2016-17 Boston Celtics Season Preview Part 3: Here We Go

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Welcome to the third and final installment of our 2016-17 Boston Celtics Season Preview Series. If you decide you would rather not work for a little while, before you dive into this, you can catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 so we are all  on the same page today. It’s OK…I can wait, take your time.


Here we are, a day before the regular season starts, and what a journey these last six months have been. For the first time since I would say the 2010-11 season, the Celtics enter the year with true high expectations. The good news is that season was a fantastic 56 win campaign, and despite the bullshit ending you can say that team lived up to the hype. The bad news is this team is drastically different. While they don’t have quite the same title aspirations, they do start the year with the fourth best title odds in the entire league. That’s wild for a team that had to give everything they had just to win a couple games in the first round. Looking back to where this team and franchise was just four years ago, you can’t take this rebuild for granted. By NBA standards, unless you are pairing up multiple All NBA players, the trek back from irrelevant to competitive, and then competitive to contender is extremely long, with many many losses attached.

The Celtics had 1 tanking season.

Despite the growth we’ve seen, they now find themselves at the hardest step. I will admit it is a little weird to see this group of Celtics get this amount of love from the national media. Usually it’s just Kool-Aid drinkers like us that are talking about 50+ wins and an appearance in an ECF that we won’t end up making. National writers would peg them as “scrappy” with a “good young coach” who will be a “tough out” and then slate them for like 38 wins. It was comical then, and it’s comical now because guess what, all those things are still true, only now you’ve seen them play, have eaten your crow, and realize that 50ish wins isn’t so crazy.

I won’t lie though, this makes me a tad nervous. Everything we’ve seen from this group this Summer/Fall has shown that we have nothing to worry about, they’re ready, but it’s a different beast once the lights are on, and we are relying heavily on a bunch of players that are getting their first real NBA experience. Never forget that.

Here’s why you should feel confident. This is your Opening Night roster

PG – Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson

SG – Avery Bradley, Gerald Green

SF – Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, James Young

PF – Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Mickey

C – Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller

Now that we know the official 15, what should we make of it. While not too different from last year’s team, the influx of new blood is what sparks the excitement. If you look at some of the most successful teams in the NBA their core grew together for multiple years. Each year getting a little bit better, additions here and there, and the progression of chemistry and culture, they eventually became contenders. That’s the path the Celts are currently on.

Think about it. The minute Isaiah became a Celtic things changed. A strong finish to close out the year was like planting the chemistry seed, and making the playoffs was that first baby step. Who cared that they got swept. We saw last year what progress looks like with the highest win total since that 2010 season. Having a full year of Isaiah was obviously a huge part of that, but the way they played it was clear that something was brewing. Despite the injuries they managed to win a couple playoff games, something they couldn’t do the year before, or in other words, more baby steps.

At this point in the rebuild we knew the Celtics were a competitive team that could hang with anyone in the league on any given night, but they weren’t quite ready to make the jump into the second round let alone the jump into being contenders.

Enter Al Horford.

Per 36 minutes this preseason: 21.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 63% FG, 71.4 % 3PT. A +64 over his 84 minutes. The Celtics outscored opponents by 38.4 points per 100 possessions with Al Horford on the court. Are there people out there that still hate this signing? In my opinion, when you add pieces like Horford and Jaylen, combine them with what hopefully is a breakout year from Terry Rozier, then throw in the chemistry and talent of the starters, you have a recipe to jump from competitive to contender.

The point is, for this to even happen, the Celtics need to understand and replicate what made Horford so successful in this system.

Any questions of how Horford would fit have surely been answered. While in no way sustainable, 62% from the field and 71% from three this preseason can give you a general idea. The biggest sign of reassurance for me thus far, has been the level of chemistry Al has with Isaiah. Here’s an idea that I haven’t heard talked about much when it comes to this signing. Maybe Isaiah told them the type of player he loves to play with, and that’s why they were so in on Horford. Their skill sets are a match made in heaven. Horford has shown the ability to pick up the basics in Brad’s motion offense


and if I were a betting man, I would say we see no less then a trillion P&R/P&Pops with Horford. His ability to not only run this with Isaiah, but with Avery and Jae is what makes this offense so tough to cover. Never before would they ever think of running a play with these two as the primary ballhandler, and yet, with the addition of the Horford safety blanket, they execute


It’s a relief to enter the season with this sort of feeling about your big time expensive new addition. While the questions about Horford were mostly answered, there are still a bunch out there that warrant discussion.

For example, how can they make sure to put Jaylen Brown in the best position to succeed?

Being a rookie in the NBA can’t be easy, but normally players picked where Jaylen Brown was are headed to a team more on the irrelevant side than contender side. We all remember how this city was divided among Celtics faithful when the pick was announced. You either loved it or you hated it because “OH GREAT THEY TOOK ANOTHER WING PLAYER WHO CAN’T SHOOT WHEN THEY NEEDED SHOOTING. HORRIBLE PICK. BUST.”

At the time of the Draft the shooters that were said to be NBA ready were Buddy Hield and Jamaal Murray, people said Kris Dunn was the best player of the group, there was even a Dragan Bender camp. Well, I’m not sure there is a person who follows this team that would want any of those guys over Jaylen now. He shot 42% preseason which is more than acceptable for me (and better than a couple on that list), and just like Horford, his style of play fits perfectly into what the Celtics need in order to take a step forward this season.

While his role will mainly be to provide instant energy and scoring on the second unit, I think if the Celtics really want to help Jaylen develop, and get the most out of his skills, he should get serious run in a Isaiah/Avery/Jaylen/Jae/Horford lineup. I think not only playing against better players will be good for him, but he’ll be playing with better players to help ease his transition. All I want from Jaylen is to guard multiple positions and attack the rim, and if he does that he will make a positive impact.

For the times where Jaylen can’t attack the rim, I’d love to see him use his size and take his man down to the block. Not because I think he can simply overpower a guy and dunk on his face (but he probs can), but because I believe in the Jaylen Brown fadeaway from 10 or so feet.


However, it’s going to take more than good years from Horford and Jaylen to get this team to where it wants to be. They have to heavily improve in certain areas. The obvious one is the shooting, and I don’t want to harp on it, but the facts are the facts. The Celts ranked 24th in FG% and 28th in 3P% last year and that simply can’t happen again. They shot themselves right out of the playoffs, and really it’s decision making more than anything else. When the Celtics settle they struggle, it’s as easy as that. Did you know that no team took more shots than the Celtics per game? Not even GS. Imagine if they manage to shoot even like 15th best in the league what a difference that is going to make.

Aside from the shooting, I didn’t love how they rebounded on the defensive end (15th), but this is an area I can easily see them creeping into the top 10, and not because of Horford, but because of Rozier. His defensive rebounding ability is off the charts, and when he’s paired with Smart on the second unit who is also a plus rebounder, that should help prevent the offensive rebound issues of the past. It also might help if they are able to protect the rim a little better this year, ranking 22nd last year didn’t exactly serve them well.

All this is good to talk about, but the 2016-17 Celtics really come down to Isaiah Thomas, and I couldn’t be more excited for that. I want to warn you, it is going to be another year of people talking about how despite the domination, Isaiah is still a 6th man on a title team (it’s probably going to happen in this very blog), as if they forget Mario Chalmers, Tony Parker, Derek Fisher etc exist. Here is what I know. I know when you look at the list of players that had Isaiah’s type of year last year, not one of them would you say can’t start on a title team. They say it about Isaiah because they can’t get over his height. I don’t anticipate they will this year either.

I say fuck em. Haters gonna hate. We’ll just be over here watching greatness. Isaiah is entering the most important year of his basketball life, and he knows it. He now has over a year in the system, he’s comfortable with his teammates, he got help, all this adds up to a breakout year even though he just had a breakout year. Thomas shot 47% from the field and 50% from three this preseason, so I’d say he’s ready. Don’t take my word for it though

Officially this blog has the Celtics at 52 wins, and to get there, they are going to need a fast start. When you look at their schedule, a couple things stand out. Lets look at their first month, or 16 games

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The Celtics start the year with 9 on the road and 7 at home, and really only have 1 cupcake (CHA pending) in their first five games, three of which are on the road, one of which is a back to back on the road. They do that again after they upset the Warriors at home in November, but then have to go on a three city road trip before playing SA. That’s a pretty good sample where we’ll be able to start to understand what this team is. If they are for real as we all hope, they’ll be like 12-4 or something.

What makes me nervous about this stretch is something I’ve been making a conscious effort to avoid talking about, and that’s the health of this team. Maybe I’m bitter because it fucked them over the playoffs, but the Olynyk and Smart issues are real, and they are going to have a real impact to begin the year. The Celtics bench scoring was a weapon last year, and with everyone healthy they probably have the third best bench unit in the league. The problem is they aren’t healthy. This means we’re looking at a Rozier/Green/Jaylen/Jonas/Zeller lineup and that makes me a little nervous. From what I’ve read Olynyk hopes to be back by the GS game, but he won’t have any conditioning, and Smart’s ankle doesn’t sound too serious, but it’s still, an ankle issue. I’m going to need the starters to blow people out early and often while this second unit recovers.

So there you have it, the 2016-17 season is upon us and by all accounts the next eight months of your life is about to be filled with insane highs and depressing lows and it’s an honor and a pleasure to take that journey with you. It’s go time.