit to rest. I expect a tough, hard-nosed unit that won’t ever quit. I do expect the Celtics to take a step back defensively (because of key personnel losses) but I think the extra effort will at least make this team more watchable and have us going in the right direction. Offensively, I expect the ball to whip around and move much better than it did last year. Brad Stevens is in the perfect position to reestablish his credibility after he got dragged through the mud last year and his scheme now has the players to make it work. Overall, I’m ecstatic about this upcoming season. There has been tremendous roster upheaval (which I will go through below) but I like the direction the Celtics are going in…
The biggest offseason addition was undoubtedly Kemba Walker. Kemba steps into the starting point guard role bringing a mix of scoring prowess and hard-nosed leadership. He’s a proven NBA star and a guy who won’t take shit from anyone. In this way, him and Marcus Smart will get along famously. Kemba and Smart are the Celtics two best guards and a lot will be expected of them this upcoming season on and off the court. Both will have to act as vocal leaders who keep this team together and keep them focused night in and night out. The Celtics are still a young team and the development of the younger players will fall on their shoulders as well. Sometimes, Kemba will have to take over offensively while other times he may have to take a backseat to a Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward scoring explosion. I think his ability to balance that dichotomy will be the biggest storyline of the Celtics season. The biggest question mark in the guard rotation is going to be who will fill that third guard role. Over the years, Stevens has given big minutes to a third guard (ie: Terry Rozier) and this season someone will have to step up. I think Brad Wanamaker gets the first shot at it considering his veteran status but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carsen Edwards make a strong push for the spot. Edwards played well in summer league and showed in the NCAA tournament that he isn’t scared of the moment. Tremont Waters rounds out the trifecta of guards looking for minutes but I think it’s likely he spends most of his time with the Maine Red Claws (the Celtics D-League affiliate).
Just like last season, the Celtics are deep at the wing positions. Also like last season, these players have a lot to prove. The player I expect to take the biggest leap is Jayson Tatum. Tatum had an OK second year but ultimately fell below expectations after an absolutely stellar rookie campaign. So far, he’s saying the right things and seems to be ready to take on a bigger and more efficient role in the Celtics offense and I could not be more excited for that. His blend of size, shooting and athleticism is hard to match in today’s NBA and I expect him to have a huge year. Next we got Gordon Hayward. Hayward’s return from injury last season had its ups and downs but he really came on strong towards the end of the season. I expect that after a full healthy offseason of training, Hayward is eager to prove his doubters wrong and to show Boston fans what we all thought he was capable of when he signed with us. Hayward’s ability to defend and be an all-around threat on offense are in huge demand in today’s NBA and I think he’s ready to have a huge year. Jaylen Brown is the biggest question mark among our wings this season because of his contract situation. Brown has always shown he can be an elite defender but his offense hasn’t come on like some thought it would. This is a contract year for Brown and I’m 100% confident he is going to show out this season and show he is worthy of remaining in green while continuing to provide elite defense along the perimeter and possibly the interior as well. With Tatum, Brown and Hayward all expected to start, I think that leaves some minutes open for either the bruising defensive force that is Semi Ojeleye or perhaps rookie Romeo Langford. We know Ojeleye will bring elite defense and a tough minded attitude which I expect will get him the extra minutes but Langford is a guy who could have been drafted in the top 5 if not for a thumb injury in the middle of his college season at Indiana. He has the talent to rise quickly with the Celtics and we’ll see if he can make good on those former projections and prove his doubters wrong.
The bigs for Boston have the most to prove this year out of anyone on the roster. Most talking heads will say that the 4/5 position will be the Celtics biggest weakness but I think there is a lot of potential that could end up catapulting the Celtics into the top of the Eastern Conference. Enes Kanter was the big offseason signing. Kanter is a solid NBA big with elite skills in the low post. He’s also a tremendous shit talker which Celtics fans will appreciate more than any other fanbase he’s played for. The concern with Kanter will be on the defensive end but I believe Brad Stevens will devise schemes to keep Kanter out of situations where he is uncomfortable. After Kanter, the Celtics will have to rely on a slew of young guys who are going to have show their worth. Daniel Theis is returning for his third year and I imagine he’ll get the first shot at meaningful minutes. His ability to stretch the floor and run to the rim will be invaluable. Next, I think rookie Grant Williams will separate himself early and prove to the coaching staff that he deserves some minutes. I see Williams as an Al Horford-lite type of player who will understand the Celtics defensive principles immediately. The home run option (and also my personal favorite big) is the Time Lord himself, Robert Williams III. Williams III showed flashes in his rookie campaign of the elite defensive presence he could grow to become. If he works on fine tuning his game, he could quickly become a rotation player. The biggest question marks for me are Vincent Poirier and Tacko Fall. Poirier is a French transplant who seems to be the bruiser, rim-running big we lost when Aron Baynes left. Fall’s size obviously puts him in rare air (literally) but I have doubts that he can be an effective NBA big. That’s 6 big men I’ve just rattled off… all with contrasting styles and different areas of expertise. I have no doubt the cream of the crop will quickly rise to the top once competition for playing time begins in training camp but for now, we’re on a wait-and-see basis.
Brad Stevens took a lot of unwarranted blame for last season’s struggles. I think a coach of his caliber should be held to a high standard but I don’t believe the struggles were all his fault. A coach can only put his players in position to succeed and I think for the most part, Stevens did that. This year, I expect Stevens to launch himself back in the Coach of the Year conversation. Armed with a group of guys who are ready and willing to go to war for him will help tremendously. President Stevens is one of the top coaching talents in the NBA and with his arsenal of plays, schemes and overall basketball intelligence, he’s going to show us why last season was a fluke.
Looking at the Eastern Conference this year, I’d be hard pressed to pick the Celtics as the odds on favorites. Philly has reloaded with Benedict Arnold Al Horford, Josh Richardson and another year of the Embiid/Simmons duo; Milwaukee still has the Greek Freak and a team that won 60 games last year; Indiana will be more potent than ever with a healthy Oladipo and the addition of Malcolm Brogdon; Toronto is the defending champ and Brooklyn even managed to pry Kyrie Irving away from us. The Celtics have gone from talking about a potential dynasty to underdogs in only a year’s time. Frankly… I couldn’t feel better about it. Under Brad Stevens’ tenure as coach, the Celtics have been a team that consistently over-achieves (aside from last season) and this season will be no different. We got a group of hungry, driven individuals who I think can grow together and become a team that Celtics fans will be proud of. Everyone has written us off based on the off-season subtractions and last season’s performance and they have good reason to do so. However, I still believe in this core and I know there are thousands of Celtics fans who would agree with me. I hope the media writes us off this year and I hope the haters keep all that same energy they’ve been spewing over the summer. I think a little “FUCK YOU” attitude can go a long way in the NBA and this year’s Celtics are chock full of it. I’m ready and excited to watch Boston Celtics basketball again. #allabout18