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2017 NBA Season Preview Series: Boston Celtics

2017-18 Boston Celtics Media Day

145 days. After 145 days of absolute chaos, the wait is finally over. Tonight, in Cleveland, the Boston Celtics take the court for the first time for real. As you can see from the photo above, things are a little different. What we saw leave the court on May 25th is now a thing of the past. No team in the NBA has undergone such a drastic transformation, you’ve heard the numbers. A total of 11 new guys, this team has been completely rebuilt which when you think about the season they JUST had, is kinda nuts. As we enter the 2017 season, it becomes another step on the ladder that is this rebuild journey. They’ve gone from dogshit, to scrappy, happy to be in the playoffs, to playoffs are the expectation at a minimum, to Eastern Conference Finals is the expectation, to the team we see today, filled with three All Star caliber players, and the most offensive firepower they’ve had since the title team in 2008. As we’ve done with every preview this offseason, let’s look at the roster’

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Al Horford is the oldest player on this roster, and he’s 31. Their average age is 24.5. As a whole, their salary of $109,781,052 ranks 16th in the league. How’s that for value? Other teams in the same tier as the Celtics have salaries in the 120s and 130s. Now obviously in a few years the Celtics salary will be every bit as expensive but let me explain why this is important for our immediate future. We learned yesterday that the Celtics and Marcus Smart were not going to reach an extension. One reason why in my opinion, was the Celtics wanted to wait as long as possible before they go over the luxury tax, because the penalties for repeat offenders is no joke. Now, if they do opt to match any offer Smart gets this summer and find themselves over the tax, next year is Year 1, and not Year 2. That’s BIG when you factor in Kyrie’s extension that’s coming in two years. By that time, the Celtics would be a 3x offender, where the penalty is $2.50 for every $1 dollar you are over the tax. So unlike most teams that are trying to contend now, and are extremely strapped in terms of cap space, the Celtics remain one of those teams that can contend, and still be flexible.

Another thing this roster screams is versatility. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if Brad sets the NBA record in lineup combinations in one season. If we’ve seen anything from this team so far this preseason, it’s that they are going to be able to attack you from a variety of ways. For example, they can throw out a Marcus/Kyrie/Hayward/Horford/Baynes lineup and be solid defensively, and on the glass, while also having three legit scorers on the floor. Or they can get super athletic and go Kyrie/Jaylen/Hayward/Tatum/Horford. Offensively, that lineup presents so many damn problems. This is what happens when you bring in the talent that the Celtics did this summer. Teams are going to have to pay attention to Hayward on the offensive end in ways they didn’t for Crowder. Look at how Hayward has been used so far

The best way to describe the difference of now having Hayward, is he’s a legit playmaker. You can run offense through him, he can initiate your offense, and he is a high level passer. He was made to play in this system and you saw why. Jae Crowder was a great Celtic, he fit his role on last year’s team, but he did not have this type of versatility. Not very often did we see him initiate a P&R set, or have this type of offensive arsenal. The Celtics added a #1 scoring option and are asking him to not be the #1 scoring option. How many teams can say that?

Here’s why you should be excited. As a P&R ball handler last year, which Hayward was 28.6% of UTA’s possessions, he finished in the 87th percentile. This is a drastic improvement from Jae’s 68th percentile. You can almost bank on a majority of Celtics’ sets involving some form of a high screen, so now you have the option of having Kyrie OR Hayward run this and not lose a single thing in production. I don’t think people fully understand what an impact Hayward is going to have. It’s going to be insane.

I guess now would be a good time to talk about our new point guard. Kyrie Irving is a stud, we know this. At the same time, he has gigantic shoes to fill. The PG position within this offense is very important, and once that trade happened there were valid questions as to how he would fit no longer playing next to Lebron. Well, through 4 preseason games, it looks pretty good

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A couple things stood out, and most notably it’s probably how much of a willing passer Kyrie appears to be. He wasn’t asked to do this in CLE, for them it was more be an ISO guy and score. He’ll still have to do that here, but now it’s HIS responsibility to get everyone involved. The big thing for Kyrie, and his impact on this team, will be on the defensive end. As talented as he is offensively, he’s not going to have a better offensive season than Isaiah just had. That was some historic shit. However, he should be able to get close, so for the Celtics to be able to take that next step, it will come down to how much of an upgrade he is on the defensive end. In the preseason, it was mixed, but if he lives in that same 112 defensive rating zip code Isaiah was in last year, I’m not sure much has changed. There are benefits though, guys can no longer just take our PG to the block and bully him at the rim, that should help. But perimeter defense, especially with Jaylen starting, remains a gigantic question.

When you look at this roster, you see a shit ton of players that are 6’9. How will they rebound became a legit concern. Well, enter Aron Baynes. Back when free agency started, I was all on the Baynes wagon, here’s what I wrote

OK hear me out here. The Celtics need bigs, and while you may be thinking “who the fuck is this”, he’s a big dude who can help fit an immediate need. His numbers aren’t what made me think of him as he barely played for the Pistons last year, however, there are encouraging signs. Baynes has a defensive rebounding% of 21.6%. That would be the highest on the entire Celtics roster last year as would his 15.5% total rebounding percentage. He’s not so much a shot blocker, but he is a big goon who knows his role and will rebound for you. There is value in that. He also shoots 84% from the line which you know I love.

Well, he is exactly as advertised and then some. I love Aron Baynes, Tommy loves Aron Baynes’ dick, and I’m confident in saying he is going to be a fantastic Celtic. Watching him play it’s so clear he is exactly what this team was missing. They needed this big tough skilled big man who can somewhat stretch the floor for a little midrange jumper, but also rebound his face off. You can play him late in games because of his great FT shooting, and remember, as long as he helps the Celtics not be the worst rebounding team in the history of basketball like they were last year, we are going to feel his impact right away.

Brad gave it to us a few times this preseason, and now that Morris is nursing a knee injury, Jayson Tatum is going to start for this team for the foreseeable future. He’s been nothing but impressive since his Summer League debut, and I think introducing him to the NBA with great players around him will do wonders in terms of taking the pressure off.

The pleasant surprise with Tatum so far has to be how much better his defense is than I expected. I’ve always said how he defends will determine how much he’ll play. My goal for him is to be average or respectable. Guys are going to help off him because he’s a rookie, so his ability to knock down his open looks are going to go a long way in this starting experiment. I do still think eventually the Celtics will learn they need his offense a little more on the second unit, but remember how well Jaylen played when he filled in for Avery last year? I expect the same sort of thing here.

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We may see Tatum stay with the starters if the development of the best backcourt in the East continues to blossom. Yeah that’s right I’m talking about Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier III. Both are new and improved, and both are ready to break the fuck out

The most impressive thing for me so far, has been their improvement in decision making. Terry looks under control, Marcus is playing within the offense and limiting his frustrating terrible 3PA, and defensively they are going to terrorize opponents. Considering they are now the “veteran” key players to the second unit, the Celtics success is going to heavily depend on them taking steps forward. Smart has his financial reasons, and the same could be said for Rozier who’s up soon as well. I like this pair because you can play either off the ball, but I prefer Marcus running the point. His development as a passer is REAL and something that will help make things easier for everyone once the starters go out.

Oh right, why should we be excited for this season? BECAUSE YABU IS HERE!!! I REPEAT YABU IS HERE!!!

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Finally, our French Draymond has arrived. If you don’t love Yabu and everything he brings to this team, you’re just a h8er plain and simple. Is he raw? Is he going to be inconsistent? Yup, but ask me if I give a shit. The way he defends, the way he rebounds, he can stretch the floor, he has quick as hell feet, it’s all going to shine in this system. We thought we had a rebounding problem until we realized that Yabu is a gigantic human who cannot be stopped. There are a lot of things to be excited about this season, and Yabu is right at the top.

There’s a lot of pressure on guys this season. I could argue, no one has more pressure on him than Jaylen Brown. If the Celtics get the Jaylen from last year, they are in a bit of trouble. Not to say he was bad or anything, but with Avery gone, they need Jaylen to take a leap now more than ever, on BOTH ends. Offensively, he has to come around as a shooter. Already above league average from both corners behind the arc, he shot just 35% from 10-16ft, and 24% from 16ft-3PT. All those sets where the Celtics ran Avery off screens and got him midrange looks, that’s now going to be Jaylen. He was a 32.9% shooter on Jump Shots last year. That has to be better. I will say this though, his 47% shooting in the playoffs last year was encouraging, and then seeing him do this kinda stuff this preseason makes me feel comfortable that he’s ready for the responsibility

That’s just half the equation though. As much pressure as there is on the offensive end, multiply that by about a billion for the defensive end. Brad said it at the beginning of the summer and it remains true. For this Celtics team to get to where they want to go, Jaylen needs to become an elite defender. He’s going to have to handle guarding smaller quicker players at the two, and then also be able to handle guys like Lebron when needed. Anytime you lose a guy like Avery Bradley you are going to feel it, but if Jaylen can be like 70% of that defense, maybe it won’t hurt as bad.

Now, unlike any other team in the NBA, we have a secret weapon. We have at our disposal something magical. We have Walter. Why is this important? Well, if you remember, this was Walter when he came into our lives and saved the Celtics season. They were 4-4 and were giving up 150 points a game. He was a rookie, didn’t yet have his NBA body. If we’re being honest, he was a one dimensional player

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He ended the season 58-38 including playoffs. Well I can tell you, he did nothing but put in work this offseason. He did three-a-days, he lifted, he expanded his offensive arsenal, and I am proud to say he is the very definition of this team. He’s versatile as fuck. He can guard all five positions and do it at an elite level. I mean look at this body!

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If this doesn’t fill you with confidence I don’t know what will. By my count, this is now FOUR Lebron stoppers on this roster. Like the rest of us, Walter is ready to pick up where he left off. In case you weren’t aware he’s already 4-0 this season. #GoWalterGo indeed.

In all seriousness, this is going to be an insane year. It’ll take some time for the Celts to find their footing, but not long. They should be a top 2 team in the East, they should make the ECF or at least have a competitive series whenever they play CLE. It’s going to be incredible to watch. We’ve waited 145 days for this, and it’s finally here. Let’s fucking GO!

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Official Greenie Prediction: 54 wins