Is the poor preseason play cause for concern?
Cory Prescott: Not at all. We’ve seen talented teams falter in the preseason and in the beginning stages of the regular season before, only to see them prosper in the end. Given Gordon Hayward’s return, in addition to new roles for certain players, the Boston Celtics could conceivably struggle to begin the season. Thankfully, the skillful leadership from Brad Stevens will help make any potential struggles short-lived.
Devon Clements: I do not think the Celtics’ preseason struggles are a long-term concern. But they are definitely going to be a short-term concern. Brad Stevens is trying to work out which players work best together, especially now that Gordon Hayward is back. So, in order for him to do that he needs to play around with the lineup. Not to mention the fact that they only played in exhibition games that didn’t count for anything. I think Boston will struggle early on, maybe the first month or two, but no longer than that.
Daniel Poarch: No, it isn’t. You could ask me the same question a month into the regular season and I would respond the same way, too. Easy as it is to say that the Celtics are adding two All-Stars (Irving and Hayward) to an Eastern Conference Finals team, they were never going to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders. There’s going to be an adjustment period; these guys need to learn how to play with each other again. There will be awkwardness about roles on either end of the floor. Brad Stevens will need to figure out how to juggle an absurdly loaded rotation in a way that keeps everyone happy and involved. Things were always going to get a little weird. The most important thing is how the Celtics look in April, though. If things are still ugly by then, it’ll be trouble. But for now, it’s not a concern.
Who’s going to be the biggest surprise for this team?
Prescott: Does Gordon Hayward count? Not that Hayward will come out of thin air to surprise fans, but Hayward’s skills seem to have gotten somewhat lost among the Celtics talent. Up until last season, Hayward had improved in every season as a pro. He made his first all-star team 2016-17 and garnered significant votes for making the All-NBA Third Team that same season. At age 28, in his prime years and with the coach who helped turn him into an NBA lottery pick, Hayward is primed to pick up where he left off.
Clements: The biggest surprise for the Celtics will be Daniel Theis. Last season we saw a significant improvement from Theis just over the course of his rookie season. Even though he has only been able to work out in a limited fashion after tearing his meniscus, Theis will be a fantastic bench player in year No. 2 of his NBA career. He has such a versatile game given his size that opposing teams will have a tough time matching their bench players up against him.
Poarch: Considering that the best players on this team are arguably not going to “surprise” us — since we already know they’re exceptional — I’m going with Robert Williams III, who I believe will force his way into the rotation in some form by January. I know the plan is to take things pretty slow with him right now and to give him some time in the G-League and on the bench so he can learn how to be a pro and play Celtic basketball. But he’s simply too talented to be kept away for long. The preseason gave us some tantalizing glimpses of what he brings to the table — constant energy, defensive intensity and a surprisingly sharp eye for ball movement. He’ll have a chance to put those attributes on display with the big league squad before long.
What will ultimately be the Celtics’ biggest strength as a team?
Prescott: I could easily go a variety of ways with this, but the depth on this team is as good as I’ve ever seen it on a Celtics team – even better than the 2008 team. The Celtics will be able to play the long game this season, meaning that when Brad Stevens wants to sit a star or two, players like Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier (key contributors during last season’s ECF run) will be able to step in and excel. The Celtics depth, toughness and skill players 1-15 will be a huge asset this season.
Clements: Just like last year, I think their defense will be the team’s biggest strength. They have so much size and athleticism along with discipline that it’s hard to believe that they will digress in that category. No matter how inconsistent they may find their shooting throughout their season, their defense will always keep them in games.
Poarch: Flat-out, the Celtics are going to put points on the board this season. This offense is going to be one of the three most dangerous in basketball by the end of the season. Even in their troubled preseason, we caught glimpses of it — two 60+ point halves, Jayson Tatum’s 13-points-in-three-minutes eruption, Kyrie Irving’s effortless shredding of defenders. When Gordon Hayward is back to his old self, the Celtics are going to be the kind of offense that keeps defensive coordinators up at night.
Predictions? Record and how far they will advance.
Prescott: 62-20 and a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Celtics may have a couple of hiccups to begin the season and they may end up losing a few meaningless games during the April doldrums, but the talent and desire to prove themselves will be evident from start to finish. The Celtics will also have the benefit of going up against an Eastern Conference that is very top heavy.
Clements: I think Boston will have a 60-22 record by the end of the regular season. Even though I do think the Celtics will struggle early on with their offensive game, let’s not forget that they are still in the East and they will still have an elite defense to fall back on. The Bucks, Raptors and Wizards may give Boston a few of their losses along with some of the Western Conference teams.
Poarch: Right now, I have the Celtics finishing the season 60-22 and finally breaking through to the NBA Finals after being stymied by LeBron James each of the past two years. The Celtics have improved their regular season record in every season since Brad Stevens took the reins as head coach, and I expect trend to continue this year. There will be nights that they frustrate, where they struggle in situations they arguably shouldn’t — I haven’t forgotten last year’s heart attack-inducing comebacks — but there is too much talent on this roster for Boston to finish as anything other than one of the two-best teams in the Eastern Conference, record-wise, and one of the four- or five-best in the entire NBA.