Last year, I predicted the Celtics would win 50 games and make it to the second round of the playoffs. They won 48 and were bounced in the first round by the Atlanta Hawks in six games.
It’s hard to call last season a disappointment because the C’s did finish over .500 for the first time since 2011-2012 and were able to record the first two playoff wins of Brad Stevens’ NBA coaching career. But this year, they absolutely need to take a big step forward.
This off-season, we witnessed an extremely rare occurrence. The Celtics were able to land a big-name free agent, signing four-time All-Star Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract. Horford is immediately the best player on this team and his ability to bang around in the paint and spread the floor with his jump shot will give them a big boost.
As was the case last year, the strength of the C’s will be their defense. Almost everyone on the roster can defend. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are two of the best guard defenders in the league, Jae Crowder is one of the best wing defenders in the league, and the addition of Horford will help them down low. They still don’t have an elite rim protector, but Amir Johnson has the ability to play that role. Don’t be surprised if they end up being the best defensive team in the NBA.
First-round draft pick Jaylen Brown appears to be ahead of schedule in regards to being ready to make an impact. Terry Rozier has showed major signs of improvement in the Summer League and the preseason. At best, he’ll fill in for some of what we lost with the departure of Evan Turner.
James Young has done nothing to prove himself thus far in the NBA. But for whatever reason the Celtics decided to name him to the opening night roster and cut RJ Hunter. The reason this is so baffling is because the C’s were only 24th in the NBA in three-point percentage last year despite making the fifth most threes. Brad Stevens loves to shoot the three, but his players aren’t that good at it. RJ Hunter had the potential to be the best outside shooter on this team, so I’m interested in knowing why Young deserved a roster spot over him.
Regardless, this team should be one of the best in a weak Eastern Conference. My prediction is that they reach 54 wins and advance to the second round of the playoffs. A number two seed and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance isn’t out of the question, but I won’t get ahead of myself. I will, however, predict a blowout win over the Nets at the Garden Wednesday night to start the season. Let’s go C’s.
Follow Jack Bardsley on Twitter @BostonsBigFour