The Boston Celtics begin a new basketball season Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.
And while last year’s Celtics sputtered to a 36-36 record and the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, there’s a growing sense of optimism in some circles thanks to a series of offseason moves by the storied organization.
Young superstars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will have much more usage with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier out of the way, Marcus Smart has a brand new role, Brad Stevens is now in charge of basketball operations and Ime Udoka will lead Boston from the bench.
Oddsmakers clearly respect the C’s too, as their regular-season win total sits at 45.5 or 46.5 — nearly 10 wins higher than Boston finished with in last year’s 72-game season.
“I’ve come around on Boston,” VSiN senior NBA analyst Jonathan Von Tobel told NESN. “My initial thought was to play them ‘Under’ and expect them to be a play-in situation type team, but I really like what they’re doing.
“Transitioning Marcus Smart to point guard is a really, really good idea. He’s a dynamic defender that’s great on-ball and he’ll be awesome against opposing lead guards. And he’s not a terrible passer at all. If you go back to last year, Boston finished 25th in assist points created and 26th in secondary assists. The ball movement needs to be better and a guy like Smart will help that. He’s not an iso scorer, he can move the ball around and Brown and Tatum will benefit from that.”
Scoring depth was one of the biggest issues for Boston last season. When the first unit was off the floor catching oxygen, the Celtics struggled to put the ball in the basket. Stevens addressed the need for secondary scoring in three fell swoops.
One of the first things he did was flip the inconsistent Walker and a first-round pick for veteran big man Al Horford, who can still give Boston 25 responsible minutes a night when healthy. Stevens also signed Dennis Schröder and acquired Josh Richardson to add some scoring in spurts.
Von Tobel especially liked the additions of Horford and Schröder, who definitely has something to prove.
“Schröder coming off the bench as a role guy will be really good for them,” he said. “Horford adds a bunch to their frontcourt. The young guys are really the question. Are Grant Williams and Aaron Nesmith going to take legitimate steps forward? We know what we’re going to get from Payton Pritchard, but Boston will count on contributions from Williams and Nesmith.”
The C’s have a ways to go to contend with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers for conference supremacy, but they’ll have every chance to go toe-to-toe with the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat and New York Knicks in that second tier of teams.
“The Eastern Conference has the potential to be pretty wide-open once you get past the top three seeds,” Von Tobel said. “I think the Celtics have more than enough to get within the top four seeds and go ‘Over’ the season win total.”
As for Wednesday night’s battle in the Big Apple, I like Boston to come out of the gate with a victory in the season opener behind a big 30-point night from a bulked-up Tatum.
Celtics +2 -110
Tatum Over 27.5 points -108
RECORD: (62-59, -2.6)