In the midst of last year's Eastern Conference Finals with Boston down 3-1 to the Heat, I made a poorly received Reddit post
suggesting that Boston could regret that series for decades. The basic
gist was that Boston had just blown their first genuine path to the
Finals since 2010 (KG's gem made 2012 fun, but I never saw that as a
serious contender). The Jays had undeniably bright futures, but I
pointed to the 2012 Thunder as an example of a team with "unlimited
potential" making the Finals (with 23 year old Durant, 23 year old
Westbrook and 22 year old Harden) never to return.
My fear was that with Hayward likely opting out to sign elsewhere (an
unpopular stance at the time) and the East potentially getting better,
we may have messed up our best chance in the Jayson Tatum era to win a
title. Before you know it, the Jays could hit free agency and go the
way of that early 00s Thunder team.
It was reactionary. Truthfully, I was hoping a little reverse
jinxery would get Boston back in the series. But alas, 26 games into
this season it appears my doomsday fear-mongering is seeming more and
more prescient. Here we are hovering with an underwhelming .500
record. Hayward's now in Charlotte just a half game behind us
potentially setting up a hilarious 4th/5th seed 1st round playoff series
against us if things continue on this trajectory. As feared, teams
like Philly and the Bucks have made important improvements. The
nightmarish Brooklyn Nets are gaining steam around their 3 prime
Hall-of-Famers. Things are looking bleak.
Despite all of this... honestly... I'm not worried.
Call me a serial contrarian, I guess. I think we'd all be wise to take
some of the advice of the fans who downvoted that Reddit post of mine
and remember we are still a promising young team built around two
budding stars with incredibly bright futures. I still think we'll be
On paper, barring injuries, we still are likely going to end up
better than last season's team come playoff time. As an exercise, I think it would be helpful to compare last year's Eastern Conference Finals team to this roster. Let's do this in a very methodical way going down that roster one by one sorted by minutes played and see where we stand.
2020 Playoff Roster Compared to 2021 Roster (sorted by minutes)
40.6 mpg - 2020 Jayson Tatum vs 2021 Jayson Tatum:
This all starts and ends with Jayson Tatum. He's the franchise player.
We only go as far as he takes us. By far our most impactful player.
Last year in the playoffs he was sensational. 25.7 points, 10 rebounds,
5 assists, 1 steal, 1.2 blocks with .434/.373/.813 shooting. For the
most part, he's picked up where he left off. 35.3mpg - 25.6 points,
7.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.2 steals with .450/.407/.874. Last
several games he's seen an uptick in his assist numbers as he evolves
into our primary playmaker. It's fair to point out he's struggled
scoring recently. In the 10 games since returning from COVID, he's only
shot over 50% once. His last 5 games in particular have been terrible.
35% shooting from the field and 34% from three. It's clear Tatum is
in a funk right now. It's arguably the biggest reason we've struggled
recently. When the best player is off, the whole team is off. It's
not something that concerns me, though. Long term, assuming he doesn't
have some lingering post-COVID health issues or get injured, it's an
easy assumption to make that 2021 Playoff Jayson Tatum will be better
than 2020 Playoff Jayson Tatum.
39.5mpg - 2020 Jaylen Brown vs 2021 Jaylen Brown:
Brown was fantastic in the playoffs. 21.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3
assists, 1.5 steals with .476/.358/.841 shooting. Nobody here needs me
to convince them how sensational he's been so far this season. The man
has seemingly taken another leap and has been shooting lights out. 26
points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.3 steals with .513/.409/.752
shooting in 33.2mpg. Brown should be better in the playoffs than he
was last year.
38.1mpg - 2020 Marcus Smart vs 2021 Marcus Smart:
Third most minutes on the team in the playoffs was none other than
All-Defense 1st team Marcus Smart. He's a huge part of this team's
success. We flat out don't beat the Raptors last season without Smart's
heroics. Let's not forget he's injured right now and these games could
be playing out a bit differently with him on the court. Presumably,
he'll play a big part come playoff time.
36.9 mpg - 2020 Kemba Walker vs 2021 Kemba Walker:
In the playoffs Kemba averaged 19.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds
with .441/.310/.852 shooting. He was reportedly playing through pain,
but still contributing at a relatively high level. He's reportedly
pain-free right now, but he's been hit-and-miss since his return. 16.3
points, 3.9 rebounds, 4 assists with 36%/36%/89% shooting in 27.8mpg
(much of his early games on minutes restriction). He is, however,
coming off a couple of his better games. 21 points against Toronto on
42%/62% shooting. 25 points on the Wizards with 50%/57% shooting.
Kemba's on the upswing. I've never been in the "sky is falling" camp
with Kemba. Though he might not be an ideal fit next to the Jays, he
still pencils in as a solid 3rd option. Come playoff time, assuming the
knee issues don't creep up again, I'm confident he'll be an important
part of our team's success.
28.4mpg - 2020 Daniel Theis vs 2021 Theis/Thompson:
Theis was a huge part of our team in the playoffs as our 5th man. He
averaged 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while playing huge
minutes. He was terrible from three in the playoffs (15% shooting), but
made an impact as our key big man. Here we are in 2021 with a 3-man
big lineup. On paper, it should make us better. Theis has seen his
minutes decrease to 24.1 while Tristan Thompson has taken 22.3. Theis
remains solid averaging 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1 block with
blistering .583/.418/.667 shooting. Thompson hasn't been outright
terrible either. Solid rebounder and decent defender. The two of them
might be slightly redundant, though. As I'll touch on later later,
moving Thompson might make sense sense. Regardless, the important thing
is that this role has not been downgraded and should be impactful come
16.1mpg 2020 Brad Wanamaker vs 2021 Pritchard/Teague:
Here we go. Now we're actually starting to genuinely deviate from
last season. I made a joke after tonight's loss that "the team hasn't
been the same since letting Brad Wanamaker walk". There's some truth to
it, though. Funny enough, Wanamaker is the only key contributor from
last year's ECF team that is no longer here. Brad was a steady hand in
the playoffs getting decent backup guard minutes and shooting
efficiently (44% from three). On paper, he was replaced this season by
Jeff Teague (17.6mpg), but at this point it's a role more obviously
going to Payton Pritchard (21.5mpg). Pritchard is having a solid season
averaging 8.1 points, 2.2 assists, 2.5 rebounds with .483/.448/.917
shooting. My expectation is that on this current trajectory with the
tightening of playoff rotations, Pritchard will take the bulk of the
minutes with Teague's role all but eliminated. All signs point to this
being an upgrade.
2020 Williams/Williams vs 2021 Williams/Williams:
Rounding out the key contributors of the 2020 ECF rotation was Robert
Williams (11.5mpg) and Grant Williams (10mpg). Without going too deeply
into either, I think it's absolutely fair to claim both of these
youngsters have shown signs of improvement this season. Time Lord has
seen his minutes increase to 15mpg and has proven impactful on both ends
. Grant is averaging 19.5mpg while quietly shooting 44% from three.
Both of these guys have evolved from fringe players to genuine assets
and I expect if they are still here come playoff time, they'll play
There you have it. That was our top 9 guys during last year's
playoff run. We also got some insignificant minutes from Semi and
Kanter (both about 9mpg with several DNPs), but our core 9 were the
above. You'll note that in the cases of Tatum, Brown, Smart and Kemba,
all of them had typical playoff minute bumps that you should count on
The Elephant in the Room: If you thought I was
leaving out Hayward to be cheeky, I wasn't. Yes, Gordon Hayward was on
our team last year. He played exactly 1 healthy playoff game, putting
up 12 points before getting injured in a first round victory. He later
returned on one leg a shadow of himself for 4 games, going 2-2 vs Miami.
Yeah, 1-legged Hayward helped in that series averaging 10.8 points
with 40%/29% shooting, but for the most part he was a non-factor and played zero part in us making the ECF.
I loved Hayward and saw him as an all-star level player, but you
simply can't claim that our playoff team will be "worse" without him.
He was irrelevant.
The bottom line is that come playoff time, we have all the tools to be better than we were during last year's playoff run.
So where do we go from here?: We're obviously
struggling right now. Some of this was an expected result of embarking
on "showcase season". We've predictably spent the first half of this
season playing with line-up configurations and getting close looks at
our bench of talent. If our only goal was to win regular season games, we'd probably be seeing a tight 8 man rotation mirroring last season, but "wining regular season games" isn't our only goal right now. Players like Semi (18.6mpg), Grant (19.5 mpg),
Javonte Green (15.5mpg) and even talent like Edwards (10.8mpg) and
Waters (10.6mpg) have gotten opportunities either to earn long-term
roles or showcase themselves as viable trade assets. For the most part,
they've all shown signs of improvement that could result in them being
desirable throw-ins in larger moves. Of course, this inconsistent
rotation with sporadic minutes makes it difficult for the team to get
into a rhythm. You should fully expect that to change in the second
half of the season and after the trade deadline as we settle on a core
We will likely look to clean up this rotation late next month. Romeo
Langford remains a key question mark. Despite the rough start, Aaron
Nesmith remains a wildcard to get in a groove. Can one of these guys
prove to be a key contributor late in the season? I could see the
team moving one or more of the bigs alongside some of the expendable
young talent as part of a move to acquire a solid switchable wing (we
only need to replace the underwhelming minutes Hayward played in 5
playoff games). The TPE has been talked about a ton at this point, but
it remains a real path we can use to make an immediate and tangible
upgrade to this team.
You look at the rotation that just lost by 13 to the woeful Wizards.
Sorted by minutes we had Semi (31), Nesmith (29), Walker (29), Brown
(29), Tatum (23), Theis (20), Thompson (18), Pritchard (17), Grant (12).
As a reasonable example, imagine us making a mid-season move of
Thompson + Grant + Semi + Nesmith + picks for a significant wing upgrade
utilizing the TPE. Come playoff time, our rotation could look more
like this: Tatum (40), Brown (40), Smart (38), Kemba (34), TPE Wing
Acquisition (33), Theis (25), Pritchard (25), Time Lord (22), Langford
(15). This is just one example, but the point is that we don't have to
make a profound shift to our roster to clean this up and be better than
last year's team.
Bottom line: Even without a major move, we still project out as a
better team than last year's ECF participant. We have several ways to
improve this roster that could push us even further over the top
LarBrd33 is a life-long Celtic fanatic who has contributed to CLNS, CelticsBlog, and CelticsLife. He currently co-hosts the “Celtics Reddit Podcast”. You can find more of his dumb takes via twitter @LarBrd33, via Reddit as u/LarBrd33, or via the weird Celtic videos he posts on his YouTube channel.
LarBrd33 is a life-long Celtic fanatic who has contributed to CLNS, CelticsBlog, and CelticsLife. He currently co-hosts the “Celtics Reddit Podcast”. You can find more of his dumb takes via twitter @LarBrd33, via Reddit as u/LarBrd33, or via the weird Celtic videos he posts on his YouTube channel - http://www.youtube.com/nedyken