The Boston Celtics haven’t reached the top of the NBA mountain yet, but they’re continuing to ascend.
Expectations are high for the Celtics after they followed a strong 2015-16 campaign by signing All-Star forward Al Horford this offseason. And while they’re still not even the team to beat in their own conference, ESPN.com likes their outlook for the 2016-17 season.
In its NBA Summer Forecast, which polls about 200 “experts” and aggregates their predictions, ESPN ranks the Celtics as the fifth-best team in the NBA, forecasting a 51-31 record for this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 2 overall, 57-25) are the only team ranked ahead of the C’s in the Eastern Conference. Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors (67-15) unsurprisingly top the list, while the San Antonio Spurs (No. 3, 57-25) and Los Angeles Clippers (No. 4, 52-30) round out the top five.
The Toronto Raptors are pegged at No. 6 but are projected to have the same record as Boston.
The Celtics haven’t recorded a 50-win season since 2010-2011, but they’re certainly set up to change that. With the exception of Evan Turner, head coach Brad Stevens essentially has the same core group that won 48 regular-season games last season, and now can pair All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas with Horford and a promising rookie in Jaylen Brown.
In fact, one could argue that 51 wins is a conservative estimate, but ESPN.com apparently isn’t as bullish on Horford.
“Does it shortchange Boston to suggest Al Horford and No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown are worth only three wins? Perhaps,” the panel writes. “But though accomplished, Horford has been a part of only two 50-win teams in his nine-year NBA career.”
We’re not sure what Horford’s past with the Atlanta Hawks has to do with his role in Boston, but a tick above 50 wins does seem reasonable for a Celtics team that should, at the very least, be fun to watch this season.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images