There’s been a lot for Celtics fans to ponder this summer. The departure of Isaiah Thomas was an emotional one, but the arrival of two highly-coveted All Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward certainly helps to ease the pain. Ditto the budding friendship between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
It’s going to be an exciting season in Celticsland, but such impressive roster overhaul will lead to unforeseen trials and tribulations. Likewise, new roles and expectations should shake things up considerably.
As we learned during this past off-season period, the only predictable aspect of life in the NBA is unpredictability. Crazy happenings reign supreme, and a seemingly safe bet rarely holds true. So in busting out some tea leaves and playing fortune teller, let’s go for the gusto:
1. Marcus Smart leads the team in rebounding
First things first, Sam’s piece on Smart is required reading for this prediction. It breaks down not only the intangibles that make Marcus so valuable, but also the statistical voids he he may fill this season. It’s in that line of thinking that I believe Marcus Smart will end the season as the team’s top rebounder.
Smart is the NBA’s best linebacker. He understands open space exceedingly well, and knows when and how to attack the ball. On defense, this affords him a chance to crash the boards with the best of them. On the other side of the ball, Stevens offense should feature Irving, Gordon, and Al Horford shooting threes at a frequent clip, giving Smart a tremendous opportunity to do what he does best.
Marcus Smart in open space is a sight to beholdhttps://t.co/s6dfgwbn9Q
— Cameron Tabatabaie (@CTabatabaie) September 14, 2017
Last season, it was Avery Bradley who handled the juicy rebounds to the tune of 6.1 boards per contest, the second highest mark on the Celtics. Smart on his own managed 3.9 rebounds per game despite logging just 24 starts. Even with the additions of Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris, Smart could very well fight his way to rebounding nirvana.
It’s worth remembering that Russell Westbrook ended the 2016-17 campaign with 10.7 rebounds per game. A tenacious guard can grab plenty of boards in a league obsessed with long-range shooting, and they don’t come much more tenacious than Marcus Smart.
2. Kyrie Irving has more than one 50-point game
I believe Irving will do fine in sharing the ball and minimize his relentless knack for isolation basketball. That said, Uncle Drew has just two 50-point games in his entire career, meaning this forecast is predicated on what would be a pretty remarkable up-tick in hero ball.
Last year, Boston was happy to let Isaiah Thomas do his King in the Fourth schtick on a regular basis. As one of the league’s most astounding closers, Irving has a chance to capitalize on a similar opportunity. As such, I think Irving will go full-blown microwave on several occasions, and at least twice eclipse 50 points in a game.
Not only will the Celtics face long stretches of mediocrity playing in the Eastern Conference, but there’s a bigger issue. As we’re about to discuss, Boston may have some internal struggles to manage, and this will require Irving to occasionally play savior to win games.
3. Boston is fourth in the East on Christmas Day
The struggles that I expect from the Celtics will come early. Boston’s elite scoring talents and smart basketball minds shouldn’t have much of an issue on offense. Where the C’s will disappoint is on defense.
This isn’t a knock on any one individual; in fact the Celtics have the length and versatility to play exceptional defense. It’s a matter of cohesion and roster turnover. Brad Stevens will need to integrate 11 new players into the mix, and as roles and rotations take shape, defensive assignments and chemistry may lag.
I also think teams like Toronto, Washington, Cleveland, and even Milwaukee will do better out of the gate as Boston sorts through its new identity. For that reason, the C’s will be hard pressed to set the pace in conference in the early goings.
Shortly thereafter, things will start to click, and, well…
4. The East All Star team features three Celtics players
Barring any injury, Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are locks to make the Eastern Conference All Star team. They’re too talented and too well-liked to not.
Elsewhere in the Hub, a few other Celtics players could earn enough votes to force the issue and find a place at All Star weekend. Steady improvement from Jaylen Brown or Marcus Smart will demand recognition around the league, and Al Horford’s Godfather status as the jack-of-all-trades guru could also earn praise.
As much as I believe in Brown, Smart, or Horford, this prediction also respects just how lopsided fan voting can be. If last year is any indication, even Terry Rozier should pop up as a potential All Star. Seriously, look at the voting from January of last year:
Outside of Irving and Gordon, I don’t think any Celtics players will make the cut via fan voting. But I think basketball fans in Boston will cause quite a stink, especially if the team starts heating up after Christmas.
From there, a depleted East could have spots on its All Star team for some fresh faces. Hajjs to the Western Conference and injuries could open up a half-dozen All Star spots, and Boston’s loaded roster could help fill in the gaps.
5. Brad Stevens wins Coach of the Year
This Celtics team really does have the talent to make a big splash next year. The challenges of defensive identity, chemistry, and balance will ultimately fall on Brad Stevens. And coach has history on his side.
In his tenure in Boston, Stevens has consistently found success even in the face of unbelievable roster turnover. He’s taken the likes of Jordan Crawford, Evan Turner, and Isaiah Thomas and helped them to elevate their games considerably. His teams have always punched above their weight-class, but now he’ll be charged with taking a club with high expectations and delivering.
I have all the faith in the world that Coach Stevens will lead this Celtics team back to the top of the Eastern Conference. That in and of itself should be enough for the basketball community to bestow Stevens with the well deserved honor of Coach of the Year.
Like I said, the NBA is so appealing because of its knack for the unforeseeable. Any of the above has a good chance of coming to fruition, and all the same could be unspeakably off target. I know that’s a fancy way of hedging my bets, but it’s true.
Forming a JV super-team comes with a microscope and plenty of ups and downs. Hold on to your butts.
Please follow me on Twitter @CTabatabaie
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