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All you need to know about these 2017-18 Celtics

Ty Anderson
October 16, 2017 - 8:45 pm

A massive summertime shake-up is officially over, and after a preseason that showed off just a bit of the promise this Celtics squad built by team president Danny Ainge can bring to the table this season and beyond, the NBA season is upon us.

It’ll start out hot for the C’s, too, with a season opener with the Cavaliers on Tuesday, and then immediately returning to Boston for Wednesday’s opener against the Bucks.

But the opening 27 hours or so of the season is just the beginning of this team’s 82-game journey, and with a long playoff run now an expectation for this group and not just the bonus that it’s been for Brad Stevens’ hardworking clubs over the last two years, it's going to be extremely interesting to see just how everybody involved with this process responds to this situation. 

So just what exactly are we looking at with this year’s team?

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Your starting five

Kyrie Irving - Are we at the point where we can actually believe that Kyrie Irving is a Celtic? I’ve watched Irving play actual basketball games in a Celtics uniform and been like, “Nah, that’s not him. This is an NBA2K trade.” This is still mind-blowing to me, and perhaps it should be, as I was the jabroni that said the Irving-to-Boston rumors made no sense and that this C’s team was in love with Isaiah Thomas. (Woof, what a bad take.)

But Irving is here, and he’s going to completely change the dynamic of the C’s offense.

It’s almost impossible to guard the 25-year-old Irving, and that’ll certainly be the case with Irving separated from LeBron James, too, as the C’s starting five will also feature strong options like Gordon Hayward and Al Horford for Irving to dish to for open looks. But Irving, who averaged a career-high in points per game (25.2) a year ago, is also here to show that he truly is one of the best poing guards in the game, and will certainly have his chances to show off what he felt that he could not during his time with LeBron in Cleveland. 

I would love to sit here and tell you exactly why he’s going to be a much different point guard than Isaiah Thomas, too, but I don’t think it really matters. This team is almost entirely different from the team Thomas led for over two seasons with the Celtics. Simple way to phrase it: The 6-foot-3 Irving is more of a Stevens fit than the 5-foot-9 Isaiah.

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league, especially if Irving’s fully healthy and finds his fit quicker than imagined.

Jaylen Brown - A versatile piece of Boston’s ‘positionless’ starting five, the Celtics want the second-year pro to emerge as their lockdown defender. In fact, they sorta need it. Brown’s usage was a bit inconsistent last season, but he really seemed to come on during their three-round playoff run, and proved to be a capable two-way presence. You absolutely have to love his defensive range and athleticism if you’re a Celtics fan, and his Year 1 to Year 2 growth could be the biggest X-factor for this team’s championship potential.

Gordon Hayward - The 27-year-old Hayward is here because of the ‘unfinished business’ he has of winning a championship with Stevens, a quest that dates back to their time together at Butler University. Hayward is also arriving to Boston entering the prime of his career, and after a career-year with the Jazz that came with career-highs in points (21.9) and rebounds (5.4) per game, and shot at a career-best 47.1 percent. Familiar with what Stevens expects out of his roster (Irving says that Hayward and Stevens have already regained their unspoken basketball language), and with better starting weapons around him than the players he rode with in Utah (Irving is a massive upgrade over George Hill), Hayward’s efficiency should only go up with Boston.

Hayward will also (have to) become an underrated part of the C’s rebounding game, too.

Jayson Tatum - The 19-year-old Tatum is in a seriously unique spot. The No. 3 overall pick from the 2017 Draft is expected to be either a starter or potentially game-changing bench presence, and the Celtics seemed to really believe it’s a role that he can handle. The 6-foot-8 Tatum was a straight-up stud in the Summer League, and was solid in the preseason, shooting 37 percent from the field, and with over eight points and four rebounds per game while averaging over 25 minutes per night.

There will be some bumps along the road, of course, but it's nothing that the Celtics are not built to handle with the straight-up insane amount of wings on this roster. 

Al Horford - The 6-foot-10 Horford might turn out to be the biggest beneficiary of this summertime shake-up, as there’s just too many weapons for teams to devote multiple bodies to covering Horford. In fact, you’ve already seen this in the preseason, as double-team efforts and defensive concentrations on Irving and Hayward have opened the floor and spacing up for Horford’s shot. This sort of movement for capable options is what some of the best teams in the NBA have perfected, and what the C’s will surely need to successfully work into their game in an effort to become one of them.

Off the bench

Aron Baynes - You’re going to absolutely love what Baynes does at the rim. All energy and hustle. He’ll be the guy that finally gives opposing centers some fits for rebounds.

Marcus Morris - Some right knee soreness and a tardy arrival to training camp will force Marcus Morris out of the first 10 days of the regular season. But when he does come back, you can expect him to challenge for a starting spot over Jayson Tatum.

Marcus Smart - Down 20 pounds, out to prove that he’s a true Defensive Player of the Year contender and that his shot is NBA-level, there’s no shortage of motivating factors for Marcus Smart to be at this absolute best this season. Oh, and he failed to sign a long-term extension with the Celtics before today’s deadline. Just what he needed.

Daniel Theis - I don’t want to say that Theis, who has been a EuroLeague standout in Germany, will be asked to be the new Kelly Olynyk, but he does have similar qualities as a big with an ability to stretch the defense and drain some mid-range shots. Like any player going from Europe to the NBA (the Celtics have three of them on their roster), an adjustment period is to be expected.

"I'm shooting the ball after the first pass or the second pass," Theis said after his preseason debut. "It's so quick. In Europe, it's more like play the system to the end when the shot clock is running down. Here it's a little faster, but I'll get used to it."

Terry Rozier - I cannot stress the importance of Terry Rozier enough this season. A high-energy scorer, Rozier is going to essentially be the focal point of the team’s bench scoring, and should be ready to step into that role after last year’s postseason showing.  He's also one injury to Irving away from being in an even more legitimate role for this team. 

Shane Larkin - The son of MLB legend Barry Larkin, the 5-foot-11 guard picked Boston as the spot to revive his NBA career after going to Europe, and Stevens is a believer.

“When he's moving he can push tempo, but he can also change gears,” Stevens said of Larkin last month. “He's got a pace to him that he understands the other four guys he's playing with. I'm a big fan of Shane Larkin. I think he'll be really impactful for us.”

Guerschon Yabusele - ‘French Draymond [Green]’ is a promising nickname. Lots worth finding out about this 2016 first-round pick after some strong seasons in Europe.

Semi Ojeleye - Jae Crowder with a different name, Ojeleye is a second-round pick that will get his NBA feet wet this season. The term many use when describing the two-way talent: “Punishing.” That’ll make him a fan favorite by the middle of the season, I’m sure.

Abdel Nader - Another bench piece expected to be straight-up fighting for minutes, Nader had solid second halves in his preseason, and could contribute.

Other reserves: Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird.

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Strengths: You take one look at this lineup and what immediately sticks out to you is the flexibility that this will give Brad Stevens. He can go small, big, he can all-scoring, all-defense, or all physically banging given the options off his bench. This is going to make the Celtics a ridiculously tough matchup over the course of an 82-game season, as teams will have to prepare with enough lineup variations to make your head explode.

But the biggest thing to watch with this group will be how Kyrie Irving fits and totally changes the potential of this group as a whole. Again, it’s been said that Irving will be a perfect fit for what Stevens wants to do with his club, and Irving’s preseason did not disappoint in that regard. With his creativity, and with Gordon Hayward’s shot, there’s going to ample opportunities for all five guys on the court to score, and that aforementioned ability for Horford to get absolutely tons of open looks is going to be a major addition for the C’s.

When looking at this team, you’re already circling your calendar for those head-to-heads against LeBron James and seeing just how they match up against the King of the East. One sneaky strength for the Celtics in this regard can be found with the defensive options at Stevens’ disposal here. The C’s found out just last year how absolutely unguardable James can be, but now they can basically throw the kitchen sink at him, with the slimmed down Smart, second-year Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris (a player that has historically matched up well against James) able to go one-on-one with LeBron at different points this season. If it works, that group could obviously make a major difference over the course of a seven-game series.

Weaknesses: This team has so much promise… but it’s going to take time for this to build. Rarely does a team simply come together in their first year, which is what made the Big Three of 2007-08 so damn special when you look back on it. The superteam Heat struggled in their first season together, and it really became a learning experience for them. I think you should expect some of that to follow the Celtics this season. 

I think valid questions about this team’s rebounding remain as well, and that’s an area where they were absolutely abused by the Cavaliers a season ago. Baynes will help them here, but it’s silly to imagine that he’s going to fix everything on his own, and while Yabusele should help as well, he’s still going to be learning the NBA this season.

Prediction: There’s no shortage of love for this team. They’re young, they’re fast, and they’re explosive. It seems that they’re going to be able to consistently score better than any prior Stevens-coached Celtics team, and their defensive structure should be on point by the middle of the year. Still, given their newness and the young pieces still developing, I’m not sure that this team is ready to dethrone the Cavs or Warriors just yet, and you obviously owe the Cavaliers some respect for the way they’ve handled their postseasons. That respect only goes up with Isaiah Thomas an expected thorn in the Celtics’ sides at some point this season.

I’ll pencil ‘em in for 55 wins and another East Finals appearance before falling in a seven-game series loss to the Cavaliers.

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