The NBA season finally starts tomorrow. But the Celtics tip-off in two days against the 76ers in the Garden. Off-seasons are short in the NBA. Right after the playoffs is the draft, then two sets of summer leagues and then overseas tours for preseason before returning to the states to end the preseason and begin the real one. The Boston Celtics’ offseason was a lot shorter than most people guessed, as they were a surprise playoff team last year. The Celtics were a team that was expected to contend for a high lottery pick, but after hanging around the playoff picture around the trade deadline, they decided to take action and traded for pint sized point guard Isaiah Thomas. All Thomas did was become a spark plug off the bench and led the Celtics to the number seven seed in the playoffs. After acquiring Thomas from the Phoenix Suns, the Celtics went on to win 24 of their last 36 games. The bad news? Running into the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, who dispatched the upset-minded Celtics in four games, albeit all the games were relatively close. But this is a team that has a lot of potential, as I mentioned in an earlier article. But here are five reasons not to be skeptical, but just the main question the Celtics should answer this season.
- Can they prove the stretch run last year wasn’t a fluke? As I mentioned in the intro, the Celtics finished extremely strong last season. They were a surprise in the playoffs and maybe even a bigger surprise, they hung around with the Cavs in each game. They didn’t win a game, but they lost game one by 13, and then lost the next three by eight points each. The run that they went on was unprecedented and it seems unlikely that a sixth man can make as much an impact on a team that Isaiah Thomas had.
- What will the rotation be? The Celtics will be one of the deeper teams in the NBA. They have depth at every position 1-5. But nobody knows who will start or who will come off the bench. Between guards Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and rookies RJ Hunter and Terry Rozier, there won’t be many minutes to go around. On the wings, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder and James Young will be the rotation, but still no defined starter, although Crowder seems to have the inside track. The big men up front are Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and offseason acquisitions Amir Johnson and David Lee. With 13 players who can provide meaningful minutes, managing the lineup will be Brad Stevens’ hardest challenge.
- Who will be the go-to scorer? The Celtics haven’t had a go-to scorer since Paul Pierce was in his prime. The team last year used an overly balanced approach to scoring and spreading the ball around. At times, this was their kryptonite. When they fell behind or needed to go on a game breaking run, they couldn’t rely on one player to get them the bucket they needed. Every team needs that one go-to scorer to be an elite team. The most obvious option would be Isaiah Thomas, but he may or may not come off the bench. Outside of Isaiah Thomas, who else can the team rely on? Marcus Smart? He’ll have to improve his three point shooting for that. Jae Crowder? He hasn’t been a go to scorer at all in his career. Nobody can really fill it up on this roster. It will be interesting to see who the Celtics rely on to get that big time bucket and spark that rally this year.
- Did they improve enough on their weaknesses from last year? Last year, the Celtics were the worst shot blocking team in the NBA. They only averaged 3.6 per game. A lack of athleticism and length down low provided opponents with easy bucket after was bucket down low. The Celtics made some moves to fix this issue in the offseason. The signing of Amir Johnson provides some shot blocking as he averaged .79 blocks per game while only playing 26 minted per game. He may not be elite, but he definitely helps down low. Another move the Celtics made was in the draft. With the selection of Jordan Mickey with the 33rd pick, the Celtics added a truly elite shot blocker to the roster. He led the NCAA with 3.64 blocks per game. However, Mickey is slightly undersized at “only” 6’8 but he has great hops, instincts and length around the basket. The only issue is, he won’t see much playing time behind Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, David Lee and the previously mentioned Amir Johnson. The other big issue was three point shooting, Brad Stevens’ crew only shot 32% from deep. The Celtics drafted RJ Hunter out of Georgia State in the first round to solve that problem, But he has the same problem as Mickey, He’ll get lost in shuffle behind Thomas, Smart, Avery Bradley and maybe even fellow rookie Terry Rozier. Although Hunte only shot 30% from deep, he was double teamed and showed the shooting stroke as he was a career 35% shooter in college. If the Celtics can shore up those deficiencies, they can be a top team in the Eastern Conference.
- Can they attract a star player? The Celtics have always ben linked to star players, most recently, Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins. Fans always get excited over the fact that they can land a star, but the Celtics get nothing more than a visit. But this year, it may change. The Celtics have an incredible amount of assets. They have multiple first rounders from other teams such as the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks in the coming drafts. The Celtics are also a young team. Those two factors are always deadly in a team thats looking to rebuild, but need to move a star player to get it started, much like the Denver Nuggets did with Carmelo Anthony. But finding a star to fit Brad Stevens’ scheme would prove difficult. His system preaches ball movement and team play. Most stars don’t like this style of basketball, as they love to have the ball in their hands.
The Celtics roster has a lot of potential to be good, maybe even great this season. If they can answer and provide answers to some of these questions, they can take another step forward and join the other Celtics’ great teams.