It's been six long months since the Celtics were swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since then the C's roster has changed for the better. The additions of David Lee and Amir Johnson should help sure up the front court that, at times last year, was very slim and was exposed by Tristan Thompson and Cleveland in the playoffs.
With a roster full of depth, albeit with no superstar, the C's will look to up their win total of 40 games last season. Brad Stevens, who remains one of the brightest young coaches in the league, should enhance the teams' chances in fighting for the Atlantic Division title.
The Celts aren't an organization that hangs pathetic banners for division championships (I'm looking at you Indianapolis Colts) but winning the Atlantic would be a stepping stone in the development of the new up and coming Celtics.
The C's biggest strength is there roster flexibility. The starting five on opening night should consist of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller and Lee. But one could argue that the bench unit is stronger than those five, especially offensively.
Surrounding sixth-man Isaiah Thomas with shooters can only help the pint-sized point guard, who has a chance for a breakout year. A bench squad of Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner, Jonas Jerebko and Johnson will give other teams second units fits, but will lack the defensive tenacity of the starting five.
The battle for playing time between Jared Sullinger and Olynyk will be a fun one to watch. Sully is the teams best rebounder, but if Olynyk can score consistently he should get the nod. If KO can knock down the deep ball, it will only stretch out the floor for Thomas who is at his best when he is penetrating into the paint.
It will be interesting to see if Danny Ainge makes any moves within the first few months, like he did last season. Turner is clearly the teams most versatile player, and an underrated ball handler. In my opinion Turner should be starting over Smart, and he still may, but the former Ohio State Buckeye could be the Celts most sought after player around the league not named Smart.
A bold prediction of mine is that Smart and Bradley, a strong defensive one-two punch, could be dealt to bring in a superstar like DeMarcus Cousins. But that could be a pipe dream, so for now let's go with the notion that Smart is going to lead the team for the foreseeable future and start at the point.
Should Turner get dealt it may free up playing time for two of the teams sharp shooters, James Young and rookie RJ Hunter. Hunter has impressed many in the preseason, not only for his smooth stroke on his jumper, but his underrated defense. The book is still out on Young who struggled to get playing time in the preseason, not a good sign for a player whose work ethic and defensive ability were in question his rookie season.
Rookies Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey and Hunter, may not see much action in Boston, but they add insurance for Ainge who is probably nagging all the other GM's on a daily basis to talk trade. I picture rival GM's picking up their phones to see Ainge calling, then proceeding to make that annoyed face like when a girl (or fella) calls you that your trying to kick to the curb, but hang on to so you have someone to talk to.
The Celtics will have their fare share of tough games this season. The Eastern Conference is certainly stronger with Milwaukee, Indiana, Miami and Orlando improving their rosters, and in the case of the Magic, boosting their head coaching situation. The New York Knicks should improve with the addition of Robin Lopez. The Knicks still have one of the most lethal offensive players in the game in Carmelo Anthony. But don't sleep on this current group of Boston Celtics. This roster is deep and can afford minor injuries to their players if they implement the "next man up" and "do your job" mentality. A lot of the other teams in the East don't have the same luxury. The Celts will be can't miss programming, and a NBA league pass darling. Expect the C's to reel in the non-believers by Christmas.
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Here at CelticsLife we wanted to pick the brains of the other writers on where they see the Celtics going this season:
Depth. Likely the Celtics biggest strength heading into the season, it will be the key to their success. The Celtics will benefit from this over the course of the marathon season. Resting players on back to backs, a "next man up" attitude, and 4th quarter endurance should help win them their fair share of games this season. Combine that with Stevens' ability to get the most out of his player's abilities and this team could be the surprise of the NBA.
I think the C's have the pieces to finish with their first winning record since the departure of KG, Paul Pierce and Doc. I'm fairly optimistic about this year's squad, especially with the rookies shining in the preseason, not to mention that Stevens might finally have a stable roster for the first time. The young corps will be fired up to make it back to the postseason and make a lasting impression, and that passion will fuel them to a 45-38 record. Isaiah wins 6th man, Hunter and Rozier finish on the NBA second all rookie team, and Jordan Mickey will lead the league in blocks but the 21-year-old will be snubbed for Defensive Player of the Year.
The Celtics finished at 40-42 last year and I expect them to improve with about 4 more wins this year to finish at 44-38. The bottom of the Eastern Conference has gotten better with Miami, Indiana, Milwaukee, and Boston all improving. Atlanta, Washington, and Brooklyn, all playoff teams last year, should face some drop off. Given the improvements that the Celtics have made, I would expect them to finish at around 5th to 6th in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics should be contending with Toronto for the top spot in the Atlantic. With only Cleveland and Chicago remaining the two top teams in the Eastern Conference, there should be a lot of competition for the remaining seeds. Boston has a great opportunity to show how talented they are. With a lot of young talent on the roster and some veterans mixed in, this Celtics team should be a lot of fun to watch. After two seasons with a revolving door of players coming through, Brad Stevens finally has a more stable environment and roster to deal with. The Celtics are an extremely fun team to watch and it’s going to be extremely exciting to see how much they’ve improved this year.
The additions of Amir Johnson and David Lee, as well as a full season from midseason acquisition Isaiah Thomas, should push the Celtics further towards the hallowed 50 win mark from which championship contenders hail. The defense, already on the border of the top ten last year, should benefit from Johnson's versaitility both protecting the rim and covering rangy bigs with his quickness, and Lee's passing ability and scoring touch should help prop up a starting unit that struggled to score at times. The key question, and the issue that will keep these Celtics out of the upper echelons record-wise will stem from behind the arc. The Celtics lack true shooting talent, as Avery Bradley is merely a league average three point shooter from the corners and disastrous everywhere else, while Marcus Smart has to this point proven to only hover around league-average behind the arc. Even IT4 isnt exactly a knockdown three point shooter, though his numbers are driven down by some ill-advised pull up threes that Stevens will probably try to breed out of him. In the end, the Celtics lack of shooting will doom them against teams with a strong defensive scheme that can limit Thomas' deadly pick and roll game (think teams like the Bulls or even the Pacers) unless guys like James Young or RJ Hunter can deliver from downtown and open up the lane, and those losses will keep the Green from entering into a serious title conversation.
While seemingly overoptimistic, a scan of the Celtics roster displays some pivotal areas of improvement where the team could see growth to the level of last year's Raptors. David Lee and Amir Johnson pad Boston's front court with pick-and-roll prowess as well as extra rebounding and defense the team sorely needed last year. Isaiah Thomas and company, who scorched through the league with blazing production late last year, return for a full season. Beyond that there is still the chance of Marcus Smart emerging into a high-caliber two way player should the team put the ball in his hands more often. The possibility can't be discounted either of Ainge making a deadline deal to add a reliable scorer, much like the Thomas trade last year. The ceiling of this team, in their first steady year under Brad Stevens, will be higher than some think.
Optimistic: 47-35. Who scares you in the East outside of Cleveland? The C's could've given anybody else besides the Cavs a run for their money in Round 1 last year, and now Boston should be even better.
Pessimistic: 35-47. What if the magic doesn't happen again? Without taking into account how last season ended, doesn't the Celtics roster look like a middle-of-the-pack lottery team on paper?
Overall I'm leaning much more in the optimistic direction, so I'll say 45-37.
Although the Celtics did not make any splashy moves this past offseason, there is no doubt they were able to upgrade their roster by adding David Lee and Amir Johnson. Their additions will help the Celtics address one of their greatest weaknesses last year, which was their depth. Although they played at the fifth fastest pace in the NBA, they sorely lacked the depth necessary depth to do it effectively. With Lee and Johnson, along with 82 games from both Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics will have the depth they need. In fact, their second unit is so impressive that one could make the argument they would beat the starting lineup in a seven game series.
Although the Celtics went 40-42 last year, they won 26 of their final 42 games, which represents 51 wins if calculated over a full season. Moreover, following the addition of Thomas, who quickly became the Celtics best player, they went 20-10, which represents 55 wins if calculated over a full season. In my opinion, the best evidence for how the Celtics will do is how they played with Thomas on the roster. He is that good. As a result, entering this season with Thomas, Crowder, Lee and Johnson, which provides the Celtics with two units capable of playing winning basketball, as well as the overall lack of improvement across the Eastern Conference, I see the Celtics continuing what they started over their final 42 games last year.
I'm sticking to my prediction because I think the additions that we made along with the improvement of our younger players will boost our win total, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Celtics won anywhere from 38-47 games. I think there is a lot of external factors that will contribute to the rise and fall of this team. The Eastern Conference got better, there is no doubt about it. Teams like Indiana, Miami and even Detroit and Orlando could make a push toward the postseason. I think the C's have added enough with Amir Johnson and David Lee to compete and solidify themselves as a team that will be fighting for one of the bottom three or four playoff spots. Best case scenario, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk take that next step and the team can hold their own with teams like Indiana, Washington and Toronto and compete for the fifth seed.
The Celtics won 40 games last year in a year of constant change. Despite the additions of veteran big men David Lee and Amir Johnson that sures up the front court, if the Celtics take a step forward the biggest factor will be continuity. One more year under Stevens. A full training camp with their best playmaker Isaiah Thomas. A sense from all corners of the organization that the Celtics are truly building toward something.
The strength of this team lies in their depth. They are definitely 11 deep. Maybe 15 deep depending on how much you believe in the three rookies and James Young. How Brad Stevens juggles the rotation and manages the egos of those that don't play are key for this Celtics' team. Right now my best guess at what the rotation will be is Smart/Bradley/Crowder/Johnson/Lee with Thomas/Turner/Jerebko/Olynyk/Zeller as the second unit. If Jerebko can't consistently hit shots look for RJ Hunter to get a spot in the rotation before James Young, and sooner rather than later. Effort and scheme will put the Celtics defense in the top ten, and if the offense doesn't lag behind, this Celtics team will flirt with 50 wins and challenge Toronto for the Atlantic Division.
If the Celtics regress and things get dicey, one things for sure: the Maine Red Claws are going to be sick this year.
Photo by Edwin Khu follow him on Twitter: @wilkeduhn Rob Welch 10/25/2015 08:04:00 AM Tweet Edit