With the Boston Celtics set to kick off the first of their two preseason games tonight, the new NBA season is right around the corner. With that in mind, it seems like a good time to assess the state of the Celtics as they head into the new season.
As one of the last four teams remaining the NBA bubble from the previous season, the Celtics will face a quick turnaround for the start of the new season. Taking that into account, it makes sense that the team will not be fully healthy at the start of the season. Kemba Walker won’t be ready for the start of the season, which will most likely force new signing Jeff Teague into a starting role for the time being. New big man Tristan Thompson also suffered a hamstring injury recently, which puts his availability for the start of the season in question as well.
Fortunately, the Celtics are well stocked with depth to hold them over until they return to full health. Daniel Theis will continue to hold the starting center minutes, with Rob Williams coming off the bench. Between Carson Edwards, Tremont Waters, and Payton Pritchard, one of them will need to step up for the time being and be the primary ball handler off the bench. If not, Brad Stevens can probably get crafty with his lineups to make sure Teague, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum are leading the offense at most points during the game.
Once the team gets healthy, the Celtics should pick up right where they left off. With the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown leading the charge, this team will have a chance to win every game they play. The big key will be how the pieces around them play.
If Kemba Walker can come back from his injury, and play like the Kemba of old, that will be a massive help. Walker was clearly not himself against the stiff defensive zones that the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat implemented during the playoffs last season. And while some of Kemba’s production was picked up by Smart, who had a number of breakout performances during the playoffs, it remains to be seen whether Smart can consistently be the guy he was during the playoffs for the Celtics last season. If they both can play up to their full potential, that will go a long way in determining how far this team will go in the playoffs.
It will also be important to see what some of the recent draft picks can do to contribute to the team. Both Rob Williams and Grant Williams played some big minutes in the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see how Stevens utilizes them in the rotation throughout the regular season. Aaron Nesmith, the Celtics first pick in the draft this year, is an absolute flamethrower from behind the arc. If he can carve out a spot in the rotation early and be the marksman he was in college, that will be a huge help to have off the bench.
While there hasn’t been too much that has changed for the Celtics, a quick look around the league will paint a different picture. To start, the Brooklyn Nets duo of old friend Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will finally hit the court for the first time together. That instantly makes the Nets a contender, and potential roadblock down the line in a potential playoff matchup. The Milwaukee Bucks added some key pieces, including Jrue Holiday, to play alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Philadelphia 76ers got rid of Al Horford’s awful contract and added shooters Danny Green and Seth Curry to complement Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. And, as the Celtics saw firsthand last season, the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors still loom large as contenders, despite not possessing some of the flashy names their competitors do.
With that in mind, the path to the Finals will certainly be more difficult for the Celtics this season. Whereas the Celtics stood pat for most of the offseason, other teams were quick to add new pieces and load up for a run at the Finals. If the team can continue to develop their younger players into key pieces of the rotation, and get back to full health, they will be up their with the best of the East. But their job has become a lot harder to accomplish since the last time we saw them take the court, and they may not have enough hang around with the big names in a best of seven series.