The State of the Season: The Boston Celtics' outlook, post-Thanksgiving

It's been a roller coaster of a year already for the Boston Celtics, and the regular season is only a month old.

After a summer with big expectations after signing Al Horford and drafting lottery pick Jaylen Brown, people were hyped on the blue-collar defense and the new additions and internal development of players like Avery Bradley and Terry Rozier. And we'd be getting back a healthy Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk!

And then that all pretty much went south in a hurry.

Kelly wasn't ready. Marcus Smart hurt his ankle. Jae too. Al hit his head. We couldn't buy a rebound in an avalanche of basketballs. Our defense was not only not league-leading, it was trash.

And somehow, we stayed above .500. Barely.

It wasn't fun at the time, but in retrospect, it's actually not so bad. Only a few bad losses (the Washington Wizards, New Orleans Pelicans and Denver Nuggets - I think it's safe to say that until injuries pop up, the Chicago Bulls is a much better team than anyone anticipated), and respectable showings against two of the three best teams in the league (the scores might say otherwise, but Boston held its own for long stretches against both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors despite being without multiple starters).

Maybe, in fact, the sky is NOT falling.

With that, lets take a look at the state of the season so far:

Shooting was, along with rebounding, one of the concerns coming into the season. Yet strangely, it has been one of the team's strengths in the first sixth of the schedule. This is probably due to the fact that a lot more minutes have been going to players in the midst of their own offensive blossoming - Avery Bradley, and to a lesser extent, Rozier, Smart, and, based on what you'd think about him if you only looked at his stat lines from college, Brown - but a fair amount of the success is still hard to explain. Still, no reason to complain. OFFENSE: IMPROVED

This has been as much - if not more of - a mystery as the Celts' inexplicable offensive growth. With their injured players back, Boston looks close to what many expected at the start of the season, yet their absence left much of the team from last year in place, begging the question as to why a team largely intact from last season that led the league in defense would drop down to one of the league's worst, given only two players from that team - Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger - were absent who played significant minutes in 2015-16.

Clearly, Turner not exactly being renowned for his defensive prowess would not be the issue, but as has been noted previously, the lack of boards the current team has managed in the wake of Sullinger's decampment has had a serious impact on not just second-chance opportunities, but the team's ability to defend as a unit and on the perimeter. Horford and Crowder's return will help a lot, but the problem is still far from sorted out. DEFENSE: WORK IN PROGRESS

The host of injuries - and possibly believing in their growth before it actually was earned - put the team in a serious funk this month. But a reassessment and internal communication seems to have shook off the ill feelings, and the return of injured players certainly helped. The Celts seem to be themselves again, and running on hunger instead of ego. This is a very good thing. CHEMISTRY: IMPROVED

As I mentioned earlier, while it was no picnic, Boston actually did pretty well given everything it had on its plate. Chicago - and Dwyane Wade - were looking to make a statement at home, and Denver and Washington exposed what's going to be a problem going forward (lack of strong, rebounding big men), as bad as they are as teams, that's not going to be as bad in this era as it might have been in others. It will be a problem in general, though, and will make the Celts struggle in some games they have no business being behind in. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. LOOKING BACK: ACCEPTABLE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

November isn't quite done yet, with two more likely wins - at the Miami Heat and at home against the Detroit Pistons - and one likely loss, hosting the San Antonio Spurs. Then we are in December proper, which starts with Boston hosting the Sacramento Kings, another likely win. The trip to play the Philadelphia 76ers should also result in a win, but then we can expect a tough game away against the Houston Rockets. If the Celts drop that one, a game at the Orlando Magic should get them back to winning ways in time to face two more likely rough games against the Toronto Raptors and a weaker - but still dangerous - Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Celtics then travel to San Antonio, where hopefully they can eke out a win against Greg Popovich and company, then get a pair of rematches against the Charlotte Hornets and the Heat. A tilt with the Memphis Grizzlies may depend on how their bodies are holding up that deep in the season as much as on the continuation of the better-than-expected play they've shown lately, and a rematch against the Indiana Pacers might be tougher than recent games imply.

We close out the month with a home rematches against the Thunder, Grizzlies and Heat, and an away rematch against the Knicks - all winnable but likely challenging games - and one likely loss - assuming no moves have gone down as the trade deadline draws closer, and no injuries have affected the opposing team - a probable loss to the Cavaliers.

So, between now and January, Boston has four likely wins (Kings, Magic, 76ers, Pacers), twelve challenging games (Heat, Pistons, Houston, Raptors, Thunder, Hornets, Heat, Grizzlies, Thunder, Knicks, Grizzlies, Heat), and three unlikely wins (Spurs, Spurs, Cavs). Boston will probably drop one of their likely wins and win one of their likely losses, and assuming key players stay healthy, should win about seven or eight of the challenging games. I'm optimistic the Celts are on the cusp of a streak powered by the new chemistry and return of Jae and Al, so I think the positive forecast is realistic.

My prediction, then, is three of four for the easy, eight of twelve from the challenging, and one of three from the hard games, for a total of a 14 - 8 record for the month. LOOKING FORWARD: LIKELY GOOD

Which brings us to:

For a while, it looked there was going to be little chance for Boston to end up with the hoped-for second seed going into the playoffs, but with a little more time things have brought that goal back into reach. Currently, the Celts are in a three-way tie for the third seed in the Eastern Conference, along with the Raptors and Bulls, and are only trailing the Atlanta Hawks and Cavs by one and three games respectively.

The Hawks are looking at a rough stretch with games against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers (weird, right?), Warriors, Pistons, Raptors and Thunder coming soon, and the Raptors staring down the Lakers, Hawks, Cavs, and Boston may also find themselves in Boston's rear view mirror should things break right. SEEDING: ACCEPTABLE TO GOOD

Few teams in the league have as many young players to figure out where to place with an eye to both retaining their rights and improving them as individuals, but Boston's smart front office and strong overseas and NBA D-league ties have helped out in a big way. Granted, they had to let go of R.J. Hunter and Ben Bentil, but keeping players like Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, and Abdel Nader in the fold may one day pay off big, and the loss of valued teammates like Hunter has not only propelled James Young to actually earn his keep on the effort end of things for a change, but also lit a fire under Jaylen that will only help him stay focused. DEVELOPMENT: VERY GOOD

If a major move comes this year, it will probably be in this stretch, or the month after. While Boston had to flush some assets (namely, the rights to Bentil's and Hunter's contracts) in the lead-up to the regular season, there's still a fair amount of gems in Danny Ainge's future assets, as well as the players on the current roster, or playing in Portland or overseas. Perhaps more than any other team, they are best positioned to make moves, whether for a franchise player or deep rotation upgrade.

Rebounding and rim protection are two areas the team desperately needs help, so keep an eye on targets with low cap impact or one-year deals to address these issues. Shooting is still an issue, though much less so than was anticipated at the start of the year, so Boston may simply seek to extend the progress that's come internally. I won't make predictions for major moves just yet - it's still too early and there's way too much smoke - but I won't rule one out given the sheer volume of smoke currently wafting around the league. WAR CHEST: TOP NOTCH

After landing Horford  and getting in the room with Kevin Durant this summer, the mostly-BS notion that free agents don't come to Boston was put to bed (you can't sign agents when you have no cap space, and Boston has had very little to use over the last two decades). Currently, the Celts are walking a tightrope to keep cap space available for a top-tier max player, and staying on it probably means rejecting a lot of potential players who could help with rebounding, rim protection, and shooting - and could force them to let Olynyk walk after his contract expires, depending on timing, interest, and free agent signings across the league. Still, these are problems nearly every team in the league would LOVE to have, so for now: FREE AGENTS: GOOD/VERY GOOD

While things haven't gone as well as they could have, they certainly could have gone much worse. Hurt players are back, the record and seeding didn't get too bruised, and has had the added bonus of throwing minutes to younger, developing players who may end up the better for it come April. The rebounding and continuing health of key players is not a settled issue, nor is the direction the roster will take, but the next month will go far towards answering those questions. Given the issues the team has had on its plate, what looked like time to hit the panic button to some is starting to look less scary. Hopefully, that's a fact. STATE OF THE TEAM: GOOD, AND LIKELY TO IMPROVE

Did we miss anything? Do you disagree with any of the assessments above? Let us know your thoughts below in the comment section.

For more stories on the Celtics, keep reading Celticslife! For more by Justin, click here.

Crowder photo via
Follow Justin at @justinquinnn