If Isaiah Thomas makes the leap into stardom, Boston is a dark horse contender in the East. (Photo by Stuart Cahill)
If Isaiah Thomas makes the leap into stardom, Boston is a dark horse contender in the East. (Photo by Stuart Cahill)

Last season: 40-42, 2nd, Atlantic Division (7th, Eastern Conference), Lost 4-0 to CLE in Quarterfinals

Notable Acquisitions: F David Lee (via trade w/ GSW), Amir Johnson (free agent, TOR), F Perry Jones (via trade w/ OKC)

Draft Picks: G Terry Rozier (Louisville, 16th overall), G RJ Hunter (Georgia State, 28th overall), F Jordan Mickey (LSU, 33rd overall), G Marcus Thornton (William & Mary, 45th overall)

Notable Losses: G Phil Pressey (POR)


#DogTags:

Star UnderDOG (al-most star): Isaiah Thomas

TDIT (Top DOG In Training): Marcus Smart


Burning Question: Did the Celtics overachieve a year ago or are they just scratching the surface of their potential?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers

Despite having 22 players don Celtics green, Brad Stevens found the right combination of players to reach the postseason. Boston is a deep team with talent at every position but with no bonafide star, another early playoff exit could occur.


Storyline:

The Boston Celtics were the most unexpected playoff team a year ago. Heading into the 2014-15 season, holdovers like Rajon Rondo & Jeff Green were viewed as trade bait but the roster was so static, you had no idea if/when Danny Ainge would pull the trigger on a deal. Looking back, it’s funny to think that players like Rondo and Green ultimately had an impact on Boston’s final result; without them leading the way, Boston would have been far away from the postseason.

An NBA-record 22 players suited up for the C’s during the season. In the midst of constant turnover, Coach Brad Stevens showed off why he is seen as one of the brightest basketball minds around. It also helped that GM Danny Ainge plucked a few gems in the process, including scoring guard Isaiah Thomas, defensive swingman Jae Crowder and forward Jonas Jerebko.

The three of the them played pivotal roles in helping Boston reach the 7th. Sure, the East was bad, yet again, but gaining valuable postseason experience will pay off huge going forward.

Over the summer, Boston acquired a gluttony of power forwards to go along with their already solid frontline. The problem is, a lot of them mirror each other. David Lee, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Perry Jones will all compete for minutes in the front court. Lee, an X-Factor on Golden State’s title team, is expected to start and is poised to have a bounce back season (avg. just 7.9 ppg & 5.2 rpg last year).

But outside of Johnson, none of them offer a strong defensive presence. Depth is a good problem to have, in a sense, but a rim protector/low post defender needs to emerge to take some heat off Tyler Zeller (the only true center on the team) on the interior.

Boston is almost three deep at every position. (Getty Images)
Boston is almost three deep at every position. (Getty Images)

The C’s are stacked, especially at the guard spots. Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner, Bradley and Smart all return to handle playmaking duties. Thomas, in particular, could see himself in a larger role this year due to new additions to his game.

According to reports, Coach Stevens has praised Thomas through the first few days of practice for his improved court vision and decision-making, two areas he’s struggled with in the past. IT might end up with the starting nod over Smart, who has to improve upon similar deficiencies.

To make matters more interesting, the Celtics added guard, after guard, after guard in the draft, despite plans to move forward with their current core. Of the new rookies, only RJ Hunter figures to get at least a shot to prove himself because he is a lights-out shooter the C’s desperately covet (shot 32% from deep in the regular season). Coach Stevens has made a point to eliminate the “Avery Bradley specials” this year (aka long two-pointers), meaning Hunter has a leg up on the competition.

The Celtics are a tough team to gauge this year but they are in great shape going forward. They have tremendous assets in the draft and will have cap space to target star free agents next summer.

In the meantime, Coach Stevens’s creative lineups should do the trick and keep Boston fans excited for the future. It’s a fun roster on the rise but until a young guard (Thomas, Bradley, Smart) breaks out or a star is acquired, a playoff victory seems unlikely.


Projected Starting 5:


The Winning Guys:

Like we mentioned, Coach Stevens will need to manage minutes and rotations all year long. He’s not afraid to experiment with different lineups, so be prepared to see different combinations finishing games. Right now their current depth chart is as follows:

PG: Thomas-Smart-Rozier

SG: Bradley-Young-Hunter

SF: Turner-Crowder-Jerebko

PF: Lee-Johnson-Sullinger-Jones-Mickey

C: Zeller-Olynyk

You have to figure Thomas’s scoring punch will earn him added responsibility at the end of games but both Smart and Turner are also capable of making clutch shots and plays. Defensive playmakers Bradley, Johnson and Crowder are factors as well but do you sacrifice shooting (Young & Hunter) and high-post scoring (Lee & Sully) as a result?

It’s definitely a conundrum but it is a challenge Stevens welcomes with open arms.

Our closing lineup would feature Thomas, Bradley, Turner, Johnson and Zeller with Smart and Crowder subbing in for defensive possessions.


What We Like…Smart & Bradley Backcourt Duo.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

Marcus Smart, as expected, was a bulldog on defense from the moment he stepped onto an NBA court. With Avery Bradley, the two of them relentlessly harassed opposing guards from getting to their spots.

This season, it needs to be taken a step further. Coach Stevens should mix in full and half court presses to shorten the clock for opposing sets. Even if the pair doesn’t end up starting together, with the depth on the roster, it’s a gamble worth considering.

What We Don’t Like…No True Star.

LeBron-IT

At the beginning of each NBA Season Preview, we put #DogTags, serving as key identifiers of notable players on the team. Top DOG, the highest honor, goes to an All-Star/Superstar level talent, ranging from a LeBron James-type to a Kyle Lowry.

Yeah…the Celtics don’t have one of those. Isaiah Thomas is the closest but he needs to make another jump to enter the conversation.


Boston’s Best Case Scenario: Brad Stevens’s rotations are top notch, IT takes an All-Star leap, a string of injuries plague upper echelon teams and the C’s reach the Conference Finals.

Boston’s Worst Case Scenario: Positions of strength (PG/SG, PF) become train wrecks, the C’s can’t catch anyone by surprise and they finish in the lottery.


Season Prediction:

2nd, Atlantic Division (8th, Eastern Conference), First-Round Exit

“The best players will play. That’s the way it’s always been.” – Larry Bird

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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