Can the 2015-16 Celtics exceed NBA league scouts expectations?

My NBA League Pass renewal just hit my credit card, so you know what that means…

It’s basketball season.

After a fun contest in Milan, Italy on Tuesday and another Global Game this afternoon against Real Madrid, the Celtics are shaking off the rust and putting their chemistry to the test before returning to the states to do preseason battle against NBA opponents.

This is the time to dig in and be excited. This is the best time of year to talk yourself into year three of the rebuild before the inevitable waves of LEBRONAMANIA wash over the NBA.  This is the time to say YES to as many fan questions as possible.

  • Can the Celtics shock the Eastern Conference? YES!
  • Can the Celtics be this year’s Atlanta Hawks? YES!
  • Can the Celtics emerge as the Baby Spurs? YES!
  • Will Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and James Young silence the critics? YES!
  • Can the Celtics produce an All Star? YES!

Yes, Yes, Yes. Get used to saying it because as of right now, we can. There is no evidence to the contrary. So buy in, fans, because green runs deep and all rides on the preseason hype train are free.

That’s the view from the Loge at the Garden. Elsewhere around the league, the view is a bit more… balanced (?) shall we say. The NBA employs a great number of people, some of which are paid to pay attention to teams like the Celts for planning purposes-- both in preparation for battle and as potential trade partners during the basketball calendar year. The Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett had the chance to connect with a variety of scouts, all of whom had medium to hot takes on this year’s squad.


“The East is better this year, I think, but in that conference, that still gets you a lot,” one personnel person said. “They made the playoffs last year, and now they’re going to have Thomas from the start.”

It wasn’t too long ago the conferences were pretty even. But it might as well be last century, because the NBA ages in dog years. The East has been abysmal for a while and even though some teams have made strides to improve, there still isn’t a super power poised to challenge the Cavs, nevermind the juggernauts waiting out west.

While the C’s aren’t standing tall with The Big 3.0 quite yet, Boston has a chance to stand out. The young nucleus amassed by Danny Ainge and placed under the tutelage of Brad Stevens seems to be much steadier from a team mindset and personnel standpoint at the start of the season. Chemistry cannot be overlooked or undervalued.


“They’re asking a lot from that guy,” a scout said. “He’s a tough kid and he produces, but there’s a lot on his shoulders. And you saw what happened to them when Cleveland put all its focus on him in the playoffs. They really need other people to step up consistently. If they get that somehow, they could be better than people think.”

If IT4 is the best player on the Celtics, where do you play him? If he wants to start do you let him? Do you work a three-headed dragon approach similar to how Phoenix tried to use him with Bledsoe and Dragic? Would anything Brad rolls out surprise you?

Isaiah Thomas is exactly the kind of player the Celtics need in this phase of the rebuild; A versatile guard who is good enough to start but is used most frequently to exploit matchups. The problem with the logjam in the Celtics backcourt isn’t even a problem with the backcourt-- the problem is in how to best mold the frontcourt and wing around the dynamic elements handling the ball.

Thomas got derailed against Cleveland in the playoffs because as soon as he stepped on the court, the Cavs had a pretty good idea of where the ball is going. This season, with many more arrows in the quiver, the Celtics should be able to add fluidity to their rotation giving a player like Thomas a lot of different looks and chances to succeed.


“They still have a lot of young people who are still developing,” an opposing evaluator said. “I totally expect (Marcus) Smart to take a big step this year. And I’m still not giving up on (James) Young, but even though he’s just 20, I thought he’d be doing more by now. Maybe it’ll still happen. He’s had a bunch of injuries to deal with, and I’m reading where they say he’s more committed to his defense this year. But I’ve also heard that he’s had some issues with just getting it — getting what it takes on this level. But like I said, he’s only 20. We’ll see. But Boston really needs a guy like that to move up and be an offensive threat for them.”

I think we all want this, right? It was evident on draft night 2014 that the Celtics were drafting for a future pillar in Marcus Smart. My preseason prediction for #36 is that his sophomore season isn’t going to look like a normal sophomore season. You could see it in the way the team played around him down the stretch towards and into the playoffs-- he’s the leader of the team.

The expectations for Smart seem much higher than the other young Celtics like Sullinger, Olynyk, Rozier, Hunter, and his draft-mate James Young, but his leash is longer, too. There were some questionable moves last year that got chalked up to rookie behavior (the flopping and the ball punching). I doubt we’ll see the same kind of behavior this year. Especially since the best player on the team is standing right behind him just chomping at the bit to get in the game at all times.

“They have a lot of guys with something to prove this year,” one opposing source said. “That could make things very interesting.”

Something to prove is right. The rebuild is what it is. Every team in every sport eventually has to go through it. This Celtics rebuild has seemed calculated from the very beginning, and while losing isn’t fun, basketball is. I frequently referred to 2013-14 and 2014-15 as “fun losses,” because that’s what they were. The vast majority of the Stevens Era has been closely contested losses. In the 2014-15 season, the Celtics recorded 50 games that were decided by three possessions. That’s a lot of edge-of-your-seat hoops.

2015-16 is going to be different. With fewer forecasted moves on the horizon, the right team members in place, and on the verge of cashing in the first of our Nets Lottery Tickets, this season has potential to be special.

Are you talked into this yet?



Follow Padraic O'Connor on Twitter @padraic_oconnor

Photo Sources: Maddie Meyer; Getty Images
Photo Sources: Steven Senne; AP