Tomorrow, the Celtics quest for banner #18 begins. For the most part, throughout the first three seasons of the Brad Stevens era, the Celtics have over achieved. This includes back-to-back playoff appearances, where they improved from the 7th seed in 2014 to the 5th seed last year.
New C’s Come With High Expectations
However, in the 2016/2017 season, the Celtics will have to deal with something they haven’t had to since The Big Three – expectations. They’re coming into the season much improved and more experienced giving Celtic fans all the reason to believe that simply making the playoffs followed by a quick first round exit isn’t acceptable this year.
The biggest reason for this expectation is the big addition they made in the offseason. In what very well could go down as the best free agent signing in franchise history, the C’s signed highly sought after PF/C Al Horford. Finally, the Celtics were able to use that cap space to sign an all star free agent to bolster their young roster.
Horford is everything you want in a big man in today’s NBA. He’s not scared to get in the paint and work the low, not a liability at the free throw line, and has the ability to stretch the floor to three.
His presence on the offense will make everyone’s job easier, especially Isiah Thomas’s who was asked to do a lot last season. It will be nice to be able to watch the C’s throw it down to the block for an easy bucket, which is something we haven’t been able to do since the KG days.
Number three overall pick, Jaylen Brown will also bring an element that last team’s team didn’t have, athleticism.
Last year it’s tough to name the Celtics most athletic player. Avery Bradley? This year it might be tough to name the most athletic player as well, only this time it will be because we have two freak athletes in Jaylen Brown and Gerald Green.
When Jaylen Brown was drafted many Celtic fans, including myself, were upset with the pick. However, the more I see him play the more I think of what a great fit he is for the Celts. He can guard spots 2 – 4, is a nightmare in the open floor, and attacks the rim at will.
If there’s one thing that flawed the Celtics offense last year you could say it was settling for the three too much. While Jaylen will shoot one from time to time his first train of thought is always to get to the rim. He has shown decent ball handling skills for a guy his size and has a great spin move in his arsenal. He also has a great knack for cutting to the basket without the ball as he did it several times this pre- season.
The Celtics also signed former Celtic and dunk contest winner, Gerald Green in the off-season. While these two will likely battle it out in practice to see who gets the reserve minutes, one thing is for sure – whichever one of them is out on the floor will bring a nice change of pace to the new-look C’s.
The most eye-popping aspect of the whole preseason has been the improvement of second-year guard Terry Rozier. Now, it’s only preseason so I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, but I can’t stress how much I love what this kid has shown in the preseason.
Last season he started getting some minutes periodically after the All-Star break and was forced into a lot of minutes in the playoffs due to numerous injuries. You could see the potential he had in his minutes last season, but he left you saying “man, if this kid could just develop a jumper..”
Well, he has. He ended the preseason shooting 54% from the field and an astonishing 60% from behind the arc. To put those numbers in perspective, he ended last year’s regular season shooting 27% from the field and 22% from three.
Small sample size, so it would be unfair and unrealistic to hold him to those numbers all year, but it’s great to see a player really work on his game in the off-season and have it pay dividends almost immediately.
Again, it’s only preseason so let’s hope it translates to the 82 games that actually count.
While Terry Rozier has improved far more than most fans would have thought, it has highlighted two of the more discouraging things from the Celtics this preseason – the lack of improvement in both Marcus Smart and James Young.
What most Celtics fans wanted to see from Smart was an improvement in shooting and decision-making. While Rozier’s shooting numbers have seen great progress this preseason Smart’s have digressed since last season. Last season Smart shot a modest 47% from the field and 27% from three. In the preseason he’s shot an erratic 37% from the field and 18% from three.
His decision-making didn’t look much improved either as he posted a 1.77 assist to turnover rate in the preseason. Not the numbers you want to see from someone who is penciled in as one of your primary ball handlers.
As for James Young, he came to the Celtics with a ton of potential. Drafted as a 19-year-old, the 6’6 athletic shooter hasn’t done much of anything during his time in green. In fact, in his first two seasons in the league, he’s averaging less than 9 minutes per game over 60 games. Many thought this, his third year in the league, will be the year we see him make a contribution.
To his defense, he’s been on two playoff teams that have been relatively deep at the guard spot. Though, thus far, he has shown minimal improvement and just squeaked by RJ Hunter on the depth chart to nab the last spot on the roster. Also, when you’re known as a shooter and you’re career three-point percentage is 25% (he shot 33% during preseason) that’s not a good sign.
Young, is still young at just 21 years of age so there’s still plenty of time for him to develop. However, the way the Celtics roster is currently built, as with Smart, I could see him possibly being dealt in-season if the right deal presents itself.
The Celtics have shown a lot of promise in the preseason and it feels good to hold them to a higher standard this season. I have no doubt Brad Steven’s will continue his coaching excellence and get the most of this team to meet and hopefully exceed their potential.
I’m predicting a seven-win improvement, divisional winner, and Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Worst-case scenario, the Celtics make slight improvements and get knocked out in the conference semifinals. Best case scenario, this newly constructed team ends LeBron’s reign in the east sooner than anyone expected.
The expectations are back in Boston as fans as fans have dreams of seeing that 18th banner rise to the rafters.
Post written by Rich King