First off sorry about not posting for a while guys, but basketball is starting up again so here we go!
What we should expect from this group moving forward into the 2018 season? With new additions in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are positioning themselves for a potential run at the Eastern Conference Finals and a more even meeting against LeBron James and his Cavaliers.
Here are some of the things I expect from the 2018 Boston Celtics:
1. An Improvement in Offensive Production
The Celtics have been a team largely centered around defense and hustle, but they went out and got two stars whose careers have been largely reliant on producing at the other side of the ball. Kyrie Irving is a ball-handling wizard who has shown the ability to score in bunches and carry a team on the offensive side of the floor. During the 2017 season, Irving recorded his highest points-per-game output throughout his entire career, torching the rest of the league for 25.2ppg.
At the same time, he showed a knack for racking up assists, posting his second highest assists per game average of his career (5.8). In Boston, Irving should be the alpha of the group, and really blossom in a system that rewards ball movement and sharing of the ball, while also giving him the freedom to take over in isolation mode whenever he feels he has an advantage.
Up next is the man of the hour, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is a do-it-all kind of forward with skills to lead a team, as shown by his consistent improvement in every statistical category throughout his career with the Utah Jazz. According to Basketball Reference, the Butler product put up 5.4ppg while playing a measly 16 minutes per game. Fast forward to 2017, and Hayward turned into an All-Star with a versatility that very few forwards possess in the league today, averaging 21.9ppg on 47% shooting from the field, including 40% from beyond the 3 point line.
I have a strong feeling that the moment that Al Horford and these two newcomers learn to use their skillsets in unison, the Celtics will be one of the offensive powerhouses most equipped to handle the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
2. A Much Improved Marcus Smart
The Celtics took Marcus Smart 6th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft with the hopes he could become a promising two way player.
When he first came into the league, Marcus was a defensive ball-hawk that could lockdown some of the best offensive guards in the league, and potentially also bang down low with some select forwards in the post. He was also a very reliable player when it came to making basketball-savvy plays, as it seemed like every night he would be diving for loose balls or getting an offensive rebound to ice the game.
But the Celtics are a team largely based on the three-point revolution, and as a team committed to the deep ball, it calls for most of their players to be at least respectable shooters. Marcus Smart has averaged a putrid 29% from beyond the arc during his career in Boston, according to Basketball Reference. It doesn’t help when he takes numerous contested shots throughout the game.
But Marcus Smart has taken notice, slimming down and working on his shot relentlessly during this past summer. According to NBC Sports Boston, Marcus wanted to lower his weight from last season because it was causing back problems and limited his athletic ability.
“Throughout the playoffs I was having really bad back pains… It was really hard for me to move” Smart told Media. “My back was killing me during games, before games, after games. I just knew something had to change. I was 240 [pounds] trying to guard guys like John Wall and Kyrie Irving. That’s not going to work.”
Marcus shot impressively during his first preseason game against the Charlotte Hornets, and I expect a big improvement shooting-wise from him in this upcoming season due in large part to his slimmer physique. If you missed out on his highlights check out the following video below
3. Some Possible Defensive woes
The Boston Celtics, as mentioned earlier, have been a team largely based on defense, hustle, and heart. And while the Celtics improved in many of the areas in which they needed to from last year, they most certainly lost the defensive identity that made them who they were.
Jae Crowder was a versatile forward, capable of switching onto basically any position (Aside from maybe the 5 spot) and defending at an elite level. He was also one of the Celtics best catch and shoot players, but his defensive capabilities are what made him so coveted by many teams around the league.
Avery Bradley had a similar impact.
One of the longest tenured Celtics, dating back to the 2008 championship team, Bradley was the hustle and the defensive motor that kept the Celtics from getting dominated by some of the league’s best backcourt players. If it wasn’t for Bradley, there would have been numerous more 40 point games from Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry whenever they played the Celtics.
Danny Ainge saw something special in both of these guys, perhaps even seeing some of himself when he selected Bradley with the 19th pick in the 2010 Draft.
Unless Jaylen Brown turns into a defensive menace overnight and brings forth the type of versatility that Crowder had, and Marcus Smart’s new slim figure helps him with quicker guards like John Wall and Stephen Curry, I think the Celtics struggle defensively at least for the beginning part of the season. Expect a learning curve as the teams get accustomed to how they want to play and the Celtics figure it out collectively on defense.