Five storylines for the 2016-17 Celtics
Five storylines for the 2016-17 Celtics
BOSTON – It all begins now.
The long summer nights spent working out, the grueling days of training camp, it all comes to a head when the Boston Celtics officially kick off the 2016-2017 season tomorrow at the TD Garden against the Brooklyn Nets.
There will be plenty of time to break down the Xs and Os of tomorrow’s opener, but let’s be real: The outcome of tomorrow’s game, good or bad for Boston, has very little bearing on the big picture.
Boston players and coaches have been relatively mum when talking about their long-term goals, but with this team and how they are built, it’s hard not to at least peek around the corner and look ahead to what’s on the horizon. This team has realistic expectations for success, something none of Brad Stevens’ previous three teams had going into a season.
With a break or two, previous Stevens-coached teams just might find their way into the postseason, but for this season’s team, it’s not about getting to the playoffs -- it’s about making a deep, meaningful run.
However, in doing so will require certain story lines to play out. Here’s a look at five to keep an eye on not just leading up to the opener on Wednesday, but throughout the season.
Backup power surge
The Celtics will need some type of sparkplug off the bench. Courtesy of Danny Ainge once again stockpiling the Celtics’ roster with lots of potential contributors, there are a multitude of directions Boston can go towards to find a high-energy player. But based on training camp and the feedback from players, that guy looks to be Terry Rozier. The second-year guard wowed folks in summer league, continued to play at a high level in training camp and comes in as one of the team’s top reserves. Throw in Marcus Smart’s left ankle sprain potentially keeping him off the floor early on, and it looks as though Rozier’s minutes will be even greater early on.
Isaiah the passer?
Isaiah Thomas has always been viewed as a player with point guard size but a shooting guard’s mentality. We have seen him show signs of being a good distributor, but this season will put to the test the 5-foot-9 guard’s playmaking skills. Boston’s starting five played so well together in the preseason in large part because of the ball movement, with an increased emphasis it seemed to share the ball. Defenses are going to continue to give Thomas more attention than others, even with the addition of four-time all-star Al Horford. For Thomas, he must trust not only his teammates more, but also himself as a player who can get others scoring opportunities and not necessarily need to score as much on his own. Making this transition won’t be an easy one for Thomas. But this should be a career-year for Thomas in terms of assists.
Jaylen Brown's role
He won’t have the kind of impact you would come to expect with a first-year player taken with the third overall pick, but Brown has shown the kind of upside that will get him on the floor consistently this season. At 6-foot-8, Brown has surprised the Celtics’ coaching staff with his ability to handle himself at both forward positions. That kind of versatility goes far in Brad Stevens’ eyes. Couple that with his elite athleticism -- something the Celtics desperately need more of this season -- and you have all the makings of a player who will have a steady role in the team’s rotation even when it shrinks down to eight or nine guys.
We have seen the growth of the Celtics from being a strong perimeter-oriented defensive team into one last season that added its first rim protector (Amir Johnson) in the post-Big Three (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen) era. They are even stronger defensively in the frontcourt with the addition of Al Horford and have talked candidly about being a top-3 defensive unit. Last season, the Celtics had the league’s sixth-best defensive rating (100.9). For them to be among the top teams not just in the East but the NBA overall, being an elite defense will be needed. And when you look at their roster in terms of the starting five and a second unit that features above-average defenders like Marcus Smart, setting such a lofty goal is indeed well within their reach.
Deep run or bust
We can talk defense, offense, coaching, Xs and Os, it all comes down to one thing: the playoffs. The Celtics have made it to the postseason each of the last two seasons, only to be sent home after the first round. That can’t happen this season, not with it being a viewed as a letdown or even more disturbing, the first real sign of lacking progress under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens. After winning 25 games during his rookie season as the Celtics’ head coach, Stevens has led Boston to the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Players will do all they can to keep all the talk about this season squarely on the game at hand, and that’s a good thing. But it would naïve on the part of those who follow this team and the players as well, to not understand that all that’s going on now is to help build towards what should a great season with at least 50 regular season wins, and a postseason that ends somewhere between the second round of the playoffs and the NBA Finals. Because if this team’s season ends somewhere outside of those parameters, regardless of the reasons behind it, this will be an unsuccessful season which would be a first since Brad Stevens took over in 2013.