Going into the season opener, here was the worst case scenario: Despite the significant offseason acquisitions, Boston’s lack of chemistry proved too much to beat the Cavaliers. Exhausted from the first game of the season, facing an MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokoumpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston loses their home opener and starts the season 0-2. Kyrie looked unprepared to have his own team; Skinny-Marcus still couldn’t shoot; Boston’s rebounding was abysmal.
Again: Worst. Case. Scenario.
But we all know what happened, and a lot has been said and written about Gordon Hayward’s injury. This isn’t a piece about Hayward’s injury, specifically, but it can’t be ignored when looking at the team going forward. Let’s just leave it at this: We’re all wishing you a speedy recovery and can’t wait to see you back on the court.
Stock Down: Celtics’ 2017/2018 Title Hopes
The stock here was already quite low to begin out with, but the first five minutes of the season opener gave reason to hope, gave a sense of optimism and potential—this team looked to be in a small group that could contend for a title in the NBA. Even at their best they were underdogs to Golden State, but Boston appeared to be in that second tier. A part of the group of NBA teams one break away from competing for a title.
But the undervalued stock plummeted on Wednesday. There is still plenty to be optimistic about for this team, and the injury puts more focus on some of the younger players, forcing them into bigger roles and hopefully pushing them to become contributors sooner rather than later. Boston is now a step lower. Still talented, still a tough out, and still likely to make the playoffs—but this team won’t be feared by that upper echelon anymore, and looks to be more of a scrappy tough out than a true contender.
Stock Up: Jaylen Brown
It’s easy to focus solely on trades and free agent signings, but one of the biggest factors in a team improving is the development of young players. It can be tempting to see a player in his first or second year and think of him as a finished product, as a static asset. But Brown—who will only be able to get his first legal beer next week—is a developing player and looks ready to make the leap.
It wasn’t just his numbers in the first three games; I think we are all pleasantly surprised with 17.3PPG and 6.3RPG to begin the season. But the aggression he has been playing with so far. He attacked the lane against LeBron James with a confidence of a veteran but the athleticism of a second year player. This is exciting for the sophomore from Cal.
With Hayward out for the season, too much will be put on Brown’s shoulders. As of now he lacks a consistent outside shot and playmaking ability to really make up for Hayward’s departure. Still, Brown’s development is exciting and he will keep this team in several games.
Stock Up: Jayson Tatum’s Rookie of the Year Chances
Going into the season, Tatum’s odds of winning Rookie of the Year ranged from 8-1 to 10-1. As the season was getting started it looked like a sucker bet: Tatum wasn’t going to get the minutes and, even if he did play himself into the main rotation, he was always going to be a fourth option on offense. Rookies that win the award are usually on bad teams and get a ton of minutes; a chance to build up the stats.
All that changed in game one, and Tatum has been taking advantage. In the opener his shot, while silky-smooth at the release, was clanking off every part of the basket. But he did what you would want any rookie to do: he started focusing on defense, going after rebounds, taking care of the hustle plays—basically the type of play that will earn you more minutes. By the second half, his shot started to fall.
Tatum is averaging 12.3 PPG and 9 RPG over three games. He has a track record of elite scoring ability, so there is every reason to believe that as the game slows down for him, as he get’s a feel for the physicality and speed of the NBA, his scoring will tick up. He’s looked better and more confident each game, going 9–9 from the line in his last outing against Philadelphia; he even contributed three blocks in that game, helping Boston get their first win of the season.
Stock Down: Marcus Smart
At first, I wanted to just focus on his consistently below average shooting—another lesson of taking too much away from the preseason. The first two games showed Smart reverting back to his career norms, going 9–29 from the floor and only 3–11 from deep.
This season is something of a make-or-break one for Smart. He’ll have a job due to his defensive prowess and the tenacity to make the right clutch steal or out-rebound someone six inches taller than him. But if Smart can shoot, he becomes a borderline all star and in line for a huge contract at the end of the season rather than a spark-plug, glue-guy off the bench.
Of course it’s hard to get a contract if you can’t stay on the court. It’s only the third game of the season and he’s already missed a game, which takes his overall stock down. Smart seems confident he’ll play against the Knicks but any time you “tweak” both ankles it doesn’t look good.
Stock Up: Terry Rozier
When Rozier was drafted it was panned as a massive reach by Danny Ainge. Since then, Terry has steadily improved each season and really took a leap in last year’s playoffs. He can be trusted off the bench and has the speed and agility to slice through opponents’ second units and either finish or make plays for others. He’s also improved playing off the ball, shooting over 40% from behind the arc in the young season. With Hayward out, Boston needs someone to step up and hit three-point shots.
What’s really been exciting about Rozier is that he, like Tatum, is making all of the hustle plays. He’s only 6’2” but has seven rebounds in each of his last two games. He’s scrappy on defense and has the speed to keep up with opposing point guards. Rozier has worked his way into being a major contributor for this team, and Boston will need him to continue to do so.
Stock Down: Stability
It seemed like at the start of this season the dust had settled (as much as it ever does around Danny Ainge) for the Celtics. The past four seasons saw Brad Stevens use 62 different starting lineups. Sixty-Two! Stevens was piecing together a team that Ainge was constantly trying to mold for the future. The maximization of assets superseded team needs in the moment.
And yet, every season they improved and overachieved.
This season, despite having such massive turnover—only four players returning from the 2017 Eastern Conference Champions—seemed different. Boston had a plan for the present, a set rotation, a roster that was not only chalk full of of talent and potential, but one that complimented itself, that made sense. The rotation was as close to locked in as it has been in the Brad Stevens era, nine deep and set, with several younger players vying for the role of tenth man. Sure, for some match-ups maybe Boston would go extra big or extra small but the team was, more or less, stable.
And that’s where the trickle-down effect of Hayward’s injury comes in. Three games in, three different starting lineups. Players like Semi Ojeleye, Shane Larkin, even two-way contract holding Jabari Bird are all contributing and competing for regular rotation spots.
So, unfortunately, it’s back to normal for Boston, which is anything but stable.