Additions: Healthy Gordon Hayward, Robert Williams III, Brad Wanamaker
Subtractions: Greg Monroe
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Gordon Hayward
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford
Key Bench Players: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes
The Boston Celtics are the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and I think we can all see why. The team has depth at every position, giving coach Brad Stevens a plethora of different lineups based on matchups and needs. Currently, the above lineup is how I believe the Celtics should start at the opening tip. Would I be surprised to see Marcus Smart starting at the 2 for more of a defensive punch or Marcus Morris starting at the 4 to relegate Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown to a super-sub role? Not at all. The Celtics have nine or ten guys who can contribute on a regular basis. Other players off the bench include playoff stud “Scary” Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes, and Semi Ojeleye, who all contributed to the Celtics deep run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The most important player to this Celtics squad is perennial All-Star Kyrie Irving, and if Irving was not injured during last season’s postseason run, I believe the Celtics could have taken down LeBron James and his Cavaliers to get a shot against the Warriors in the Finals. This year could be the Celtics’ final shot at the Finals with Kyrie, as the star point guard enters free agency next summer and is poised to have many suitors with the New York Knicks making him their top priority.
With the addition of a healthy Gordon Hayward, who broke his leg in last season’s opening night, the Celtics get another proven 20-point per game scorer, capable defender, and secondary playmaker to allow Kyrie to do what he does best: score the basketball. If Hayward can get back to where he was when he was a member of the Utah Jazz, the Celtics may even have a chance against the Warriors in the Finals (I’m not saying they will win, but they will put up a better fight than last year’s Cavs).
What can we expect from last year’s rookie sensation Jayson Tatum next season? Tatum is a phenomenal scorer and I fully expect him to be a top scorer in the NBA during his prime. But this season, with both Irving and Hayward healthy, I would bet that Tatum has a reduced role as an isolation scorer and instead continue being a spot-up shooter and off-ball cutter like he was during the early parts of last season. Tatum’s time to be “the man” will come, but just not this season. Could I be wrong? Of course, especially if Brad Stevens deems Tatum worthy of being second in the Celtics pecking order. The Celtics could get 20 points any given night from each member of their starting five and that is what makes the Celtics one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.
Defensively, the Celtics can match up with virtually any team in the league due to their incredible versatility, size, and length. Outside of Kyrie Irving and Semi Ojeleye, I would say every other member of their rotation is above average on the less glamorous end. Jaylen Brown is one of the best on-ball defending wings in the league. Al Horford may be an undersized center and on the wrong side of 30, but his IQ and positioning allow him to be a reliable anchor for this Boston squad. Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier both have the bulldog mentality and Jayson Tatum has the size and length to cover both wing positions and stretch-4s. I would go as far to say that behind their rotation and defensive mastermind Brad Stevens, the Celtics may have the best defensive team in the entire NBA.
The Celtics may have the “clearest path” to the NBA Finals out of every team in the Eastern Conference, but by no means will it be easy. They still have to get through Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the Sixers, Kawhi Leonard’s Raptors, the Greek Freak and his Bucks, and an Indiana Pacers team looking to build off their out-of-nowhere season last year. Are they the favorites? As I stated before, yes, but it will not be as easy as every analyst and “expert” believe. Who knows? Maybe the injury bug will hit the Celtics again and they’ll be in the same place as last season. If not, the Eastern Conference has a lot on their plates.
Picture Courtesy of The Big Lead (Kyrie Irving)
*Check out yesterday’s article on the Atlanta Hawks here.
Up next tomorrow: Brooklyn Nets
University of South Carolina ’21