The Celtics are one of the most interesting teams going into the new season. Coming off a conference finals loss, there are many questions that need answers, and many problems that need fixing. The biggest question mark on this team, as it has been for the last few years, is the big man position.
Many Celtics fans have had that same concern about the interior presence for years. The Tristan Thompson addition definitely will help the Celtics, but it won’t solve the problem that’s been glaring for so many years.
Now, with that said, it’s still a good addition as it’s better than what the Celtics have had in the past. If there’s one thing Tristan Thompson is good at, it’s rebounding, something the Celtics have struggled with for years. He also started to shoot threes last year, which he never did previously, so it seems as though he’s slightly adjusting to the modern NBA.
Although it was only 0.4 attempts a game, it’s a trend in the right direction as it’s 0.4 more attempts than in any other season. If he can take a leap in his defensive game, it’s going to look like one of the most underrated offseason pickups of the year. Barring any more injuries to him and Kemba Walker, the Celtics should be running with a starting lineup of Walker, Smart, Brown, Tatum, and Thompson.
The thing to watch with Kemba Walker this season, is his knee injuries. With the increased number of back-to-backs this year, the Celtics need to be very careful in how they use Kemba in the offense, and how much time he gets throughout the season. The worst case scenario for Walker and the Celtics is yet another aggravation of the injury. Everyone has seen what Kemba can do on any given night, he just needs to make sure he’s on the court to do it.
There’s not much to say about Marcus Smart. He literally just has to keep doing what he does. Being the scrappy, grind it out defender. It can be argued that he needs to shoot the ball less, and that’s a totally understandable point, but most of the games where he shoots a lot, the offense is stagnant anyways. He has an occasional three point barrage, and other nights he’ll shoot constant bricks, so if there’s anything he should work on, it’s taking smarter shots.
Next up is Jaylen Brown. Watching most of the games last season, the biggest issue with Brown is his consistency. Even though his effective field goal percentage was a career high, some games it was hard to watch him shoot. Similar to Smart, one night he’d drop 30 points on 70% shooting, and the next night he’d go 1 for 9. Having great games followed by bad games multiple times throughout the season can be very deflating for a team and an individual’s confidence. If Brown can work on taking higher percentage shots and staying within his role on the team, he will be way more successful and effective.
Then we have the focal point of the team, Jayson Tatum. He is no longer a rising star in the league, he is a star. Coming off a career high 23.4 PPG season, Jayson Tatum is ready to take another huge leap in his game. Look for him to be guarding some of the better offensive players in the league, while also drawing the best defender nightly. Also with Kemba out for a couple weeks to start the season, Tatum might be one of the main distributors on the team. The issue to solve with Tatum isn’t with him as a player, but the way the Celtics use him. Whenever he was on the court last year, most to all of the offense was driven through him, and at times, it looked extremely forced. The team needs to make sure they have plays where Tatum can be involved by setting off-ball screens, cutting and dishing. If Tatum is driving to the lane or side-stepping into a three every time down the court, the offense becomes very stagnant and easy to defend.
Since I already talked about Thompson, let’s talk about another addition to the team, Jeff Teague. Teague will most likely be coming off the bench for the majority of the year, especially when Walker comes back. And if he can play a consistent 18-22 minutes a game, there’s an argument to be made that he could make a 6th man of the year push. There was once a time where Jeff Teague was an all-star with the Hawks, and if he can play even close to that level, he could be the leader of a dangerous bench squad. It was six years ago that he played at that level and he’s on the wrong side of 30, but he could still have some gas left in the tank and be an x-factor in many games.
Another bench player (or possible starter for that matter) that needs some attention is Robert Williams. The Time Lord has potential to be the anchor on defense for this team. He’s showed off his blocking and strength last season and if he continues that play, he’ll be a force in the paint. People criticize him and say that he doesn’t space the floor or have good offensive skills, but to be completely honest, in such a high octane offense, he doesn’t need to be good at offense. Tatum, Walker and Brown will be scoring 70 plus points a night combined in most games, so Williams doesn’t exactly NEED to be a threat on offense. Besides, he’s a good pick and roll big man who catches lobs well and has the occasional flashy dunk. The dude has real potential that he’s going to show this year.
Now onto the rookies. Aaron Nesmith was drafted with the 14th pick in this past year’s draft. Many NBA fans expected the Celtics to either trade the picks for a quality big man, or trade up in the draft for a better prospect, but that wasn’t done. And given the situation, the Celtics probably picked the best fit for the team at the 14th pick. Nesmith is a knockdown shooter, which is perfect for the Celtics bench, or even spot starts due to injury or rest. And with a good distributor in Teague also on the bench, look for a lot of off the screen three point shots from Nesmith, similar to what Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro did with the Heat last year. I’m not comparing Nesmith to Robinson or Herro at any level yet, I’m just saying they could be playing similar roles on their respective teams.
Payton Pritchard was selected with the 26th overall pick in this past draft. He might just be the most underrated rookie drafted this past year. He played all four years in college, so he’s most definitely ready to make an immediate impact in the league. Many successful point guards have multiple years of college experience, and Pritchard could add on to that list. Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard, have multiple years of college experience, just to name a few. Pritchard could be a spark off the bench if the offense is ice cold or he could be just a really good injury replacement. He’ll look like a player like Jalen Brunson if he can come in, do his job, hit shots, and be okay on defense.
Overall, this Celtics team can be very dangerous, but there are still a few things to work out. At the end of the day, the Celtics are going to be a very good team. I give them a ceiling of the 1 seed and a floor of the 4 seed at the end of the regular season. Either way, look for the Celtics to make a lot of noise this season and continue to prove themselves as a legitimate team in the east and maybe even take the huge step of reaching the Finals.
Image: USA Today