The Celtics are going to feel a little different this year with Brad Stevens in the front office and Ime Udoka on the bench even if the core of the team remains the same. Dennis Schroder arrives to take over at point guard, while Josh Richardson should help the defense off the bench. Al Horford is also back in town, where he’ll team with Robert Williams in the middle. The Celtics will still go as far as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown take them, but the supporting cast looks good enough to best last year’s .500 record.
The best case is always another championship. To get there a lot of things would have to break right. Jayson Tatum would have to be a top 3 MVP candidate. Jaylen Brown would be the topic of highly sophisticated fan debates contending that “well actually Jaylen is more valuable than Jayson.” Ime Udoka would be in the running for Coach of the Year by convincing the team to play elite defense and move the ball reminiscent of the Spurs “Beautiful Game” years. Veterans would fit in and have perfect health and younger players would step up into roles making winning plays. If all that happens, make room for another banner.
The worst case is essentially a repeat of last year. Injuries and COVID outbreaks prevent any sort of cohesion or stability. The defense doesn’t show up as advertised and the offense falls back into bad habits of “your turn, my turn” with no ball movement to speak of. By the end of the season people would be questioning if Ime Udoka is in over his head and wondering if Tatum and Brown will be the next stars looking to push their way out of town.
This team has too much talent to hover around .500 like they did last season. They may be another year or a piece away from being a legitimate title contender though. Injuries happen to every team, but at least this year’s version has more proven depth. They did seem to need a new voice in the locker room and the team seems very motivated to buy in to Udoka’s leadership. The East is very good, but I could see the Celtics landing in the 3rd or 4th seed and making another run to the Eastern Conference Finals behind a big year from Tatum and Brown.
Jayson Tatum has the tools to be an MVP candidate and one thing that could unlock that potential is getting downhill more often. He’s already talked about making that an emphasis in his game and the potential benefits are several fold. He would force the issue, putting the defense on their heels, increase his free throw rate (adding points to his averages), and open up opportunities for him to make plays for teammates as the defense collapses. It would even give him more room to operate on the perimeter if the opponents know they have to respect his drive threat. Jayson is a great student of the game and this seems like the next logical step to his growth as a star.