It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Seriously, though, because 2020 has been quite horrible to this point, but a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon and so is the return of Boston Celtics basketball.
The Celtics tip off their season Wednesday, Dec. 23 against the Milwaukee Bucks. And while the core of this team remains largely intact, there are a few newcomers in Boston, and it will be interesting to see how they jell.
Hopefully, it works out perfectly and results in an 18th banner, but it’s too soon to make that call.
Here are a few predictions about the upcoming Celtics season that we are willing to make, however.
Jayson Tatum continues his development dishing it out
Tatum is on the verge of superstardom, if he isn’t already there. But in the NBA bubble, we really started to see flashes of him developing that would certainly take him to that next level.
The 22-year-old always has been exceptional at creating his own shots, but towards the tail end of last season he became pretty damn good at setting up others. It’s a jump he made just before the season’s pause in March, and the skill clearly was honed in on over time as we saw him emerging into a great passer in the playoffs against two of the league’s best defenses in the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat.
He’s not elite yet, but with the departure of Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker expected to miss some time at the start of the season, we expect to see Tatum continue to improve as a passer and playmaker. Thus, we also expect him to make another All-NBA team.
Brad Stevens rolls out two bigs on opening night
As mentioned, the Celtics will be without two of last season’s primary starters as they begin the season against the Bucks. Hayward has gone to Charlotte, and Boston will be down a point guard as Walker takes his time rehabbing his pesky knee. On top of that, the Celtics brought in Tristan Thompson for some depth at center, and he theoretically could start over Daniel Theis.
So as it stands, we can all but guarantee Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be in the starting lineup. And as much as Brad Stevens seems to like having Marcus Smart come off the bench to handle the ball on the second unit, without Walker, we can see him starting — even with the addition of Jeff Teague off the bench.
Then, it gets trickier. Going back to the question of who gets the starting center role, Theis certainly earned the opportunity last season with his consistency. We expect to see him on the court when the ball tips off at center court, but that doesn’t necessarily send Thompson to the bench.
In the situation the Celtics are in, and against the Bucks, it’s easy to see a scenario where Stevens rolls out two bigs to start. We saw him use that lineup some last season, and it seems like a decent option for opening night, too.
Jaylen Brown makes his first All-Star team
The argument could be made that Brown was snubbed on last season’s All-Star squad. And with the season Tatum had last year, it made it a bit easier to overlook the 24-year-old in his fourth NBA season.
But while Tatum was making huge mid-season leaps, so too was Brown. One of the best young defenders in the game and a freak athlete, Brown made great improvements to his mid-range jumper, shooting the 3-pointer and his offensive efficiency in general.
He certainly has the work ethic to continue his trajectory for improvement, and with how exceptional of a person he is off the court, we think he’ll step out from behind Tatum’s shadow on Day 1 and earn the recognition he deserves.
Another No. 3 seed in the East is a long shot
Boston managed the No. 3 seed in the East despite barely ever playing with its full starting lineup in 2019-20. So with much of its core intact, the departure of Hayward shouldn’t be completely detrimental. That being said, the rest of the conference certainly improved.
The Brooklyn Nets will benefit from having Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant back from injury, and we don’t subscribe to the idea that two of the best players in the league (who happen to be very close friends) won’t have chemistry on the court. Not to mention, the Washington Wizards just improved greatly with the addition of Russell Westbrook.
Of course, the Milwaukee Bucks can be penciled in at the No. 1 seed again. We see the Miami Heat, especially after replacing Jae Crowder for Avery Bradley, following them in the standings, with the Nets at No. 3. The Celtics have a lot to overcome this year, especially with Walker set to miss some time in the beginning of the season at the very least. But if we’re being honest, the No. 4 seed sounds realistic for Boston.