BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of comfort one can take from having all the core pieces back from a team that went as deep into the playoffs as the Celtics did last season.
And while that success has left very little room for improvement team-wise, the same can not be said for the individual players.
- MORE CELTICS - BLAKELY: Tatum the next Kevin Durant?
Boston has a talented roster of players who are eager to showcase how much their game has expanded since last season.
But who will stand out from the rest?
Here’s a look at five Celtics who are likely to be among the team’s most improved players:
The 6-foot-6 forward was used primarily as a defender who would chill in a corner and launch 3’s. While being a 3-and-D guy will still be a big part of who Ojeleye is, he showed signs in summer league that his game would be a little more diverse this season. Specifically, Ojeleye will look to attack defenders off the dribble more which makes a lot of sense. While he doesn’t have great height, he more than makes up for that with exceptional lateral quickness to keep players in front of him, as well as a strong upper body which makes him a tough guy to back down in the paint, something a lot of NBA players learned the hard way last season.
He made huge strides from Year 1 to Year 2, and you can bank on more of the same as he heads into his third season. People forget that Brown’s 14.5 points per game average a year ago was second on the team to Kyrie Irving. Generating more offense will be tougher for Brown this season with the return of Gordon Hayward to the lineup. However, Brown’s potential to be an elite, lock-down defender is immense. He already has above-average athleticism. Combine that with his length, improved strength and a firm understanding of what Brad Stevens is looking for from the group, it adds up to a player who will be noticeably improved.
With Baynes, you know you’re getting a really good defender and solid rebounder. But as the Celtics got deeper into the season, Baynes began to do things that were, well, things that Baynes wasn’t supposed to do, like knock down 3-pointers. It was as if for a few fleeting moments in the postseason, Baynes became this prolific shot maker from 3-point range. The 3 definitely won’t become a significant staple to Baynes’ game. But as we saw in the playoffs, the 6-foot-11 bruising center ain’t afraid to let it fly, either.
I know, I know. He finished third in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting, was arguably the best player for Boston in the Eastern Conference finals and has been so, so much better than most thought he would be so quickly. And that’s the scary part about Tatum. As talented a player as he has proven to be, it’s clear that he has bought all in to the notion that he has to get better. It’s unlikely Tatum is going to add significant weight, but the 6-8 wing has a chance to get stronger. He has shown the ability to dominate games as a scorer, but it’ll be tricky for him doing so with Irving and Hayward, as well as Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, who all have shown that they too can get it going down the stretch in games. Still, that’ll work itself out, for sure. The more pressing concern, is whether Tatum will have a second-year surge or endure a second-year slump?
He was Boston’s best player in Summer League, so it only made sense to reward the give former G-League standout a multi-year contract. However, the incident Friday night in Brighton, Mass., which has led to him facing multiple charges including assault and battery, strangulation and kidnapping, has put his basketball future in jeopardy.
- MORE C'S QUESTIONS - Never too early for 2019 draft talk; who should Celtics target?