NBA Season Preview: Boston Celtics

2019-20 Regular Season: 48-24 (.667%), 3rd in Eastern Conference, Lost in Conference Finals
Head Coach: Brad Stevens

The Celtics came into last year with modest expectations, having lost both Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, while replacing them with Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. Walker had been coming off three straight All-Star appearances with Charlotte, as well as the best season of his career to that point – 25.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg & 5.9 apg. While he did make another All-Star team, Walker’s grade for last year would be “meets expectations”. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum was looking to rebound after a season where many thought he regressed. He did not disappoint, as he often looked like the best player on the floor, and made his first All-Star game. With Tatum, Walker and the breakout of Jaylen Brown, the Celtics were able to make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals by sweeping Philadelphia, beating the Raptors in a nip and tuck series that went the distance, before losing to the Heat in 6 games. What should we expect from the C’s for the shortened 2020-21 season? 

Can Jayson Tatum Get Even Better and Lead the Celtics?

Jayson Tatum made a leap last year that few NBA players do. He went from promising young player, with a good pedigree, to an All-Star & 3rd Team All-NBA - often looking like the most dominant player on the court in the process. Tatum had a truly remarkable year averaging 23.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg to go along with 1.4 bpg & 0.9 spg, with excellent percentages – 40.3% on 3-balls, 81.2% free throw shooting & 48.0% on all 2 point attempts. And while his offensive game was toast of the town, don’t sleep on his defense, which has improved over his three years in the NBA. Tatum knows that defense is important and wants to be the best defender in the league. He received 20 points in the voting on All-Defensive teams last year and projects to earn more as his career progresses. What’s next for Tatum? In the upcoming year, Tatum should be able to score a few more points per game, more efficiently, and learn to be a better playmaker (perhaps go from 3.0 to 5.0 apg), all while playing top-notch defense and leading the Celtics. The Celtics front office was also quite pleased with his progress as they rewarded him with a 5-year, $195M extension which will keep him in Boston until at least 2024-25. The Celtics will go as far as the former Duke Blue Devil will take him, which may be another deep playoff run. No doubt it will be fun, and there will be some highlights along the way.

Does Tristan Thompson put the Celtics over the top? 

Boston wasn’t exactly deep at the Center position last year, and while it didn’t hurt them most of the year, it did come back to bite them in the ass against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. All-Star big Bam Adebayo took advantage of the Celtics lack of size up front and consistently schooled Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter. There’s no doubt that Theis exceeded all expectations and proved to be a solid center, but in order to take that next step they needed to upgrade. Bringing in Tristan Thompson on a 2-year deal worth $19M is exactly what the doctor ordered. Coming off a career year averaging 12.0 ppg & 10.1 rpg, Thompson brings championship playoff experience and hustle to the Celtics, as well as size - which is what the C’s need. While only 6'9", Thompson has a 7'1" wingspan and plays bigger than his height, which will be important when trying to deal with the likes of Adebayo or Joel Embiid in the playoffs. When you can add Robert Williams into the mix of Thompson and Theis, the Celtics are definitely in a better position down the middle for this year and it may just take them over the top.

What Impact will Aaron Nesmith Have?

The Celtics may have gotten away with one of the steals of the 2020 NBA Draft, sneaking away with Aaron Nesmith, who was considered the best pure shooter available. As we stated in our NBA Draft preview, the further he fell in the draft, the less he'd be relied upon to help immediately, which would help with his overall development. The Celtics are a perfect spot for Nesmith to land. With a clean shooting motion and quick release, he'll be money for the C's in the catch-and-shoot game as well as spotting up for the short corner three ball. Nesmith plays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much. He’s coachable, doesn’t have a huge ego and has a will to win. Boston will have the patience to work him into the lineup and get him used to the rigors of NBA life. It's what good teams do when they find gems in the draft. It's easy to see a playoff game being turned on a dime when Nesmith hits a flurry of three pointers in succession. 

Can the Celtics Make the NBA Finals?

The 72 game regular season should be no problem for the Celtics - they have a great opportunity to finish 1st in the Eastern Conference before the real basketball begins. Even though their two most important players (Tatum/Brown) are young, they've made the playoffs every year of the Tatum Era and have won five playoff series in that time frame. The team knows how to get it done in the regular season, and they've shown they can win in the playoffs. The East however, isn't getting any easier. The Bucks are re-tooling. The Raptors young core is still getting better. The Kyrie/KD Nets will make noise. The Heat will want to prove last year was no fluke. Don't sleep on 76ers with their new front office and coaching staff. 

Tom's Take: The Celtics have their work cut out for them, but we will see Boston in the NBA Finals once again. 

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller_Icon Sportswire