The Boston Celtics went into the 2016-2017 season looking to take another step forward in their rebuild and did just that. They drafted Jaylen Brown and signed Al Horford, a big name free agent name the Celtics aren’t known for signing. From the start, Horford fit in perfectly. He gave the Celtics a veteran presence with an all-around skill set they lacked in the Stevens era. Horford, alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, tallied 53 wins and placed first in the Eastern Conference. In the playoffs, the Celtics won their first two playoff series under Brad Stevens and met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. They lost in five games, but took major strides in their rebuild. The strides continued into the offseason.
Key offseason additions
PG Kyrie Irving
SF Gordon Hayward
SF Marcus Morris
SF Jayson Tatum
Key offseason subtractions
PG Isaiah Thomas
SG Avery Bradley
SF Jae Crowder
C Kelly Olynyk
Projected starting five
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Al Horford
*Jaylen Brown will start over Morris if suspended.
Last season the Celtics struggled to find a second scorer outside of Isaiah Thomas. Danny Ainge made sure that wasn’t an issue this season. With the third pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Ainge selected Duke forward Jayson Tatum. Tatum averaged 16.8 points per game his freshman season and was the best scoring forward in his draft class. Next Ainge got aggressive in free agency and signed Gordon Hayward to a three-year contract with a player option on his fourth season. Hayward averaged 21.9 points per game last season with the Utah Jazz, his first scoring more than 20. Finally, Ainge packaged Thomas to acquire Kyrie Irving. Irving’s averaged 18.5 points or more per game in his six-year career and one of the best closers in the NBA. This is easily Brad Stevens best offensive team since he joined the NBA in 2013.
Speaking of Brad Stevens, he’s been the Celtics bright spot throughout this entire rebuild. He took over a team that traded away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and gave them confidence for the future. His first season in Boston he led the Celtics to 25 wins. Since then, the franchise made it to the playoffs three consecutive seasons with 40, 48 and 53 win seasons, respectively. Get used to seeing Stevens on the Celtics sidelines. He’s 40 and not going anywhere.
Just like the last few seasons, rebounding will be a major issue for the Celtics. Al Horford led the Celtics in rebounding last season with 6.6 per game. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson rounded out the top-5 and are not on the current roster. This puts pressure on Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart to pick up the rebounding slack and neither averaged more than five last season. This issue will need to be addressed by the trade deadline if the Celtics want to go deep in the playoffs.
The Celtics are a team that loves to shoot the deep ball. They finished third behind the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers in three-point attempts per game. They tied the Golden State Warriors in three-point field goals made, but percentage wise ranked 14th at 35.9 percent. Even though the roster made major improvements this summer, they didn’t add a reliable bench shooter. Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko signed with new teams and were the teams best two bench shooters. Jayson Tatum will be the teams best offensive bench player, but he’s not a knock-down shooter. Luckily, this team won’t have problems scoring points.
SF Jaylen Brown
The Boston Celtics took a risk drafting Jaylen Brown with the third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He wasn’t the best prospect available, but Danny Ainge liked his fit in Brad Stevens system. After one season, Brown proved worth the risk.
Brown played in a total of 95 regular season and playoff games last season and started in 20. He showed offensive inconsistencies but showed major defensive potential. Last season he guarded every position except center and will be relied on as a defensive stopper this season without Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. His defense will define his game next season, but I expect major strides in his offensive game.
The Celtics are big winners this offseason and have big expectations this season. Trading for Kyrie Irving and signing Gordon Hayward proved this team is ready to compete for a championship. Brad Stevens and Hayward almost won a National Championship together at Butler and want to win together in the NBA. Irving also made it public he believes he can win a championship without LeBron James. This team isn’t championship ready yet, but they’re built for success with Irving.