The Boston Celtics are currently in one of the most precarious positions in the NBA. While they have two All-Stars and are clearly a playoff team, they will most likely have trouble competing with more powerful teams in the Eastern Conference, such as the Nets, Bucks, Heat, and maybe 76ers. Today, we’re going to preview the Boston Celtics, and look at the depth they have at each position, key departures and acquisitions, their new Head Coach, and what they need in order to become even more successful.
At point guard, the Celtics were able to pick up Dennis Schroder this summer, and assuming Marcus Smart shifts over to shooting guard, Schroder will start. His coming to the Celtics was a bit of a controversy, as the rival Los Angeles Lakers, who formerly had him on their team, offered him a contract worth four years and $64 million! However, Schroder believed he could get more from other teams, and when it was clear he couldn’t, he decided to sign a small one-year contract to prove that he was worthy of the big contract, and collect his payday next year. Schroder wanted to be brought to the Celtics on the mid-level exception, but the Celtics decided to offer him even less, a contract for one year and $5.9 million. Schroder still took it, and now they have a point guard who averaged 16 points per game last year for the Lakers on their team. The backup point guard will be Payton Prichard, who has shown flashes of All-Star potential during his first few seasons in the NBA. Although he hasn’t put up super impressive numbers (7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game), Pritchard is an incredible ball-handler and above-average shooter.
The Celtics have a fair amount of depth at shooting guard. If Smart does shift to shooting guard so Schroder can take over at point, then the All-Defensive 1st Team selection will clearly be the starter, locking up players like James Harden, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, and Donovan Mitchell. The backup will be Josh Richardson, who the Celtics did use their mid-level exception to bring in. Richardson is a solid scorer and shooter, and can bring some much-needed offense when both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are taking a rest. The Celtics also have their 14th overall pick from 2019, Romeo Langford, although he has been very disappointing in the first two years of his career.
At small forward, the Celtics have Brown, one of their two All-Stars. Since being drafted in 2017 out of the University of California, Brown has gotten better every year in his career, averaging 24.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game on 48.4% shooting. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist last year, derailing the Celtics’ hopes at making a playoff run. Now, he’ll be back and hopefully better than ever, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play close to 40 minutes per game. His main backup (the only one that has a chance of getting minutes behind him, with the exception of blowouts) is Aaron Nesmith. Drafted with the 14th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft out of Vanderbilt, Nesmith was considered the best pure shooter out of anyone in the 2020 Draft class. While he didn’t get a chance to shoot much, he did shoot 37% from three while averaging 14 minutes per game. If we look at his Per 36 minute numbers (numbers that show what a player would produce if he played 36 minutes per game), Nesmith averaged 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists, which means he too would be a valuable contributor off the bench.
The Celtics have one of the best wing players in the NBA at power forward, and that is Jayson Tatum from Duke University. Like Brown, Tatum has gotten better every year, and in 2020, he was named to the All-NBA 3rd Team and an All-Star. While he was snubbed from the All-NBA Teams in 2021, he was an All-Star once again and his numbers only got better: 26.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game on 46% shooting from the field. However, this year may be difficult for Tatum, as it’s the first time he will be the undisputed leader of a team. From 2017 until 2019, Kyrie Irving was the undisputed leader of the team, and from 2019-2021, it was Kemba Walker, another All-Star point guard when healthy. Now, it’s Tatum’s turn to take command of the ship. Among his backups are Grant Williams (whose face bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Damian Lillard), Juan Hernangomez, and the athletic Jabari Parker.
At center, the Celtics have three main guys they’re going to roll with. The starting spot will most likely belong to Robert Williams. Known as “The Time Lord,” Williams is an ultra-athletic big man who can catch lobs and block shots at an astounding rate, and is still very young. Via trades, Al Horford is returning to the Celtics, as the All-Star big man played for the team from 2016 until 2019. Horford brings veteran experience, and is familiar with the Celtics’ playbook, all of which will help him fit in easily with the team. The last center is Enes Kanter, who at 28 years old is entering his athletic prime and averaged a double-double last year. Kanter has played for many different teams, and he played for Boston during the 2019-20 season.
Two major changes occurred for the Celtics this offseason that happened off the court. For one, Danny Ainge, former Celtics’ champion and longtime President of Basketball Operations, has stepped down. He is being replaced by Brad Stevens, who was previously the Celtics’ Head Coach. This could explain why Horford was brought in … Stevens is trying to run with what took the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017. However, everyone is a year older, and while I think Stevens will be a good President of Basketball Operations, I don’t know if he can match Ainge’s level of success.
Since the Celtics coach transitioned to the front office, they were in the market for a new Head Coach, and did not waste any time hiring Ime Udoka. I wrote about the hiring here if you’re interested, but in a quick summary, Udoka played basketball professionally in the NBA and overseas, and this is his first job as a Head Coach. He also has some chemistry with Celtics’ players because he coached them on the 2019 FIBA team. There’s no way to know if he will be as effective as Brad Stevens, but Celtics fans will certainly hope so.
As I mentioned earlier, the Celtics’ dilemma is that they are a playoff team, but because the Eastern Conference is so stacked, it’s unrealistic to expect that they can make the NBA Finals or even the Eastern Conference Finals with their current roster. What they need is a trade for an All-Star or near All-Star level player, just like the Milwaukee Bucks did last year. The Bucks had MVP and DPOY Giannis Antetokounmpo and All-Star Khris Middleton, but until they traded for defensive ace Jrue Holiday, they weren’t true contenders to win. While the Celtics have their defensive ace in Smart, it might be helpful to bring in a player of Holiday’s caliber in order to become true championship contenders… if that’s the path that the Celtics are trying to pursue.
This season, I think the Celtics will win 48-55 games, and finish as the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. That is, if they don’t make a game-changing trade sometime this season. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!