Max Lederman

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

Entering training camp a year ago, expectations were sky-high for the Celtics. Most pundits considered them the team to beat in the East. Vegas fancied Boston as a 59-win team, the second-highest win total behind only Golden State. And a Finals matchup between those two teams was far from a pipe dream.

Fast forward a year and expectations have been tempered. The Celtics lost a pair of All-Stars this summer in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and, despite signing another in Kemba Walker, the team finds itself widely considered a Tier 2 team in the East behind projection darlings Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

So what happens this year? Do the Celtics go back to being the sort of overachievers that have defined Brad Stevens’ coaching career? Will a younger roster struggle to simply meet even the lowered expectations of this season?

To wrap up Week 1 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our NBC Sports Boston panel to look into their crystal balls and predict not only Boston’s final win-loss record but how far they’d advance in the playoffs.

The  Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook projects Boston at 49.5 wins this season. The Bucks (58) and Sixers (55) top the Westgate projections and the next five teams all reside in the west. 

The Celtics went 49-33 last season, settling for the fourth seed in the East. They swept the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in Round 1 but bowed to the top-seeded Bucks in five games in Round 2.

When you consider that Westgate’s four lowest win totals reside in the East (Knicks, Wizards, Cavaliers, Hornets) and seven East teams sit below 40 wins, it feels like the Celtics should reasonably win 50+ games despite the roster changes.

So we’ll put the Celtics at 52 wins and a spot in the East semifinals. That seeding would likely mean a second-round matchup jousting with either Giannis’ Bucks or Embiid’s Sixers and Boston’s frontcourt development might dictate just how competitive those series could be. Remember, too, Stevens tends to produce his best magic when you least expect it.

The irony, of course, is that the Celtics could win 49 games this season and get bounced in Round 2 again but if they develop chemistry and are more enjoyable to watch then last year’s gang, then Celtics fans will be far more OK with that script playing out a second time — well, so long as players make the sort of strides that suggest more is possible in the coming years.

Abby Chin: 50-32 Eastern Conference Finals

I think purely based on better chemistry and grit, this team will improve on last year’s win total. And, I’ll bank on some luck in the playoff bracket. Maybe with injuries, or regular season Al Horford, Philly and Milwaukee fall to the 2 and 3 seed so the Celtics could avoid them in the first couple rounds.

 

A. Sherrod Blakely: 50-32, East Finals

I'm gonna keep the cookies on the bottom shelf with this one. They are a better team (team not individuals) than they're going to get credit for, and they have a roster that's full of talent with a huge chip on their shoulders from the coach on down. This group will play harder, smarter and win a lot of games they probably shouldn't and by doing so, keep Celtics fans extremely happy all season.

Max Lederman: 51-31, lose in 2nd round

Before last season the Celtics have always overachieved under Brad Stevens. I expect a return to that with lowered expectations this season. The Celtics also had their worst record vs winning teams last year since Brad's 2nd season. They should put up a better fight this season.

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Does Tacko Fall make Boston’s roster?

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Does Tacko Fall make Boston’s roster?

The Boston Celtics open training camp on October 1 and we’re counting down the days by examining some of the top storylines for the 2019-20 season. 

Today’s topic: Does Tacko Fall make Boston’s roster out of camp?

In one of the NBA’s wildest summers, one that saw the Celtics swap out an All-Star point guard (Kyrie Irving) for another (Kemba Walker), no Boston player drew as much national attention as Fall, an undrafted camp invite.

Since the start of summer league in Las Vegas, Fall has been the most searched Celtics player on the internet. Try a Google query for “Celtics roster” and Fall is the first suggested player ahead of Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward. It’s been that way since July.

The 7-foot-7 Fall became a sensation not just because of his height but because of his raw abilities and the way he carried himself in the face of rising celebrity. Casual Celtics fans probably can't name a member of Boston’s new-look frontcourt following the departures of veterans Al Horford and Aron Baynes, but chances are they now know Fall.

After going undrafted in June, Fall signed what’s called an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics. That pact is essentially an invitation to work out with the team over the summer and attend training camp. Players that are waived at the end of camp and accept an assignment to the team’s G-League affiliate can earn up to $50,000 for being funneled to the parent team’s minor league squad.

Fall is going to get a chance to state his case for an NBA job at training camp. The Celtics have an open roster spot after waiving Guerschon Yabusele during summer league and the team is bringing in summer league standouts like Fall and Javonte Green to compete for that spot. The Celtics do not have to sign another player but that spot is there for someone to win if they prove themselves valuable enough.

Outside of the 15-man roster, the Celtics also have a pair of two-way player slots that allow young players to develop in the G-League with an ability to be called up to the parent club for part of the season. Boston has already committed those slots to Tremont Waters (a late-second round pick) and Max Strus, an undrafted rookie. But either of those players could be converted to the 15th roster spot — or waived — to open a potential two-way spot for Fall.

The most ideal path for the Celtics would be to funnel Fall to the G-League as an affiliated player if he’s waived after camp but doing such would require the team to expose him to waivers where a rival could snag him on a minimum-salary deal, particularly any team with an open two-way spot.

Outside interest might hinge on what Fall shows during camp, as it will be our first real glimpse of where he stands against NBA talent. He showed well in summer league but there is a great difference in defending other rookies versus trying to joust with NBA veterans like Enes Kanter (though Kanter offered praise of Fall after playing some 2-on-2 with him this summer).

So, does Fall make the final roster out of camp? This writer's belief has been that he can force the team’s hand with his play in camp. If he shows he’s already made strides this summer and that there’s a potential to develop into a serviceable big man, then the Celtics are going to have to think long and hard about finding a way to keep him around. It seems more likely that Boston would elevate, say, Waters to the 15th roster spot and ink Fall to a two-way deal, but is still gets him on the roster.

There is a business component to all this as well. Fall’s development is going to be of high interest, particularly at the minor league level. This summer, the Celtics purchased their G-League affiliate, and one way to guarantee a sold-out arena is to have someone like Fall to generate interest. It’s further incentive to keep him as a part of the program, but only if the team truly believes he has a potential NBA future ahead of him. Danny Ainge has said the team is invested in Fall’s development.

Would the Celtics be brazen enough to expose Fall to waivers in hopes of simply pushing him through to the G-League as an affiliated player? It seems like a risky move, even if Fall has a rough camp. But if someone else kicks down the door to that 15th spot, and if Waters and Strus hold firm to those two-way spots, it might be a dice roll the team must take.

Abby Chin: Two-way player

We’ve seen situations change quickly in the past when different opportunities pop up for the guys at the end of the bench. I don’t think the Celtics would mind getting a glimpse of Tacko at the NBA level. But he’s clearly not ready to be an every-night contributor.

 

Sherrod Blakely: Two-way player

Prepare for Tacko Tuesdays to become a mainstay of the Maine Red Claws this season. At 7-foot-7 and still learning the NBA game, Tacko has too much size, potential, and drawing power to let go. He's not quite good enough to hold down the 15th roster spot but slotting him into one of the two-way contracts — that means Boston would likely waive Max Strus — makes a lot of sense.

Max Lederman: Two-way player

I think they'll end up keeping his rights with a two-way deal. He's too fun to get rid of but probably not worth a spot on the 15-man roster. That said, he's a massive body to throw out there versus teams who deploy traditional bigs.

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20 Under 25: The future is now for Celtics' Robert Williams, the 'Time Lord'

20 Under 25: The future is now for Celtics' Robert Williams, the 'Time Lord'

Robert “Time Lord” Williams III is more than just a sweet nickname; he’s an athletic outlier. He’s a 6’10” center with a 7’5” wingspan and a 40-inch vertical. That’s not a typo. The young man has ups . . . and considerably upside, as was on display in the limited minutes he played as a 21-year-old rookie for the Celtics last season.

Williams only appeared in 32 games for the C’s during the regular season, but his per minute stats were off the charts. Time Lord averaged 5.1 blocks/36 minutes, which not only led the NBA (among players who played 280+ total minutes), it’s the highest blocks/36 minutes since Manute Bol’s 5.8 in 1991-92. So yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.

Williams's athleticism was also on display on offense, where he converted 10 of 11 lobs thrown his way and spiked 26 of his 31 dunk attempts. His ability to space the floor vertically should become an asset to the Celtics this season. 

If Williams is going to reach his ceiling, he’ll have to improve his decision-making on both sides of the court, but that should come with experience.

When it comes to a player with his physical tools, the sky truly is the limit.

Click here to see this year's candidates for the 20 Under 25 list

Click here to vote for this year's 20 Under 25

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