The Boston Celtics are looking to rebound from a disappointing season, but it will not be easy. In the offseason, they lost, among others, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving and starting center Al Horford. To make up for this, they traded for fellow All-Star guard Kemba Walker and signed center Enes Kenter. They also infused the team with a lot of young talent through their four draft picks. But whether they can return to the lofty heights of the 2017-18 season may depend on whether three core players — Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown — can bounce back from the poor seasons each of them experienced.
Boston Celtics: 2018-2019 Year In Review
The Boston Celtics had high hopes entering the 2018-19 campaign. The previous year, they had finished 55-27, good for second place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and they took the Cavaliers to 7 games in the Conference Finals. This despite losing prized free-agent acquisition Gordon Hayward to injury during the first quarter of the first game of the season. With Hayward back and the core of the team back, they expected to take the next step.
But this did not happen. Instead, the Celtic slipped to 49-33, which was good for the 4th best record in the conference. During the season, they showed moments of greatness, as when they beat the Bulls by a franchise-record 56 points, but they could never seem to put it all together consistently.
While they swept the Pacers in the opening round of the playoffs, they fell the Bucks in the Conference Semi-Finals 4-1.
Boston Celtics: New Veterans
The Boston Celtics added the following veteran players in the offseason:
In July, the Celtics traded guard Terry Rozier and a second-round draft pick in 2020 to Charlotte for Walker and their second-round selection. They then signed Walker to a 4-year max contract for more than $140 million.
Walker consistently put up big numbers in his eight years with the Hornets, and last year was one of his best. He scored 25.6 points-per-game while adding 4.4 assists. While he may not be quite as talented as Irving, at the same time, he will bring a far better locker presence, which means that he could be a net improvement overall.
Walker was not the only veteran that the Celtics acquired in July. They also signed free-agent center Enes Kanter to a two-year $10 million contract.
While losing Irving stung, losing Horford was possibly even a bigger loss. They will miss his presence both on and off the court. Kanter is nowhere near an equal replacement for Horford, at least on the court, especially defensively, but he was not a bad pickup for the Celtics. Last February, it looked as if his career might be over after the woeful Knicks waived him. But he enjoyed a notable resurgence with the Trail Blazers, particularly in the playoffs, and he could end being a nice fit for Walker, as their games should mesh well.
While Walker and Kanter were the Celtics’ main acquisitions in July, they also had a less-heralded signing in Poirier. The 7’0” 255 lb French center signed for $2.5 million after spending the last two years in Barcelona, where he had 8.3 rebounds-per-game while playing 25.6 minutes-per-game. He could be an interesting option off the bench for the team.
The Boston Celtics entered the 2019 NBA Draft with 4 picks: the 14th, 20th, 22nd and 51st. After a slew of complex trades, they ended up with the following 4 selections: the 14th, 22nd, 33rd, and 51st. With these, they chose the following players:
Drafted with the 14th pick, Langford is a 6’6” shooting guard who played one year of college basketball at the University of Indiana. He scored 16.5 points-per-game in a little more than 34 minutes-per-game and was named Second-team All-Big Ten and Big Ten All-Freshman. The latter came after he won Big Ten Freshman of the Week on four separate occasions.
Williams is a 6’7” 240 lb power forward who played college basketball at the University of Tennessee before the Celtics drafted him with the 22nd pick in the draft. Williams played three seasons at Tennessee, where he won a slew of accolades, including:
- 2017 SEC All-Freshman Team (Coaches)
2. 2018 & 2019 First-team All-SEC
3. 2018 & 2019 SEC Player of the Year (Coaches)
4. 2018 All-American Honorable Mention
5. 2019 SEC Player of the Year (AP)
6. 2019 First-Team All-American (Consensus)
In his last season, he particularly put up big numbers, with 18.8 points-per-game and 7.5 rebounds-per-game in 31.9 minutes-per-game while shooting 56.4% of his field goals.
After acquiring the 33rd pick in the draft from Philadelphia in a trade, the Celtics selected Edwards, who is a 6’0” guard that played three seasons for Purdue University. He played in the same league as Langford while scoring 24.3 points-per-game in 35.4 minutes-per-game. However, he shot only 39.3% from the field.
Edwards, too, has received many accolades, including:
- 2018 & 2019 First-team All-Big Ten
2. 2018 Jerry West Award
3. 2018 Third-team All-American (AP, SN)
4. 2018 Second-team All-American (NABC)
5. 2019 Second-team All-American (Consensus)
2019 Second-team All-American (Consensus)
The Celtics selected their 3rd guard of the draft with the 51st selection. Waters is a 5’11” point guard, who played three seasons at Louisiana State University. Last season, he was named First-team All-SEC and SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. In spite of his defensive accolades, he scored an incredible 29.9 points-per-game last season in only 32.4 minutes-per-game. He could very well one day develop into one of the steals of the draft.
With so many young and talented players coming to the Boston Celtics lineup this season, it would not be surprising if one or more of them broke into the starting lineup at some point in the season. For the moment, though, the most likely starting 5 would appear to be the following:
Kemba Walker, Point Guard
Jaylen Brown, Shooting Guard
Gordon Hayward, Small Forward
Jayson Tatum, Power Forward
Enes Kanter, Center
The key players to watch in this lineup are Hayward and Kanter. In 2017, Hayward was considered the missing piece to take the Celtics to the title when he signed a 4-year $128 million free-agent contract after becoming a superstar with the Jazz. But he has never truly recovered from the injury that wiped out his entire 2017-18 season. Last year, he averaged only 11.5 points-per-game and started only 18 games. If he struggles again this year, head coach Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward in college, will be under a lot of pressure to replace him with one of the team’s young players. Kanter, too, may find himself replaced if he is unable to duplicate the resurgence that he enjoyed with Portland. But unlike Hayward, there may not be a suitable replacement for him.
Boston Celtics: Bench
Currently, the Boston Celtics have the following key players on its bench (in alphabetical order):
Carsen Edwards, Point Guard
Tacko Fall, Center
Javonte Green, Shooting Guard
Romeo Langford, Shooting Guard
Yante Maten, Power Forward
Semi Ojeleye, Power Forward
Vincent Poirier, Center
Marcus Smart, Point Guard
Daniel Theis, Power Forward
Brad Wanamaker, Point Guard
Tremont Waters, Point Guard
Grant Williams, Power Forward
Robert Williams III, Center
The most important player for the Celtics off the bench will likely be Smart. While limited a bit offensively, the former first-round draft pick was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team last year.
Also, keep an eye on the 3 centers behind Kanter. An interesting option may be Tacko Fall, who is a 7’7” 289 lb Senegalese, who is reminding some people of the legendary Manute Bol and who played well in the Summer League.
A number of the players listed above, especially the rookies, may find themselves spending considerable time this season in the development league.
Boston Celtics: Strengths And Weaknesses
Thanks in large part to the success of the Golden State Warriors in recent years, the trend in the NBA has been toward positionless teams, with players who can play a wide variety of positions. This is the strength of the Boston Celtics, as they have many players who can play all over the court, allowing them many opportunities for creating matchup advantages.
As for weaknesses, Horford’s departure has left a gaping hole in the team’s perimeter defense, which Kanter is unlikely to fill. Perhaps Pourier and/or Fall can fill this void, but this is big, perhaps.
Boston Celtics: Projections
If Hayward, Tatum, and Brown can regain their previous form, the Boston Celtics could challenge Milwaukee for the Eastern Conference title. If, however, they continue to struggle – and if the team’s young players are unable to pick up the slack – they could very well not even have home-court advantage in the playoffs. Our projection is somewhere in the middle of these two outcomes, with the team being among the top 3 in the conference but not in a position to truly threaten the Bucks.