Shock and Awe: Celtics Defying Doubters
Before the season started, the Boston Celtics looked poised to make a run at this year’s title, with the signing of coveted free agent, Gordon Hayward and trading an injured Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and others for Kyrie Irving.With game 1 of the regular season in Cleveland, seen by many as the possible Eastern Conference Finals matchup, things would get testy. However, not even 6 minutes into the game, Hayward went up for a lob and came down in an awkward manner, dislocating his ankle and fracturing his tibia.
This injury would undoubtedly end his season and put the Celtics in a hole, moving forward. Surprisingly, Boston was able to comeback and erase a 16 point halftime deficit, only to lose in nail-biting fashion with a final of 102-99, Cavs. This game, though ending in defeat, showed the grit, grind, and determination that this team could embrace.
Kyrie Irving: Gordon Hayward’s injury posed a lot of questions for the Celtics, but who would lead the team moving forward wasn’t one of them.
Kyrie Irving wanted out of LeBron James’ shadow to prove that he could lead a team and put up great numbers while still producing wins. This notion raised eyebrows, because before LeBron came back to Cleveland, the most wins an Irving lead team had was a mere 33 wins. Though Kyrie showed signs of his greatness, accomplishing Rookie of the Year and averaging over 20 ppg, it was clear that he alone couldn’t lead a team.
Now with Boston and the unfortunate injury to Hayward, he has an opportunity to silence the critics and prove that he is more than just a number two option. Through the first 13 games of the season, Kyrie Irving is averaging 20/5/3 with a 22.49 PER, good for top 25 in the league, and has the Celtics on top of the East, sitting at 11-2 with an impressive 11 game win streak.
There’s no doubt that the C’s remain in contention and Irving’s experience, along with the backings of supporting teammates, shape them into an electrifying team among the elites.
The Young Guns: The Boston Celtics have dove into their depth and are making the best of the terrible situation that they’re are faced with. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier have all been huge pieces to the Celtics early success and have become consistent contributors, making Boston the team they’re now.
Coming off the bench, Marcus Smart offers defense, hustle, and intensity, which has reinforced their toughness – owning the best team defense in the league, with a 94.8 defensive rating. While he isn’t known for his shooting abilities, the effort he gives on both sides of the ball is a true commodity and shows his value as their sixth man.
Likewise, Jaylen Brown fulfills a solid defensive role for the Celtics, flashing signs of a future two-way star. With Hayward out, Brown has seen much more responsibility, to which he has embraced and taken advantage of, averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds per game. Another big recipient of the injury has definitely been the rookie, Jayson Tatum, who was expected to come off the bench for a good portion of the year, but has emerged as a nice addition to the starting lineup. Tatum has been a nice surprise and is boasting fantastic shooting percentages of 50% from both the field and three point range.
Last, but certainly not least, Terry Rozier has quietly, but effectively given the C’s great minutes all season. Averaging a career high 9 points per game, Rozier supplies ball handling, defense, and even rebounding off the bench. Oh, and not to mention, all these guys are 23 and under and will only continue to get better.
New Additions: With the additions of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, the Celtics needed to make room and traded away many of the guys who have been huge pieces to their organization over the past couple of years. Players like: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder were all solid pieces, but were necessary to move on from in order to reach further heights.
However, Boston did make moves that benefited them in other other areas, which have proven to be valuable already this season. The introductions of Marcus Morris and Aaron Baynes have filled a void that hounded them all last season – rebounding. Last season, the Boston Celtics ranked among the bottom 10 in defensive rebounding and even worse in defensive rebounding percent, but with key pickups in Morris and Baynes, have flipped the script and now place within the top 3 and 5 in defensive rebounding and defensive rebounding percent, respectively. While they’re other new players to the organization, such as Jayson Tatum, who was mentioned above, these guys have truly made a difference for the C’s and should help them along the way.
Performance & Predictions: The Boston Celtics have played just about as good as any team could have played to this point and currently hold the best record in the NBA at 11-2. Their 11 game win streak is very encouraging and shows the insane depth to this team, even with the season ending injury to Gordon Hayward, and their 0-2 start. They rank among the best teams, not only offensively, but defensively as well, with the best team defense in the entire league. Boston has improved their rebounding woes and looks to be in great position to make some waves this year. The Celtics will more than likely finish within the top 4 in the Eastern Conference and have been more than I, as most others too, expected, given their current situation. I fully expect to see them make it to at least the second round of the playoffs, that is of course, barring any other major setbacks.
Fantasy Impact: It’s to be expected that many players on this Celtics team will benefit from Gordon Hayward’s injury, whether it be minutes or usage. Kyrie Irving will definitely be relied on more heavily and has played very well this season as the number one option.
Marcus Smart is seeing about the same minutes off the bench as he did a year ago, with 30 minutes, but seeing increased usage at 20.1%, up from last season’s 18.5%. Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are involved heavily in the game plan and should continue to see upwards of 30 minutes all year.
Al Horford, the only remaining starter from the prior season, has had a very similar season to last year, but has been much better defensively, with 93.2 defensive rating. All in all, the Boston Celtics have looked good and most of these guys will enjoy elevated minutes and usage with Hayward out for the year.